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In an unusual move in an international hacking case, the U.S. government wants to extradite Gary McKinnon, a 36-year-old unemployed British computer administrator who is facing eight federal counts of computer-related crimes. McKinnon is accused of hacking into 92 U.S. military and NASA networks, including two Pentagon systems.
McKinnon was indicted Tuesday afternoon in Northern Virginia and New Jersey. The Virginia indictments claim McKinnon caused $900,000 in damage to computers in 14 states. The Pentagon intrusions temporarily shut down the network that serves the military district for Washington.
The New Jersey indictments allege McKinnon broke into a network at the Earle Naval Weapons Station in Colts Neck, N.J., and stealing almost 1,000 passwords. The action closed the network for a week.
U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty said the Justice Dept. will attempt to bring McKinnon to trial in both Virginia and New Jersey. McNulty characterized McKinnon's alleged hacks as the most successful ever against U.S. military networks. He also said McKinnon broke into the networks of six private companies and organizations.
In a statement saying McKinnon would fight extradition, McKinnon's attorney, Karen Todner, said, "We can only presume that the motivation is political and that it is proposed to make an example of Mr. McKinnon. We also wish to emphasize on behalf of Mr. McKinnon that he has no terrorist links whatsoever."
Todner added that British authorities have the power to charge McKinnon but, instead, "They have chosen not to pursue this course of action and are allowing the American authorities to apply for the extradition of a British citizen."
McKinnon has been questioned by British authorities but has not been charged with any offense and remains free.
According to U.S. authorities, McKinnon, working from his home, scanned computers on the military networks, seeking to find flaws in Microsoft's Windows NT operating system. McKinnon then downloaded what McNulty calls sensitive but not classified military information. McNulty also said there is no evidence McKinnon attempted to offer or sale the information.
According to U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie, McKinnon's charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in a federal prison and a $250,000 fine. In the past, the government has shown little interest in bringing foreign hackers who hit American sites to trial in the U.S.