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McKinnon's lawyers hope UK prosecution will derail extradition

Will change of administration mean change of venue?

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Pentagon hacker Gary McKinnon has secured a potential lifeline in his long-running fight against extradition to the US on hacking charges.

McKinnon's legal team recently wrote to the Crown Prosecution Service requesting a UK trial, and offering a guilty plea to computer hacking offences while denying allegations he caused any damage. In response, the director of public prosecutions (DPP) has said it will take over four weeks to consider how to proceed with McKinnon's signed confession.

After legal defeats in appeals against extradition that ran all the way up to the House of Lords and in Europe last year, McKinnon's sole hope of avoiding extradition appear to rest on a judicial review of the Home Secretary's decision to disregard McKinnon's recent diagnosis of Aspberger's Syndrome in pressing ahead with his extradition. An oral hearing on this point before a High Court judge was scheduled for 20 January.

McKinnon's lawyers are now seeking to delay the hearing, failure at which would exhaust obstacles to a US extradition.

"If that fails, we really have come to the end of the line," McKinnon's solicitor Karen Todner told a press conference on Thursday, local paper the Ham and High reports. "Gary would then be extradited within the next 10 days."

January 20 also marks the change of administration in Washington, which could well result in a facelift to the US prosecution team. The longer McKinnon and his team can hold out, the higher the chance that they will end up facing US proceutors with no particular interest in getting him onto US soil.

McKinnon faces a seven-count US indictment alleging that he broke into 97 US government, NASA and military systems in the course of a hacking spree that ran between during 2001 and 2002. The London-based Scot admits breaking into insecure systems in a hunt for evidence that the US military was suppressing evidence of alien encounters and harvested UFO technologies, but denies causing any damage.

The former sys admin was first arrested by officers from the former National Hi-Tech Crime Unit in 2002. US attempts to extradite McKinnon only commenced in 2005, after the UK passed a controversial extradition treaty yet to be ratified by US authorities.

US authorities allege that McKinnon deleted files on systems at a naval base in New Jersey, causing the network at a base responsible for replenishing munitions and supplies for the Atlantic fleet to crash and causing damages estimated at $700,000.

During the press conference, McKinnon said he was one of numerous people who'd succeeded in accessing US military systems. He questioned whether it was possible for a single person on a dial-up modem to crash military network, as alleged.

McKinnon claimed some in the US had written to him thanking him for exposing the security shortcomings of the poorly-secured networks, some computers on which were unprotected by even rudimentary password security. "Some thought I'd done the country a service," he said, ComputerWeekly reports. "Perhaps they were thankful it was me and not Al-Qaeda." ®

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