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NASA hacker begins extradition fight

A court hearing marks the official start of Gary McKinnon's legal battle to resist being handed over to U.S. authorities.

The British man charged with hacking into a series of computers belonging to the U.S. government has begun his campaign against extradition.

Gary McKinnon, 39, appeared Wednesday at Bow Street Magistrate's Court in London for an extradition hearing on charges he gained unauthorized access to 97 U.S. government computers, including machines belonging to NASA and the Department of Defense.

The U.S. government alleges McKinnon accessed passwords and deleted critical files from the Earle U.S. naval weapons station, causing the 300 computers in its network to shut down. In the process, he gained password information that could be useful to an enemy and caused the U.S. Army's Washington military district to shut down its systems for about a day, the U.S. authorities say.

Gary McKinnon
Gary McKinnnon

Lawyers for the U.S. said McKinnon's attacks cost government agencies about $700,000. The Earle hack, which the U.S. said left the entire network vulnerable to outside access, cost $290,431.

McKinnon, however, said he only deleted files once, accidentally, and that he gained unauthorized access to military systems just to look for evidence of UFO conspiracies.

McKinnon's lawyers said he will be fighting the extradition on human rights grounds. If convicted, the north Londoner could face 70 years in jail.

The hearing has been adjourned until Oct. 18 to give McKinnon's defense team more time to prepare its case.

Jo Best of reported from London.