Pentagon hacker in the hands of the Lord(s)THE FATE OF HAPLESS HACKER Gary McKinnon hangs on whether the US government used dirty tricks to shut him up because he was embarrassing its military on the eve of its invasion of Iraq.
By Stewart Meagher
By Stewart Meagher
The House of Lords yesterday heard McKinnon's appeal against a US order to have him extradited to face charges that he damaged numerous military computer systems after hacking into them during 2001 and 2002.
The Lords heard McKinnon's claim that the US had attempted to pervert the course of justice by threatening him with severe penalties if he didn't plead guilty to the charge of damaging the military computers after he hacked into them. The US position, however, was that they had made an offer not a threat, which was made during a legitimate stretch of plea bargaining, and promised inducements if McKinnon pleaded guilty to the charges that he damaged their systems.
It had been in the interests of the US to get McKinnon out of the headlines quickly, the Lords heard, and that is why they made the offer, or threat.
Representing the US, Clare Montgomery QC said: "It was a subject of embarrassment that American security could be so easily penetrated by the hacker from London, in the context of there being, as they described it, 'a war summit between the Prime Minister and the President at the end of this month', in February 2003."
The facts are indeed embarrassing to the US. Over a period of seven months, six of which coincided with US President George Bush Jnr's invasion of Afghanistan, McKinnon used a pathetic 56k modem to hack into computers at the Pentagon, the US military headquarters, and those of the Air Force, Army, Navy and NASA.
He left a digital visiting card that taunted the Americans: "US foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days... I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels".
Solo, the surname of the heroic rogue from Star Wars who stood up to an empire governed by a bloodthirsty tyrant, was the nom de plume, or tag, by which McKinnon went when he was hacking. McKinnon, however, had disregarded Han Solo's contempt for radical, or crackpot theories and gone on his hacking spree, he has said, in search of evidence that the US was suppressing details of UFO landings and technology that would provide the world with free energy.
Some crackpot theories are more harmless than others, though. While McKinnon was performing his hacks, Bush's war preparations were being assembled on the trumped-up charge that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction ready to wreak havoc on the world.
Now what by McKinnon's defence appears nothing more than as a non-conformist's impertinence has landed the hapless hacker into the middle of an international episode that has dragged on for five long years because he refused to confess to what he says are the trumped-up charges being foisted on him by US prosecutors who want to make an example of someone.
He is now a test case in the House of Lords where Clare Montgomery QC yesterday gave a compelling case for the Lords to rule that the Americans were within their rights to tell McKinnon that he would face stiffer penalties if he didn't agree to their terms of the plea bargain.
Yet the Lord's also learned that the US prosecutors had offered / threatened something they couldn't give / impose: that was, to quicken / deny McKinnon's repatriation back to the UK should he be sentenced in an American court after pleading guilty to the damage charges.
McKinnon has admitted to the hacking, not the damage. Standing in the Lord's Committee Room 1 before Frederick Richard Pickersgill's 1847 painting The Burial of Harold, which depicts a point in history that has long symbolised the suppression of indigenous British rights by those of a colonial oppressor, David Pannick QC invoked something of the romantic notions conjured in the British imagination by the name of King Harold II in defence of McKinnon.
McKinnon's legal team had discussed a plea with the Americans, he said: "But that does not effect the need to ensure that those who are given statutory rights under English legislation are not threatened with penalties if they refuse to give up those statutory rights."
It is no small irony then that if the Lord's rule against McKinnon when they report back next month, his team will take their defence of British sovereignty to the European Court of Human Rights.
He risks being treated as an "enemy combatant" like those locked up without charge by the US for the last six years in Guantanamo Bay.