LONDON – A British court recommended Wednesday that a man be extradited to the United States to face charges in what the U.S. government says was the largest attack on its computer networks — including Army, Air Force, Navy and NASA systems.
Gary McKinnon, 40, of London has been indicted in New Jersey and Virginia for allegedly hacking into U.S. government computers between February 2001 and March 2002. He was arrested in 2002 and has fought his extradition by claiming he could face prosecution under U.S. anti-terror laws.
"My intention was never to disrupt security. The fact that I logged on and there were no passwords means that there was no security," McKinnon said, outside the hearing at London's Bow Street Magistrates Court. "I was looking for UFOs."
Court records in Virginia said McKinnon caused $900,000 in damage to computers, including those of private companies, in 14 states.
In New Jersey, he is accused of hacking into a network of 300 computers at the Earle Naval Weapons Station in Colts Neck, N.J., and stealing 950 passwords.
The break-in — which occurred immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — shut down the whole system for a week, Judge Nicholas Evans said. The station is responsible for replenishing the Atlantic fleet's munitions and supplies.
Though McKinnon was able to view sensitive details about naval munitions and shipbuilding on the secure U.S. systems, he did not access classified information, an investigation found.
British Home Secretary John Reid will make the final decision on extradition. If he approves it, McKinnon will appeal to the High Court, his lawyer Karen Todner said.
Edward Lawson, another attorney for McKinnon, told an earlier hearing that his client feared prosecution by a U.S. military commission under powers introduced after the Sept. 11 attacks.
But the judge said there was no "real, as opposed to fanciful, risk" of McKinnon being prosecuted under anti-terror laws, asking the suspect to accept an assurance provided by the U.S. Department of Justice.
He told McKinnon that in choosing to target the United States he had "run the risk of being prosecuted in that country."
Officials in New Jersey and Virginia would have to decide where McKinnon should stand trial. If convicted of the charges in New Jersey, McKinnon faces a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.