NASA hacker loses bid to avoid extradition

Gary McKinnon's latest attempt to avoid prosecution in the U.S. has been dismissed. The London man was accused seven years ago of hacking into NASA and U.S. military computers.

David Meyer Special to CNET News.com
Tom Espiner Special to CNET News
2 min read

Gary McKinnon has lost his high court bid in the U.K. to avoid extradition to the U.S. for hacking into military systems.

McKinnon had tried to argue that former home secretary, Jacqui Smith, was legally wrong to push for the extradition despite his diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome and that the director of public prosecutions was also wrong to opt for extradition despite having sufficient evidence to prosecute McKinnon in the U.K.

Gary McKinnon
Gary McKinnon ZDNet UK

However, Lord Justice Stanley Burnton and Justice Alan Wilkie dismissed both claims on Friday. McKinnon now has 28 days to launch an appeal at the Royal Courts of Justice. According to his solicitor, Karen Todner, McKinnon and his legal team will also appeal to the Law Lords, and Todner has made a fresh approach to President Obama.

"I have today sent a letter to President Barack Obama signed by 40 members of a cross parliamentary group of MPs asking him to step in to bring this shameful episode to an end," Todner said in a statement on Friday. "It is a sad state of affairs if this government cannot protect our most vulnerable of citizens."

In her statement, Todner also referred to the judges' decision as "inhumane" and "an affront to British justice."

The decision comes almost seven years after McKinnon, from North London, was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice in November 2002. He was charged with intentionally damaging a federal computer system, and with breaking into 97 computers belonging to the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Department of Defense, and NASA.

McKinnon has never denied the hacks, although his legal team has disputed the cost of the damage he allegedly caused--around $700,000, according to U.S. authorities. The Londoner said he had been looking for suppressed evidence of extraterrestrial life and pointed out the poor security that had been applied to the affected systems.

The case has had ramifications beyond the hacks themselves, as it has drawn attention to the extradition treaty that exists between the U.K. and the U.S. The U.S. can demand a suspect be extradited from the U.K. without providing prima facie evidence, which McKinnon's defense team have argued is not reciprocal.

McKinnon has also been diagnosed by the autism expert Simon Baron-Cohen with Asperger's syndrome, a disorder on the autism spectrum.

If he is convicted in the U.S., McKinnon faces up to 70 years in a maximum security federal prison. Legal team has argued that, given his condition, the situation would put him at risk of psychosis or even suicide.

Politicians and celebrities have rallied behind McKinnon, arguing that he should serve any potential sentence in the U.K., rather than in the U.S.

Correction at 8:25 a.m. PDT: The details of the extradition treaty between the U.S. and the U.K. have been tweaked.

David Meyer and Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.