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Motherboard

It's Official, Hacker Gary McKinnon Isn't Coming to America

After a decade of hearings and British court appeals per Gary Mckinnon's extradition to the United States to be tried for the biggest military hacking incident the U.S. Justice Department had ever seen.

by Daniel Stuckey
Oct 16 2012, 8:28pm

After spending a decade on hearings and court appeals per the U.S.-requested extradition of Gary McKinnon, a U.K.-based hacker, a big decision is in. U.K. Homeland Secretary Theresa May today announced the denial of McKinnon’s extradition order.

The order was demanded by the U.S. Department of Justice, which claimed $566,000 in damages after McKinnon hacked into 97 military computers and destroyed critical documents. McKinnon countered that he was just trying to reveal hidden data about UFOs and information about the suppression of free energy. Those hacks, which occurred between February of 2001 and March of 2002, was then called “the biggest military hack of all time.”

Considering that McKinnon has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and that he faced a certain long-term stay at some U.S. prison, Secretary May’s decision is more than a sigh of relief for the McKinnon family.

Although there is a great deal of banter over the fairness of U.S. vs. U.K. extradition policies, comparing incarceration rates between the two countries suggests that McKinnon has a much better chance of staying free by staying home. The U.K. is in 92nd place for incarcerating its population, with an estimated 154 detainees per 100,000 nationals, opposite a U.S. that has held first place for a long time.

But is McKinnon getting off scott-free? Statements like Alan Johnson’s (Theresa May’s predecessor) that “The U.S. was perfectly within its rights and it was extremely reasonable of them to seek his extradition,” suggest that, while May’s statement suggests a sea change, McKinnon’s crimes won’t be so easily forgotten. Blocking the extradition may also have been a political move by May, as Johnson commented.

This is all kindling under the debate of whether or not McKinnon should even face sentencing despite his Asperger’s, which may have played a role in McKinnon’s obsessive searching through U.S. military systems. Determining if McKinnon will be tried in the U.K. is Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions. Starmer has been painted before as a supporter of the Labour party, to which Alan Johnson belongs. McKinnon surely would have faced trial in the U.S., and if his trial becomes a political issue in the U.K., it’s possible he could face legal trouble there.

For hackers and leakers that demand transparency from the world’s largest privacy dominions, there’s an easy conclusion to draw from the McKinnon case, even if it’s misguided: If you’re going to get arrested, do it in the U.K. But McKinnon’s case is obviously special, as evidenced by his decade-long legal battle.

Still, we’re forgetting about a major issue: What happened to the UFO information McKinnon says he was searching for? As flying saucers soar away in the distance, auto-blurred and blacklisted by military drones that incidentally capture their images, will UFO whistleblowers continue to be dragged into crazy legal battles? And more importantly, what will become of the conversation about military intelligence and governmental privacy that McKinnon’s trial would have brought forth?

That’s right. While the U.S. military is surely frustrated at not being able to make an example of McKinnon, there’s a conspiracy theory floating around suggesting that McKinnon would’ve inevitably popped the lid off U.S. military shushings on their UFO database if here were to face trial. Imagine what kind of things we might still be missing out on. Even if just for conspiracy sake — still — who wouldn’t want to probe Gary McKinnon, just a little bit? But that aside, there’s one more embarrassing truth that McKinnon allegedly uncovered: Ten years ago, the military’s cybersecurity really sucked.