Above: Gary McKinnon and his mother, Janis Sharp. Below, a guest opinion post by Oxblood Ruffin, a writer and human rights activist based in Munich, Germany.
Gary McKinnon is a Scottish technical expert, or as he is referred to by US federal prosecutors, the perpetrator of "the greatest military hack of all time." This claim is "total fucking bullshit", a phrase common amongst information security professionals.
Although Mr. McKinnon has high name-recognition factor in the United Kingdom he is virtually unknown to the American public. He is a mentally challenged hacker who waltzed through ninety-seven US military Web sites before being caught. Mr. McKinnon was looking for evidence of UFOs. He has Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism. It doesn't make him Rain Man but it does create a different perceptual framework.
Gary McKinnon was arrested in the UK in November 2002 after a thirteen month hacking spree into US military networks. He was eventually caught because he used his own email address to download a program called RemotelyAnywhere. Before the bust McKinnon had been under surveillance by Britain's High Tech Crime Unit. But then he did that, dare I say, retarded thing.
Gary McKinnon left his email address plus a number of taunting messages such as, "Your security is crap" on US military servers. Personally, I think the messages were on the polite side. America's military network security is the cyber equivalent of Swiss cheese. My granny could have pulled off McKinnon's hacks and she was well in the grave before they even transpired. Because remember, if you wanted to intrude into US military sites in 2001 all you had to do was key in: user = guest; password = hello.
And so Gary McKinnon was arrested by the High Tech Crime Unit in Britain. He detailed everything and confessed without an attorney being present. Now bear in mind, this is a guy who has Asperger and didn't fully comprehend the consequences of what he had done. Yet his confession was signed-off on, and the process began.
US Federal prosecutors told McKinnon's attorney that if he traveled to America and pleaded guilty that he'd only get eighteen months to three years in prison. McKinnon declined as the offer was not put in writing, although a similar offer was later filed in court papers. Accordingly, Mr. McKinnon was charged in the United States with seven counts of computer fraud at ten years per count [PDF Link] Then came the Lapdog Treaty.
In March 2003 - one year after Gary McKinnon was nabbed - David Blunkett (then home secretary to Tony Blair) secretly popped over to America to sign the 2003 Extradition Act. It was a legal arrangement between Britain and the US to fast track terrorists from one side of the Atlantic to the other. The terms of the agreement can most charitably be described as asymmetric. Legal scholars can have a wank-fest over the minutiae of the arrangement but it boils down to this. If America wants someone from the UK they need only apply reasonable suspicion. Whereas, if the UK wants someone from America then they must prove probable cause.
Reasonable suspicion is the standard to make an arrest; probable cause is the standard to indict.
In real terms, British prosecutors are required to surmount an evidential barrier that American defendants can contest before extradition to the UK. But American prosecutors can extradite any British citizen with substantially lower standards. Even if British citizens were not in the vicinity of a crime, they could not argue to the contrary. It's the law. Check it out on Google.
The sad fact is that it''s easier to extradite a British citizen to the US than it is to extradite a New York resident to California. If the 2003 Extradition Act were a two way street then one side would be a superhighway and the other side would be a dirt road, with potholes. Compounding this nonsense is that the treaty was intended to be applied to terrorists, and not utilized retroactively against mentally-challenged eccentrics.
From McKinnon's arrest in 2002 to date, his case has garnered an extraordinary amount of ink in the UK. It started with hysterical claims by US federal prosecutors; traversed the fact and fiction of the file; included McKinnon's diagnosis as an Asperger sufferer; circumnavigated the extent of the British judicial system; personified McKinnon as the victim of the Lapdog Treaty; saw famous musicians record a song in his support, and celebrities flock to his cause; and generally, piss off the British press and every sensible person in the United Kingdom. All of this was in no small measure due to the efforts of Janis Sharp, Gary McKinnon's mother. She is best described as a cross between the mother that everyone would love to have and the Archangel Michael. For the atheists out there, this equation represents an ocean of love mixed with a tidal wave of whup-ass.
Ms. Sharp has taken on a singular role in the defense of her son because the British Prime Minister, his cabinet, and the government as a whole would rather genuflect to Washington than protect one of its most vulnerable citizens. Despite the testimony of one of Britain's leading psychiatrists and autism experts that Gary McKinnon might commit suicide if extradited; regardless that Baroness Scotland - the UK's attorney general - does not hold the Extradition Act in high esteem; spiteful that a member of Parliament resigned in protest over the travesty; ignoring the direct opposition of the government's top anti-terror advisor; etc., etc., etc. In the face of all of this and more, the government is shambling about in a willful state of dislocation. They have clearly lost the plot.
Although most people accept that politicians steal candy from the same children they kiss for the cameras, the public draws the line at inhumanity. No government is allowed to play Russian roulette with a person's life. Because what is fundamental to this case, once you strain away Labour's craven mendacity, is that Gary McKinnon's life is at risk. He suffers from an anxiety-prone version of Asperger that is exacerbated by stress. And that is what the British public understands even if the government refuses to confront the truth. Does the Prime Minister actually want to hold a press conference several months from now and say, "I regret to inform you that Gary McKinnon took his own life in an American prison because we failed to act"?
The British public stopped asking for justice for Gary McKinnon some time ago. Now they're demanding it.
IMAGES: Below, photos taken at a McKinnon rally in August, 2009, provided by Gary's mother. Oxblood says, "The aubergine-hair-colored lady is Janis Sharp; the man with the angular face is Gary McKinnon; others = general protestors."
Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: firstname.lastname@example.org.