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NASA hacker loses latest extradition fight

Gary McKinnon's extradition fight moves from British courts to European Union courts, where it could drag on for a few more years.


On Wednesday, a 42-year-old UFO enthusiast lost his bid in a British court to fight extradition to the U.S. on charges he hacked into several U.S. military bases and even NASA.

Gary McKinnon has been fighting extradition for nearly six years, and his latest setback occurred in the British House of Lords. McKinnon admits breaking into U.S. databases in order to uncover evidence of secret UFO documents. His supporters contend that if deported to the U.S. for trial, McKinnon could be portrayed as a terrorist, seeking military secrets in general.

At the heart of Wednesday's hearing was McKinnon's claim that there was a wide disparity between what the U.S. offered if he voluntarily turned himself over and admitted guilt (three to four years of prison at the maximum) and if he were extradited and stood trial (anything up to life imprisonment).

The magistrate in the House of Lords dismissed the claim, saying that such plea bargaining is common in the U.S.

Between 2001 and 2002, McKinnon is alleged to have hacked his way into computers managed by the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense, and NASA. He did so from a tiny bedroom in his girlfriend's aunt's house. McKinnon maintains that he was motivated by his interests in UFOs, and that the military computers had lax security.

In 2006, the British Home Secretary ruled McKinnon should be extradited to the United States, and the U.K. Court of Appeal also made a subsequent ruling in favor of extradition.

Mark Summers, an official representing U.S. interests in the proceedings against McKinnon, said in British court that McKinnon's actions were "intentional and calculated to influence and affect the U.S. government by intimidation and coercion."

In a statement, McKinnon's lawyers responded in a statement that he is "neither a terrorist nor a terrorist sympathizer." They argue that "his case could have been properly dealt with by our own prosecuting authorities."

Watch this ZDNet UK video interview with McKinnon.

McKinnon's attorneys said he will appeal to European Court of Human Rights, in France. It is the last appeal he can file.