Gary McKinnon and the prison system: do not extradite

Crushed under the juggernaut of blind authority

You’ve seen the Tweets, now read the blog.

Following an interesting discussion with Jack Of Kent about Aspergers hacker Gary McKinnon on Twitter (described by one Tweeter as like Newsnight in haiku) I have a few brief points to make.

I’m totally opposed to extraditing Gary McKinnon to the US, where draconian punishment and prison conditions place their judicial system somewhere in the nastier part of the Middle Ages. Only last night, those of us who watched Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story saw how one juvenile prison faciity was essentially a money-making scam between the judge — sentencing teenagers who behaved like teenagers to the nightmare of being banged up for long periods — and the prison boss, who had lobbied for the old public facility to be demolished so he could replace it with his own privately-built one costing $8 million, for which he was paid $58 million out of the public purse.

The kids’ “crimes” included throwing a piece of meat at Mum’s boyfriend during a family row, and a fight with a friend in a Mall.

This is a system that also locks up a disproportionate number of black men.

But prisons in the US are big business.

No man or woman’s freedom should be bartered away at the whim of blind state power.

Who has determined that Gary McKinnon’s hacking into the government’s cyberspace is a criminal act? He wasn’t a terrorist. He was a bored web-savvy amateur who showed up the flaws in the system before someone actually dangerous found it. His curiosity concerning free energy and UFOs, ferchrissake, was satisfied because the US military and NASA’s inept security allowed him in. Governments do enough spying on us — they don’t like it up ’em. Isn’t it capitulating to overweening state authority to say his mischief was an actual crime? It’s out of all proportion in a civilised society.

In an interview straight out of Monty Python, one senior military officer at the Pentagon said: “He did very serious and deliberate damage to military and Nasa computers and left silly and anti-American messages.” So which is he being done for? Damage? (Under the terms of the 2003 Extradition Act, the US doesn’t have to produce contestable evidence.) Or the sort of two-fingers-to-authority that in the free West we once thought quite romantic?

The Wiki account says:

McKinnon has denied causing any damage, arguing that, in his quest for UFO-related material, he accessed open, unsecured machines with no passwords and no firewalls and that he left countless notes pointing out their many security failings. He adamantly disputes the damage and the financial loss claimed by the US as concocted in order to create a dollar amount justifying an extraditable offence. While it did not constitute evidence of destruction, he did admit leaving a threat on one computer:
“US foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days? It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand-down on September 11 last year…I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels.”

But did he continue to disrupt? Should you be extradited for bravado? Is it true what he said about government-sponsored terrorism? And should the “dollar amount” be a determining factor in extradition?

All the things that the Masters and Mistresses of the Universe do, with no possibility of redress for us, and yet here’s a man’s life about to be destroyed, effectively out of spite. Blair, Haliburton, the oil corps et al are enriched through behaviour that would be criminal if only they weren’t making the rules. Compare Gary’s video-gamer’s excitement with the Apache helicopter crew waggling their joysticks, who massacred a crowd in Iraq including two Reuters employees. Or the greed machines currently destroying the whole coast of Louisiana and beyond.

The Labour government rolled over and did the US neocon regime’s bidding over the Iraq War, colluded in rendition and torture, and then tried to deliver its own civilians to a foreign power.

We are encountering a massive juggernaut of authority with no morality backing it up. This is wrong. We should not be actively collaborating in our own oppression.

UPDATE: QC Geoffrey Robertson on Gary McKinnon and the US government’s restrospective malice: a test case for principles. He points out that Stieg Larsson’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo heroine, Lisbeth Salander, would be extradited for the same activity.

Madam Miaow says … visit Anna Chen’s website here:


Anna’s food blog here:

19 thoughts on “Gary McKinnon and the prison system: do not extradite”

  1. The current government is making noises that they won't extradite. I think the Tories opposed McKinnon's extradition from the beginning, as well as the LibDems.

    And Labour wonders why they lost the election.

  2. @Gwei Mui
    David Cameron's pre-election stance was also to denounce the extradition and reform the treaty. Dominic Grieve, (now Attorney General) also publicly condemned it and announced plans to change it if elected. Will the Conservatives have no influence whatsoever?

    Madam Miaow, you will note that the alleged damage caused is claimed by US prosecutors to amount to $5000 per machine. This, quite coincidentally, equals the exact minimum amount required to create an extraditable offence. Make of that what you will, but you will also note that said 'damage' has been shown in court (by forensic IT expert Professor Peter Sommer)to represent nothing more than the cost of installing the basic security that should have already been on the machines; it was the US military's legal obligation to secure their data. Not one US military personnel has faced prosecution for failing in this regard. I just thought I'd mention it.

    You may also be interested to know that the superseding indictment issued in 2005 had dropped the claims relating to the Universities he accessed, because they had come out and denied that he caused any damage whatsoever.

  3. Well, I don't see why should he be immune to prosecution just because you have issues with the US government. The helicopter pilots/Michael Moore docs etc… all non-seqs. He did some serious messing in a nations information network and got caught. Seems he rejected a cushy plea bargain to boot. It seems very 6th form to write off the US concerns as 'spite'.

  4. mantecanaut , so you don't see this as an abuse of power which, along with accelerating criminalisation, punishment and repression represents a danger to our civil liberties?

    As for spite, Dandelion makes the point that they hit upon the exact amount that ensures extradition while the universities, without such a massive axe to grind, say there was no damage. Don't you smell a rat?

  5. A rat perhaps, but not a capybara.
    I should look into this more; it's just that the caricatured argument you present is a bit of a turn off. 'Evil US Behemoth' vs 'Jolly harmless tinkerer McKinnon' (aaah, he has aspergers you know). I mean, you're even bringing up the oil spill and racism. It comes across a bit conspiracy-ish. Doesn't help your argument. Just sayin.

  6. One characteristic of the intelligent mind is the ability to spot connections and underlying currents. A potent way to keep us stupid is to deny these patterns, seeing such events as isolated phenomena.

    As the late Ken Campbell used to say when paraphrasing Charles Fort: Everything's connected. The full-stop is a lie — or else a hyphen coming straight at you.

    Just sayin'.

  7. Sure. Or.
    One major weakness of the primate's mind is hyperactive pattern recognition, or seeing patterns where they do not exist.
    A potent way to keep us superstitious is to uncritically yield to this evolutionary trait, seeing illusory connexions and shadowy powers controlling all. Spiders sprout from the walls.

  8. An advantage we humans have over the average primate is that we have reason, the ability to think things through. Some of us, anyhow. What strikes many of us who do is the hypocrisy and imbalance of power in society where great crimes that hurt real people are ignored or even rewarded, while people who challenge authority are crushed.

    Apologies to those hard of comprehension: the oil spill is an example of how we define what a crime is. I haven't brought in racism. I merely mentioned Aspergers at the top of the post because that is how many identify this case.

  9. Your potrayal of Gary MKinnon as a "bored web-savvy amateur" does you a disservice and in my opinion is not based in fact. Gary worked in IT support in the 90s, was interested in phone freaking, lock picking and military computer installations even then [The Register] – classic hacker interests at that time – there are cached posts across the NET which clearly show this.

    The Judicial Review summary,which can be read here, clearly sets out his activities – which are as far from a benign search for UFOs as is humanly possible – right down to his deletion of OS files, copying of password hash files and coding a popup that read “US foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days . . . It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand down on September 11 last year . . . I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels . . .”.

    It's hardly surprising that 'SOLOs' unauthorised access was taken as a terrorist threat, particularly post 9/11.

    Finally, I've spent most of my life working in Engineering, and I am of the opinion that many of my male colleagues are somewhere on the autistic spectrum – if only there was a medical test for this condition, rather than opinion.

    I am afraid I see this anti-extradition campaign as no more that anti-American sentimentality, furthermore to block this extradition would reflect negatively on British legal process in international eyes.

    He should be extradited and made to face the consequences of his activities – which were quite clearly destructive.

  10. And yet, Ally, if you read Dandelion's comment above, the damage is argued by some to have been non-existent — the cost being the installation of security software that should have been there anyway.

    The universities he hacked say he did no damage.

    The quote that you use, and which I include in my post, looks like romantic bravado by someone with a conscience who is appalled by US foreign policy. He was not a terrorist, so why is anti-terrorist legislation being used against him. He could be tried in this country — if he gets 70 years in a foreign gaol, that is cruel and unusual punishment which our legislation dating back to the 17th century does not allow.

    You accuse campaigners on McKinnon's behalf of being anti- American. Which America do you mean? I have every positive feeling towards the Americans who are increasingly suffering under the Mammon-driven governments over there. My sympathies are with the black people who suffered with Katrina, who are thrown into gaol in huge numbers, for the middle-classes now being pillaged by big business, for the people of Louisiana whose homeland has been devastated by the oil spill. Which America do you side with?

  11. All that stuff from the judicial reveiw? A load of rubbish, and already acknowledged as such by the courts – LJ Burnton July 09. 'An embarrassment to the prosecution', he said, and the CPS lawyer agreed. And on the hash files – forensic report on the evidence shows prosecution evidence fatally flawed on that, and pretty much every other point.

    The mis-quote so favoured by Alan Johnson and others is actually a heavily edited excerpt from hundreds of notes left which, taken in entirety are very clearly not threatening, merely outrage and concern at the lack of security he encountered.

    The cry of 'Anti-Americanism' is a very cheap ploy to undermine valid dissent, but false and unwarranted nonetheless. 'Anti-injustice' would be a more accurate descriptor for the motives of Gary McKinnon supporters.

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