Gary McKinnon (born 10 February 1966) is a Scottish systems administrator and hacker who was accused in 2002 of perpetrating the "biggest military computer hack of all time," although McKinnon himself states that he was merely looking for evidence of free energy suppression and a cover-up of UFO activity and other technologies potentially useful to the public. On 16 October 2012, after a series of legal proceedings in Britain, Home Secretary Theresa May blocked extradition to the United States.
Gary McKinnon, 12 July 2006
|Born||10 February 1966|
|Known for||Computer hacking|
McKinnon was accused of hacking into 97 United States military and NASA computers over a 13-month period between February 2001 and March 2002, at the house of his girlfriend's aunt in London, using the name 'Solo'.
US authorities stated he deleted critical files from operating systems, which shut down the United States Army's Military District of Washington network of 2000 computers for 24 hours. McKinnon also posted a notice on the military's website: "Your security is crap". After the September 11 attacks in 2001, he deleted weapons logs at the Earle Naval Weapons Station, rendering its network of 300 computers inoperable and paralyzing munitions supply deliveries for the US Navy's Atlantic Fleet. McKinnon was also accused of copying data, account files and passwords onto his own computer. US authorities stated that the cost of tracking and correcting the problems he caused was over $700,000.
While not admitting that it constituted evidence of destruction, McKinnon did admit leaving a threat on one computer:
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 ...
US authorities stated that McKinnon was trying to downplay his own actions. A senior military officer at the Pentagon told The Sunday Telegraph:
US policy is to fight these attacks as strongly as possible. As a result of Mr McKinnon's actions, we suffered serious damage. This was not some harmless incident. He did very serious and deliberate damage to military and Nasa computers and left silly and anti-America messages. All the evidence was that someone was staging a very serious attack on US computer systems.
Arrest and legal proceedings
McKinnon was first interviewed by police on 19 March 2002. After this interview, his computer was seized by the authorities. He was interviewed again on 8 August 2002, this time by the UK National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU).
In November 2002, McKinnon was indicted by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia. The indictment contained seven counts of computer-related crime, each of which carried a potential ten-year jail sentence.
McKinnon remained at liberty without restriction for three years until June 2005 (until after the UK enacted the Extradition Act 2003, which implemented the 2003 extradition treaty with the United States wherein the United States did not need to provide contestable evidence), when he became subject to bail conditions including a requirement to sign in at his local police station every evening and to remain at his home address at night.
Appeal to the House of Lords
Representing McKinnon in the House of Lords on 16 June 2008, barristers told the Law Lords that the prosecutors had said McKinnon faced a possible 8–10 years in jail per count if he contested the charges (there were seven counts) without any chance of repatriation, but only 37–46 months if he co-operated and went voluntarily to the United States. U.S.-style plea bargains are not a part of English jurisprudence (although it is standard practice to reduce the sentence by one-third for a defendant who pleads guilty) and McKinnon's lawyers contended that in effect this was intimidation to force McKinnon to waive his legal rights. McKinnon also stated that he had been told that he could serve part of his sentence in the UK if he co-operated. He rejected the offer because the Americans would not guarantee these concessions.
McKinnon's barrister said that the Law Lords could deny extradition if there was an abuse of process: "If the United States wish to use the processes of English courts to secure the extradition of an alleged offender, then they must play by our rules."
The House of Lords rejected this argument, with the lead judgement (of Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood) holding that "the difference between the American system and our own is not perhaps so stark as [McKinnon]'s argument suggests" and that extradition proceedings should "accommodate legal and cultural differences between the legal systems of the many foreign friendly states with whom the UK has entered into reciprocal extradition arrangements".
On 23 January 2009, McKinnon won permission from the High Court to apply for a judicial review against his extradition. On 31 July 2009, the High Court announced that McKinnon had lost this appeal. McKinnon's legal team, solicitor Karen Todner and barrister Ben Cooper, applied for a judicial review into the Home Secretary's rejection of medical evidence, which stated that, when he could easily be tried in the UK, it was unnecessary, cruel and inhumane to inflict the further stress of removing him from his homeland, his family and his medical support network.
British government blocks extradition
Mr McKinnon is accused of serious crimes. But there is also no doubt that he is seriously ill [...] He has Asperger's syndrome, and suffers from depressive illness. Mr McKinnon's extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr McKinnon's human rights.
She stated that the Director of Public Prosecutions would determine whether McKinnon should face trial before a British court. On 14 December, the DPP, Keir Starmer, announced that McKinnon would not be prosecuted in the United Kingdom, because of the difficulties involved in bringing a case against him when the evidence was in the United States.
In January 2010 Mr Justice Mitting granted McKinnon a further judicial review of the decision of Home Secretary Alan Johnson to allow McKinnon’s extradition. Mitting distinguished two issues which were arguable, the first being whether psychiatrist Jeremy Turk's opinion that McKinnon would certainly commit suicide if extradited means that the Home Secretary must refuse extradition under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (which prevents a public authority from acting in a way incompatible with convention rights). The second was whether Turk's opinion was a fundamental change to the circumstances that the courts had previously considered and ruled upon. Mitting ruled that if the answer to both questions was "Yes", then it was arguable that it would be unlawful to allow the extradition.
Support for McKinnon
In early November 2008, eighty British MPs signed an Early Day Motion calling for any custodial sentence imposed by an American court to be served in a prison in the UK. On 15 July 2009, many voted in Parliament against a review of the extradition treaty.
In November 2008, the rock group Marillion announced that it was ready to participate in a benefit concert in support of McKinnon's struggle to avoid extradition to United States. The organiser of the planned event was Ross Hemsworth, an English radio host. No date had been set as of November 2008. Many prominent individuals voiced support, including Sting, Trudie Styler, Julie Christie, David Gilmour, Graham Nash, Peter Gabriel, The Proclaimers, Bob Geldof, Chrissie Hynde, David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Stephen Fry, and Terry Waite. All proposed that, at least, he should be tried in the UK.
In a further article in The Herald, Joseph Gutheinz, Jr., a retired NASA Office of Inspector General Senior Special Agent, voiced his support for McKinnon. Gutheinz, who is also an American criminal defence attorney and former Member of the Texas Criminal Justice Advisory Committee on Offenders with Medical and Mental Impairments, said that he feared Gary McKinnon would not find justice in the USA, because "the American judicial system turns a blind eye towards the needs of the mentally ill".
Janis Sharp, McKinnon's mother, stood as an independent candidate in the 2010 general election in Blackburn in protest against the sitting Labour MP Jack Straw, who was Foreign Secretary when the extradition treaty was agreed. She finished last out of eight candidates with 0.38% of the vote.
On 20 July 2010, Tom Bradby, ITN's political editor, raised the Gary McKinnon issue with U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron in a joint White House press conference who responded that they had discussed it and were working to find an 'appropriate solution'.
In August 2009, Pink Floyd's David Gilmour released an online single, "Chicago - Change the World", on which he sang and played guitar, bass and keyboards, to promote awareness of McKinnon's plight. A re-titled cover of the Graham Nash song "Chicago", it featured Chrissie Hynde and Bob Geldof, plus McKinnon himself. It was produced by long-time Pink Floyd collaborator Chris Thomas and was made with Nash's support.
Statements to the media
McKinnon has admitted in many public statements that he obtained unauthorised access to computer systems in the United States including those mentioned in the United States indictment. He states his motivation, drawn from a statement made before the Washington Press Club on 9 May 2001 by "The Disclosure Project", was to find evidence of UFOs, antigravity technology, and the suppression of "free energy", all of which he states to have proven through his actions.
In an interview televised on the BBC's Click programme, McKinnon stated that he was able to get into the military's networks simply by using a Perl script that searched for blank passwords; in other words his report suggests that there were computers on these networks with the default passwords active.
In his interview with the BBC, he also stated of "The Disclosure Project" that "they are some very credible, relied-upon people, all saying yes, there is UFO technology, there's anti-gravity, there's free energy, and it's extraterrestrial in origin and [they've] captured spacecraft and reverse engineered it." He said he investigated a NASA photographic expert's claim that at the Johnson Space Center's Building 8, images were regularly cleaned of evidence of UFO craft, and confirmed this, comparing the raw originals with the "processed" images. He stated to have viewed a detailed image of "something not man-made" and "cigar shaped" floating above the northern hemisphere, and assuming his viewing would be undisrupted owing to the hour, he did not think of capturing the image because he was "bedazzled", and therefore did not think of securing it with the screen capture function in the software at the point when his connection was interrupted.
In 2006, a Freedom of Information Act request was filed with NASA for all documents pertaining to Gary McKinnon. NASA's documents consisted of printed news articles from the Slashdot site, but no other related documents. This was consistent with NASA employees browsing internet articles about Gary McKinnon; the records of such browsing activity are in the public domain.
The FOIA documents have been uploaded to the Internet for review and can be downloaded.
On 12 December 2007, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a 45-minute radio play about the case, The McKinnon Extradition by John Fletcher. It was re-broadcast on 2 September 2008. It was directed by Pete Atkin and produced by David Morley.
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15. ... alleged to total over $700,000
- High Court judgment s. 8
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- McKinnon v Government of the United States of America and another, section 34
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- "US mil still wide open to attack, says reformed hacker". London, UK: The Register. 3 September 2008. Retrieved 16 November 2015.
- "Mother of 'hacker' to stand in Blackburn". Lancashire Telegraph. 11 April 2010. Retrieved 16 November 2015.
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- "Tom Bradby Questions the Prime Minister and the President over Gary McKinnon". LondonTV.net.
- "Tom Bradby (ITN) Asks hard questions of UK Prime Minister David Cameron over Gary McKinnon and the discussions he had with Obama". LondonTV.net. Retrieved 16 November 2015.
- "Chicago - Change the world. Original song by Graham Nash". LondonTV.net. Retrieved 4 August 2009.
- "UFO Hacker" Tells What He Found, Wired News, 21 June 2006
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- Kelly, Spencer (5 May 2006). "Hacker fears 'UFO cover-up'". BBC. Retrieved 1 August 2009.
- The NASA Hacker Archived 24 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine, BBC Click
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- "The McKinnon Extradition". BBC Programmes. BBC. Retrieved 21 June 2008.
- "Gary McKinnon now offering Search Engine Optimisation services"
- Support website by Gary McKinnon's mother
- Hacker Voice Radio interview with McKinnon
- "The Briton facing 60 years in US prison after hacking into Pentagon"
- Profile: Gary McKinnon
- Dan Bull—Free Gary (an open letter to the Home Secretary)
- Coverage of the Gary McKinnon case since 2006
- 16min video interview on Snotr