Hacker With Asperger’s Faces Cyberterrorism Charges in the US

After the 9/11 attacks in the US, a British man named Gary McKinnon hacked his way into 97 computers belonging to NASA, the Pentagon and several branches of the US military. McKinnon was obsessed with science fiction and Area 51, and had hacked into the computers to find information about them. He was arrested in 2002 after investigators traced the hacks back to his girlfriend’s email account and charged with cyberterrorism by the former Bush Administration. Since then, the US Justice, Defense and Homeland Security Departments have been fighting to extradite McKinnon to stand trial in New Jersey Federal Court under the 2003 UK Extradition Act. If convicted, McKinnon could face up to 60 years in prison in a US SuperMax prison.

This is the sort of prison that convicted shoe-bomber Richard Reid is imprisoned in. McKinnon, a self-described “bumbling computer nerd,” has admitted he is guilty of hacking into the US government computers; in 2009, he signed a statement admitting an offense under Britain’s Computer Misuse Act, precisely in order to avoid extradition to the US and to be tried instead in Britain. His mother, Janis Sharp, and family are gravely afraid of what could happen to McKinnon if he is extradited to face a US Federal Court trial and then a lengthy prison sentence in a foreign country: Indeed, they fear nothing less than that all this could end McKinnon’s life. McKinnon is fighting to be tried in the UK, where he could face a sentence of eight years.

In August of 2008, McKinnon was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. He had shown signs of being on the autism spectrum earlier. His mother, Sharp, recalls an incident at a Christmas dinner party:

…where he put a large computer on the family dining table and could not understand why everyone was so upset. His logical but insensitive response was “well it’s my holiday party too isn’t it?” Indeed it is the honesty of an Asperger’s sufferer, “often to a fault” as Janis said, “that can be to their own detriment.”

McKinnon’s expertise with technology, obsessive focus on one thing (UFO’s) and his incomprehension of social mores and limitations — all traits of Asperger’s — are some of the reasons he was hacking into the US government databases. His hacking exposed a potentially embarrassing lack of firewalls and security in the NASA and Pentagon computer systems. Indeed, while in the system, McKinnon noted that he could see the IP addresses of hackers from China, Russia and other countries. When he couldn’t find the information about UFO’s he was looking for, McKinnon “became upset… and started leaving notes and traces of his entry calling the US government ‘liars’ for discrediting the existence of UFOs and lax 9-11 air security.”

In other words, he made it quite possible for authorities to identify and find him, a display of honesty not uncharacteristic of autistic individuals and one that has, arguably, only got McKinnon into even more trouble:

When Gary spoke to UK computer crimes authorities in 2002, he could only speak truth. This is also why plea deals are abhorrent because it means admitting guilt to something he feels is untrue. He freely, without a lawyer present, admitted he was looking around in government computers of all kinds to UK police because, “they were very nice to him.”

Just yesterday, on October 18,a three-judge panel said that McKinnon can be extradited to the US to stand trial. Whether or not he will rests with UK Home Secretary Theresa May, who will review medical records and make a final ruling about McKinnon’s fate. More than 80 MPs, the National Autistic Society (NAS) and numerous celebrities and public figures are supporting McKinnon.

There is no need for McKinnon to face what amounts to a show trial on heightened terrorism act charges in New Jersey. He knows he committed wrongs. He is not a terrorist and never was — and he should neither be extradited from his country nor made to stand trial in the US.

Related Care2 Coverage

Hacking Suspect Diagnosed with Autism, Refused Bail

The Geek Syndrome and Autism: Revisited

Toronto Police Defend Handcuffing Boy with Asperger’s

 

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

227 comments

steven a.
steven a6 years ago

was BS charges anyway pogle, yanks just flexing their muscles trying to prove their the big dogs on the block........not got as many teeth as they thought they had. woof woof.

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steven a.
steven a6 years ago

was BS charges anyway pogle, yanks just flexing their muscles trying to prove their the big dogs on the block........not got as many teeth as they thought they had. woof woof.

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Pogle S.
Pogle S6 years ago

Hooray! Gary will now be staying at home! The British Home Secretary, Teresa May has today (October 16 2012) blocked his extradition to the USA!!!

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One T.
One T.7 years ago

Instead Bill Clinton signed a law that gave Area 51 immunity from any legal prosecution. That means a government employee could be legally gang raped branded skinned alive and murdered in area 51, and that persons family would have no legal recourse. Laws are broken by both the weak and the strong, the dumb and the smart, the obvious and the sneaky. Yet who receives justice? Who is punished? Mostly the little fish, the small targets. Big catches take place of course, but not often. Gary Mckinnon is a guy a real hacker would smile at. I think what truly scares the american government is the thought that he is just one of a very few hackers who has even been identified. Power is harder to keep a grip on now, for better and for worse.

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One T.
One T.7 years ago

Most comments here seem to be emotional outbursts, rather than an analysis of the issue. First, this man was not an expert hacker, yet was able to enter pentagon computers. If he is prosecuted will this stop all future hackers? Probably not. He is an easy target. The question is, does the US government have the right to take a large segment of each years 700 or so billion military budget of tax money, taken by force of law, to do whatever it wants, with no civilian or government oversight? Does a hacker have a right to assume that job?
I am not sure if computers that actually reside in Area 51 were compromised, but if they were, I wonder how many of the staunchest US republican flag wavers would not only secretly like to take a peek at the files, but would even entertain thoughts of sticking a few rude pictures inside, or even copying and throwing them on the internet. If you physically tried to enter Area 51 you would be shot dead by government paid contractors. Computers allow the sneakiest people to bypass such painful realities. To be a good law abiding hard working citizen is what most aspire to be, but as anyone who has ever been wronged by authority knows, sometimes people would prefer a little pay-back.
A number of former workers at Area 51 sued the government during the Clinton administration because they had been ordered to burn toxic chemicals in pits. This gave them cancers and other health problems. They wanted restitution. Instead Bill Clinton signed a law

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steven a.
steven a7 years ago

It looks promising Tim, lets hope changes in the system can be implemented quickly then Gary can get this put behind him.

The US had an extradition denied in A Portuguese court as well so won’t want to lose this as well.

http://www.karoo.co.uk/NewsArticle.aspx?ID=N0718351321550867579A&category=World

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Tim H.
Tim Haines7 years ago

...cont - “His proposals are rather more in the nature of guidelines rather than the implementation of the forum bar itself. That is one of the matters the Government is going to have to consider.”
Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, said he disagreed with the report’s conclusions on the standard of proof required to initiate an extradition on either side of the Atlantic and called for reassurance from the Attorney General.
He asked that the Government ensured that “proper account be taken of the principle of reciprocity” so that Britons were not “at a constitutional disadvantage in comparison to their American counterparts”.
Mr Grieve replied: “We’re going to have to take account of what he has put forward and I hope you will make a contribution.”
Campaigners say that the 2003 Extradition Act, agreed between Britain and the US in haste after the September 11 terrorist attacks 10 years ago, is one-sided.
However, in his report last month, Sir Scott Baker ruled that it was not slanted in favour of Americans.
Mr McKinnon, 45, was accused in 2002 of using his home computer to hack into 97 American military and Nasa computers, causing damage that the US government claimed would cost more than $700,000 (£440,000) to repair.
He admits breaching the systems but denies causing damage and claims he was looking for evidence of UFOs.
© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2011

Hacker Gary

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Tim H.
Tim Haines7 years ago

Hacker Gary McKinnon 'could be tried in Britain’ - http://tgr.ph/tuzxcy #FreeGary
His family feared that he would be sent to the United States after an official review found that extradition arrangements were operating fairly.
On Tuesday, however, Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, said the review carried out by retired judge Sir Scott Baker offered “guidelines only”.
He added that the Government was considering giving British judges new powers to bar extradition. Last night Janis Sharp, Mr McKinnon’s mother, told The Daily Telegraph that she was “overjoyed” by Mr Grieve’s comments.
She added: “I am so glad to hear Dominic Grieve saying that. We would not let an animal suffer like this for 10 years.”
Isabella Sankey, the director of policy for the civil liberties campaign group Liberty, said: “It’s heartening to hear MPs speaking against unfair extradition. The majority of the last parliament — including all those now in the cabinet — voted for a forum bar and a Liberty poll last year revealed similar overwhelming support in the Commons.”
In the Commons, Mr Grieve was asked whether he would give judges discretion to allow cases such as Mr McKinnon’s to be tried in the UK.
Mr Grieve told the Commons: “That is touched on in Sir Scott Baker’s report and it is one of the matters which will have to be taken into account when the Government responds to it.
“His proposals are rat

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steven a.
steven a7 years ago

Not been draw in any more di, I’ve come to the conclusion your a troll.

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Diane L.
Diane L7 years ago

No need for a "last word", Steven, since I'm sure you will strive to have it, but the reference to "duristiction" wasn't to spelling, per se, but to totally making up a new word. I said very clearly that I could care less about typos, since I make dozens of them. I also transpose letters when I get sloppy. My comment about getting a job was snarky, YES, and I admit that. It wasn't so much as an insult as an observation. Coming into a discussion and seeing the entire front page filled with lengthy diatribes from nobody but you becomes annoying, especially when you never post anything new. You are obsessed with nothing but finding fault with what I say, and nit-picking. As you pointed out yourself, there have been others who have agreed with me and disagreed with you, but you are focused solely on arguing with me.

See, you're still doing it with the snide, "Good nite, Gracie". George Burns treated Gracie as a BIMBO and talked down to her all the time. It was role playing as Gracie Allen was a very intelligent woman. She just LET George be the pompous ass he portrayed on TV as a role. I guess it's your turn, and I'll be willing to bet money you'll take it.

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