by Richard Medhurst
Gary McKinnon is said to have carried out the biggest military computer hack of all time. The United States tried to extradite him from the United Kingdom after he accessed computers belonging to the Pentagon, NASA, Air Force, Navy and Army in 2002. After covering the Julian Assange extradition hearing in London, I wanted to know more about Gary’s own experience when the US was after him.
Richard Medhurst: Hi Gary, thanks for taking the time do this interview. You won an extradition battle against the United States which lasted from 2002 to 2012. The US wanted to jail you for seventy years for allegedly accessing computers at the Pentagon, NASA and other government agencies. These computers used blank or default passwords– essentially open to anyone – yet the US accused you of “hacking”. The US also alleged you caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages despite only snooping around. What other fabrications or exaggerations did the prosecution put forward against you?
Gary McKinnon: I’d like to address the alleged damage firstly.
I used their PCs in a chain to get to where I wanted, so any break in the chain would have cut my connection. I set up proxy forwarding from machine to machine, because certain networks only allowed connections from other machines in the main domain of wherever.mil but with various subdomains. So taking any of those offline would have cut my cord.
When the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) asked for evidence of damage from the DoJ – there was none, they had no chain of evidence, there was no proof whatsoever. The CPS termed the DoJ’s reply as ‘hearsay’ :
I know that’s two links from one source, which generally isn’t good practice, but all of this is documented so doesn’t really need me to source the info, but it’s here for completeness for you and your subscribers so that you and they know I’m stating things as they were.
It turned out that what they call ‘damage’ was just them having to take PCs offline to see if I had accessed them, which is fair enough apart from the fact that, for it to be an extraditable offence, someone would have had to have done at least $5,000 dollars worth of damage to each PC, so they had to invent this in order to comply with the extradition treaty (which they wrote with my case firmly in mind and who’s early transcripts were in US English, so who was in control there ?).
So that’s one lie, but that was the lie that allowed extradition without evidence, which was a one-way street, the UK would need evidence to extradite a US citizen due to The Constitution.
Then there is the terrorism lie. At one point I was in the US Army’s manual on combating terrorism, which at the time had the words on the front cover of the anti-terrorism manual written in Arabic-style script. I may still have that PDF but they later changed the font; and they threatened me with prosecution under military order number one, which at the time would have meant transporting me to Guantanamo. Something I don’t think they would ever have done, it was a simple pressure tactic. Luckily it blew up in their faces, Evil seems to go hand in hand with Stupid.
Finally, they firstly wanted to get me on conspiracy, just because I’d messaged someone on ICQ about their total and utter lack of security in their Windoze domains. The feds love conspiracy charges, less paperwork but more perps.
There may be other fabrications/exaggerations that I’ve forgotten, since I switched off after the first 5 or 6 years of the legal battle and went into a shit mind space.
The indictment against you was filed in 2002 by a federal Grand Jury in the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, also known as the “Espionage Court”. This is where Lauri Love, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, among many others, were also charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and Espionage Act. What are your thoughts on this prosecutorial template and its regular use against journalists and whistleblowers?
Virginia is a military state, they employ a lot of people there, they voted Republican until half way through my case. It’s the home of the Pentagon, so it doesn’t surprise me that this template was born. The mind-state of your average Virginian is probably pro-military, and if your job depends on the military then you would endeavour to please them should you be called to Jury service in any case where the DoJ is the prosecutor. So when it’s PersonX vs The US Government, being tried in Virginia, a government win is mostly a sure thing.
It’s certainly not what you’d consider ‘being tried by your peers’.
If extradited, what kind of treatment do you think you would have received in a US prison? Do you think you would have received any medical care?
They state that they are good on medical care but the reality is, going by numerous reports from external organisations, that they don’t administer to that at all. Here we are, years later, and we all know about US prison conditions, whether the inmate is mentally ill or not.
Being so-called high-profile may have afforded me special treatment, but they told me that, if I said no to just flying over there in chains, they would prosecute me ‘to the max’ and not allow any family visits or any access to press, so perhaps the Guantanamo threat wasn’t such a sideshow.
I remember watching your interview on BBC Click Online when I was a kid. In this interview you state you saw many other users from around the world connected to the same machines. Why do you think the US chose to only go after you?
I grew over-confident, you could give Mother Teresa enough power and she’d eventually abuse it, this is Human nature. So I ended up not chaining so many proxies and going through small businesses rather than universities, thinking I could scour the networks unnoticed.
Or maybe I was the only one to carry on once I realised initial entry was so easy.
Or maybe they did catch others that were from the US so they didn’t have to advertise their prosecution (unlikely).
Or maybe it’s the special relationship (they thought Britain would bend the knee).
But probably, I was the only one that got caught. At that time there were growing concerns about network security, the General Accounting Office annually published the growing number of attempts on gov and DoD networks and there was a push to do something about it, then along came me, an unprofessional hacker who wrote a tiny P.E.R.L. script to find open machines and then left daft messages on the domain controllers, the timing was perfect for them and pretty un-fucking fortunate for me!
In the same interview you said you found evidence of UFOs, specifically a workstation dedicated to airbrushing UFOs out of hi-res NASA satellite images. Can you tell us more?
Oh Yes 🙂 I had read a book by Stephen Greer and the Disclosure Project that was FULL of details regarding important gov and mil locations relating to UFO information (NASA is a military/intelligence organisation way more than it is a civilian one). I also saw the project’s press conference in 2001 I think, and as part of that they had many gov/mil witnesses to UFOs that were also detailed in the book. One of the witnesses, Donna Hare, who has been a net pal of mine for some years now (fascinating woman), said that she’d worked in building 8 of NASA JSC, she had high clearance, I think it was SECRET, because she was in charge of the photography of launch slides, so lots of sensitive hardware would have been visible to her.
Here she is detailing it : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMLrUR0_-YI
She said that, across the corridor from her, a colleague who also did photographics work called her in to have a look at something. He showed her pictures of UFOs in NASAs satellite imagery and told her it was his job to airbrush out the craft before selling the images to the public!
I already had access to JSC and it didn’t take long to find building 8 because NASA used the built in comment fields for auditing so they said which building each PC was in. I got remote control of one of the building 8 machines (there weren’t many), it was a very clean desktop with just a couple of folders and shortcuts. One of the folders was called Raw and the other was called Processed. Inside the folders were hundreds of image files in a proprietary NASA format, they averaged about 300MB each and at that time my 56K modem took about 5 minutes just to download 1MB ! So I double-clicked one of the raw images so that I could view it live on the remote desktop.
The image slowly came on-screen but was still taking ages so I turned the resolution and colour down to speed up the connection. As it came down I was absolutely gobsmacked, it was just what Donna had talked about, I could see the curvature of a planet, clouds, vague land outlines and then a classic cigar-shaped object could be seen, with geodesic domes above, below and at either end. I was ridiculously excited and waiting until the whole image was visible to take a screenshot but then I was spotted, I saw the mouse move to network settings then ethernet adapter, then they right-clicked and disabled the LAN connection and that was me done.
What other documents did you find? Were you able to access any classified materials? What of the Department of Defense’s SIPRNet network?
I found a spreadsheet that detailed ship names plus lists of materiel transfers, I looked up lots of the ship names and they weren’t US Navy ships. The title of the spreadsheet was Non-Terrestrial Officers, so this implied there was a space-Navy, or at least officers in Earth orbit. I did find machines that prepared documentation for the SIPRNET.
Your appeal against extradition was denied by the High Court, House of Lords, European Court of Human Rights, Home Secretary (twice) and Supreme Court. How can the British legal system fail one of its own citizens in such a manner? Did you feel your trial was political?
It was all political, yes. The system was failing because of the US/UK extradition treaty, which was brought in after my arrest, they kept delaying me because they were waiting for that treaty to be ratified. The treaty is imbalanced to this day since the US can request any UK citizen be extradited without evidence.
At one point the United States offered you a plea bargain with a reduced sentence of three years instead of seventy. The prosecution threatened to “fry” you if you turned down this deal. Tell us more about how the US intimidated you.
They offered 8 years instead of 70, I said ‘sure, put that in writing’, but they refused, so I refused. At one point they wanted me to go to the US embassy with my solicitor, I told him this wouldn’t happen since the embassy is technically US soil and they are obviously trying it on.
The crimes the US accused you of were allegedly committed in 2001/2002, before the Extradition Treaty was ever created. The extradition request only came three years later in June 2005. Can you tell us more about how the 2003 UK-US Extradition Treaty was wielded against you retroactively?
Funnily enough, the treaty wasn’t ratified until 2006 and part of the treaty is that no physical evidence should go to the US until an extradition was confirmed, but they already had my hard drives at the Office of Naval Intelligence in DC, so were already in breach of their own treaty.
My family and I were privy to an early copy of the treaty, the telling thing was that it was all written in US English.
The treaty says that the US can have any UK citizen extradited without a burden of proof, just reasonable suspicion, whereas the UK can’t do the same to a US citizen since they are protected by their constitution. It’s blatantly imbalanced and the main UK enthusiast for the treaty was Baroness Scotland, who is a great friend of America’s but doesn’t seem to care about UK citizens much.
What do you think ultimately made former Home Secretary Theresa May withdraw the US’ extradition request?
It all boiled down to medical advice with respect to Human rights, MPs have far less power than people think they do, they do what they are advised to do. We made sure that Teresa May was aware of everything so that she didn’t just receive a cherry-picked dossier.
You wrote an op–ed in The Guardian in 2016 praising Theresa May’s use of the Human Rights Act to block the US extradition request against you. What do you make of the UK seeking to gut the Human Rights Act? What impact will this have on future extraditions?
The main enemy of the people is the state. The state does everything it can do to get more and more control over people’s lives and access to more of their data while cutting down on personal freedom and choice. No government ever undoes the unpopular legislation of the previous government, no government ever gives back to the people what a previous government has taken from them. The attack on the Human rights act is symptomatic of this general drive by the state to have more control and curtail our freedoms.
In August 2019, CIA spy Anne Sacoolas killed 19-year-old Harry Dunn in a collision when she drove on the wrong side of the road- quickly fleeing the UK afterwards. What are your thoughts on the US’ refusal to extradite her, saying their decision is final, yet pursuing you for a decade?
Diplomacy is about give and take, perhaps because I wasn’t handed over they are withholding Mrs Sacoolas. But I think that the US wouldn’t give her up regardless of my case, that’s just the way they play it, they’re the big boy in the playground so they do what they want.
What are your thoughts on the Julian Assange’s extradition?
It shouldn’t be happening, the rape/sexual assault allegations have a foundation made of straw (and include a woman who is an ex intel asset) and as for going after him for computer intrusion, give me a break, which just leaves us with espionage charges. We all know this is David and Goliath, they are going after him to plug the information leak and to discourage future Assange’s and perhaps even take down WikiLeaks if they can get the right kind of legal decision. It’s an attack on real journalism, which there’s very little of these days. You’re not a spy if citizens of a country willingly send you information so this isn’t espionage.
During your lengthy extradition battle, you had to report to a police station every evening while residing at home. What do you make of Assange being held at HMP Belmarsh prison, a maximum-security prison in London, for jumping bail?
The US originally wanted me to report every half hour to the copshop! It was 15 minutes away from my house so I would have had to sleep there. Assange is a different kettle of fish, he has information that’s more valuable than top-secret that they don’t yet know about, whereas they knew everything I had seen and done since I told them about it and they had my computers. And I didn’t jump bail so wasn’t considered a flight risk. But they are keeping him there to punish him, the US get very personal in these cases (‘we wanna see him fry’, ‘we’ll prosecute you to the max’ etc), they want you to be deeply uncomfortable and depressed so that you’ll just give in.
The US Department of Justice gave reassurances that you wouldn’t be locked up inside a “super-max” prison. They have also attempted to downplay this possibility with Julian Assange. Do you believe they are being honest? Or will he likely end up in a federal “super-max” like ADX Florence?
The DoJ is never honest, they rely on lies and various forms of pressure tactics. Yes they offered me a multitude of assurances but refused to put them in writing, so I wasn’t assured! I think they will treat him as badly as they legally can.
We learned recently that Assange was also diagnosed with Asperger’s, which the prosecution attempted to refute in court. Did the US attempt to downplay your diagnosis as well? What kind of medical treatment do you think Assange would receive if extradited to the US?
The US didn’t refute my condition, but when we looked at many records we saw that they are very bad at treating mentally ill people in US prisons. Interestingly, a few months after we won the extradition hearings, the US said that they no longer recognised Asperger’s as a valid medical condition, perhaps they wanted that off the table in any future extradition hearings or domestic criminal hearings.
Do you believe there’s a chance the extradition request against Assange will be thrown out by a higher court? Is he more likely to be extradited given the political nature of WikiLeaks’ publications?
I think he has an icicle’s chance in hell. The people prosecuting me didn’t believe in UFOs but they do believe in the power of information and Julian has so much of it, they have no choice but to dismantle him and the machinery of WikiLeaks, they have to neutralise the threat.
Julian Assange is charged under 17 counts under the Espionage Act and 1 count under the CFAA and faces 175 years in a US prison. The single count of cybercrimes accuses him of attempting to help Chelsea Manning crack a password, using only a partial hash value (of unknown origin) in order to gain administrative privileges on military computers. This is based solely on a chat log using aliases and took place after Manning already passed along documents to WikiLeaks. Are you familiar with the charge and what the prosecution alleges? Given your expertise in IT, what do you make of this accusation?
In Julian’s superseding indictment (the DoJ loves those – look, we made up more crap about you!) they say that Chelsea got the password hash from a Windows machine, then the password was cracked on a Linux box. This is similar to the process I used once I had gained entry as Admin; Windows stores the hashes insecurely so anyone that can grab the hash can then run L0phtcrack (which I used) or any other password cracker to obtain the passwords in cleartext.
The superseding indictment also says that they failed to crack the password, but basically says ‘it would have been terrible had they cracked it’, which is using supposition in a legal document! i.e.: ‘look at what they COULD have done’ …
So they offer no proof in the indictment. Julian should pressure the CPS to ask for evidence, I did because I knew there was none and I was proven right. If he could do the same it may strengthen his case.
Do you feel the US expanded many of the charges against you in order to intimidate and threaten you with a lengthier sentence? Do you believe this is also the case with Assange?
Yes and Yes! They falsely claimed I had taken PCs offline, in order to make it an extraditable offence, in other words, an offence worth more than one year in prison so they invented the exactly $5000 dollars damage on every PC ! They will be finding anything they can that they can twist and turn into an additional charge.
We heard in court that US congressman Dana Rohrabacher and Trump associate Charles Johnson visited Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2017. They allegedly offered Assange a pardon from Trump if he would reveal the source of the DNC leaks. Assange did not accept. Given how the US threatened you and pushed for the maximum sentence after you refused their offer, do you think Assange’s refusal to comply played a role in the US’ extradition request?
Absolutely. Assange is another level of hero for not giving up his sources, I didn’t know about that offer, what a classy guy to refuse it.
Mark Summers QC was on the prosecution during your extradition battle. He is now on the defense team for Julian Assange. What do you make of that?
Summers was an absolute prick in court with me, even the judge told him off more than once. He seemed to be highly enamoured of the US authorities and acted like he was the smartest guy in the room. The Judge didn’t like that. I can only hope Summers’ skills have improved since then now that he is defending Julian.
Can you tell us more about what you’ve been up to since beating your extradition request, what projects you’re working on and any ventures you have for the future?
I run two companies now, one doing SEO (https://smallseo.co.uk) and another selling products online, doing Amazon affiliate marketing and the like.
I’m also getting back into making music, writing songs and singing, which is what I should have been doing all those years instead of hacking and getting my family into deep, dark shit.
But my main passion is still free energy, and in 2007 I got in contact with a Canadian physicist who had a very simple system that was over-unity. I made a replication of the basic effect and it does defy the work-energy physics principle. If you make a generator using this tech then the higher a load you put on it, the faster it spins but the LESS input energy it uses. I’ve been privy to many of the comms between the inventor and big companies such as Philips and Honda that are testing his tech. One of the lead engineers at Philips said “On paper, the effect is infinitive, but in reality this only happens within a small window of phase angle’.
It looks like the first electric vehicle using this tech will be available by 2022/3.