British Computer Hacker Being Extradited to USA

By Kate Holton

A British computer expert accused by Washington of the world's "biggest military hack of all time" should be extradited to the United States to stand trial, a court ruled on Wednesday.

Gary McKinnon, 40, was arrested last June following charges by U.S. prosecutors that he illegally accessed 97 government computers -- including Pentagon, U.S. army, navy and NASA systems -- causing $700,000 worth of damage.

Britain's Home Secretary (interior minister) will make the final decision on deportation.

McKinnon, whose hacking name was "Solo," has admitted gaining access to U.S. government computers but denies causing any damage.

He had tried to fight extradition, saying he was "already hung and quartered over there" and would not receive a fair trial.

Prosecutors said McKinnon hacked into sensitive networks over a one-year period from February 2002, crippling U.S. defense systems in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

At the time of the indictment, Paul McNulty, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said "Mr McKinnon is charged with the biggest military computer hack of all time."

However, McKinnon's supporters say the U.S. government should be grateful to him for highlighting its security shortcomings.

If found guilty in the U.S, he could face up to 70 years in jail and fines of up to $1.75 million.

"My intention was never to disrupt security," McKinnon told reporters outside Bow Street magistrates court in London on Wednesday. "The fact that I logged on with no password meant there was no security to begin with."

McKinnon's solicitor Karen Todner said they would launch an appeal. She argues her client will not receive a fair trial in the U.S. and could easily be tried in Britain.

In a recent interview with Reuters, McKinnon said the U.S. wanted to make a show of his deportation rather than face the tougher task of fixing their computer system.

He said he was just an ordinary computer nerd who wanted to find out whether UFOs and aliens existed.

(Additional reporting by Michael Holden)

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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