UK Blocks Computer Hacker Gary McKinnon's Extradition to U.S.
McKinnon says he was doing research into U.S. government information on UFOs
By the CNN Wire Staff
October 16, 2012LONDON (CNN) -- The UK government Tuesday blocked the extradition of computer hacker Gary McKinnon to the United States to face trial for what the U.S. government says is the biggest military computer hacking of all time.
Home Secretary Theresa May said McKinnon's Asperger syndrome and depressive illness meant "there is such a high risk of him ending his own life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with his human rights."
Gary McKinnon has admitted to breaking into computers at NASA and the Pentagon but says he did so to find out if the U.S. government was covering up the existence of UFOs.
The 46-year-old has fought a decade-long battle against extradition.
The UK director of public prosecutions will now look at whether McKinnon should face trial in a UK court, May said.
She said her decision to block his extradition, in what she described as a "difficult and exceptional case," was based on extensive consultation with legal and medical experts.
The U.S. government says McKinnon accessed 97 computers from his home in London for a year starting in March 2001, costing the government about $1 million.
He is accused of breaking into military, NASA and civilian networks, and accessing computers at the Pentagon; Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Meade, Maryland; the Earle Naval Weapons Station in Colts Neck, New Jersey; and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, among others.
In one case, McKinnon allegedly crashed computers belonging to the Military District of Washington.
McKinnon is believed to have acted alone, with no known connection to any terrorist organization, said Paul McNulty, the former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
A U.S. federal grand jury indicted McKinnon on seven counts of computer fraud and related activity. If convicted, he would face a maximum of 10 years in prison on each count and a $250,000 fine.
McKinnon's lawyer, Karen Todner, and his family had argued against the extradition on human rights grounds because he has Asperger syndrome.
People with the syndrome suffer difficulty in social relationships, communication and social imagination, according to The National Autistic Society in Britain. Asperger syndrome may often include having special interests and becoming anxious if a routine is broken.
Psychiatrists who examined McKinnon said there was a risk of suicide if he was sent to the United States.
Todner also previously complained that the United States has never provided evidence to prosecutors or McKinnon's legal team to support their extradition request -- and in fact, under Britain's Extradition Act of 2003, U.S. prosecutors are not required to.
McKinnon was on the brink of extradition in August 2008, when the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, refused to reconsider the decision to send him to the United States, effectively clearing the way for his transfer.
He has been free on bail in England while the extradition process has been going on.
Critics say Britain's extradition treaty with the United States unfairly denies its citizens the chance to have the evidence against them considered by a British court before they are extradited.
Rights group Liberty has called for the UK government to bring into force amendments made to the Extradition Act in 2006, the so-called "forum bar," that would mean a British court holds a hearing to decide whether a UK citizen should stand trial in Britain or overseas.
"If the forum bar had been on the statute book, it would have been possible for a UK judge to halt the extradition of Gary McKinnon," Liberty's website says.
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