Gary McKinnon, the man who allegedly broke into U.S. military and NASA networks, began his fight against extradition from the United Kingdom this week after declining a plea agreement.
Edmund Lawson, the lawyer defending 41-year-old McKinnon, told a hearing at London’s High Court that, if extradited and convicted, his client could face up to 60 years in prison – all of it the United States.
Lawson said that U.S. authorities had offered McKinnon a plea bargain, under which he would have received a shorter sentence if he pleaded guilty and stopped fighting the extradition. The defendant rejected the deal.
"If he entered into a plea agreement, the prosecution said that they would consent to an extradition hearing in the U.S. and consent to Mc Kinnon’s repatriation in the early course of his sentence," said Lawson. "That, we contend, was an improper threat that could engage this court’s abuse of process jurisdiction."
McKinnon’s case dates back to 2001, when he allegedly hacked into 97 U.S. government computers, including those of the Pentagon, Army, Air Force and NASA. American prosecutors accuse him of accessing hundreds of military machines, which had not been secured properly by officials.
The former computer systems administrator has acknowledged breaking into the systems using only a dial-up connection and default passwords, but said he was looking for evidence of UFO activity and was only motivated by curiosity.
U.S. authorities have said he committed the "biggest military computer hack of all time" and caused around $700,000 in damage. Extradition proceedings began in 2005.