McKinnon waits in limbo for health expert

McKinnon waits in limbo for health expert

Summary: The hacker who broke into military security systems looking for evidence of alien life is still awaiting the allocation of an Asperger's syndrome expert in a bid to avoid extradition to the US

TOPICS: Security

Nasa hacker Gary McKinnon is being kept waiting for the next stage in his fight against extradition to the US, as the Home Office has not yet decided on a medical expert to assess his case.

At the beginning of November, the Home Office asked for a new independent psychiatric evaluation of McKinnon, to assess how likely the self-confessed hacker would be to commit suicide if extradited. The move followed home secretary Theresa May's decision in May to pause the extradition proceedings for review.


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On Tuesday, in a parliamentary select committee review of May's first seven months in office, the home secretary confirmed that the government has not yet assigned an Asperger's syndrome expert for the examination, despite having had more than a month to do so.

Committee chair Keith Vaz asked May why it was taking so long to appoint a relevant medical expert or to make a decision on the case.

"One of the problems is that you haven't asked someone who knows about Asperger's syndrome... The National Autistic Society wrote to you on the 26 November offering their assistance," Vaz said. "It's now just a question of agreeing an expert."

Vaz then stressed that the expert would need to have the right background for McKinnon's circumstances.

"It has got to be someone who knows about these things, because the concern of [McKinnon's mother] Janice Sharp and this committee is that perhaps those who have examined him so far on behalf of the Home Office have not got the expertise."

For eight years, McKinnon has been fighting extradition to face charges of hacking US military networks, including Nasa and the Pentagon, in 2002. He has confessed to the intrusions, but has claimed they were conducted in pursuit of evidence of extraterrestrial life. McKinnon has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, and his legal team have maintained that he would be at risk of suicide if extradited.

May told the select committee that the responsibility for the expert lies with the government's chief medical officer and not her as home secretary.

"I'm aware of the concerns that have been expressed," she said. "That's why I don't think it's appropriate for me as an individual to judge who should be doing this, but that the chief medical officer is asked for their advice, and that is what we have been doing."

May did not indicate when the chief medical officer might make a decision.

In November, former home secretary David Blunkett urged that McKinnon be tried in the US via video link to the UK. In addition, cables published by Wikileaks indicate that former prime minister Gordon Brown tried to negotiate a deal with US ambassador Louis Susman to allow McKinnon to serve any US sentence on UK soil, but the move was rejected.

If successfully extradited to the US, McKinnon faces the possibility of 70 years in a maximum security prison for the alleged $700,000 of damages claimed by the US.

Topic: Security

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

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  • Once again, the government betrays an appalling degree of incompetence and weakness over this case. Theresa May is already in receipt of no less than FOUR unanimous expert opinions on the matter of McKinnon's mental health. Why exactly is she stalling on this? What does she think a fifth expert is going to find? What exactly is wrong with the other four? And what kind of Chief Medical Officer recommends a series of experts not equipped with the relevant expertise (as has happened so far)? This stinks to high heaven, they really are scraping the barrel herre. Gary McKinnon should not have to wait until they run out of excuses over this. It's an embarrassment, is what it is. Couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery, much less deliver justice to an ill and vulnerable man who demonstrably never committed an extradition offence in the first place. Eight YEARS he's been tortured over this. When are they going to face upto it and do the right thing?
  • RIGHT ON! JonathanJ
  • Agreed JonathanJ.
  • Haha! The problem, here, is that Great Britain spent it Get-out-of-Jail-Free card on Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie Bomber.

    To put things into proper perspective, the United States should simply declare that, beginning on 1 February and continuing until McKinnon is extradited (which may never happen), any US citizen, operating from a base within the United States, make crack into any UK state computer without fear of extradition. While a significant share of Britons would still not get the point, and an even larger share would get it but refuse to admit that they've understood it, still a fair number would finally understand the principle here.

    As the case of Louise Woodward illustrates, a large share of Britons going howling mad when one of their number is accused of crime by the United States.
  • Only if they are operating on a 56k dialup connection, Athanatos, and they may only access systems which are not protected by passwords or firewalls. And they're not allowed to cause a dollar worth of damage. Personally, I don't think many UK citizens would object to your suggestion - especially since doing what McKinnon did does not constitute an extraditable offence!
  • Haha! Most of your constraints are no different in principle from claiming that someone should get to enter your home at will if you've not locked the door and they're wearing mittens when they turn the knob. But I rather bet that your state would indeed be caught-out not locking some of the doors, and I'd bet that a great many of your citizens would be outraged after the fact, even if they agreed before the fact.

    But, as to your £0 damage rule, that's simply disingenuous. Let's instead agree that the American-based hackers should be required to *claim* that they'd done £0 damage, no matter what the UK claimed.
  • Hahaha! Citizens would indeed be outraged if 'top secret' data were not protected by even basic security measures, yes, but we'd be outraged at the incompetence of the relevant authorities, rather than a harmless obssessive UFO-hunter. We'd be even more outraged if, after TEN YEARS, a whole load of Wikileaks came out to prove that in the ensuing decade, our security had not improved one jot! Lol And no, I'm not saying it's ok to enter somewhere just because it's unlocked. I'm saying that to do so was not technically hacking, and was not an extradition offence. In any case, the geographical/spatial metaphor is flawed. He did not 'enter' the USA, anymore than someone making a telephone call to there would do. As the courts have ruled.

    As to the zero damage, that is exactly what McKinnon caused. As has been shown and accepted in open court. CPS disclosure shows 'no evidence' of any damage, and the forensic IT report shows 'damages' claimed by the US represent nothing more than the cost of installing the very security measures which the US military were in fact legally obliged to have had on their machines in the first place. In addition to which, he is shown to have deleted nothing other than his own log files, which, it has been proved, were not, and could not have been critical to any system's operation.
  • The way that most stage magicians and some pick-pockets work is with distraction. The question here is of what McKinnon did, and what (if anything) should be done with him in response. While anyone should agree that state officials should have handled security better than ours have done, you know that's not the question here. Likewise with your rant about Wikileaks. I'll note the distractions as such to the audience as you try to pick their pockets. ;-)

    Your invoking the courts concerning the metaphor of a spatial entry is fallacious; any of us will sometimes agree and sometimes disagree with courts. Deploying a robot (preprogrammed or remotely controlled) to burglarize your home, rather than taking a flight to do so, wouldn't absolve me morally of burglary. Likewise for the more primitive agency of electrical particles. The law might make distinctions, and such distinctions might even have some practical value, but, in the end, one is looking here for how the law *should* treat things. It shouldn't let burglars free simply because they used robots or electrons or mittens or 56Kbps connections (nor because their victims were bloody Yanks).

    McKinnon's deletion of log-files, which you cite as his only erasure, is the equivalent of our hypothetical, mitten-wearing burglar, erasing security video of his entry. It *is* cracking a security system (“technically hacking”); the record is the property of the victim (rather than of the logged or recorded individual); and the erasure reveals the fact that the intruder knows that he has been trespassing.

    If our AG (the equivalent of your CPS) didn't present evidence that the UK had suffered damages as a result of an America-based break-ins, that wouldn't imply that no damage had occurred. If you'd like, we can add a failure of the AG to present evidence as another condition for granting amnesty to an America-based hacking of UK computers. But I suspect that Britons would be more disgusted than relieved by such failure.

    It would be quite one thing if the claim were that McKinnon's crimes were relatively minor — certainly they seem to have been. But this insistence that he should have been given a pass is rubbish. Nor should he be given one for social awkwardness (Asperger's Syndrome), nor by threatening to kill himself if held to account.
  • Good idea. Let's talk about what he did, and what *should* happen.

    Firstly, your analogy with a burglar is mis-shapen, because he did not steal anything. If you insist upon a spatial metaphor, then trespass is closer to the mark. What he did (ie what there is evidence for) was Unauthorised Access (Computer Misuse Level1), which incidentally is not an extradition offence, and is the very most minor class of offence that there is in British Law. You may disagree, but I say a person should not be extradited for a non-extraditable offence.

    As to the CPS disclosure, if you are familiar with it, you will know it was not simply the case that no evidence was presented, but rather, the 'evidence' that was presented by US prosecutors was found to be grossly insufficient to support the extradition allegations they were making, and such as to suggest there was no case against him. Similarly, the allegations of damage caused, upon examination of the forensic evidence, were demonstrated to be entirely fallacious. The $5000 damage per machine that the US were claiming (coincidentally the exact threshhold amount required to create an extraditable offence) was shown in fact not to relate to the results of McKinnon's actions at all.

    Thus, according to the facts of the matter, and not withstanding the grossly exaggerated but entirely unsupported and disproved allegations of US prosecutors, what McKinnon did was indeed exceedingly minor. No-one is suggesting he should 'be given a pass', for the Asperger's, or for anything else. What *is* suggested is that, in view of the demonstrable falsity of the extradition allegations, and in view of the seriousness of extraditing someone from their homeland (which of course is heightened by his condition and his very poor mental health), to extradite in these circumstances would be blatantly counter to the interests of justice. What *should* happen is that he should be prosecuted properly for what he did do, not extradited for something we already know he didn't do.
  • He certainly stole something. An individual who breaks into your home seeking information is a burglar; one who erases the contents of security tape has not merely stolen the information, but made its recovery by the proper owner at best costly.

    There is an obvious difference between an offense for which extradition is not assured and one which is indeed non-extraditable. To pretend that one is the other is to confuse necessity with sufficiency. Had McKinnon committed no offence for which extradition were *permitted*, there would be no relevance to the dithering of ministers; the case would be over. And the rest of your argument disintegrates in the face of these logical distinctions.
  • Well, there certainly is an obvious difference between making an allegation, and having a shred of evidence to support it. To pretend that there isn't is contrary to the principles and the interests of justice. Repeating such nonsense about metaphorical theft, and deletions that never happened, doesn't make it true, however much you might wish that it did.

    I don't think you seem to know what you are talking about, Athanatos. If you did, you'd know that the only offence for which either evidence or admission exists is Computer Misuse (Level1), which was NOT an extraditable offence. As to the wild allegations of US prosecutors of other (extraditable) offences, these are now known to be wholly without foundation. The case should indeed have been over a long time ago.

    What I want to know is why the US are allowing rogue prosecutors to pursue a case which is entirely unsupported by any evidence, and which is in nobody's interests, least of all the USA, if they wish to have any friends left in the international community at all. It makes a mockery of everything the US is supposed to stand for. Liberty and justice for all? Don't make me laugh!
  • JonathanJ—

    His entry into the computer system is quite analogous to entry into a home; his deletion of logs is perfectly analogous to erasure of a security tape; and neither of those actions on his part are disputed.

    You keep playing a game of False Dichotomy. With respect to extradition, there are THREE cases: those for which extradition is required, those for which it is neither require nor prohbitted, and those for which it is prohibitted. Both the second and third case represent extraditable offenses. You want to pretend that any offense for which extradition is not required is not extraditable. I note that this willful confusion is being fostered in almost every discussion of McKinnon. You're working for talking points, which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, except that your points are deliberately eristic.

    Whether the prosecution here is particularly politic or not, it is not by a rogue prosecutor. As to friends, states aren't capable of friendship, as yours illustrated first by refusing to extradite Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, and then, ultimately, by releasing him.
  • Some points about log files.
    I see these possibilities.
    1) Garry (I always hate use of surnames when we are talking about PEOPLE) did indeed delete the files.

    2) some other opportunist entering a wide open system deleted the files.

    3) A fumbling SysAdmin accidentally deleted them (done it myself)

    4) A fairly senior operator who's job was on the line for setting up such a crap system deleted them to spread confusion so (s)he could duck out of sight.

    5) A software glitch erased them.

    Now, who has the crystal ball that can tell which it was?
  • Well, if McKinnon hadn't in fact admitted to erasing logs, then I'd certainly see some point in discussing these alternate explanations. (McKinnon denies effecting damage of other sorts; his supporters either lose sight of the fact that deletion of the logs was itself damage, or infer from his denial of damage that he mustn't have admitted to deleting the logs.)
  • Athanatos, I think you've got it wrong. According to the Extradition Act (2003), a person may only be extradited if they are suspected of having committed what the Act refers to as an Extraditable Offence. Ergo, in the absence of 'reasonable suspicion' that a person committed any such offence, that person may not lawfully be extradited. That discussions on this topic tend to use the phrase 'extraditable offence' in the sense that it is used in the Extradition Act (2003) - ie the prevailing legislation - is perfectly right and proper.

    We will lay aside for a moment the question of admissions, since these were made without an Appropriate Adult present, and as such are not strictly admissable as evidence.

    As far as deletions go, the logs in question were McKinnon's own traces and nothing more - it has been shown in the High Court that these deletions could not have been critical to any system's operation. So let's not blow things out of proportion, yeah?

    Moreover, if you are aware of the claims of damage caused, you will also be aware that these do not relate to any deletion of the logs of McKinnon's own presence on the systems, but to the cost of securing the networks in question by installing basic passwords and firewalls. Note that it was already the US military's legal obligation to secure their computer systems - the law already acknowledges that this is a US military responsibility, not a damage caused by Gary McKinnon. Note also that there is precedent in law that says the cost to secure a network does not properly constitute damage caused by unauthorized access to that network.
  • JonathanJ—

    Repeatedly, here and elsewhere, the claim that McKinnon is not extraditable has been made only by making a case that his crimes are not sufficient to *require* extradiiton, and that argument employs a false dichotomy. The precise legalities of whether McKinnon's case is suffiicent to *allow* extradition have been dissected at

    No, since you've parleiptically raised it, let's *not* lay aside the question of admissions; rules of admissibility apply to arguments made by the state in court, not to arguments made on ZDNet. I made a factual claim, you denied it and Tezzer challenged it, and I met the challenge.

    Nor should you attempt to wave-away the claim as “blow[ing] things out of proportion”. Instead, you should just admit that you were flat wrong, and that the analogy with with erasing the contents of a security tape was quite fitting.

    I don't deny that the magnitude of other damage effected by McKinnon may be misrepresented. (I'm no particular fan of the state in general nor of the present or previous Administration.) I'm simply tried of the rubbish that I've read coming with virtually *every* attempt to defend him.

    You bet that Yankee sees.
  • Athanatos
    Repeating your claim about a false dichotomy doesn't make it true. The allegations constitute an extraditable offence in the terms of the Extradition Act (2003), but (and Jack of Kent chose to ignore this fact), the evidence presented to the Hight Court in July 09 under Lord Justice Stanley Burnton (presented to a packed courtroom I might add, and widely reported in the national press at the time), demonstrated that these allegations are without foundation.
    In actual fact, the rules of admissability apply to the CPS and decisions to prosecute, not just to the state and courts. They are pretty clear, and as such certainly do merit mention in an online discussion such as this, especially an argument which relies on any premise pertaining to said admissions.
    If you show me where I am wrong, I shall be very happy to concede, but it seems (like Jack of Kent) you have neither read the CPS disclosure of the evidence nor the forensic IT report of Professor Peter Sommer which were presented to the court.
    Peace and love.
  • ps I think you might have missed my point - his crimes on the evidence are NOT sufficient to allow OR require extradition.
  • Jonathan—
    I showed the dichotomy false by exhibiting the three cases: offenses for which extradition is required; offenses for which extradition is prohibited, and offenses for which it is neither required nor prohibited. To insinuate that I was instead using bald repetition is dishonest.
    You must make the case not merely that extradition were not required; you must make the case that it were prohibitted.
    I didn't miss a point that you didn't make; your claim to somehow have made it isn't even logically compatible with denying that a dichotomy were false.
    And now baldly claiming that the offense is not one for which extradition is permitted isn't the same as demonstrating that it is not.
    I'd be quite willing to read that essential, missing demonstration if it followed upon an apology for misrepresenting the argument that I have made and that you have so far made.