LONDON – The European Court of Human Rights has cleared the way for the extradition of a British man who allegedly hacked into secret U.S. military computers, his lawyer said Thursday.
The court refused to delay Gary McKinnon's extradition to the United States, which he says would violate his human rights. McKinnon's lawyer, Karen Todner, said his extradition could come within the next two weeks.
"He is terrified by the prospect of going to America," Todner said, adding that McKinnon has recently been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism. "Our client now faces the prospect of prosecution and imprisonment thousands of miles away from his family in a country in which he has never set foot."
U.S. prosecutors want to try McKinnon, 42, for allegedly hacking into 97 computers belonging to NASA, the Department of Defense and several branches of the military from a bedroom in a north London home. His lawyers say any alleged offense that took place in Britain should be tried in Britain.
McKinnon's alleged attacks — which took place soon after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States — shut down the U.S. Army district responsible for protecting Washington, D.C., and cleared logs from computers at the Naval Weapons Station Earle in New Jersey, which tracks the location and battle-readiness of U.S. Navy ships.
McKinnon was caught in 2002 when investigators traced software used in the attacks to his girlfriend's e-mail account. He opposed extradition, claiming he could face prosecution under U.S. anti-terror laws.
If he is extradited to the United States, he would face trial on eight charges of computer fraud. Each count could see him sentenced to 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine, but it's likely he would receive a much lighter sentence. It is up to officials in New Jersey and Virginia to decide where McKinnon will be tried.
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey, said authorities there awaited McKinnon's extradition and "intend to prosecute him."
In Washington, Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined comment until McKinnon is in the United States.
"The department doesn't comment on matters of extradition unless and until an individual is extradited and on U.S. soil," Sweeney said in a statement.
McKinnon's lawyers had earlier asked Britain's High Court and the House of Lords to prevent his extradition. Both requests were denied.
They say they will ask Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's help in preventing the extradition, but it was not immediately clear what specifically she might do.