- LONDON -- To the United States, he is a seriously dangerous man who
put the nation's security at risk by committing "the biggest military
computer hack of all time".
- But Briton Gary McKinnon says he is just
an ordinary computer nerd who wanted to find out whether aliens and UFOs
- During his two-year quest, McKinnon broke
into computers at the Pentagon, NASA and the Johnson Space Centre as well
as systems used by the US army, navy and air force.
- US officials say he caused $US700,000
($A925,607) worth of damage and even crippled vital defence systems shortly
after the September 11 attacks.
- The unemployed computer programmer is
now battling extradition to the United States, where, if found guilty,
he faces up to 70 years in jail and fines of up to $US1.75 million. His
lawyer fears he could even be sent to Guantanamo Bay.
- It's all a far cry from how he first
got into hacking: watching a film about a teenage boy who breaks into a
military central computer and almost starts World War Three.
- "I had seen the film 'War Games'
and I do remember clearly thinking at the time, that's amazing - a great
big military computer system and a young, spotty teenager," the softly
spoken 39-year-old said in an interview.
- A decade later, McKinnon, armed with
information gleaned from the book, The Hacker's Handbook, began his snooping.
- During 2000-01 from his home in Hornsey,
north London, and using a computer with just a limited 56K dial-up modem,
he turned his sights on the American government and military.
- "My main thing was wanting to find
out about UFOs and suppressed technology," he said insisting his intention
was not to cause damage. "I wanted to ... find out stuff the government
wouldn't tell you about."
- He said it was easy, despite being only
a rank amateur. Using the hacking name "Solo", he discovered
that many US top-security systems were using an insecure Microsoft Windows
program and had no password protection at all.
- "So I got commercially available
off-the-shelf software and used them to scan large military networks ...
anything I thought might have possible links to UFO information,"
- He said he came across a group called
the "Disclosure Project", which had expert testimonies from senior
figures who said technology obtained from extra-terrestrials did exist.
- One NASA scientist had reported that
the Johnson Space Centre had a facility where UFOs were airbrushed out
of high-resolution satellite images. So, he hacked in.
- "I saw what I'm convinced was some
kind of satellite or spacecraft but it was manufactured by no means I have
ever seen before - there were no rivets, no seams, it was like one flawless
piece of material. And that was above the Earth."
- However, his probing came to an end in
March 2002, when British police arrested him.
- "I was completely obsessed. I was
completely addicted. It was like a huge game but I was getting very paranoid,"
- McKinnon's own story might sound like
the plot of a movie, but the charges he faces are deadly serious. He argues
he is being made a scapegoat by US authorities to deter other would-be
hackers rather than address their own security flaws.
- "I'm already being treated as a
terrorist," he said. "I appear in an official American army pamphlet
... in a guide to combating terrorism in the 21st century."
- The next stage of his legal battle takes
place on May 10. But he hints that whatever happens, he has a lot more
- "I can't talk about a lot of stuff
that I found. It's just not the right time," he said with a smile.