UK Guy Who Hacked Into US Military Computers Overplays His Hand; Loses Extradition Appeal

from the give-it-up dept

From the very beginning it had seemed like the US was overhyping the fact that they had tracked down UK-based Gary McKinnon, as the guy who had hacked into various military computer systems. They claimed he had caused millions of dollars of damages, and even called him “the world’s biggest hacker.” Of course, the details suggest he was more like a big idiot. He got high, decided that the US was hiding secrets on aliens, and hacked into a military computer system to try to find the details — and then (according to his own explanation) hit the wrong button and thought “oh, bloody hell.” So, he clearly did something wrong: he broke into US military computer systems. He clearly deserves to be punished for it, but he’s definitely overplayed his hand as well in response.

For years, he’s been fighting attempts by the US to extradite him, including bogus claims about how the US government would declare him a terrorist and send him to Gitmo. He’s now lost his latest attempt to prevent extradition, but is already planning to appeal again — once again, with his lawyers screaming Gitmo.

However, as Kevin Poulsen (who knows a thing or two about getting arrested for malicious hacking) reports at Wired News, McKinnon is totally blowing things out of proportion. The US offered him a plea deal, where he would get 6 months to a year in minimum security prison, and then get sent back to the UK. Of course, rather than accepting what seems like a pretty reasonable deal (from a guy who admitted to being in the wrong), McKinnon used this to claim that the US was trying to extort him. Now, since he refused to accept the plea bargain, and has lost the attempt to stop extradition, he may face a much harsher sentence. Poulsen sums up the situation nicely:

According to his lawyers, the United States offered McKinnon a deal of six months to a year in U.S. federal custody, followed by repatriation by the U.K., where he’d be eligible for parole after six months. McKinnon turned it down, then went running to the U.K. courts whining that the big bad Americans were trying to extort him into pleading guilty. Duh. That’s what a plea bargain is, slick.

And six to 12 months is quite a bargain indeed. It’s minimum security camp time: We’re talking ping-pong tables and a sunny running track. Now he’s looking at the same kind of sentence U.S. hackers get — measured in years, not months, and based on the financial losses a jury finds him responsible for.

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Comments on “UK Guy Who Hacked Into US Military Computers Overplays His Hand; Loses Extradition Appeal”

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Spectere (profile) says:


It kind of makes you wonder what the guy is thinking.

I mean, does he honestly think that the UK is going to risk an international incident by protecting him from “big bad America?”

Considering he broke into military systems it’s amazing he doesn’t get branded a terrorist, let alone that he had the potential of getting off that easy. I’m pretty sure script kiddies who infect non-sensitive systems don’t get off that easily.

Jake says:

Re: Re: Interesting...

On the other hand, the fact that they’re even offering a plea bargain at all suggests that the prosecution might not be all that sure of itself; one suspects a judge might be somewhat unsympathetic towards a government agency that keeps confidential information in a database that can be hacked by someone who was extremely stoned at the time and probably isn’t very bright even when he lays off the ganja.

JT says:

Re: Re: Re: Interesting...

Huh? The biggest obstacle would be extradition. The plea is to take in to account relations with the UK.

A judge isn’t going to look at the case and say “ahh, you poor bastard, you got stoned and did something stupid, I’m going to cut you lose this time.”

Your comment is like saying if someone robs a bank the judge will be unsympathetic because it could be robbed.

And you know, judges are always looking to get back at the system!?!?

Out of curiosity, are you stoned atm?

Anonymous Coward says:

I can't blame him, really, can you?

Given all the illegal high level bullshit going on right now, anyone who is a computer geek *WOULD* be afraid of any form of US justice at this time. Computer geeks are the people likely to read this blog and like it or not, you paint a pretty scary ass picture of us by only picking the items where we are going wrong. Most of us understand this, but someone who only occassionally reads may think that everything on this blog is how the US works anymore. Some of the postings here could be DAMNED scary to folks without given decent context, while you do well to give context you often miss “rights” we assume that others can not.

As such, I don’t believe that an obviously skilled tech person is as dumb as you may think. Scared to death, I would believe given all the press given to how we are not following our own rules. He could be a savant in terms of not understanding what he did, yet it’s hard to ignore recent legal issues the US has with how it is behaving.

So… I seriously question the idea that given some “easy” sentence offered, that the fear of the US we have unfortunately gained lately would not make someone try ANYTHING to avoid any form of US custody.

It has become incredibly sad that I would even say this. I am a vetran and a believer in our country, but the way our government is acting is attrocious in many ways. We the people keep bringing it up in these open forums but still we get ignorant laws and policies which ignore us.

Can you blame a foriener “GEEK” for doing everything in his power to avoid our justice system given everything he can read on tech related blogs about how we are not following our own damned laws? The way some blogs read, the idea of minimum security in the US could mean daily torture and flagulation.

The downside of increased transparency is that the bad currently outweights the good. Our blogs are much like the media, they talk about the bad because that is popular information, but rarely cover what is being done good. (Count them up, in the last 20 TechDirt items there are something like 18 bad things and 2 good? Depending on your point of view of course. :)) In your defense, honestly more “bad” is being done right now while trying to adjust for the digital age..

I’d really rather read a “happy” blog where everything I want is getting better. If you happen to know one, let me know. Best I can find is furry fox blogs. 🙂

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: I can't blame him, really, can you?

Yeah, that’s my first thought. The article seems to assume that the guy was faking it in order to escape any kind of justice. I can’t help but think that yeah, the guy really was scared about being shipped off to Gitmo.

After all if you’re about to be shipped off to a country with a reputation for holding people indefinitely – even innocent British citizens – for the flimsiest of “terrorist” suspicions, why wouldn’t a person with actual guilt be concerned about getting the same treatment?

That’s not to say such treatment is likely, but it’s hardly an unfounded fear in today’s climate.

Shaun Wilson says:

Why should he be extradited?

My understanding is that he committed a crime whilst in UK – but that they want to try him for it in the US?

If I was wrong and he was in the US at the time that he committed the crime then by all means he should be extradited to face trial in the country he committed the crime in, but if he was in the UK when he committed the crime then it is in the UK that he should be trialled.

I believe this idea has been mentioned before but if I post a defamatory remark about the Chinese government on a Chinese server can I be extradited to China to face charges (and possible execution)? It would that common sense dictates that you should be charged for a crime in the country that you were in when you committed the crime but common sense doesn’t seem to apply in regards to the law.

Alimas says:

Re: Why should he be extradited?

Well, its not that easy.
The servers he violated were in the US.
He was in the UK, but he broke the law in the US.
It would be akin to me sitting by the border of Mexico on the US side and reaching over the border with a long stick and whacking someone with it.
Yeah, I was in the US, but I committed assault in Mexico at the same time.
I think it would be fair for him to be charged over here.

Paul Bainbridge says:

Re: Re: Why should he be extradited?

An interesting analogy but it is not the same as you are not breaking the law in both countries at the same time. Just in the US where the person is being whacked, in mexico he is just waving a stick which wouldn’t be illegal.

In this case he broke UK law first by performing the hacking in the UK and as such should be tried for the crime in the UK.

I doubt that there are any analogies that could be thought of where you could argue that he should be tried in country B when country A’s law for the same offence is broken in country A.

Alimas says:

Re: Re: Re: Why should he be extradited?

I would argue that despite having a display, the servers he was messing with were in another country. So, technically, he didn’t violate UK hacking laws as he didn’t commit them in UK.
And even if you could argue he did, he still did it in the US. He might be ground for getting charged individually in both nations.

TF says:

Re: Re: Re: Why should he be extradited?

I think terrorism, oddly enough, provides a good analogy. For example, say one person bombs an American embassy in a foreign country. It’s a crime both on foreign soil (as some of the blast will undoubtedly go beyond the embassy) as well as a crime against America. I don’t think it would be necessarily wrong to have a trial in either location. Both locations have a stake in prosecuting the offender.

From what I’ve read about this case, it seems that the US suffered more of the harm from this act than the UK did. Trial in the US seems reasonable. While the hacking occurred in the UK, the damage was done in the US.

Trial in Guantanamo Bay, however, would be ridiculous.

Shaun Wilson says:

Re: Re: Re: Why should he be extradited?

An interesting analogy but it is not the same as you are not breaking the law in both countries at the same time.

Huh? My point of saying it being a defamatory remark was that it is illegal in Australia as well – just we aren’t so barbaric as to execute people, in fact it would be seen as much lesser of a crime than it would be in China. I haven’t been to China, I have now say in how their legal system works so why should it be possible for me to be trialled there? Even if I put it as hacking their official websites and posting details of their human rights violations for example they would really like to make an example of me but why should my government hand me over to them regardless if it is a crime in Australia or not.

I doubt that there are any analogies that could be thought of where you could argue that he should be tried in country B when country A’s law for the same offence is broken in country A.

Wait which is A and which is B? He was in the UK. He committed a crime. Add those two together and you get that he committed a crime in the UK. To put it the other way: He was not in the US. He committed a crime. He did not commit a crime in the US. I will change my example a little, say my posting was about promoting democracy, my understanding is that this would be a criminal offense in China. I broke Chinese law then, but since I was not in China when I did so I have really broken no law. If however I went on a trip to China and posted pro Chinese democracy messages on an Australian site while I was over there I have now committed an offense and would be charged in the country I committed it in – China – the fact that it was an Australian site certainly would not get me off the hook.

Also in response to the people saying how many would be worried about being in the US due to how you legal system seems to be running things I completely agree. It is for this reason I would not like to come to the US just as I would not like to go to China. Both countries have some great things but both governments still commit revenge murders (executions seem to only serve as a means of revenge) and both commit gross human rights violations such a imprisoning people without charge for years on end and torturing them. In some ways China might even be preferable as I believe my government is more likely to have the political will to piss them off compared to the US. Need I go on? I don’t want to seem to be telling you how how to run your country but the US citizens actually need to do some of the running rather than just letting your politician run amok.

Paul Bainbridge says:

Why should he be extradited?

Your absolutely correct. He commited the crime in the UK and there are UK laws covering the crime so he should be tried in the UK. Hopefully the European courts will agree with you.

It should also be noted that plea bargaining is not legal under UK law so I doubt that the US prosecutors would be legally bound to keep to the deal they agreed to in the UK.

Lucretious (profile) says:

Re: I can't blame him either

right, we should ignore any asshole that hacks into military computers… know, the minor things that deal with our nuclear arsenal, troop deployments, identities of operatives working in dangerous conditions, Locations of weapons platforms like nuclear subs, etc.

I really wonder what some of you are thinking. This isn’t a Gitmo prisoner put in under vague circumstances….he HACKED INTO THE US MILITARY COMPUTER SYSTEM. Does that not mean anything to you idiots?

Anonymous Coward says:

US jails are barbaric

While spending two days in Denver County Jail, I observed a man (admittedly unruly) being placed in hand and leg irons, before being tasered five times. An 18 y/o in the cell next to mine talked back to one of the deputies, and was forced to submit to a cavity search. The deputy kept asking “who’s a tough guy now”, while the kid was crying and begging him for forgiveness. I would estimate the cavity “search” went on for at least five minutes after the kid started sobbing. We were all keenly aware of our exposure to retribution should we consider saying anything about it… I’d therefore suggest to anyone that they fight extradition by any and all means possible!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: US jails are barbaric

Barbaric? Have you read up on prisons in the middle east? Central Africa, south america? In some you arent even FED unless you have family to bring food in.

I love whining little anti-gov idiots like yourself who seem to forget that the 3rd world is makes US and euro prisons look like day care.

But, I guess I’m just some neo-con MAAAANNN! some kind of Bush apologist MAAAANNN!

I spent 9 months in minimum sec in RI. Yes, the guards and “system” can be a bitch sometime but, you know what? Its not meant to be a vacation. I never blamed any person or “the system” because no one else put me in there. It was my own stupidity. While many things I saw were unfair, they weren’t “cruel and inhuman”. Do a little reading besides the various conspiracy sites you seem to hang around and check out amnesty international and what some of the worlds prisons do to people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: US jails are barbaric

Yes, Barbaric. If you want to reduce this to an argument by Godwin, then it sounds like you’re saying that anything less than a nazi concentration camp is ok. Of course, I was talking about county jail, i.e. a long time before anyone has seen a judge. Presumption of innocence aside, I can’t think of any word but “torture”, to describe repeatedly tasering someone *after* they’ve been shackled so they cannot move, or using public cavity searches as punishment. In my book, “torture” ranks way beyond “cruel and unusual”.

For the record, I didn’t claim I didn’t deserve to be there; nor am I “anti-gov”. I don’t know if you’re a neo-con Bush apologist MAANNN (sic), but I think you’ve proven that at the very least you’re just plain dumb.

> In some you arent even FED unless you have
> family to bring food in.

Ironically, after I’d been a guest at Arapahoe County for a couple of weeks, some oversight authority discovered we’d been fed only 70% of the calories we were supposed to get.

Gene Cavanaugh says:

I have a different take on this

I am a veteran, and though heartbroken over the Gestapo-like way my country is acting, I basically am a patriot.
At the same time, if the military has such shoddy security, the plea bargain should be ‘hands off if you show us what we did wrong’. Let’s face it, if a hacker in the UK working alone can get into the system, the hackers in China and Russia, with government backing and substantial resources can OWN the system (and likely do)!

Seamus McCauley (profile) says:

Extradition Act

Mike – the US/UK extradition situation became contentiously one-sided when the 2003 Extradition Act came in. Some details here and here.

It’s widely considered problematic in England – particularly by civil rights campaigners – that our citizens can be extradited to the US on much weaker grounds than would be required for an extradition the other way. I think there’s more going on here than a guy who cocked up his hack turning down a plea bargain.

Friend says:


After reading your comments i feel it only fair to put you all right on the facts regarding the plea the US offered Gary.

Yes Gary was offered a plea bargain but he was offered 5 years and no legal representation, no contact with his family or the UK and frankly they wanted him there so he would get lost in the system (oh did i mention they wanted a military trial). He did not have a lawyer present at the time and most importantly they refused to put it into writing.

Would you agree to that plea?

No didn’t think so, no-one in their right mind would agree to anything until they had a lawyer present, and as Gary refused they said fine we’re gonna throw the book at you!

Bully’s – yes they bloody are!

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