- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Accused of military break-ins

LONDON (Reuters) — A British computer enthusiast accused by the U.S. government of the world’s “biggest military hack of all time” began a court fight against extradition to the United States yesterday.

Gary McKinnon was arrested in June on charges by U.S. prosecutors that he illegally accessed 97 government computers — including Pentagon, Army, Navy and NASA systems.

Prosecutors say he hacked into sensitive networks over a one-year period starting in February 2002 and caused $700,000 worth of damage.

If found guilty, Mr. Mckinnon could face up to $1.75 million in fines and 60 years in jail.

Mr. Mckinnon’s lawyers say he might be prosecuted under military law if sent to the United States and could be subjected to “special administrative measures” such as solitary confinement and other tactics to persuade him to plead guilty.

He even could face the prospect of being sent to U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with no chance of parole, they say.

Mr. McKinnon — whose hacking name was Solo — admits gaining access to U.S. government computers but denies that he caused any damage. His supporters say the U.S. government should be grateful to him for highlighting its security shortcomings.

U.S. prosecutors say there is no evidence that Mr. McKinnon downloaded classified information or forwarded files to foreign governments.

At the time of the indictment, Paul McNulty, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said: “Mr McKinnon is charged with the biggest military computer hack of all time.”

Mr. McKinnon, from Wood Green in north London, was released on bail in July and banned from using the Internet.

The 40-year-old suspect appeared relaxed in court, where he was supported by more than a dozen friends and others.

Governments have become increasingly nervous over hackers in recent years, and there have been several high-profile prosecutions.

One of the charges against Mr. McKinnon relates to files deleted from computers at a U.S. naval station, rendering the base’s network of computers inoperable.

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