Gary McKinnon – NASA Hacker Wins Right to Extradition Hearing

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Statements to the media

During the length of time between his indictment and beginning of extradition proceedings, with a growing media interest in his case, Gary McKinnon has had a number of opportunities to address the media.

At the Infosecurity Europe 2006 conference in London on April 27, 2006, McKinnon appeared on the Hackers’ Panel. When asked how his exploits were first discovered, McKinnon answered that he had miscalculated the timezone — he was using remote-control software to operate a Windows computer while its user was sitting in front of it.

McKinnon has admitted in many public statements to unauthorised access of computer systems in the United States including those mentioned in the United States indictment. He claims his motivation, drawn from a statement made before the Washington Press Club on May 9, 2001 by a group of high level ex-military and civilian sources known as “The Disclosure Project“, was to find evidence of UFOs, antigravity technology, and the government suppression of “Free Energy”, all of which he claims to have proven through his actions.[8]

In his interview with the BBC he also claimed that “The Disclosure Project” says there is “extra-terrestrial in origin and [they’ve] captured spacecraft and reverse engineered it.” He also claimed to have downloaded a low-resolution image of “something not man-made” and “cigar shaped” floating above the northern hemisphere. He said that unfortunately he did not manage to get a screenshot or recording of the image because he was “bedazzled” to see the image, could not remember the capture function in the software RemotelyAnywhere, and that he was “cut off” from his connection.[9]

The charge that he perpetrated “the biggest military hack of all time” is disputed by McKinnon who characterises himself as a “bumbling computer nerd”. He refers to previous documented incidents of hacking including May 2001 when as acknowledged by U.S. government contractor Exigent International one or more hackers broke into a U.S government server storing satellite software and stole code. Evidence led investigators to an e-mail service in Sweden but the culprits were never apprehended. In 1997, two California teenagers and a trio of Israeli hackers were arrested for hacking into Pentagon servers. Israeli hacker Ehud Tenenbaum, then 18 years old, and his two teenage accomplices were not extradited, but were prosecuted by local authorities. McKinnon has also claimed that on many occasions he noticed other hackers unlawfully entering the same systems and suggests that his activities were not unique. The U.S. Pentagon has for example in the past cited as many as 250,000 attacks in a single year.

Background

The computer systems administrator is accused of hacking into 97 United States military and NASA computers in 2001 and 2002. The computer networks he is accused of hacking include networks owned by NASA, the US Army, US Navy, Department of Defense and the US Air Force. The US estimates claim the costs of tracking and correcting the problems he allegedly caused were around $700,000 .

McKinnon was originally tracked down and arrested under the Computer Misuse Act by the UK National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) in 2002 who informed him that he would face community service. The Crown Prosecution Service refused to charge him. Later that year he was indicted by the United States government. McKinnon remained at liberty without restriction for three years until June 2005 (after the UK had implemented a new extradition treaty with the US [which the US congress has not ratified]) 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. In addition he was banned from using a computer with access to the Internet. There have been no more developments in respect of the charges relating to United Kingdom legislation but in late 2005 the United States began extradition proceedings.

If he is extradited to the U.S. and charged, McKinnon faces up to 70 years in jail and has expressed fears that he could be sent to Guantanamo Bay.[5][6] He has said that he will contest the extradition proceedings and believes that he should face trial in the UK, principally as he argues that any alleged crimes were committed there and not in the United States.

In an interview televised on the BBC‘s Click programme,[7] he claimed 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.

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