A British-American bluestocking living in the UK writes about politics, pop culture, and emerging new paradigms as they unfold on both sides of the Atlantic. (New content.)

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Why Gary McKinnon Deserves His Freedom

Gary McKinnon
Gary McKinnon is a wanted man. This Scottish-born computer geek who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome (a form of high functioning autism) is allegedly responsible for being (in the words of a US prosecutor) one of the "biggest military hackers of all time". McKinnon has consistently maintained that he was not looking to find any defense secrets. What he did want to find was any evidence of UFO's and suppressed free energy technologies. He is currently facing extradition to the United States. The Home Secretary, Teresa May stayed on the extradition process when the new Coalition government was installed. She is currently reviewing the case and asking for further information on McKinnon's mental and emotional health.

At the age of 17, apparently McKinnon went to see the movie, "War Games" (1983) a movie that depicted teenage computer geeks who hack into a military computer and almost cause WWIII. This got McKinnon to thinking if he might be able to also hack into military computers to obtain information on the subjects that he was interested in: UFO's and free energy. It didn't help that his foray into the world of computers was discovered right after 9-11 a time when paranoia about terrorism in the United States was at an all-time high. McKinnon is bright and articulate and is a huge science fiction buff, a passion that was fueled by his stepfather who encouraged his interest in classic sci-fi writers like Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. It was also his stepfather who fostered his interest in UFO's. He said (to writer Jon Ronson) that he was (hoping) "that there might be something more advanced than us, keeping a friendly eye on us."  After he saw "War Games", he realized that perhaps the way to find out if UFO's were real were to hack into the very places that the information might be stored. He started experimenting in 1995.

He downloaded a program that allowed him to enter Windows systems and then started searching for administrator names that were using no passwords. And he found lots of them did not have passwords. So, McKinnon sailed right in and helped himself to the information. He was surprised to see how many never bothered to set up passwords. One of his first successes was hacking into the Oxford University network. That gave him the impetus to keep going. And soon after that, he managed to crack the U.S. Space Command. That was a coup.  He had hit his personal "motherlode" so to speak and he wanted to know more. He was stunned at how simple it was as the top brass often were negligent in protecting their systems. Once again, no passwords.

From 1995 onwards, Gary sat at his computer at his girlfriend's aunt's house, stoned on dope , drinking and hacking to his heart's content (by his own admission, by the way.)  He contends that when he was in the different military systems having a "snoop" he could detect hackers from lots of other countries in there, too. (We don't know if any of them ever got caught, do we?) In one of the most intriguing discoveries, he said that he was most excited about finding a listing entitled: Non-Terrestrial Officers. With this, he found a list of ships, none of which were navy ships leading him to believe that they were off-planet spaceships that the US government has in place.

He began to treat his activities as a game, going deeper and into more complex system operations of different governmental organizations like the Johnson Space Center and eventually into all the Forts (Meade, Benning for example). He became addicted to "the game" of seeing how far he could go. And then he found Darpa. (The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) the agency that is credited with founding the internet. He found evidence of projects that Darpa had in the tank. Then, he got a bit relaxed and he started conversing with the people he was hacking, he got sloppy and didn't cover his tracks. In 2002, he got caught.

The US offered him a deal. They said that if he would go to the US and take on the cost of extradition, they would give him only three or four years, not the whole sentence. McKinnon was clever. He asked for it on paper. They refused. They wanted to give him a trial in secret with no right to appeal the decision. McKinnon balked.  In 2002, McKinnon was indicted by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia.  The indictment consisted of seven counts of computer crime and each carried a possible ten-year jail sentence.This meant that if McKinnon was extradited, he faced  up to 70 years in an American jail.

McKinnon has never denied what he did. He has been open and very candid about his actions in various interviews and he even says he was "an idiot" about the whole thing. He feels that if he is to stand trial, he should stand in the UK. With his Asperger's Syndrome, and his bouts of depression, he has been diagnosed as suicidal. He is terrified of being taken out of the UK and to America to end up in an American jail.( I don't blame him, as the American system has little regard for mental health issues.) Suicidal feelings and depression are part of the pathology of Asperger patients with 32 percent actually attempting suicide. The difficulty lies in the inability of many ASD patients to explain their depression and feelings of suicide so this means that many patients are not treated appropriately and sometimes it is too late. This makes McKinnon's situation precarious and in that...his best defense for non-extradition. Indeed, it has come to light recently that McKinnon's Asperger's Syndrome is genetic and that the disease had affected other preceding generations of his family.

Through Wikileaks, we have learned that former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown attempted to talk to the US ambassador Louis Susman about McKinnon's situation. Brown asked that McKinnon be allowed to plead guilty to hacking charges but let him serve any sentences in the UK. Susman ignored Brown's plea. Ironically, Susman has been lecturing recently  on "tolerance and humanity".

After all this kerfluffle, the UK can simply refuse to extradite Gary McKinnon. They can just say, "No, he's not going."  As Duncan Campbell pointed out in his essay on McKinnon (The Guardian) Switzerland refused to extradite Roman Polanski and "Hillary did not institute a no-fly zone over Switzerland." In 2009, even Boris Johnson, the mayor of London urged the peers to vote to stop his extradition which he termed would be "brutal". Indeed, McKinnon has a lot of celebrity supporters in the UK including Sting and Trudy Styler, Bob Geldof, Graham Nash, and Stephen Fry among them.

It is so clear to me that the US government is bullying a simple hacker who really wanted to simply learn about UFO's and free energy. And guess what? The rest of us (Americans) want to know too. The British government has released thousands of pages of case files on UFO's. And still the US government wants us to believe that nothing is out there...except a saucepan lid on a string in someone's backyard. Roswell? Oh it was a weather balloon. Gary McKinnon has caught the US military (like the Emperor) wearing no clothes. He learned of the secret space program, the super-soldier program and the way they have reversed engineered technology for decades. I wish that I could be surprised at what he uncovered but most of it is known already anyway. The lies and the secrets aren't working anymore, sirs. And you know what else? McKinnon never even downloaded one file. He simply read what he found. He was just doing his own research into what interested him. Does this sound like someone who is a threat to military security? I think not.

I hope the UK government puts its foot down and says, "No" to the American military industrial complex. Gary McKinnon may have made some mistakes, but attempting to take down a government and selling its secrets was not one of them. He simply exposed what all of us know already...that the US military is engaging in a lot of covert projects.

And guess what? We already knew about most of them. It's ridiculous. It's rather like hiding a pregnancy in the seventh month and calling it "gaining a bit of weight." McKinnon didn't expose any big secrets. He simply exposed how inept security is in a military system that threatens to swallow itself whole. And being humiliated by a computer geek who smoked too much weed...well, hell...it's embarrassing, eh?  Yes, it sure is.

Free Gary McKinnon. And when he is allowed to use the internet again, someone give this genius a job, please.