The British hacker, who in 2001 admittedly broke into computer systems in the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA and the U.S. Army, has lost his latest battle in a seven-year fight to avoid being extradited to the U.S. for prosecution.
The Crown Prosecution Service, a U.K. government arm that handles public prosecutions, announced today that it will not prosecute Gary McKinnon for hacking into the U.S. sites, freeing him to be tried in the U.S.
The case took on a new level of cause célèbre late last month, when the mayor of London wrote a column in London's Telegraph newspaper, calling on President Barack Obama to call off U.S. efforts to extradite and prosecute McKinnon. Mayor Boris Johnson called U.S. efforts to prosecute self-acknowledged hacker Gary McKinnon a "legal nightmare" and equated the prosecution to "American bullying."
"These were not random experiments in computer hacking, but a deliberate effort to breach U.S. defense systems at a critical time, which caused well-documented damage," said Alison Saunders, head of the CPS Organized Crime Division in a written statement. "They may have been conducted from Mr. McKinnon's home computer -- and in that sense there is a U.K. link -- but the target and the damage were transatlantic."
McKinnon, who was an unemployed system administrator in the U.K. at the time of the 2001 hack, has been using a series of legal maneuvers and appeals over the past seven years to fight extradition to the U.S. McKinnon, now 43, was indicted in November 2002 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. He has said he broke into U.S. military computers hoping to uncover evidence of UFOs.
He has admitted to hacking the computers and described how he did it in presentations at computer security conferences in London. He also has said he wasn't trying to damage the systems but was looking to find evidence of UFOs on U.S. military computers.
McKinnon had long been looking to be prosecuted in the U.K., even though his extradition order has been approved by the U.K. government.
In a statement, Saunders noted that while British prosecutors do have enough evidence to prosecute McKinnon, their evidence does not reflect the seriousness of the charges being leveled by U.S. federal prosecutors. She added that they would not be able to hand down a sentence that matches the seriousness of the charges.
"The facts have remained the same," she added. "The bulk of the evidence is located in the United States, the activity was directed against the military infrastructure of the United States, the investigation commenced in the United States and was ongoing, and there are a large number of witnesses, most of whom are located in the United States. Having reached our conclusions on these matters, as is our wider duty in accordance with the Attorney General's guidance for handling criminal cases in the USA, we also reconsidered in which jurisdiction the case is best prosecuted -- and that remains the United States."
The U.S. government alleges that McKinnon caused $900,000 in damages to computers in 14 states, and that he caused the shutdown of critical military networks shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He faces a sentence of 60 years or more in the U.S.