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'Pentagon hacker' McKinnon fights extradition

Case adjourned as lawyers argue over jurisdiction

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A Briton accused of hacking into numerous Pentagon and NASA computers began his fight against extradition today. Gary McKinnon (AKA Solo), 39, of Wood Green, north London, allegedly hacked into 97 military and NASA computers over a 12 month period from February 2001 until March 2002, causing an estimated $700,000 (£370,000) in damages.

McKinnon allegedly exploited poorly-secured Windows systems to attack networks run by NASA, the Pentagon and 12 other military installations scattered over 14 states. The unemployed sysadmin was arrested in March 2002 by UK police prior to a November 2002 indictment by a Federal Grand Jury over eight computer crime offences. US authorities are seeking to extradite McKinnon, who faces charges punishable by up to 80 years in jail if convicted. McKinnon is contesting the extradition arguing through his lawyers that he ought to be tried in the UK.

At a hearing at London's Bow Street Magistrates' Court on Wednesday (27 July) prosecutors detailed (and updated) allegations that McKinnon seized control of over 53 US Army computers, 26 US Navy computers, 16 NASA systems, one US DoD computer and one US Air Force computer.

Mark Summers, representing the US government, said McKinnon mounted an attack in February 2002 that shut down Internet access to 2,000 military computers in the Washington area for 24 hours. McKinnon is accused of scanning networks for vulnerabilities and extracting admin accounts and passwords prior to using a software program called RemotelyAnywhere to snoop on network traffic, install hacking software and delete system logs. These actions led to the collapse of the Washington-area network. He admitted leaving a note on one US Army computers that said: "US foreign policy is akin to government sponsored terrorism these days... I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels."

"The defendant's conduct was intentional. His objective was to disrupt the operation of the US government... thus endangering public safety," Sommers told the court. Despite the seriousness of the alleged attacks, US authorities are keen to stress no classified information was obtained through the year long assaults. Authorities reckon McKinnon acted alone and are not attributing his alleged crimes to any terrorist motive.

The defence asked for time to obtain expert opinion from a US legal experts and the case was adjourned until Tuesday 18 October. McKinnon's bail was extended on condition that he make no attempt to apply for international travel documents or to use a computer connected to the internet. District Judge Nicholas Evans relaxed a requirement to report to his local police station every day so that he only has to attend twice a week.

Karen Todner, McKinnon's solicitor, argued that as a Briton her client ought to be tried in the UK. In a prepared statement delivered outside court she criticised the delay between McKinnon's initial arrest and the start of extradition proceedings. "Gary McKinnon continues to vigorously contest extradition which was only belatedly requested by the US government. The British public need to ask themselves why British citizens are being extradited to the USA when the US government has not ratified the extradition treaty between the two countries," she said.

McKinnon, smartly dressed in a green suit, remained attentive throughout the proceedings and didn't betray any of the signs of nerves normally associated with defendants in high profile computer crime cases. He was supported in court by family and friends who ushered him into a waiting taxi bypassing requests to pose for photos made by the media. A number of websites have sprung up to support McKinnon's cause, the most comprehensive and organised of which is run by our friends at Spyblog (here). ®

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