Gary McKinnon saved from extradition after ten year fight

Filed Under: Law & order

Gary McKinnon, the British hacker who has been fighting a high profile campaign for ten years to avoid extradition to the United States, has had his extradition blocked by the UK government.

Theresa May, the British Home Secretary, told MPs at the House of Commons that the extradition would be blocked for human rights reasons, as there are concerns that 46-year-old McKinnon, who suffers from Asperger's syndrome, would commit suicide if sent for trial in America.

Commons statement by Theresa May

Here's part of what Theresa May told the House of Commons:

Mr McKinnon is accused of serious crimes. But there is also no doubt that he is seriously ill. He has Asperger's Syndrome, and suffers from depressive illness. The legal question before me is now whether the extent of that illness is sufficient to preclude extradition.

After careful consideration of all of the relevant material, I have concluded that Mr McKinnon's extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr McKinnon's human rights.

I have therefore withdrawn the extradition order against Mr McKinnon.

46-year-old McKinnon, who has Asperger's syndrome, has admitted hacking into United States military systems in late 2001 - but claims that he was hunting for evidence of UFOs, anti-gravity propulsion systems and extraterrestial technology.

The UK authorities will now decide if McKinnon should face charges in Britain.

What do you think about the case of Gary McKinnon? Leave a comment below.

Here are some of the past stories we have written about this fascinating case:

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48 Responses to Gary McKinnon saved from extradition after ten year fight

  1. Iestyn grills · 704 days ago

    Good news

  2. Philip · 704 days ago

    What Gary McKinnon did was wrong, spelled W.R.O.N.G. But have the US authorities pursued those who left dial-in accounts with null or trivial passwords with equal vigour? Not that I've heard. Justice, to be justice, has to be devoid of vindictiveness and blind to the nationality of the accused.

    • John Smith · 704 days ago

      Does it matter who else Did anything? Just because I catch you and your dog using my garden as a toilet has no relevance to anyone else's dog. It's your mess , you clean it up.

  3. David Emeny · 704 days ago

    At last, some sense. Although after a great waste of time and money. Was it Tory Blair that agreed to this one sided deal with the USA. Mind you it will really get up their nose.

  4. Mark · 704 days ago

    His crime was against the US. No question he should be extradited to the US to stand trial. The fact that he has Asperger's syndrome is irrelevant to extradition, just as the feeling that he will kill himself if he has to stand trial in the US. Special handling, yes, but to decide to not extradite him at all, no.

    • gregory · 704 days ago

      Yes Mark, and you would of course agree then, that should you perform some action that was against Chinese law you would agree to be extradited there to face their equally draconian legal system?

    • Authorita · 702 days ago

      It is illogical - and factually incorrect regarding Statutory Instruments - to suggest that a person must, or even should, be tried where the alleged target of the crime exists. Casuistry suggests that the merits of each individual case prevail.

      It will be good when we get to the point of establishing whether NASA can rightfully claim $450,000 in damages for a firewall they previously either didn't have, hadn't configured correctly or possibly didn't even have positioned correctly, or the other administrative overheads. These do not inform the decision of whether the law was broken or not with regard to unauthorised system access, but rather the severity of the crime in terms of impact.

      A successful conviction in such cases must not be interpreted as license for the victim to bill the perpetrator for instating protection they did not previously have.

  5. Ken Martin · 704 days ago

    I wonder if Mr Kim Dotcom and his lawyers will attempt to use Mr McKinnon's case as a precedent, claiming extraditing Kim to the USA would violate his human rights? It is known Kim suffers from back pain, exacerbated while he was in prion recently on trumpted up charges.

    • dave · 704 days ago

      Great point...it would be disastrous if many that caused harm in one country to another via electronic device face charges in target country from residing country. Some limits of residences should be applied tho for future cases. Ex at least a full year of residence to show perp is an actual resident (in which in this case he is). imho.

  6. Eric · 704 days ago

    This is excellent news. I feel McKinnon has already served his time living under the mental torment of extradition. I had a two-hour interview with him over drinks shortly after he was threatened with extradition but before he was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. He came across as a strange but likable person with an obsession about the authorities keeping secrets about aliens from the general public. He did not impress me as a "hacking genius".

    I remember him saying that he was surprised at the low level of security once he got into the Pentagon systems. He denied causing damage and said that he was driven on by a discovery he made. He claimed to have found references to "extraterrestrial officers" in some documents. This was one of the things that drove him on.

    What he did was wrong and he does deserve to be tried for is wrongdoing but that should have been done in the UK before extradition was considered. He would then have been classed as a criminal and the government would have had a better basis to consider if extradition was called for.

    I gather that "Extraterrestrial Officer" is what the US military call astronauts when they are in space - but I can see how that would have "confirmed" McKinnon's suspicions.

    • John Smith · 704 days ago

      So I suppose the photographers who took the nude pictures of Kate Middleton were nice but merely curious , perhaps a bit obsessive , but likable fellows too. They were surprised at the lack of security that allowed them to get so close to her.. It was wrong yes, but let them go, don't sue them, as they have been under mental anguish at the British people's desire to draw and quarter them..

      • Eric · 703 days ago

        If the photographer was suffering from Asperger's it could be argued that they could not tell right from wrong. McKinnon is not "a bit obsessive" but totally obsessed with the belief that something is being hidden from us.

      • PDB · 703 days ago

        No they were in the act of making financial gain from the intrusion to some else's privacy. Were they criminally wrong - no, it is not an offence , morally, well that's for the chattering classes to decide.

      • Authorita · 702 days ago

        Your assertions are specious, lack integrity, and your analogy is woefully incomplete on several levels. This makes me think I'd be wasting my efforts explaining why, but for the benefit of other readers:

        Your example mentions an individual. Individuals are treated very differently to organisations by nearly all legal systems, including their privacy.

        You imply that someone, prior to your post, has suggested McKinnon should not be tried, in the following comment:

        " It was wrong yes, but let them go, don't sue them, as they have been under mental anguish at the British people's desire to draw and quarter them.."

        Such content is not present in any post preceding yours. I conclude that you either cannot read, cannot think, or eschew facts in lieu of controversy.

        I sense a long and prosperous career ahead of you at The Daily Mail.

  7. Guy Vegoda · 704 days ago

    The crime was commited on British soil, and McKinnon is a British citizen. I totally support the blocking of this extradition. I question the morality to sending citizens of the UK, to foreign countries with different laws and different views on human rights, to face trial. (Case in point, the Americans still think that capital punishment is okay.)

    If he commited the crime in the States, that would be one thing. But he didn't.

    So this vote is one up for Theresa May's decision!

    • dave · 704 days ago

      Great point...it would be disastrous if many that caused harm in one country to another via electronic device face charges in target country from residing country. Some limits of residences should be applied tho for future cases. Ex at least a full year of residence to show perp is an actual resident (in which in this case he is). imho.

    • John Smith · 704 days ago

      Sorry, he did commit a crime in the United States, he reached across the Atlantic, electronically, and entered the United States And Hacked into our Defense Systems.. So no extradition means no punishment.. ??

    • outsidethemarginals · 704 days ago

      (I believe that if extradited to the US from the UK you cannot receive a capital sentence - as that is acknowledged by all (?) UK polititians as likely to have an adverse effect on your human rights.)

      But what is mean by "commiting" a crime in the United States? When I (in the UK) press submit, this post is written (committed?) to a server in the US. (Netcraft reports this site is hosted by Automattic. Inc in the United States.)

      I suppose an analogy is if I deliberately fire a rifle across an international boundary at someone intending to kill them - and consequently they die, where is the offence? The intent (possibly a lesser wrong) is where I fire the rifle, but the death is the otherside of the border - and without that there might be no offence? If you fire rifles across borders, you have to take the consequencies.

      But 60 years for McKinnon being inquisitive and able to do so due to slack security, seems to be out of all proportion. But the US is an alien country and sees us as aliens (I remember queuing at the old arrivals hall at Philadelphia!). So perhaps we need to be very careful when posting comments on US based servers. Now, is it an offence to call the US an "alien country" and is it an extraditable offence?

  8. Robin · 704 days ago

    It is an interesting case: the man has well defined set of psychiatric problems, which were he a US citizen would preclude his extradition to the UK under the current treaty. With his Asperger's Syndrome, it is unclear as to how much understanding he would have of the crimes he committed and to which he has readily confessed. Looking for UFO data is entirely consistent with his syndrome. His depressive illness makes the risk of suicide extremely likely - is hacking a capital crime in the US?

    He should be tried in a British Court and sentencing should take his mental health into account. It must be made clear, however, that hacking is not permissible and has consequences.

  9. Aaron · 704 days ago

    As a US Citizen, I firmly believe that this was the RIGHT decision. He should still face charges on his home soil, but his 10 years of hell was enough punishment.

    • Authorita · 702 days ago

      Very well said, Aaron, and as I've been busy criticising someone else in the States for their ignorance on this forum, I shouldn't ignore the proof that their views are not uniformly held.

      Let us hope we see an appropriate trial and sentencing in this case - a crime was definitely committed, and punishment should follow.

      The only debate, IMHO, is over the amount of damage NASA would like to present, and the devious and opportunistic nature by which organisations such as NASA (but not only they) seek to inflate such damages to pay for things which they not only should have done already, but are required by compliance regimes applicable to such environments as the Pentagon and NASA. Anyone who cannot separate both facets has serious cognitive issues.

      My respect to you, Aaron.

  10. Mike Bradford · 704 days ago

    Americans also think that freedom of speech is a right that's protected and cameras used by police and located everywhere is an invasion of privacy. We believe in personal rights and personal responsibility for our actions unlike our UK friends who see Big Brother as a friend, we see him for what he is.

  11. Brian · 704 days ago

    When People hack computers They Deserve punishment Big time. I put these people in the same class as anyone who create viruses They are sick in the head

  12. teejayuu · 704 days ago

    The crime was committed on US soil, just because he happened to be in Britain, the servers hacked were in US soil. What would have happened if the criminal (hacker) were Chinese, Iranian, Russian or any of the Islamic states and the server happened to be those of the British government? Would we want the criminal tried on their native soil?

  13. BA · 704 days ago

    This guy is a criminal ....... End of!.......He should have been extradited. This Government decision is a criminal's charter. Sorry my US friends....I feel embarrassed to say I am British!

  14. Anon · 704 days ago

    The Americans have a fair point in that if there was concern for Gary McKinnon due to his mental health, that was something the American Justice System would have picked up on post-extradition, and perhaps decided not to press on with a lengthy prison sentence. By blocking the extradition the British are not allowing a fair hearing of what was clearly a criminal act committed against the US.

    Given how soon this was announced after the previous successful extraditions of accused terrorists to the US, it doesn't exactly smack of fair play...

    • PDB · 703 days ago

      You have answered yourself with the statement "extraditions of accused terriosts". Mr McKinnon is not charged with an act of terriorism but one of cracking / cyber intrusion of controlled US military and NASA information systems (or something to that end). As mentioned bu another here the Extradtion Treaty was solely enacted for acts of terrorism and the like.

  15. Grashnak · 704 days ago

    I think the extradition is absurd, but the "wah wah I have Aspergers" defence is utter garbage. It's such garbage that it almost pushes me to want to see him extradited just out of spite.

    If all it takes to get you out of a serious criminal predicament is to be austistic and depressed, I suspect a sizable part of the criminal population of the west is effectively immune from prosecution.

  16. Gavin · 704 days ago

    This is a really tough case, but I think it absolutely has to come down to interpreting the laws based on their initial intent and using as much common sense as is legally possible in each given case.

    In this case it is clear to most people that Gary McKinnon, though a criminal, was not intending grevious harm against the US -- no exfiltration of military secrets to a hostile regime for large sums of cash, for instance. The As I understand it, the extradition laws were -- as Gary's mother points out -- meant for terrorism and other serious international crimes, and not for the kind of thing Gary did.

    I get the impression that the UK government wanted to drop the extradition order but needed to find a carefully worded way of doing so, hence the cited reason of human rights to protect against Gary from taking his own life. This may be very true, but it also makes this a very individual ruling and leaves the open to different options for future cases -- which is important.

    Extradition laws are useful. If a truly malicious criminal is attacking systems across international borders, the aggrieved country should have some way of prosecuting the criminal. Closing the door on those options would significantly weaken the fight against international hacking rings, foreign intellectual property thieves and others.

    This judgement was an excellent piece of diplomatic footwork, resulting in a favorable and just result for the McKinnon family while leaving the US with no significant reason to be upset. Well done!

  17. Bobz · 704 days ago

    A sick delusional man hacks into a US Government website via his home computer and everyone thinks He has done something wrong? Come on USA Government, beef up your security, this man has done you a favour and highlighted your weakness. If he had a few mates around for a LAN party they might have brought the whole government down, it's laughable.

  18. Jack · 704 days ago

    I think along the lines of many of the above, but do have a vital suggestion of what also should be validated. I have known a couple of men that have pushed for Medical marijuana and have worked very hard to see it come about. Unfortunately the FEDs found something in the business that caused his arrest and sentencing to a federal prison. If or why he was imprisoned is one thing, but if you are going to imprison a person, you take on all medical responsibility for that person. If you give them below expected care you are possibly subjecting them to a life (or death) sentence. I do have a problem of imprisonment without any regard to what kind of health care they require. The person imprisoned died of a heart attack that many claim was preventable. With this in the back of my mine, I have a problem putting anyone with a possible fatal disease in the hands of someone who doesn't care what becomes of them. I say leave him be.

  19. R Collins · 704 days ago

    Thats just what i was thinking Bobz, the oyher thing i was thinking is if Gary is 46 how old is his mother. she only looks about Forty. unless the camera was on her good side.

  20. John Smith · 704 days ago

    So far, Mark is the only one who has it right here. The crime was committed against the United States. Yes we have Capital Punishment. Lesson here , if you don't want to risk the time ( or punishment) Don't Do the Crime.. the fact he was diagnosed with Aspergers.. After the fact.. That is only relevant in that his care givers should have kept him from doing this. The British have no problem dragging Irish citizens out of Ireland to languish in British prisons for crimes against Jolly old England, committed in Ireland. What's the difference? The British can't have it both ways. That's not to say there are not mitigating circumstances that an American court would take into consideration. I am just saying that a crime committed against the United States should be tried in a US Court of Law, not a British one..

    • PDB · 704 days ago

      Those crimes you refer to happened in Northern Ireland which is still part of the United kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Also those found guilty spent time in Northern Ireland in the Maze prison not in mainland Britain.

      As for the extradition treaty I would say it is very much biased towards the US from what I have heard and therefore should be reviewed because of cases such as this. He should stand trial here because the offence was committed here and I don't think the legal system as it stands can make adequate allowances for electronic burglary.

      • John Smith · 704 days ago

        @PDB you cannot tell me that there are no foreign prisoners languishing in British prisons.. @JRD as for "deplorable " American prisons, I doubt that British prisons are any better. As for rehabilitation , were the prisoners in The Maze ever " rehabilitated"? Prisons are prisons, yes we would like it if all prisoners in all prisons came out as upstanding model citizens, some do , many do not. It is not about that. This case hinges on venue, whether a person , comitting a Cyber crime (remember he admitted to it) gets tried in the country against which the Cybercrime was committed or in his/her home country. McKinnon will never be tried anywhere, for anything. The British decision has seen to that. So what happens Britian, when someone from another country does this to you?? And pulls the same card? And despite what you say, he knew it was wrong, he did it anyway, and he admitted it, making him a Cybercriminal...if Cybercriminals are not prosecuted then these same Cybercriminals will never stop committing cybercrime. All that was done was to provide a highly publicized lesson in how to commit Cybercrime and how to get away with it..

        • PDB · 703 days ago

          I'll take thepoints yous raised in turn:
          There are foreign prisoners (ie not UK nationals) in our prisons. These are generally from EU states and they under the EU convention stand trial and accept inprisonment in the country the offence was commited. We have a number of people under terriost offences who may or may not be UK nationals but again ASAIK these people committed the offence in the UK area. Gitmo has some of our nationals serving sentences for terriost offences against your country / nationals performed outside of US territory.

          I take you point over cyber criminality. But this is less about the act and more about the perpetrator and his medical grounds. There is concern over the state of his mental health as to whether a long drawn out trial, with him being held in custody over that period, and facing an overlty extended sentence for a crime we set a much lower tariff for. He will stand trial but he sentence may very well be commuted due to the anguish he has faced for the last ten years.

    • Authorita · 702 days ago

      The fact is that currently, if a US citizen committed a similar crime against UK assets, they would not be extradited.

      Therefore you are appealing for double-standards to be applied.

      Considering the amount of antipathy directed at the US on the grounds of political and moral hypocrisy - I make no allegations nor support them - it is quite stunning to see US citizens continue to parade such ignorance and prejudice as is seen here.

      Where exactly is the information which leads you to conclude that McKinnon will never be tried, as you assert further above? In such hands as yours, operating in a vacuum of knowledge, the only kind of justice one would ever see is mob justice; something shunned by the civilised.

      Here's a relevant quote from an ingenious American:

      "A man can keep his mouth shut, and be thought an idiot, or open it but once, and remove all doubt".

      • Paul Ducklin · 702 days ago

        Well, now. Back in the 1990s, a US citizen was extradited to the UK to stand charges on distributing ransomware. (The malware was the AIDS Information Trojan, the defendant was charged with "demanding money with menaces", and his name was Dr Joseph Popp.) It was the UK that decided to charge him, and the US that agreed to arrest him and send him over to face court, even though I suspect he might just as well have been charged in the US.

        In the end - his trial dragged on for a year or more, and he was incarcerated for that time, if memory serves - he was deemed unfit to be in the UK and ignominiously booted back to the US.

        Had he been convicted (and there seems little doubt of his guilt), I have a strong feeling he'd have gone to prison for a year or three. In other words, a very similar sort of sentence to the one the US authorities apparently said, in negotiations some eight years ago, they wanted McKinnon to serve. (For comparison: Christopher Pile was convicted in the UK, aound the time of Popp's trial, for offences related to virus writing - he got 18 months, and he served them, too. He would have got three years if he hadn't pleaded guilty.)

        It does therefore seem that all this stuff about "the US would never extradite one of their own to the UK to face cybercrime charges, so this is unfair" doesn't align with history; that the cries you hear that "the US want him in prison for 60 years" are incongruent with what he'd already been told; and that "he'd never be treated like that in the UK for hacking offences" might come as a surprise to people in the UK who have served time for exactly that sort of thing.

        I'm not taking sides in respect of McKinnon here. I don't begrudge him his good fortune. I hope that he no longer spends time cracking into other people's systems where he knows he's not supposed to be, having been discouraged from reoffending without the need for a prison sentence.

        I am merely, as they say, saying.

  21. JRD · 704 days ago

    It's about damn time!

    He is hardly the international terrorist master hacker that the extradition treaties are designed to cover and using them to punish and make an example out of someone who "hacked" into systems that had no passwords on them would be criminal in itself and a blatant violation of the spirit of the law.

    The Asperger's and depression are incidental and really shouldn't have been a factor, but thank god he had that to fall back on or he'd be heading across the ocean to face hyperbolic charges and decades in the deplorable US prison system.

    Anyone who poo poos the idea of mental illness ever being taken into consideration, however, is a selfish twat. Prison should be about rehabilitation not retribution and punishment. Putting someone in prison who has a history of clinical depression is a death sentence as sure as lethal injection or the electric chair. Putting someone on the Autism spectrum in prison is just plain cruel.

  22. Kenny · 703 days ago

    If the governments computer security is so weak as to let any half crazy person to hack into it, I think it's the governments fault and they should shore up their defenses, rather than worry about one little person who out smarted them.

    • Authorita · 702 days ago

      Oh, Kenny, don't fall into that trap! :)
      It's best to say that BOTH things should happen; Gary should be tried, and a jury of his peers decide if he was culpable. If so, punishment should be forthcoming, informed by consideration of the defendant's specific circumstances. At the same time, if the US government do not take punitive action against those responsible ("C" level at NASA) for facilitating such crimes, by failing to meet national security requirements and mandatory compliance (no passwords? no NIST hardening applied here, then!) then it really does place those US citizens clamouring for his extradition in a rather laughable position, as they clearly care about their security, but are being undermined by those who should actually be answering to them!

  23. Guido Faulkes · 702 days ago

    > the extradition would be blocked for human rights reasons

    Apparently only the white anglo-saxon protestants, like Gary McKinnon have human rights. The dark-skinned muslim clerics of Britain have already been flown over to the USA in handcuffs, to be able to first-hand experience the CIA's torture chambers.

  24. gogo · 702 days ago

    good good!

    before posting stuff saying that he commited a crime why dont you read the facts and check how did he enter the network, the one to blame here should be the nasa for letting their network security in the hands of some amateur.

    • Authorita · 702 days ago

      "before posting stuff saying that he commited a crime why dont you read the facts and check how did he enter the network"

      I back McKinnon, and I'm a pen-tester. In my field, you get lifted quite a lot, usually as a result of others' ignorance, and then released (if you know applicable law or know someone who does).

      However, you're a bit wrong here. He's admitted accessing the systems without authorisation, which opens him to Computer Misuse Act over here in the UK, and some obscure piece of illogic over in the US. That makes it any offence.

      Now:

      "the one to blame here should be the nasa for letting their network security in the hands of some amateur"

      Spot on, it's an inescapable fact here, unless we are really expecting US security to rely on the goodwill of those able to access their systems - everyone with an internet connection - someone at a senior level is not performing their duties, and is in breach of laws covering how such systems need to be protected.

      A search for the terms "NASA" and "hacked" in a search engine should reveal the scale of the problem, and its underlying cause, to anyone capable of using a modern computer. 13 times they were hacked last year according to the relevant Inspector General. "By China" - or IPs owned by China, meaning anyone who can connect through a proxy in China.

  25. Doodle · 702 days ago

    I'm not going to way in with my opinion on whether or not I think he should be extradited, that's what the courts and appeals are for anyway. Lucky him.
    So why am I even commenting? Well, normally I enjoy reading the comments others leave. But after reading most of these, i think in the future I will just save myself the time.

    Several years ago there was some media attention of a US teenager being tried in Taiwan (I think it was Taiwan, don't remember and don't feel like looking it up, doesn't matter where anyway) for a simple vandalism case and sentenced to a good old fashioned public caning. Next thing you know there are tons of people in the US up in arms about it. I never understood why so many people were so upset about someone breaking the law of another country and having to face the punishment for it. Granted, he committed the crime while physically in that country. But let's not split hairs. You don't have to be in the country to commit a crime against it, especially not in today's technologically advanced age.

    • njorl · 701 days ago

      I disagree that noting McKinnon was in a different country amounts to splitting hairs. It is, IMO, completely unreasonable to be subject to laws other than those in effect for the jurisdiction in which one is (and even knowing all the laws of one state/country is impossible).

      If I post something on Facebook, I feel obliged to take care that my words (however inane) contravene none of the laws of my country (from where I make that post). The post, however, could, potentially, be viewed everywhere. It's possible that my comment is contrary to the law of some other state - I think there's potential with jurisdictions under Sharia Law or, say, Austria if I were doubting the authorised account of The Holocaust. Would you really hold that I had committed a crime, and should be extradited?

      I see it as the exclusive responsibility of each state to regulate the behaviour of the people within its borders. Should another state be unhappy with what the first is allowing people to do, that is a matter for it to address, state to state, through diplomacy or war.

      Many sovereign states, no doubt, are employing people to hack systems in other countries. These people are state employees, not criminals. Think of Stuxnet which was, reportedly, created by the NSA and used against Iran (http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2012/06/01/stuxnet-usa-israel-iran-virus/). Wreaking that sort of damage might be perfectly OK under the Iranian legal system, but, supposing it isn't, would you expect to see the US team being extradited?

      If it is not contested that I was within the borders of country X at the time I am alleged to have committed a crime, how could examination of the facts be better served by moving me to country Y and holding a hearing there?

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.