The Home Secretary (Alan Johnson) has just answered an emergency question in the commons as to why he’s declined to block the extradition of Gary McKinnon to the USA for ‘hacking’ (whatever that means). He said that the medical evidence didn’t amount to enough, he’d admitted he was guilty, and besides, he hasn’t got any discretionary powers in the matter.
In some ways, I agree with him. McKinnon may very well have done what he’s been accused of; and as far as Asperger’s Syndrome goes – do me a favour!
He was diagnosed with this condition last year by Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen from Cambridge University. It’s a psychological illness, right? Well actually there are many who’d doubt that. He certainly seems to be the authority on the subject, based on the number of papers published and TV appearances – acceptable to academia and pop culture. He’s the country’s foremost expert on the condition. But is it an illness?
A few years back Prof. Baron-Cohen devised the A.Q. test, a series of 50 self-assessment questions for those wondering if they have the condition. Apparently the general population scores 28%. I score 76%. Do I have a mental illness? I don’t think so; in fact it’s often said that half the scientists in the world would score highly on the assessment too. Us nerds might be different, but so are gay people. Try telling them they’re ill! If you want to know more, just Google the subject.
Gary McKinnon is also, apparently, upset and depressed. Who wouldn’t be in his circumstances?
It might be worth reminding ourselves what he’s actually done (according to Alan Johnson):
He accessed US government computers looking for UFO evidence while smoking dope (as one does), and in the processes has damaged their operation. According to the Americans (and Mr Johnson) he knocked out all the military computers in Washington for 24-hours.
Apparently this was done by using perl to look for blank passwords, a technique a find entirely credible. That’s right – McKinnon is a script kiddie. He claims he was caught when using Windows Remote Desktop while the real user was still on the machine, which also fits.
Now for this he deserves to be prosecuted, the same as the morons who were prosecuted for criminal damage while attempting to thieve hereabouts. The difference is that Harrow magistrates decided just to give them a good ticking off after they’d made up some sob story about turning their life around. McKinnon’s treatment is on the other extreme.
Unfortunately for him, there’s an obvious political element. The American military has lost (more) credibility and they want someone, preferably foreign, to divert attention. They can’t catch Bin Laden, so he’ll have to do. Anyone in the data security game knows that any serious cyber-criminals will be able to cover their tracks, so IF serious deliberate damage was done and IF they traced it back to this script kiddie then the one thing you can be pretty sure of is that he wasn’t behind it. Either that, or all the computers in Washington were in such a fragile state that they’d fall over if you sneezed.
In spite of the Home Secretary’s assurances about the extradition arrangements between here and the USA being reciprocal, many will suspect that this case results from the special Labour-Bush relationship – the one where Bush asked and Blair gave.
If Alan Johnson is right, and he really does have no discretion to stop this charade, the real question David Burrowes (McKinnon’s MP) should have followed his answer with was “Why not?”