Nasa hacker loses bid to avoid extradition

Nasa hacker loses bid to avoid extradition

Summary: High court judges have ruled that self-confessed hacker Gary McKinnon can be extradited to the US for trial

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TOPICS: Security
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Gary McKinnon has lost his high court bid to avoid extradition to the US for hacking into military systems in that country.

McKinnon had tried to argue that former home secretary, Jacqui Smith, was wrong in law to push for the extradition despite his diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome, and that the director of public prosecutions was also wrong to opt for extradition despite having sufficient evidence to prosecute McKinnon here in the UK.

However, Lord Justice Stanley Burnton and Mr Justice Wilkie dismissed both claims on Friday. McKinnon now has 28 days to launch an appeal at the Royal Courts of Justice. According to his solicitor, Karen Todner, McKinnon and his legal team will also appeal to the new supreme court, which is replacing the Law Lords. Todner has also made a fresh approach to President Obama.

"I have today sent a letter to President Barack Obama signed by 40 members of a cross-parliamentary group of MPs asking him to step in to bring this shameful episode to an end," Todner said in a statement on Friday. "It is a sad state of affairs if this government cannot protect our most vulnerable of citizens."

In her statement, Todner also referred to the judges' decision as "inhumane" and "an affront to British Justice".

The decision comes almost seven years after McKinnon, from North London, was indicted by the US Department of Justice in November 2002. He was charged with intentionally damaging a federal computer system, and with breaking into 97 computers belonging to the US Army, US Navy, US Air Force, US Department of Defense and Nasa.

McKinnon has never denied the hacks, although his legal team has disputed the cost of the damage he allegedly caused — around $700,000 (£500,000), according to US authorities. The Londoner said he had been looking for suppressed evidence of extraterrestrial life, and pointed out the poor security that had been applied to the affected systems.

The case has had ramifications beyond the hacks themselves, as it has drawn attention to the extradition treaty that exists between the UK and the US. The US can demand a suspect be extradited from the UK without providing prima facie evidence, which McKinnon's defence team has argued is not reciprocal.

McKinnon has also been diagnosed by the autism expert Simon Baron-Cohen with Asperger's syndrome, a disorder on the autistism spectrum. If he is convicted in the US, McKinnon faces up to 70 years in a maximum security federal prison, and his legal team has argued that, given his condition, this situation would put him at risk of psychosis or even suicide.

Politicians and celebrities have rallied behind McKinnon, arguing that he should serve any potential sentence here in the UK, rather than in the US.

Topic: Security

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com. He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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30 comments
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  • indicative of our governments uncaring attitude

    Anyone who understands Aspergers would see how this whole process as cruel and unecessary. The US should have been told to take a hike at the first stage rather than try to criminalise someone unecessarily. However when I see first hand the governments uncaring approach to immigration and rights to remain in the UK it is clear that everything "must be done by the book" and no account is taken of human feelings and the impact their decisions have.

    People are the least important factor in the equation and there is little chances that this unfortunate young man will get any kind of justice in the totally paranoid society that is the USA. Sadly we are becoming equally paranoid with some of the recently proposed legistlation.

    I despair of a world which increasingly values property and money above people. We should turn out en-masse to prevent the authorities taking him to the airport - however in reality most of us will just shut our eyes and try to justify the governments/courts actions
    cymru999
  • "Special" relationship...

    So it's not just Mr Tony who deserves the "poodle" suffix...
    We know that in these circumstances the Americans like to make and example of people, with Draconian sentences. They should be congratulating this man for harmlessly pointing out their security flaws, a "consultant" would have cost far more, and not got the same results. Shame on Jacqui Smith, a woman not entirely known for her upright behaviour.
    There's one law for the rich...
    N
    su3264@...
  • should serve any potential sentence here in the UK, rather than in the US.

    You hit it on the head Nigel, he should have been hired as a consultant, and work out his sentence in that manner. If security at organizations like these are that bad, then they need all the help they can get. BTW, I wouldn't look for Obama to help, as he doesn't know what he is doing 99.999% of the time.
    ator1940
  • The law is an ass

    This episode, which highlights the unbalance in the extradition treaty between the US and the UK, should never have happened. It is manifest that the US was allowed to pressurise the UK into accepting this unjust arrangement and the judges who ruled in the case just showed how silly the law is (not for the first time). The treaty NEEDS to be changed forthwith.
    harold.stern@...
  • We'll that just says it all..

    This country's finally lost its f@#*ing marbles! 60-70 years for pressing enter on a blank password screen! and yet terrorists are allowed to go free with compensation. D:

    This cast's light on this very serious problem we all face here in the UK
    http://www.melaniephillips.com/articles-new/?p=595

    If anyones to be extradited then it should be all the politicians found guilty of theft & corruption, in fact they should be executed for hi treason.
    CA-aba1d
  • Well at least he won't be going to Gitmo!

    Assuming he gets convicted, he's going to be an expensive prisoner to keep incarcerated. Remember they consider him a digital terrorist. The federales are going to want to keep him isolated from the rest of the prison population so they can get more info out of him, assuming they haven't already trace-logged everything he did. If he pleads guilty and cooperates, his attorney can go back to the court and get his sentence reduced.

    He's not going to have to worry about health care, federal prisoners get better healthcare than a lot of US taxpayers can afford!

    Just the cost of flying him to the US under arrest by Federal Marshals would buy me a new high mpg Obama-approved car!

    The US government has already pissed away more taxpayer money pursuing the case then the hacker has caused in damages to federal computer systems. Personally I would much rather have my tax dollars spent to keep the damn national Obama debt from getting worse.
    Xwindowsjunkie-e92c6
  • I still think he needs to come to the US to be tried

    I think he should be sent to the US
    To face his accusers, this is not about US vs UK, its about right and wrong. He knew what he was doing, he hacked into military and NASA computers looking for something. He had full knowlegde of what he was doing and HE chose to do it. Do I feel bad about what this has done to his family, yes, do I feel bad he has a medical condition, yes, do I feel bad that if he goes to jail he will be very far from his family, yes. He should of thought about all of this before he commited the crime. He did this to himself and his family, not the US.

    The US is seeking justice. In the beginning the US showed him mercy by the plea deal it gave, by turning it down and fighting extradition he gave the US prosecutors no choice but to go after him. Right now American prosecutors are following the law, it isn't even that he says he is innocent and that they got the wrong guy. McKinnon admitted that he did it, I saw a interview with him saying that he did it, he is trying to get off on a technicality. He knows in America what he did is a felony (jail time), compared to the UK's Misdemeanor charge (community service). Of course he wants to be tried in the UK, who wouldn't.

    Right now its the US Governments word against His Word over the damage done, he who has already admitted that he hacked into the US Governemnts systems, how do we know, maybe he did it accidently and he really believes he didnt, maybe the US Government is blowing smoke, if only we had some way to know the truth, like a guy sitting on a bench, hearing both sides of the argument and handing out a fair ruling. The Judge should reside in the area that the crime took place in he would after all have jurisdiction, like Virginia. Right now the US Goverment might be blowing smoke, on the other hand they might not be, I don't know I havent seen the evidence but I can tell you in court the US Government will have to back up their accusations.

    NASA and the Army should be very embarrassed over how easy it was for him however if you leave your house unlocked does that mean I can come in and eat your food? After all you left it with weakened security?

    I am sure what really got America's temper going is this message he left "US foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days... It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand-down on September 11 last year... I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels."

    A quote from him, it looks like from the quote that he was in favor over what happened on 9/11, and he will continue to distrupt the US Governments network.
    I dont think he realized the US could or would come after him. He only believed he would have to do community service, that the US was powerless to stop him.

    I am sure many UK citizens will disagree with me and thats fine, but I can say with a 100% certainty that if a US citizen hacked the UK's military, the US would hand him over to be tried.
    NoThomas-49dfa
  • How on earth did you come to that conclusion?

    "I am sure what really got America's temper going is this message he left "US foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days... It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand-down on September 11 last year... I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels."

    A quote from him, it looks like from the quote that he was in favor over what happened on 9/11, and he will continue to distrupt the US Governments network."

    That quote to me says something entirely different.


    A lot of people around the world are very skeptical of the US government in power at that time, given the very erratic so called truths & behavior of a great deal of what exactly transpired that day.

    Also lets not forget about the unusual circumstances surrounding the manner in which Bush was elected.

    There a lot more to all that than meets the eyes.
    CA-aba1d
  • Update..

    Could it quite possibly that he hit the nail on the head?
    CA-aba1d
  • This is how I came to that conclusion

    "That quote to me says something entirely different."
    OK lets take a look at it, I think now I understand the context but this is how it comes across (maybe its the differences between the two englishs)
    " "US foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days..." SO the US got what it deserved.

    "It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand-down on September 11 last year..." so 9/11 was not a mistake it was the right thing to do.

    "I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels."
    I am Solo, since the US deserves it and terrorism is not a mistake I will continue to disrupt the US at the highest levels. He is saying he is a cyberterrorist doing his part to disrupt the US.

    That is how it comes across, after talking with other people on zdnet UK I think now I know the meaning of what he was saying but that is how it comes across and how I came to that conclusion. I am still not 100% convinced I am wrong though.

    Here is the issue, he commited a crime against the US Military after 911 during a time of war. He is not denying this in fact he even says he did it "
    NoThomas-49dfa
  • No thomas..

    Your missing a great deal in your arguments on this subject, I've replied to more than one you have put forward numerous times across multiple postings here on zdnet uk site, and this one is no different to the other's you have offered already, and is still full of the same holes.

    Oh and one more thing, id appreciate it very much if you did not put words into my mouth, especially when it comes to endorsing pedophilia.
    CA-aba1d
  • I have read all the arguments and still disagree

    One of the the effects of aspergers is a disconnection betweeen cause and effect. In years gone by such people would have been harshly dealt with by the courts and "punished" for things that they did not connect with their actions. We are now hopefully in more enlightened and informed society.

    In the UK I think it is true to say that we have a mistrust of most justice systems (including our own) ability to deal with things which are outside their experience. We consider that it is our duty to help protect vulnerable people - and I do say that someone with aspergers should not go to jail for downloading pornography because in their case it does not suggest that the interest in doing so comes from the same kind of obsession that would drive most people to do it the obsession may be with finding picturs of girls with red hair that is exactly shoulder length or something else equally benign.

    In the UK we do not believe that the US is generally caring towards disabled people of any description - in my observation even some war vets are treated appallingly - this perception may be wrong as I havent lived there and if it is then please convince me that a poor person who loses a leg would be given the latest prosthetics and access to mobility at public expense.

    That is why we say he should be tried here because we will judge the case with the understanding that he did not connect the incidence with right or wrong and that even after punishment (that rather archaic notion of something that I thought was supposed to reform) he would have no greater connection with the cause and effect than he did before - that is the nature of aspergers and the challenge to society in helping such people manage their lives.

    In the UK we do not spend nearly enough of taxpayers money in supporting disadvantaged members of society (despite a press fueled hysteria that we spend too much)

    As far as the US defence system goes then their duty is to protect it with a level of security which would prevent people from doing this - they should be very relieved that the person who hacked it was a harmless young man in a house in London and not an Al Quaeda terrorist.
    cymru999
  • That was not my intention...

    "Your missing a great deal in your arguments on this subject, I've replied to more than one you have put forward numerous times across multiple postings here on zdnet uk site, and this one is no different to the other's you have offered already, and is still full of the same holes."

    We can agree to disagree, I think your arguments are full of holes. Mostly you change the subject to a conspiracy theory about 9/11, like a theory should excuse someone for commiting a crime.

    "Oh and one more thing, id appreciate it very much if you did not put words into my mouth, especially when it comes to endorsing pedophilia." That was not my intention, however my point still stands where was the outcry? You guys say Gary could not help himself, because of Aspergers he was drawn almost compelled to do what he did. Tell me would not the 21 year old student fall under the same category? That was my point, I truly was not suggesting you supported pedophilia.
    NoThomas-49dfa
  • I appreciate your comments...

    You did give me something to think about.

    "In the UK I think it is true to say that we have a mistrust of most justice systems (including our own)" Why? Why not try to reform your system if you do not like it? I am not saying that the US's legal system if perfect, I know its not (far from it) but when we see errors in it we can fix them and reform them.

    "We consider that it is our duty to help protect vulnerable people -"
    We do to. We protect the minority or atleast we try to.
    "and I do say that someone with aspergers should not go to jail for downloading pornography because in their case it does not suggest that the interest in doing so comes from the same kind of obsession that would drive most people to do it the obsession may be with finding picturs of girls with red hair that is exactly shoulder length or something else equally benign." hmm I disagree, I think their can be no reason to let someone go in a child porn case, no reason at all, you say its your duty to protect the vulnerable people, tell me is their anyone more vulnerable then children? We can agree to disagree here that is fine, I do see your point but I disagree with it.

    "In the UK we do not believe that the US is generally caring towards disabled people of any description - in my observation even some war vets are treated appallingly - this perception may be wrong as I havent lived there and if it is then please convince me that a poor person who loses a leg would be given the latest prosthetics and access to mobility at public expense." I think the US is caring to people with disablities, would I say all, of course not like any place else their are a**holes, for the majority I think we care for our disabled. Are some Vets treated appallingly? I am not naive enough to say that some are not treated badly, would I say that the majority of Americans treat our Vets badly, no I would not. Funny you should mention Vets though,, the US just celebrated its Veterans Day just this past week. A day we as a country we Honor their Service.

    "please convince me that a poor person who loses a leg would be given the latest prosthetics and access to mobility at public expense." Their are programs for this yes, would they get the latest, probably not, would I get the latest, probably not, depends on the insurance companies.

    "That is why we say he should be tried here because we will judge the case with the understanding that he did not connect the incidence with right or wrong" Two things first the UK has already refused to judge him, its only when the US charged him and wanted him expidited that now the people of the UK says he should be judged there. Second he already admitted that he knew right from wrong and he knew the criminality here is a quote from him
    NoThomas-49dfa
  • we must agree to differ on many issues

    I can simply give my view on a couple of points in your response - firstly yes I do think that people with aspergers should be given at least as much protection as children. Secondly if someone with aspergers came into to my home which I had left unlocked then I would not want the law to put them in jail for it. I cannot say that I would feel that "at the time" which is precisely the reason why my views "at that time" should not be considered as they would not be rational.

    Incidentally just to correct one issue, many people here do not feel that this should be dealt with by courts at all (it is the US that forced it to this) but IF it must be, then it would be less traumatic for him to be tried in the UK. You may feel that your country is fair and just but this is not an opinion held by many in the UK. As I said these perceptions may be wrong but the US does not go out of its way to put them right.

    Any society which puts profit and protection at the top of almost every agenda (and to a large extent we do the same) is never going to be a fair society for all.
    cymru999
  • We can agree to disagree

    I respect your opionion even if I disagree with it.

    "I can simply give my view on a couple of points in your response - firstly yes I do think that people with aspergers should be given at least as much protection as children." I can agree here so shouldn't they be treated as children though. If he is a danger to himself or others then shouldn't he be in a place where he would not be a danger? A foreign national hacking into a Government Military network during a time of war, one could make a case that he is a danger to himself or others. How does the US know he won't do it again?

    "Secondly if someone with aspergers came into to my home which I had left unlocked then I would not want the law to put them in jail for it. I cannot say that I would feel that "at the time" which is precisely the reason why my views "at that time" should not be considered as they would not be rational." An Honest answer which I respect, I would like to think I would be the same way only I would not want it to happen again.

    "Incidentally just to correct one issue, many people here do not feel that this should be dealt with by courts at all (it is the US that forced it to this) but IF it must be, then it would be less traumatic for him to be tried in the UK. You may feel that your country is fair and just but this is not an opinion held by many in the UK." Why not? Honestly If I or one of my family were arrested in the UK I would have faith that I would be tried in a fair and legal system. Why is the perception that he would not be treated fairly? This is how fair the US is (and this scares me at the same time) just the other day a decision was handed down that the mastermind and architect of 9/11 is to be tried in the US criminal court system of New York. Because he is being tried in the civilian criminal courts he will have the same protections as a citizen, the right to a speedy trial, the right to evidence procedures etc... there is a good chance that the judge would and could throw out his case and make it impossible for the US to hold him and judge him again. He could go free in Manhattan 2 blocks from where the Towers Fell. Now if the man behind 9/11 is going to get a fair trial and atleast a 50/50 chance of him going free, dont you think Gary will get a fair trial to?


    "As I said these perceptions may be wrong but the US does not go out of its way to put them right." No matter what the US does its critizied. It has stopped trying to change people perceptions.

    You know what the US perception is of the UK? Most Americans think you guys are Snobs, we think you think you are superior to everyone in every way. Who has had a bloody history that goes back far. Who champions human rights unless they are talking about northern Ireland.

    I think these perceptions are wrong myself, I even enjoy watching your parliment debate on CSPAN.
    NoThomas-49dfa
  • this article sums things up nicely I think

    It is not from a sensationlist newspaper but a serious slightly left of centre newspaper with integrity
    http://tinyurl.com/gmckinus
    It is clear from the article that there was no malicious intent and some would see it as perfectly legitimate to seek data many people believe the US hides from the world and its own people - there is a belief that it was sensitivity around 9/11 (which horrified us)

    I also believe that by leaving the kind of messages that he did he was doing not only the US military but the whole world a service.
    cymru999
  • Putting things in context...

    There's a saying in the legal profession that hard cases make bad law - in other words, when things are particularly difficult to judge, it's probably a bad idea to use them to set rules in stone.

    This isn't one of those cases. What happened isn't in dispute, although the consequences (so much damage? Really?) need testing. The real question is, can any state be said to be protecting its citizens if it has no judicial process for protecting those citizens from unwarranted accusations from other countries (and, in the US, one which has a a legal system that is vastly different to our own)? This particular case aside, do we have those protections?

    It's interesting to speculate why there is this imbalance between our rights in the face of a US extradition request, and a US citizen's rights in the face of a UK extradition request. That's never been properly explained, and I suspect it goes back to the fact - known but with unexplored implications for the state - that we and the US have closely related security and intelligence services, with the US being the senior partner. In that light, we're a client state - and client states always come off worse when there's a perceived conflict of interests.

    I'm disappointed, but not surprised, that no political party has chosen to embark on a review of the fundamental implications of the state we find ourselves in, in this regard. It's one of the pernicious legacies of the second world war, and one that is extremely adept at perpetuating itself away from scrutiny.
    rupert.goodwins@...
  • Very Interesting

    "There's a saying in the legal profession that hard cases make bad law - in other words, when things are particularly difficult to judge, it's probably a bad idea to use them to set rules in stone." I totally agree with that.

    "What happened isn't in dispute, although the consequences (so much damage? Really?) need testing." The damages do seem high, i agree with you on that but remember this is the Government, the same Government that paid $20,000 for a coffee maker.

    "The real question is, can any state be said to be protecting its citizens if it has no judicial process for protecting those citizens from unwarranted accusations from other countries (and, in the US, one which has a a legal system that is vastly different to our own)? This particular case aside, do we have those protections?" Interesting Point, this case aside, from what i understand of the treaty, No you do not, which is something yall need to take up with your Parliment.
    Now this case, was not unwarranted, he admitted to doing it, he was on a morale crusade. The US is extraditing him by following the treaty yall agreed to. If he would of said he was innocent of these charges, if he would of said he was not at that computer and it was not him, then yes i think The US should lay out their case and say why its him, but he admits to doing it, the US has a case for extradition, the US has a case for the charges. Personally I think its a big mess, I do think and know and have faith that he will get a fair trial on US soil.

    I would like to point one thing out, in the US an apology goes very very far with us, I have looked at his interviews both print and video and I have not seen an apology, did I miss it?
    NoThomas-49dfa
  • those are not the questions

    yes he admitted to doing it BUT that is the nature of the illness - it would simply not occur to anyone with aspergers that they should deny anything as the do not associate actions with consequence and no amount of "punishment" will make that happen, and if punishment cannot change a person it does no good. He did not harm a person which would I agree might be something important.

    We only have examples on film to look at but we see US prisoners frequently in leg irons and handcuffs quite unecessarily - I recall seeing Michael Jackson in handcuffs - why was he about to beat up the police officers? From observation you do not treat non dangerous, unconvicted, prisoners with respect. Personally I would like to see the extradition treaty torn up. The offence was committed in Britain and it should be up to us to decide whether in this case prosecution is the correct and sensitive course of action.

    And before you say I would expect a US citizen to be brought here in similar circumstances then the answer is no - even if they were a murderer my view is that they would be your citizen and your problem and that UK taxpayers money should not be wasted extraditing them to put them on trial.

    Far too much time and money has been spent so far because the US want to divert attention away from the system that allowed him to do it in the first place - that is what we should be worried about!
    cymru999