By Thanhnien NewsBut Briton Gary McKinnon says he is 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 US army, navy and air force.
US officials say he caused $700,000 worth of damage and even crippled vital defense systems shortly after the September 11 attacks.
The unemployed computer programmer is now battling extradition to the United States, 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 Three.
"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 softly spoken 39-year-old told Reuters in an interview.
"Hacker's Handbook"A decade later, McKinnon, armed with information gleaned from the book, "The Hacker's Handbook," began his snooping.
During 2000-1 from his home in Hornsey, north London, and using a computer with just a limited 56K dial-up modem, he turned his sights on the American government and military.
"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 US 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.
Aliens?He said he came across a group called the "Disclosure Project," which had expert testimonies from senior figures who said technology obtained from extra-terrestrials 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.
"I saw what I'm convinced was some kind of satellite or spacecraft but it was manufactured by no means I have ever seen before -- there were no rivets, no seams, it was like one flawless piece of material. And that was above the Earth."
However, his probing came to an end in March 2002, when British police arrested him.
"I was completely obsessed. I was completely addicted. It was like a huge game but I was getting very paranoid," he said.
McKinnon's own story might sound like the plot of a movie, but the charges he faces are deadly serious. He argues he is being made a scapegoat by US authorities to deter other would-be hackers rather than address their own security flaws.
"I'm already being treated as a terrorist," he said. "I appear in an official American army pamphlet ... in a guide to combating terrorism in the 21st century."
The next stage of his legal battle takes place on May 10. But he hints that whatever happens, he has a lot more to tell.
"I can't talk about a lot of stuff that I found. It's just not the right time," he said with a smile.
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