Obama: Gary McKinnon's fate is in the hands of the British legal system

Filed Under: Law & order

Gary McKinnon and his mother Janis SharpWe've written on many occasions on the Naked Security site about the case of British computer hacker Gary McKinnon.

McKinnon, who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, was arrested in 2002 after breaking into computers belonging to the US Army, US Navy, US Air Force, Department of Defense and NASA.

The 45-year-old hacker claims that he accessed the computer systems only to hunt for top secret information about anti-gravity propulsion systems and alien technology, which he believed the authorities were hiding from the public.

For their part, the US authorities claim that McKinnon caused some $800,000 worth of damage.

ITV reporter Tom Bradby quizzed Obama and Cameron about whether the leaders had found a solution to the vexing question of whether McKinnon should be extradited to the United States.

As you can see in the following video of what was said, there may be cause for some optimism amongst McKinnon's many supporters.

Obama, who visited the UK this week on a state visit, told the international media at a press conference held with the British Prime Minister, that the decision as to whether McKinnon should be extradited or not lies with the British legal system.

We have proceeded through all the processes required under our extradition agreements.. It is now in the hands of the British legal system. We have confidence in the British legal system coming to a just conclusion. And so we await resolution, and we'll be respectful of that process."

In 2009, a Sophos poll of 550 IT professionals found that 71% believed that McKinnon should not be extradited to the USA:

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15 Responses to Obama: Gary McKinnon's fate is in the hands of the British legal system

  1. MLNT · 1555 days ago

    He shouldn't be extradited. He should be offered a job working for the US or one of our allies. He is a prime example of how a disability can lead to excellence in a particular area of expertise. His talent should be nurtured and directed in a positive manner.

  2. Momma Mary · 1555 days ago

    He has compulsions he cannot control. anyone that is familiar with his disease knows that. The money or damage isn't that great. Face it. We have let child molesters and murders off, this man needs to be allowed to live. Just monitored so he doesn't do that again. His compulsions will not leave because he is not prosecuted.

    • Well... · 1554 days ago

      If he has criminal compulsions that he cannot control - then he needs locked up. Pretty simple really.

  3. andrew · 1555 days ago

    while this man may have broken the laws of his own country, i believe it would be immoral to deport him to another country, the laws of which he is not answerable to

    while the usa may be the most powerful country in the world, i believe they believe in truth and justice. he's not an american citizen and he's not on american soil

    and the americans do not have a very good record of dealing with foreigners. just look at the debacle around where they held all those idiots (guantanamo bay) who trained to fight against them in afghanistan and other middle eastern nations. sure, it's not nice, but they refused to bring them onto their own soil so they wouldn't have to answer to their own laws....

    disclaimer: it's late, i've had a few beers, and most of what i've said is based around what i've read on the the intermanets

    i'm sure there are laws in the uk that he has broken. try him there, deal with it, gees, it's 9 years later...

  4. Jess · 1555 days ago

    If the Americans don't turn this around to their advantage and offer GM a job working for them, they are bigger fools than I thought they were.

    • MarkJ · 1555 days ago

      It's unlikely they will offer him a job. What Gary did (by his own admission) did not require much skill at all - a skill possessed by pretty much any low-level system administrator.

      What Gary possessed differently from most sysadmins was the motivation to act and the will to persevere (likely a result of his Asperger's Syndrome) with a mind-numbingly monotonous process required to find the unsecured (no password) access points.

      What this case highlights is just how badly those working in these facilities were doing their job; in that regard Gary has done them a big favour and they should be thankful he wasn't the kind of person who really wanted to do the US some damage (Gary said he saw hundreds of people logged onto the same system he was on from all over the world).

      Perhaps they learned their lesson?

  5. MarkJ · 1555 days ago

    Let's be honest, it wasn't even a "hack" as we should think of it. He used totally legal and commonly-used system admin software to gain access to unprotected systems that (by Gary's own admission) don't take a great deal of skill to use. If Gary's account is correct, no damage was done to these systems in order to access them (which wouldn't have been necessary anyway to gain access). Though this is still classed as unauthorised entry and is illegal in the US and UK.

    The so-called damage and costs claimed by the US sound vastly, if not totally, overblown simply to ensure they are at a level to justify an extradition request. If it's true, as some claim, that the costs were really only that which was required to assess and secure these unprotected networks (which should have been done in the first place) they cannot ethically be charged to Gary.

    I suspect, from the facts of the case and the statements allegedly made by US officials, that they simply wanted Gary to make an example of him to the (many) others accessing US unsecured systems.

  6. A guy with sense · 1555 days ago

    OK, so I fly against the wind here.

    The guy broke into the computers, doesn't matter why or how or whether he suffers from an illness. He had control of himself and still does (otherwise he would still be at it, surely).

    If he had control, he could stop, but he didn't, so it was willful systematic and deliberate.

    If somebody put a brick through your window and then claimed that they should be prosecuted because they were ill would you let them off?

    If somebody broke into *your* computer and then claimed they should not be prosecuted because they were ill, would you let them off?

    Hell no!

    All this publicity is due to the noisy left wing biased anti-american lobby that seems the see the devil in everything American.

    The law is the law, and if an extradition request is pending it should be served and he should be extradited. Just like some other tall lanky self promoting egomaniac feeding off the media desire for American tittle tattle that I can think of .....mention no names eh Julian?

    • MarkJ · 1555 days ago

      You may have sense but you do not appear to be well-acquainted enough with the facts of the case well enough to use it.

      Gary does not claim he should be let off, he wants to be tried in a UK court and serve out his punishment in a UK prison (which would likely be a sentence to fit the crime, unlike those threatened in the USA).

      Your analogy is also incorrect. Gary did not throw a metaphorical brick through the window, he walked in through an unlocked door, had a look around and walked out without taking or damaging anything. While this is still a crime, it is not the equivalent of breaking and entering, stealing or smashing up hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property (as is the equivalent claim by the US government).

      The extradition request is firstly unfair because the US government has made claims that Gary denies but will not provide any evidence to support the extradition; secondly, comments allegedly made to Gary were that they were going to make an example of him and press for the maximum possible penalty treating it as a terrorist attack (which could be punishable by death or a lengthy sentence in a Guantanamo-like facility); thirdly, the treaty is heavily weighted in favour of the USA without reciprocal benefits to the UK and should never have been passed in its current form.

      The fact that you think Julian Assange has any similarities to this case further underlines your lack of understanding and appreciation of the finer details and your follow-up comment also reveals your lack of objectivity.

      This is nothing to do at all with anti-Americanism but rather British people defending one of their own (as, indeed, they should) against an overly-aggressive and disproportionate US response that may have more to do with covering up their own embarrassment than seeking justice.

      • A guy with sense · 1554 days ago

        The law is the law and you can't choose which ones to obey and which to ignore.

        He broke the law. It is for the courts to try him and if found guilty to decide what his punishment should be.

        Analogy with other cases? Attempting to duck an extradition to country with whom the UK has a treaty just because you don't agree with it.

        Is it fair?.... I don't know. Is it the law?....... damned right it is.

        • MarkJ · 1554 days ago

          The case for Gary is being fought under UK laws; if there were no laws with which to fight there would be no case to fight; however, there are.

          Under UK law a person cannot be extradited if they are likely to face unusually cruel and disproportionate punishments. The comments made by US officials that they intend to charge him with offences punishable up to 70 years in prison suggest a likely cruel and unusual punishment. This is one argument made by Gary's advocates against extradition, and that doing so would NOT be legal.

          Furthermore, under UK law, a person's health is also taken under consideration in extradition matters.

          While it may not be the legal position, I am sure it is unethical to be able to insist on an extradition without providing any evidence--such a situation could result in anybody being extradited to the US at any time for any reason simply on their say so. Also, the alleged crime happened before such a treaty came into effect but the treaty was applied retrospectively.

          Your analogy is still superficial and the case for Gary against extradition is being fought using existing UK laws. Again, I respectfully ask that you acquaint yourself with more of the facts of this case before posting emotive and misleading comments.

  7. anon · 1555 days ago

    This is insanity, he should not be let off because he has some condition. If that is an excuse for breaking the law find me a doctor that can diagnose me with a litany of ailments so I can stop having to be politically correct and can do what I want when I want. As far as him being beyond the US reach because he is a Brit and our laws do not apply to him. This is a ridiculous point of view, I think they call it international crime, some may say an attack on the US from a foreign national. I bet they would prosecute an American if they sent something illegal to a foreign government / military agency. The unauthorized access (or escalation) to someones boxes is like trespassing, the fact that he did it to military targets has to be illegal. Now, on the the other point. Whoever is responsible for securing those networks / boxes should hire some other security experts to lock them down. You don't give the guy stealing your tv the task of developing your security plan, why would you do this with your national secrets.

    • MarkJ · 1554 days ago

      Gary and his advocates are not asking for him to be let off they are asking for him to be tried in a UK court and, if convicted with a custodial sentence, to serve his sentence in a UK prison. This is because under UK law, an extradition must be denied if a person is likely to face unusually cruel and disproportionate punishments which, given the comments allegedly made by US officials to make an example of Gary by charging him with a terrorist offence and the trumped up damages in addition to the lack of evidence being made available by the US to British courts, suggests such an unusual punishment is likely. This is the first grounds by which Gary and his advocates are arguing against extradition, the second is his medical condition which must also be taken under consideration in UK law. Gary and his advocates are not arguing against extradition per se but that extradition cases should comply with UK law (requiring evidence) and that the current extradition treaty with the USA is wrongly weighted in favour of the USA against British citizens.

      Please also see my reply to "A guy with sense" above.

      Thank you.

  8. Calum C · 1555 days ago

    Try getting an American hacker extradited to the UK. Odds on it won't be that easy.
    4 times more hacks come from the USA and they do real damage.

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog at https://grahamcluley.com, 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. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley