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McKinnon Extradition - Personal Reflections - Feb 2010

Basically here I'm picking up on issues of the Gary McKinnon Extradition Case that I see as relevant to the various arguments. I've been following this case closely for the last 9 months or so and now that its arrived in a position where there is relative calm for a few weeks, I thought it was time to bring my views up to date.

The "Free Gary" Supporters.

There is a very active "FREE GARY" Lobby in the socialmedia, though the banner belies the actual intent of most of the supporters. Most believe that this is about having him tried here in the UK, not being "freed". Like them, the view I've taken is that he should be tried here, though I am persuaded that there are people who disagree with that view who hold a perfectly rational stance.

To simply "FREE" McKinnon, even though its is now almost a decade since his trangressions were performed, would be curling our national lip at our biggest ally. The fact is though, that if he went through a UK trial, his sentence would be far lighter here than over in The USA and on the basis of what he's gone through so far, it might well be rendered in non-custodial terms.

Gary McKinnon's Mother ....

She is a light in the darkness that is this messy situation. She doesn't believe he's innocent of the misdemeanour and despite the fact that she's become synonymous with the "FreeGary" banner, she doesn't believe that he shouldn't be tried.

She believes that the concatenation of events is an unreasonable outcome for his offences which were not intended to be destructive. She highlights the fact the basis upon which Gary can be extradited is a treaty made in a hurry to cope with fundamantalist terrorism. Whichever way you look at McKinnon, it's hard to see a terrorist in there. Janis is fighting for her son, guilty or not, because she's his mother and that's what mothers do.

Aspergers ...

This situation was further complicated fairly late on in its development by the revelation that McKinnon is an Asperger sufferer. I'm not qualified on the matter, though I understand it to be within the Autism Spectrum.

According to Wikipedia "People with Asperger syndrome often display behavior, interests, and activities that are restricted and repetitive and are sometimes abnormally intense or focused". That would go a long way to supporting the view that his behaviour in "hacking" the US networks was some kind of reaction to his compulsive nature. Having met scores of highly technical people in my career, I'm sure that many computer "nerds" as they are usually disparagingly called have similar tendencies. So, my gut feeling is that this is true.

The Treaty

My impression is that the Treaty in question was signed in a hurry at a time of great stress by a UK Government that rightly wanted to help its largest ally to capture terrorists who threatened their security and that of the western world. The man who signed it, David Blunkett, is no shrinking violet when it comes to calling a spade a shovel and he has said (apparently) that the treaty was not intended to apply to cases like McKinnon.

I should add at this point my own position on this. Hacking is a bad thing and that whoever does it should be held to account. I am in the sector of the IT industry that spends time and money on developing things that will block hacking.

Governments and Data

It is regrettable to me that the Government bodies that are responsible for the security of our data, on both sides of the pond, don't always get it right. For instance I have personally overheard a project review of a defence related project being discussed openly on a train in the UK and I could have, without too much difficulty, absorbed what I have no doubt were secret details. Luckily I am suffering from tinnitus and have to make special efforts to hear anything at all on a train!

My view is that Government departments are sometimes far from clever on how they protect our data – “secrets” or not - and in many cases are downright negligent. I was not surprised then to discover that McKinnon, in a quest to find the truth about secret energy technologies that had supposedly originated in other worlds and supposedly were in the covert hands of the US agencies that he attempted to penetrate, was able to find side doors into these networks that were not protected with even the most basic of security barriers.

Should he have been doing that? Of course not. But then I guess the folks who opened up the pandora's box that was Watergate shouldn't have been doing that either should they?

Little Green Men?

His motive may seem a bit crackpot, though he isn't alone in believing that some technologies that we take for granted come and will further come from outer space. For instance the silicon chip, according to many, is only a part of our lives today because of a UFO crash landing somewhere back in the 1950's. McKinnon says he thinks that there is unlimited cheap energy available through some gravity-based technology or other as I understand it. He reckons the US Government is keeping this as a deep dark secret. Do I buy this? Nah - but I've heard of wilder things.

The McKinnon Effect

So what was the effect of his "hacking"? He embarrassed the dickens out of the security ring concerned. He caused them to be very concerned that they were being compromised by some sort of James Bond villain. He caused disruption to their operations. Did he find anything? I hope he didn't, because otherwise the poor blighter probably has no chance of a peaceful life in the future. My guess is that he didn't and that the main effect was to harry his victims into some badly needed security reviews.

I've spoken to some security folks on the other side of the pond and there's a good deal of anger and indignation over there that we would even want to defend a guy who has confessed that he did it. They think he should turn up, do his time and that will be that.

In response to the retort that there was little or no security for him to hack, the security community over there say things like, "just because you don't lock your car door, that doesn't make a thief who drives it away innocent, does it?". Fair point I guess, though there is a duty of care in this case that appears to have been very lax indeed.

US Influence

There are those who see this whole affair as smacking of US Imperialism on a grand scale. This crime wasn't committed in America and extradition is supposed to be about taking someone back to the country of their crime to face charges after they have fled, isn't it? The cyber space factor that means he did this from his bedroom in London on a slow dialup line doesn't seem to be factored into the norm for "extradition" does it?

Whether we like it or not, the USA has a positive effect in our own standing in the world and we shouldn't simply sweep their considerations to one side in all of this. McKinnon was foolhardy in doing what he did and he's put himself in a position of great risk as a result. The USA authorities can be expected to be pretty angry with him.

So what next?

As I understand it, he has a judicial review in the pipeline that will take the effect of whatever the next move is past the UK General Election. If New Labour remains the governing power after that, I think Gary is in extreme danger of being extradited.

In the case of any other result, I hope that he will not go to the USA, but be tried here. If you consider the stress that he's gone through, he's already served a long sentence. I would hope that a UK Court would deal with the matter in a balanced way, resulting in McKinnon serving a relatively light sentence.

So - if you really support McKinnon remaining here and being dealt with under UK terms, don't vote Labour.

Postscript in February 2012: The Coalition that succeeded New Labour didn't have the wherewithal to sort the situation either, it seems ....

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