UK approves US request for hacker's extradition

McKinnon says he was looking for aliens. The US says he deleted data and hindered responses to September 11

A British court on Wednesday approved a request by the US for the extradition of an unemployed systems administrator who allegedly caused US$700,000 in damage by hacking into US military and government computers.

Gary McKinnon, 40, of London, is accused of deleting data and illegally accessing information on US government computers between February 2001 and March 2002. Prosecutors allege McKinnon significantly disrupted government computers, causing damage that jeopardised US military networks.

British investigators seized McKinnon's computers in March 2002. McKinnon admitted installing remote access software on computers he targeted in the US.

The US filed an extradition request after British officials decided not to prosecute McKinnon because the alleged crimes occurred within the US.

McKinnon's attorneys fought extradition, fearing that he could be classed as an enemy combatant and be held indefinitely, awaiting trial by a military court.

The US says McKinnon will not be held as an enemy combatant, and will face trial in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

In Bow Street Magistrates' Court in London on Wednesday, judge Nicholas Evans rejected arguments that McKinnon could be subjected to torture and inhuman treatment in the US. Evans referred the case to British Secretary of State John Reid to decide whether McKinnon will be extradited.

McKinnon, who remains free on bail, said before the hearing that he would appeal. Before leaving the court, McKinnon hugged friends and relatives attending the hearing.

The soft-spoken McKinnon maintains he didn't damage the computers, owned by the US Army and Navy, the Department of Defence and the NASA space agency. McKinnon, who used the name "Solo" during his exploits, has said he was researching UFOs.

McKinnon used a program called "RemotelyAnywhere" to control other computers, accessing administrator accounts and gaining passwords for 39 of the 97 computers he is accused of hacking, British court documents say.

US officials charge McKinnon's actions went beyond mere snooping. They allege McKinnon deleted files from computers at the U.S. Naval Weapons Station Earle in New Jersey, causing the shutdown of 300 computers at a "critical" time after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

British investigators said McKinnon admitted to leaving a note on a U.S. Army computer that read "US foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days ... I am Solo. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels."

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