Gary McKinnon is a computer programmer who likes UFOs and rainy Sundays. Curiousity got the better of him so he went searching online for UFO conspiracy theorys and photos believing that the evidence to date suggests that US was hiding something Roswell style et al. Not exactly a profile of a notorious threat to national US security yet. His curiosity brought him to various US military networks which he then found were remarkably easy to access given that apparently the username and password were the same in several cases and security was incredibly lax. He managed to find some folders containing pictures of nice shiny UFO-like things and got excited as his dream of seeing became a reality. Heart pumping he clicking on one of the files. As them image began to slowly come up on his screen his dream was cut short - one of the administrators had noticed him in the system and promptly cut him out…

Needless to say, the US authorities were pretty pissed about the whole episode. The UFO equivalent of a trainspotter had managed to waltz around their systems like a kid in a candy store because aledgedly their administrators couldn’t do their job properly. You would think that given the background to the case Gary would have been handed down a punishment apportionate to the crime - after all no one got hurt, no one was killed or maimed in the incident. It is alledged that some damage was done but Gary maintains that such allegations are false and in an article on .NET magazine outlines how the figures don’t add up. Given the facts of the case to date and what Gary’s motivations, it is unlikely that someone who wants to keep a low profile in a system to look around for information is going to go deleting files for the sake of damaging a system.

So instead being given a big slap on the wrists, some UK jail time or 400 hours community service cleaning viruses of peoples computers Gary is being threatened with - get this - extradition to the US, a 45 year prison sentence to be served on US soil only and, worst of all, a possible handover to the US military trails. This latter point wouldn’t be good, not only against the backdrop of Guantanamo bay and big orange jump suits, but because of ‘alledged threats by the US authorities in New Jersey to see Gary “fry”, which could be a reference to the electric chair’. ‘Currently, the US civil legal authorities are not calling for the death penalty (which would stop the extradition to the USA under United Kingdom and European Union law), but such a penalty is possible if the case gets hijacked by a US Military Tribunal, once Gary is physically in the power of the US authorities.’ (

So our UFO trainspotter is in a bit of bother. It’s sad then to hear yesterday that John Reid, UK home secretary, has given the green light to ship Gary McKinnon off to the US. He’s already lost his job, girlfriend and has been in poor health in recent hearings as the stress of the case takes it’s toll. He has never denied his actions and has taken responsibility for what he has done. He has already suffered enough. Will it really do any more good for the US to show how big and mighty it is by beating the soul out of this guy in order to show who’s boss. It might be better to spend that energy on employing a few new system administrators who know how to put passwords on a system instead.

This opinion piece was based in part on the following BBC News item