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January 2011



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CHARLIE McKINNON should have left his scaffolding job by now and be enjoying a quiet retirement.

Instead, the building site worker is at the centre of a major international incident, fighting the White House over the fate of his computer hacker son, Gary.

At home in Glasgow, Charlie spends weekends wondering what to do next, if there is anything more that can be done to save his autistic son from being extradited to the USA to face 60 years in jail.

Charlie can’t retire. He has to take job after job in London because it means that, during the week, he is close to the fight – lobbying the House of Lords or appealing to the High Court – and close to his son, who rarely leaves his flat in the Capital.

And Charlie, 65, knows it’s all borrowed time. He said: “I’m desperate now. I even offered to get him a passport to get out of Britain. I know you can buy these things. I know there are people who sell them.

“I just wanted him out of the UK and away from all this. I said, ‘I’ll get you a passport, son. Just get on a flight and go’.

“But he didn’t want it. Do you know what he said? He told me he had faith in British justice. It’s more than I’ve got.”

Self-confessed UFO-nerd Gary is facing extradition to the States after admitting he broke into the computer systems of the Pentagon and space agency NASA.

He has just won an 11th hour reprieve.

Two weeks ago, a judge ordered a judicial review, to be held within the next three months, which will rule whether the decision by the British Government to hand over the 43-year-old is unlawful because he is high suicide risk.

It is just a glimmer of hope but Charlie, who is married to Jeana, is hanging onto it.

He said: “It makes me feel sick to think about him being sent to the States. In the back of my mind I think it’s not going to happen but as every appeal is dismissed I feel worse.

“It’s like sitting on death row waiting for the phone to ring.

“My ex-wife Janis, Gary’s mum, has been amazing at fighting for him and keeping his case in the public eye – but even she has had abusive emails from people saying what’s going to happen to him when he goes to jail in America.

“He knows what he did was stupid but the Americans are calling him a cyber-terrorist.

“Call him a nerd by all means, he admits that, but you could never meet anybody less like a terrorist.”

Gary – who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome – was in his London flat working on a s150 second-hand computer when he managed to hack into the top-secret files of the world’s last superpower.

He was looking for proof of the existence of extra-terrestrials, an obsession of his since his childhood, and he claims it was a straightforward cyber-stroll to the heart of the classied files.

He even left cheeky messages on the sites, telling the Yanks their security was “crap” and criticising US foreign policy.

The messages gave investigators a digital trail straight back to Gary – and he was still working when officers from MI5’s computer division arrived to arrest him.

Charlie said : “He phoned me and said he was in a police car and that two kind gentlemen had allowed him a phone call because he was being done for breaking into US military systems.

“They said he’d probably get six months’ community service.

“But right away I said, ‘Gary, you’re dealing with the Americans. They’re not going to take it lightly’.”

That was eight years ago, in March 2002, six months after the September 11 attacks – when the USA was particularly jittery about the threat of terrorism.

In 2005, three years after Gary was arrested and released without charge, the US said they wanted him to be extradited to stand trial on American soil.

The British Government said there was nothing they could do under the terms of our extradition arrangements – so the past four years have been a succession of appeals, protests and legal moves.

Charlie said: “When I started working in London I couldn’t find my way about, but now I could get to the House of Lords or the American Embassy blindfolded.

“It’s never-ending. Now we’re having to get our minds around the idea of going to America and watching all this unfold.

“My mother-in-law said, ‘Don’t worry – they won’t take Gary. They’ll give him a job’. That’s what they should be doing.

“He actually did them a favour. He showed up the faults in their security.

“Trouble is, he made them look stupid and they’re making him pay for that. No one is saying he shouldn’t be punished, but he should take his punishment here.”

Gary, who has a number of celebrity supporters including Sting’s wife Trudie Styler, is now increasingly depressed and sees a counsellor every week.

He has lost his house, his job and his passport – and a psychiatric report says he will “almost inevitably” try to kill himself if he is extradited.

Charlie said: “My nephew was reading the Guinness Book of Records and found Gary listed as the world’s biggest military computer hacker.

“He’s more like the world’s biggest plonker. But you shouldn’t get 60 years in jail for being daft.”

. More details on www.freegary.org.uk


Computer security expert David Fox is amazed the US military network wasn’t better protected against hackers like Gary.

The IT boss with network consultants JPY said: “It’s ridiculous that a member of the public in another country was able to do the damage that Gary McKinnon did.

“You wouldn’t expect the network to be accessible at all to the public.

“You would expect them to use Virtual Private Networks which create tunnels through the internet through which you connect private networks together.

“It’s all fairly straightfoward technology so the Americans must be very embarrassed.

“They can try to spin it by saying he was attacking the military but I suspect they just don’t want to be seen to be letting this guy off.

“If they did, it would be open season for anyone who wanted to attack their computers which were evidently not very well secured.”

The Americans estimate that Gary did around s500,000 worth of damage when he hacked their system, leaving around 2000 computers in Washington disabled for 24 hours.

David added: “I can see the justification of wanting to make an example of anyone who does this.

“Put someone away for a long time and you’ll probably stop other people attacking your network.

“But the response has been heavyhanded.

He has actually done them a favour – he forced them to speed up their security.”

Source:  http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/editors-choice/2010/02/07/exclusive-scots-hacker-s-dad-on-his-fight-against-extradition-to-the-united-states-86908-22024752/

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