McKinnon: The longest ever game of pass the parcel
After eight years, the music may finally be stopping
Six years before McKinnon, reformed British computer hacker turned hypnotherapist Mathew Bevan was also charged with breaking into insecure US military computer systems, again motivated by a desire to uncover suppressed UFO-related evidence. Bevan's alleged crimes were cited as examples of cyberterrorism at Senate hearings in 1996.
Bevan, unlike McKinnon, was prosecuted in the UK and no attempt was made to extradite him to the US. The case against Bevan eventually collapsed after 18 months, when prosecutors decided not to proceed. Bevan's alleged accomplice Richard Pryce, then 16 years old, pleaded guilty to hacking offences and received a fine.
Aaron Caffrey was found not guilty by a jury in 2003 of launching a major electronic attack that floored the computer systems of the Port of Houston. The unsuccessful outcome of both cases arguably played a big part in the US decision to seek extradition in the McKinnon case.
Scores of people have pleaded guilty to Computer Misuse Act offences but no one has actually been convicted of hacking offences by a jury in the 20 years since the now amended CMA first became law. This may perhaps have been one reason why the US authorities have pursued extradition so doggedly.
All this still leaves the question of why years of protracted legal procrastinating, that have taken a severe toll on McKinnon's health, have accompanied the case. The reason seems to be that while some New Labour minsters and element of the judiciary are keen to accede to American requests and sympathetic to their law enforcement concerns, others in British society regard the US stance as taking a very large hammer to a small nut.
Feelings that McKinnon has been treated unfairly, and perhaps that he has suffered enough, have grown strongly after he was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome back in 2008.
Some reckoned that the departure of the Bush administration would signal the end of the US extradition bid against McKinnon.
That hasn't happened, but Obama's justice team has been noticeably less noisy about the issue.
And whereas President Obama has not intervened directly in what's a little known case in the US, at least, Conservative leader and PM in waiting (if opinion polls are to be believed) David Cameron has publicly backed McKinnon. A future Conservative Home Secretary is likely to finally suspend extradition proceedings against McKinnon, eight years after he was first arrested and five years after the first attempts to haul him over to the US.
So, one might speculate that when we have new justice teams either side of the Atlantic, it will become easier for them to - more or less quietly - bury the case.
It's normally said that justice delayed is justice denied, and McKinnon's exceptionally long wait arguably proves the rule. ®
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