NASA hacker: I'll plead guilty in the U.K.

Gary McKinnon's attorneys tell the Crown Prosecution Service that he would plead guilty if tried under UK law, a move that could help him avoid extradition to the U.S.

Tom Espiner Special to CNET News
2 min read

Self-confessed hacker Gary McKinnon has told U.K. prosecutors he will plead guilty to charges in the U.K., a move that could help him avoid extradition to the U.S.

McKinnon has been accused by U.S. prosecutors of "the biggest military hack of all time," after entering NASA and Pentagon systems. His solicitor, Karen Todner, sent a letter to Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, to say McKinnon would plead guilty if tried in the U.K. under the Computer Misuse Act (CMA). The letter was sent on December 23, Todner told ZDNet UK on Monday.

Gary McKinnon
Gary McKinnon ZDNet UK

"Gary has committed offenses under the CMA, and has been diagnosed with Asperger's," said Todner. "I think it's time the DPP recognized that. Gary will plead guilty."

Todner said that under the CMA, McKinnon would receive a different sentence from the one he would receive if tried under U.S. law, as in the U.S. he would be prosecuted on charges of causing damage to military systems. She added that it is "generally accepted" McKinnon would receive a more lenient sentence in the U.K. The Londoner currently faces trial in the U.S., pending the outcome of an appeal to the High Court.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) told ZDNet UK on Monday that it had received Todner's letter. "We can confirm we received the correspondence, and are considering that correspondence," said a CPS spokesperson, who added that no timescale could be given as to when Starmer would make a decision about the prosecution.

At the time of writing, 80 members of Parliament have given their support for an early day motion that the government request repatriation for McKinnon should he be tried and found guilty in the U.S. Prime Minister Gordon Brown in November spoke publically about McKinnon, boosting hopes he would serve any sentence in the U.K.

The self-confessed hacker, who was also known as "Solo," is accused by the U.S. government of hacking 97 U.S. military computers and causing over $700,000 of damage by deleting files. McKinnon has never denied accessing the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and NASA computers, but denies causing extensive damage. He claims he was initially searching for evidence of extra-terrestrial life, and later found evidence of antigravity projects. McKinnon faces up to 70 years in prison if found guilty by a U.S. court and, as it stands, would serve his sentence in the U.S.

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.