A Briton accused of hacking into top secret military computers has lost a Law Lords appeal against being extradited to stand trial in the US. Glasgow-born Gary McKinnon could face life in jail if convicted of accessing 97 US military and Nasa computers. He has admitted breaking into the computers from his London home but said he was seeking information on UFOs. The 42-year-old’s lawyers said they would apply to the European Court of Human Rights to prevent his removal. Mr McKinnon first lost his case at the High Court in 2006 before taking it to the highest court in the UK, the House of Lords. He was arrested in 2002 but never charged in the UK. The US government claims he committed a malicious crime – the biggest military computer hack ever. The authorities have warned that without his co-operation and a guilty plea the case could be treated as terrorism and he could face a long jail sentence. A statement by solicitors for McKinnon, who was not at the Lords to hear the judgement, said: “Gary McKinnon is neither a terrorist nor a terrorist sympathiser.
“His case could have been properly dealt with by our own prosecuting authorities. We believe that the British government declined to prosecute him to enable the US government to make an example of him.
“American officials involved in this case have stated that they want to see him ‘fry’.
“The consequences he faces if extradited are both disproportionate and intolerable.”
Their client is accused of hacking into the computers with the intention of intimidating the US government. It alleges that between February 2001 and March 2002, he hacked into dozens of US Army, Navy, Air Force, and Department of Defense computers, as well as 16 Nasa computers. Prosecutors say he altered and deleted files at a naval air station not long after the 11 September attacks in 2001, rendering critical systems inoperable.Mr McKinnon, who is unemployed, has admitted that he accessed computers in the US without authority.
But he has said he is merely a computer nerd, whose motives were harmless and innocent. He denies any attempts at sabotage. He said he wanted to find evidence of UFOs he thought was being held by the US authorities, and to expose what he believed was a cover-up.
The Law Lords were told by Mr McKinnon’s lawyers that extraditing him would be an abuse of proceedings. US authorities had threatened him with a long jail sentence if he did not plead guilty, they said. If the case was treated as terrorism it could result in a sentence of up to 60 years in a maximum security prison, should he be found guilty on all six indictments.
With co-operation, he would receive a lesser sentence of 37 to 46 months and be repatriated to the UK, where he could be released on parole and charges of “significantly damaging national security” would be dropped. But Clare Montgomery QC, representing the home secretary, argued no threats were made, and the extradition should go ahead.