- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

LONDON — A British computer expert was arrested in London and faces extradition to the United States on charges of carrying out what is described as the “biggest military computer hack of all time.”

Gary McKinnon, 39, known on the Internet as “Solo,” is accused of repeatedly hacking into nearly 100 computers operated by the U.S. armed forces, the Pentagon and NASA, at a cost of $700,000, in 2001 and 2002.

Mr. McKinnon wanted to prove that the U.S. government was concealing evidence of UFOs and to expose the ease with which the computer systems could be breached, his lawyer, Karen Todner, said yesterday.

If convicted, Mr. McKinnon faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

He was indicted three years ago by a federal grand jury in Alexandria on eight counts of computer-related crime in 14 states.

Paul J. McNulty, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, described Mr. McKinnon’s activities as “the biggest military computer hack of all time” when he unsealed the indictments.

U.S. officials said then that Mr. McKinnon didn’t obtain any classified information.

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, U.S. authorities feared the hacking was the work of al Qaeda.

The unemployed computer engineer was arrested by Scotland Yard detectives at his home in north London on Tuesday night and taken to Bow Street Magistrates Court yesterday, where he was ordered to appear for an extradition hearing July 27.

U.S. authorities said yesterday that extradition cases often involve a lengthy court process and that it is rare for the U.S. government to seek extradition from a foreign country in a case involving suspected computer-crime cases.

Lawyer Janet Boston, representing the U.S. government, told the London court yesterday that in a 12-month period in 2001 and 2002, Mr. McKinnon targeted and threw scores of networks into chaos by disrupting 97 U.S. government computers.

Mrs. Boston said he used software available over the Internet to scan tens of thousands of computers and gain access to the networks, where he deleted “critical” files and changed passwords, denying numerous military installations access to the Internet, and then invited other hackers to join in the action.

In some of the most dramatic hack jobs, U.S. authorities said, the London computer wizard “rendered the network for the Military District of Washington inoperable” for three days and threw the operations of Naval Weapons Station Earle in New Jersey into turmoil during the month after the September 11 attacks.

The New Jersey facility, which is responsible for organizing supplies for the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic Fleet, saw its computers put out of action for a week and its staff denied Internet access for another three weeks, officials said.

In another case, U.S. authorities said he obtained codes, commands and other information to hack into an Army computer at Fort Myer, on which he deleted an estimated 1,300 user accounts.

Mrs. Boston said Mr. McKinnon’s “activities” had cost the U.S. government about $700,000 — the price of tracking him down and correcting the computer problems that he had caused.

London’s Evening Standard newspaper quoted friends of Mr. McKinnon as saying he used his home computer to break into the networks in an effort to prove his theory that the United States had mounted a huge cover-up to deny his belief that aliens had visited earth.

“Gary told me all he was doing was looking for proof of a cover-up over UFOs. He’s been interested in UFOs for some time and believes the Americans are holding back information — although he didn’t find any proof,” said London friend Andrew Edwards.

Ms. Todner confirmed the newspaper report yesterday.

The court yesterday released Mr. McKinnon on $9,200 bail pending the extradition hearing, which he intends to fight.

One condition of his bail is that he does not try to get on the Internet.

Jerry Seper and Rowan Scarborough contributed to this report from Washington.

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