Ruling due today on hacker extradition

Author: By John Aston, Press Association

Lawyers for Mr McKinnon, 43, who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, are
challenging decisions by successive Home Secretaries allowing extradition to
go ahead.

They are also asking two judges to overturn a refusal by Keir Starmer QC, the
Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), to sanction a trial in this country.
A UK trial would block extradition.

Mr McKinnon, from Wood Green, north London, and his supporters fear his
medical condition, coupled with the stress of extradition and tough American
prison conditions, could result in psychosis and suicide.

Mr McKinnon is prepared to plead guilty to computer hacking offences to avoid
extradition.

But former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith decided last October to order his
removal following a request from the US prosecuting authorities.

The current Home Secretary Alan Johnson has insisted he has no power to demand
the trial take place in the UK.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Mr McKinnon said he would not get a fair trial
if he was extradited to the United States.

“There is no way I would get a jury of my peers in America. I would be tried
in Virginia, and a lot of people in Virginia work for defence contractors.
I’m accused of damaging defence computers.”

The US authorities say Mr McKinnon was responsible for the “biggest military
hack of all time”, involving 97 government computers belonging to
organisations including the US Navy and Nasa.

Mr McKinnon has admitted breaking into the system in 2001-2 during a period of
heightened security in the wake of the September 11 2001 attacks. But he
claims he was looking for evidence of extra-terrestrial life.

The US government alleges his conduct was intentional and calculated to
influence and affect it by “intimidation and coercion”. It says the cost of
repair totalled more than 700,000 US dollars (£436,000).

Campaigners seeking to block his extradition say he acted through “naivety” as
a result of Asperger’s – a form of autism which leads to obsessive behaviour
– and should not be considered a criminal.

At a recent hearing, Edward Fitzgerald QC accused the Government of reaching a
“flawed” decision in the light of the uncontradicted medical evidence of the
severe mental suffering that extradition would cause.

The QC described Mr McKinnon as “an eccentric person who has passionate views
about UFOs”.

Extradition was “unnecessary, avoidable and disproportionate” as Mr McKinnon
could be prosecuted in the UK.

Mr Starmer refused to order a UK trial, saying the bulk of the evidence was
located in the US and Mr McKinnon’s actions were directed against the US
military infrastructure.

He also argued there was a large number of witnesses in the US, along with the
real evidence – apart from Mr McKinnon’s computer. Gathering the evidence
for prosecution in the UK would be an immense task, and certain material
from the US might be considered “sensitive” by the US authorities.

Previously Mr McKinnon’s case against extradition has been rejected on other
grounds by a district judge, the High Court and then, in July last year, the
House of Lords. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg also
refused to intervene.

He was caught as he tried to download a grainy black and white photograph
which he believed was an alien spacecraft from a Nasa computer housed in the
Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas.

He was easily traced by the authorities because he used his own email address.

He has always said he had no malicious intent but was looking for classified
documents on UFOs which he believed the US authorities had suppressed.

He has signed a statement accepting his hacking constituted an offence under
the UK’s Computer Misuse Act 1990.

A large campaign involving family, politicians and celebrities has fought a
long battle against extradition.

The case has also once more brought into focus the perceived inequality of
laws which enable the US to extradite UK citizens with comparative ease,
while it is much harder for the UK authorities to secure the removal of
wanted American citizens to these shores.

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