Hacking It: hacker or bumbling nerd ?

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For several years from the late 1990s, McKinnon pursued an obsession that led him to hack into more & more websites: He was convinced the United States was concealing evidence of the existance of extraterrestrial life.

He was caught back in 2002 & since has been fighting extradition from Britain to the United States.

His case has become a cause for failing celebrities who view the possible sentence in the United States as over the top, he faces a jail sentance of upto 70 years & a $2-million fine. One MP is quitting Parliament in disgust after failing to persuade fellow MPs to back Mr. McKinnon, although British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has expressed sympathy for the hacker who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism.

But yesterday Mr. McKinnon lost an appeal at Britain's High Court against his extradition, making a U. S. trial more likely.

He has already lost one court battle at the European Court of Human Rights.

The High Court acknowledged arguments by his defence lawyers that extraditing Mr. McKinnon could have disastrous consequences for his health, but said that while he may suffer by being extradited, the process of the law overruled those concerns.

"I have no doubt that he will fight his extradition ,trial & sentence in the United States, very difficult indeed," Lord Justice Stanley Burnton wrote in his judgment, accepting that even suicide could occur.

Mr. McKinnon was recently diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a condition that shows itself as an obsession with certain activities & interests & a level of "social naivety" in evaluating the consequences of his

But the judge ruled that Mr. McKinnon's condition was not severe enough to set aside the process of the law.

U. S. officials have already indicated that they feel no pity for Mr. McKinnon.

"This was not some harmless incident. He did very serious & deliberate damage to military & NASA computers and left anti-American messages. All the evidence was that someone was staging a very serious attack on U. S. systems," a senior military officer at the Pentagon told The Daily Telegraph this week.

Mr. McKinnon says he was just naive.

According to press reports, it was after watching the 1983 film WarGames, in which a nerd played by Matthew Broderick brings the world to the brink of war by hacking into the Pentagon computer network, that Mr. Mc-Kinnon began to search for proof of his other passion, UFOs.

"I found out that the U. S. military use Windows," McKinnon told the BBC. " having realized this, I assumed it would probably be an easy hack if they hadn't secured it properly."

Between 1999 & 2002, Mr. McKinnon broke into what were believed to be the most secure computer systems in the world. He linked a number of computer systems to search for U. S. databases that were not protected by a password.

"I could scan 65,000 machines in less than nine minutes," Mr. McKinnon said.

As he searched unprotected databases, he also left messages such as, "Your security is really crap."which is something you would expect from a young child.

"It was frightening because they had little or no security," he said.

His obsession began to take hold of him. He lost his job and his girlfriend. He stopped washing and was not eating properly.

"I was sitting around the house in my dressing gown, doing this all night."

He was caught in 2002 as he tried to download a photograph he believed was an alien spacecraft from NASA. It was easy to track him down as he used his own email address.

"I think I almost wanted to be caught, because it was ruining me. I had this classic thing of wanting to be caught so there would be an end to it," he said after his arrest.

But he insists he was never malicious.

The United States, however, says he did a lot of damage. American authorities say he stole 950 passwords, deleted files, left 300 computers at aU. S. Navy weapons station unusable immediately after the Sept. 11 atrocities & also caused the US 700,000 damage.

As he has fought extradition, celebrities have backed him. David Gilmour, the Pink Floyd musician who sang on a protest song on his behalf, said the United States was being "heavy handed." Sting said the case represented a "travesty of human rights." Actress Julie Christie wrote to the Home Secretary urging him to stand up against the U. S. "bullying."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "sympathetic" to Mr McKinnon's plight, although he did not intervene.

Supporters are also angry at what they see as an unjust extradition process that favours the United States over the rights of British citizens.

Yesterday, his mother, Janis Sharp, said her son would not survive in a U. S. prison. "I would never see my son again. All to oblige the Americans?

Mr. McKinnon's lawyer has sent a letter to U. S. President Barack Obama, signed by 40 British MPs, asking him to intervene.

"I'm just praying, please hear us, Obama, because I know you would do the right thing," said Ms. Sharp. "I know you would have the strength to stand up & not have this."was the plee

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