McKinnon waits in limbo for health expert

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
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

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.

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.

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