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I was just hunting UFOs, says Pentagon hacker

Over a two-year period, Gary McKinnon hacked into Pentagon, NASA and military systems

By Michael Holden
April 27, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Reuters - To the U.S., he is a seriously dangerous man who put the nation's security at risk by committing "the biggest military computer hack of all time."

But Briton Gary McKinnon says he's just an ordinary computer nerd who wanted to find out whether aliens and UFOs exist.

During his two-year quest, McKinnon broke into computers at the Pentagon, NASA and the Johnson Space Center, as well as systems used by the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force.

U.S. officials say he caused $700,000 worth of damage and even crippled vital defense systems shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The unemployed computer programmer is now battling extradition to the U.S., where, if found guilty, he faces up to 70 years in jail and fines of up to $1.75 million. His lawyer fears he could even be sent to Guantanamo Bay.

It's all a far cry from how he first got into hacking: watching a film about a teenage boy who breaks into a military central computer and almost starts World War III.

"I had seen the film War Games, and I do remember clearly thinking at the time, that's amazing -- a great big military computer system and a young, spotty teenager," the soft-spoken 39-year-old told Reuters in an interview.

A decade later, McKinnon, armed with information gleaned from the book The Hacker's Handbook, began snooping.

During 2000 and 2001, from his home in Hornsey, North London, he turned his sights on the American government and military -- using a computer with just a 56K dial-up modem.

"My main thing was wanting to find out about UFOs and suppressed technology," he said, insisting his intention was not to cause damage. "I wanted to ... find out stuff the government wouldn't tell you about."

He said it was easy, despite being only a rank amateur. Using the hacking name "Solo," he discovered that many U.S. top-security systems were using an insecure Microsoft Windows program and had no password protection at all.

"So I got commercially available off-the-shelf software and used them to scan large military networks ... anything I thought might have possible links to UFO information," he said.

McKinnon said he came across a group called the "Disclosure Project," which had expert testimonies from senior figures who said technology obtained from extraterrestrials did exist.

One NASA scientist had reported that the Johnson Space Center had a facility where UFOs were airbrushed out of high-resolution satellite images. So, he hacked in.

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