The purpose of punishment

By Phil Plait | August 3, 2009 7:00 am

What is the purpose of punishment?

Seriously, I’m curious. I suppose it breaks down into two broad categories: it teaches the person punished not to transgress laws, and it is used as an example to others not to do the same. Punishment also serves other purposes, such as satisfying people’s need for retribution and justice.

That’s all well and good in theory, but things get a little fuzzy when applied in practice.

UK writer Jon Ronson presents the case of Gary McKinnon. As a young man, McKinnon was a UFO nut. Suspecting that the U.S. government was hiding secrets of alien technology, he hacked into the computers of NASA, the Pentagon, and more. His intent was probably not malicious, and he claims any damage he might have done was accidental. Moreover, McKinnon has Asperger’s syndrome, and can become obsessive over certain things, such as compulsive internet use.

So, what do we do with Mr. McKinnon? He did in fact hack into those systems, and knew what he did was highly illegal. However, he claims his intent was not malicious, and the evidence appears to back that up to large extent. Do we punish him, and how to do so?

Given treatment and adequate supervision, he probably won’t repeat his actions, so punishment won’t have any real efficacy on him specifically. Punishment for him might sway other hackers from doing any harm — "make an example of him", as the saying goes — but I suspect that hackers know well what awaits them if caught. However, if Mr. McKinnon is not punished, it may assuage the fears of hackers, tacitly encouraging them to continue (and allowing them to claim later they were not trying to be malicious, using McKinnon as a precedent).

It’s a tough call, in my opinion.

Still, I have to wonder about how the U.S. is tackling this. McKinnon is a UK citizen, and under the new laws pushed through in the aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. can demand extradition for McKinnon, forcing him to be tried in the U.S. under our laws. The U.S. has done exactly this, and the UK has acquiesced. As things stand now, McKinnon will be forcibly relocated to the U.S. to stand trial for what the government calls "the biggest US military hack of all time".

The thing is, if convicted McKinnon will go to jail. If prison were just incarceration, then I might be swayed that this is reasonable and fair retribution. But we all know that prison is far, far more than that. A lot of pretty nasty stuff will await McKinnon if (realistically, given the political climate, when) he goes to jail. For anyone, that sort of fate is terrifying. For someone with Asperger’s, it’s overwhelming. He has apparently been considering suicide.

To me, given what I know, this situation is extremely difficult to judge. In many and perhaps most cases our criminal justice system is fair if somewhat overtaxed. But there are too many heartbreaking cases like McKinnon’s, where the black-and-white print of laws and procedures seems to lack the subtlety of real life. As a scientist, I know that the Universe rarely behaves in a plain and simple matter; there are always underlying effects, multiple causes, and complicated give-and-take that muddy most people’s clean version of reality. And humans can be far more complicated than the Universe at large.

I think we may have such a case here. Punishment must be meted out, but what should that punishment be? I fear the shockwave from the tip of our legal lash will transfer far too large a burden compared to what is warranted.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Piece of mind, Politics

Comments (150)

  1. Jeff

    criminal justice system fair? give me a break.

    it’s 2 tiered for one thing: one for rich, one for poor. naive if you don’t think so.

    it’s racist for another.

    wake up and see reality.

  2. Max Fagin

    Do not forget that (in addition to the effects you listed) punishment also prevents the perpetrator from offending again during the period of time that they are incarcerated.

  3. Gadfly

    Balancing all the factors out it seems a fair sentence would be a short prison term in a minimum security facility with a prolonged probationary period after accompanied by therapy. It seems to me that prevents the appearance of “going easy” due to his medical condition while still allowing for a fair treatment.
    Oh, and Jeff, the structure of our justice system makes its best stab at fariness, it’s in the execution that things fall apart. And we shouldn’t give up trying to fix that.

  4. John

    There are several aspects to this case.

    With extradition agreements, it is usual for the laws not to come into effect until both parties governing bodies have ratified the agreeement. Such a clause was not included in the UK bill which was pushed through the UK parliment and became law. The US Congress has not ratified the agreement so at the moment it is harder for the UK to extradite someone from the US, whilst the US can easily extradite someone from the UK.
    In a radio interview in 2007, an American justice official expressed surprise that this was the case, but basically it was not the USA’s fault the UK had passed such shoddy legislation.

    In the UK, McKinnion would be sent to either an Open Prison, or a special unit for those with mental health problems. It is not clear whether this would be the case in the USA.

  5. maurice clark

    Considering how frequently the USA prevents its citizens from being extradited to face courts in other countries, I think it is highly hypocritical from the USA to demand that this UK citizen be extradited. He should not be! If the USA wants to see him punished, they should send their people over to the UK and see if they can have him tried in the UK under UK laws.

  6. Ismael

    But this man believes in UFOs and conspiracies… throw him to the lions, quite frankly.. One less waste of my time. Now excuse me, which way to the witch hunts? Oh yes… further down this blog comments..

  7. Who cares if his intent wasn’t malicious? If I broke into your house because I just wanted to look around at how you decorated it — I certainly wasn’t going to steal anything! — should I get a lesser sentence than the guy who *did* break in to steal your TV?

    “Do we punish him”? Are you serious? He should have thought about possible consequences before deciding to do something illegal.

  8. Sirstrafe

    Yes hacking into all these government sites is bad and is against the law. But Gary has asperger syndrome and may not be in full control of his facilities, obviously some mental issues as well, I can see where punishment could be a double edge sword. But he also demonstrated the ability to hack even the pentagon.

    In all seriousness, his real punishment should be working for the US government and help in the security of NASA/Pentagon/etc.

  9. gxip
  10. MoreMoneyThanBrains

    No doubt – lock him up.

  11. Anton P. Nym

    I’m coming down, with some reluctance, on the side of sending him to trial.

    If McKinnon truly was incapable of understanding that what he was doing was wrong, his lawyer will likely plead “not guilty by reason of mental defect”. That’s what the plea is there for; so that the mentally ill get the treatment they need and aren’t simply punished to slake a thirst for vengeance. (My reluctance comes from the chance that a jury might not grant such a plea given the security theatre of the past eight years.)

    If McKinnon did understand what he was doing was wrong but proceeded anyway, then he should face the consequences. “White collar” crimes don’t get sent to Supermax prisons; they get sentences in less onerous institutions, where there are rehabilitation and counselling facilities available.

    The US justice system has taken a heckuva beating over the last 8 years, but it hasn’t slumped all the way back to witch trials and auto da fe. I say give it a chance.

    — Steve

  12. Joe Meils

    It’s a tough one, allright. What if someone hacked into the US government computers due to suspicion that they (the government) was persecuting them in particular? To prove that intelligence agencies were using their religious community as a training ground for spreading “disinformation?”

    Are you sure there’s a difference between our “UFO nut” and the example I just made?

    On one side, the huge, secretive US Government… (which has been known to kill people and bomb countries for getting in their way. On the other, a UFO nut with Aspergers, who hasn’t killed anyone.

    And then there’s the other minor point here: The US Government can’t keep a guy with Asperger’s out of their computer system? WTF?

  13. criminal justice system fair? give me a break.

    it’s 2 tiered for one thing: one for rich, one for poor. naive if you don’t think so.

    it’s racist for another.

    wake up and see reality.

    I might have known that this story would be used as an excuse to trot out this little falsehood. Excuse me while I roll my eyes.

  14. Brian T.

    Sirstrafe is on a pretty close wavelength to me: “In all seriousness, his real punishment should be working for the US government and help in the security of NASA/Pentagon/etc.”

    I was thinking the courts should make him work in public relations for NASA. Now that’s got to be a punishing job.

  15. Bob

    “Don”t do the crime if you can’t do the time…”

    You can’t play soft with criminals, regardless if it’s their “first” time or “didn’t mean it” defense.

    If he has “mental” issues, then he should be treated for such (in the proper place), because if he doesn’t know right from wrong, then what is to stop him from wacking 100 people, just to see how it goes?

    (not saying he will do this, but how do YOU know what is going on in his mind?)

    Sending him to prison for breaking the law is “just”, as long as they look at the whole picture, and if he is found to be “mentally” not responsible, then help/support should be granted.

  16. For some reason most of the media in the UK have seized on this story as a massive injustice. But I just don’t see it.

    I suspect the legal system in the US is less sensitive than in the UK, and I’ve heard that the penal system in the US is fairly severe, but on the other hand I think sentencing in the UK has become too lenient. The extradition treaty is one-sided, a real mess, but that’s just the UK government being incompetent – as they have been many, many times over the past 12 years. Hopefully they will get ousted at the next election and we can start cleaning up their mess.

    While those are things we should be concerned about, they aren’t really injustices. McKinnon will get a fair trial under the appropriate jurisdiction. And if he’s found guilty the US authorities will be taking responsibility for his welfare. We don’t need to be outraged by this unless something goes wrong.

  17. Ray

    @ maurice,

    “Considering how frequently the USA prevents its citizens from being extradited to face courts in other countries, I think it is highly hypocritical from the USA to demand that this UK citizen be extradited. ”

    Care to back that up with some actual data?

  18. Punishment is something weak, lazy people do instead of doing something effective. Incarceration leads to more incarceration in most cases. This is because instead of retraining the individual, which would be smart, we just lock them in a room. We lock them in a room and tell them that if they do it again, they’ll be locked in a room again. Same thing as if a parent locked a kid in a closet for doing something bad without bothering to train the kid to do the right thing. Lazy, stupid, abusive, totally ineffective.

    In this case specifically, even more so. Asperger’s isn’t a joke. This dude needs help, not gang rape in a US prison. He won’t get it here because we’re the US, and we don’t help the poor/sick/different. I feel for the guy. He’s gonna have it rough.

  19. Ryan The Biologist


    A) The man could be treated as a normal, healthy individual fully aware of the consequences of his actions and should therefore be sentenced to prison appropriately, both as an example to other such hackers and to dissuade his future such activities.


    B) The man could be treated as a person with a syndrome that prevented his full comprehension of his crime. In which case, the man should be sentenced to mandatory enrollment in a mental hospital, to prevent his syndrome from continuing to commit dangerous crimes against the public.

    Either way, the man should not be let off the hook simply because he has a syndrome. McKinnon either knew what he was doing and belongs in jail, or he didn’t know what he was doing and belongs in asylum. I see no gray area in this case.

    All this said, if the guy was intelligent enough to hack into the US military sites, it may be beneficial for the US government to hire the man as a homeland security adviser, perhaps on a probationary level as an alternative to prison, such as in the case of Frank Abagnale. Just a thought.

  20. Angelo Ventura

    What a grotesque miscarriiage of justice in McKinnin’s case!

  21. I don’t know enough about this particular case to render judgment, but this sort of decision is required every day when you are a parent, especially if you have more than one child. Each kid has a different balance between ignorance, accident, and maliciousness which changes over time. You want to go easy on pure accident, make a teaching moment of ignorance, and come down hard on maliciousness. Sooner or later, they will try to manipulate their punishment by faking their intent. AND the other children who are in different stages will witness your reaction. We don’t always have the wisdom of Soloman in dealing with these things, even within the family. Expecting a government entity making laws for a huge population to exercise that case-by-case wisdom is asking an awful lot.

  22. He should be tried for the crime. If he is found guilty I would suggest mental evaluation and hospital stay with therapy instead of jail time. He could do a year in the hospital, receive direct care for his condition and receive therapy to help him going forward.

    Why a year? Because that was the first thought to come to mind for me.

    This way “justice is served” and the human element (damn you Dow chemicals!) is kept in mind.

  23. Graeme

    What makes the injustice is that we have the laws to try McKinnon in the UK yet are handing him over to the US. Obviously UK justice is such an inferior brand to the stuff you get state-side.

  24. I recall in the book “Approaching zero” the case of one of the early phone phreakers who landed in Lompoc after law enforcement finally caught him. In order to survive (one of the most brutal prisons in California) he found he had to teach one of the more powerful inmates (a mid-level manager in the drug trade) everything he knew. A few of the results that I recall (having read the book years ago) include using the DEA’s own long-distance codes to make international calls to arrange drug imports, as well as law enforcement having an extremely difficult time maintaining electronic surveillance on dealers.

    As it stands the prison system in the U.S. with its emphasis on punishment seldom provides training or education for non-criminal job skills. They have become colleges for criminal activities. Do we really want the other prisoners to lean the skills Ronson has?

    (One last note: I’m sure other posters will contribute examples of prisons that do have educational or training programs. I know such facilities exist. I also know that they have become increasingly rare starting with the Reagan administration).

  25. Didac

    I do not believe in a justice based on punishment. I would prefer a preemptive justice system. When you a have a socially unfit person you must act well before he commits any crime. We have modern sociology and modern psychology and we have tools to act. It is very understandable that some people fears about a preemptive justice because it would give a lot of power to government. However, a preemptive justice would be a lot cheaper than punishment justice.

    And, if we choose a punishment justice, then punishment must be punishment. As Phil has put it, the prison system is not simply imprisonment, and so it is an unusual and cruel punishment to submit any person to random aggressions from other inmates. But even if we have a perfect prison system, prison is a waste of money. Forced work has more sense but it has a detrimental effect on free work and it can be used to destroy more very needly jobs. Fines can be Ok, but nobody is equally harmed by fines (depending of the money you have, you can pay easily fines). Theoretically, banishment and social ostracism can be more effective measures.

    Finally, if the US government is as conscious about the menaces that this guy supposes, it will be far cheaper for US taxpayers if he simply is ‘dissappeared’.

  26. pete

    Is this the same “treaty” that those notorious terrorists, the NatWest 4 were extradited on?
    The one us wouldn’t ratify incase wanted to extradite IRA terrorsists, or we’re they freedom fighters under the jackboot of British oppression?

  27. Greg in Austin

    Sounds like he was really dedicated to his purpose.

    Punishment is simple: Fines, hundreds of hours of community service, and then force him to take up a job with the US government as an anti-hacker expert. 20-30 years of government service ought to be punishment enough.


  28. Lurker #753

    Bah. If punishment was the point, why not let the UK deal with him? It’s not like he’s denying what he did.

    This isn’t justice, this is “Blame Canada”:

    “We must blame them and cause a fuss
    Before somebody thinks of blaming uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuus!!!!”

    “Soooper Eeevil Genius Hacker!” sounds a lot better than “our security is a total joke, our security processes are non-existent, and actually, we are almost entirely incompetent.”

    McKinnon needs some monitoring, and probably a more constructive hobby than he has now. Maybe astronomy….

  29. There are three reasons for punishment:

    1. To reform the offender (so called rehabilitation, which is not done these days)

    2. To deter others (as the kid is an Aspie, he was unlikely to have been deterred by the already published sanctions, as Aspies do not think that way), and

    3. Revenge. This, it seems is the sole American legal system motivation these days.

  30. Sticks

    I can not understand why we are not putting him on a plane today

    He should be tried and when convicted get the most severest of sentences, and if he commits suicide, so be it.

    He did a crime which has been seen as an act of terrorism. Britain must show America we are shoulder to shoulder with them in the war on terror. He must be shipped out to you for maximum punishment to show our commitment against terrorism

  31. People who hack into secure systems deserve punishment, especially if they do damage as Gary is alleged to have done. However, punishments should be proportionate. Life sentences don’t seem appropriate here.

    As for aspergers syndrom, have you tried the AQ test?
    A fascination with numbers is enough to score one point, preferring libraries to parties gets you another. Score 32 points and you can claim to have aspergers syndrom. I scored exactly 32 myself but I think it is just a symptom of being more interested in maths than going out to parties. I dont consider that to be a serious behavior disorder that I could use to excuse a crime.

    This test or similar ones are used as a significant part of the AS diagnosis by psychologists. Of course there are people seriously affected by AS, but just search for “aspergers” on youtube to see how some people use it as an excuse for difficult behaviour.

    As for the lopsided extradition agreements, that was probably part of a deal in which the US helped the UK cover up an embarrassing UFO incident :-)

  32. Erwin

    “White collar” crimes don’t get sent to Supermax prisons'”

    Hackers do get set to less than average prisons. Kevin Mitnick, in one of his early, maybe even his first prison sentence, was placed in solitary confinement. Ed cumming (aka Bernie S.) was placed among dangerous criminals and was beaten to such a degree that his arm and jaw do not function at 100%
    Read here
    and especially here

    As for the mental problems, I don’t get the idea many people really care about other people’s mental problems and have no problem to put them away or to death instead of preventing the crime in the first place. I’ve seen a short 70 year old movie on the subject. Unless you speak German, get the subtitled version.

  33. Gareth

    @Sticks: “He should be tried and when convicted get the most severest of sentences, and if he commits suicide, so be it.”

    I do love being part of such a pleasant, caring world.

  34. J Dubb

    There is a science that addresses and studies punishment and its effect on behavior. I suggest you all go educate yourselves. Start with an intro psych textbook.

  35. Bog

    The whole Asperger’s syndrome thing verges on being a complete non sequitur.

    “as Aspies do not think that way”

    Asperger’s is a bit of a broadly defined condition for you to be claiming you know how they all think. Actually, his using Asperger’s as an excuse is an insult to Asperger’s suffers the world over.

    As for trial and punishment, I’ll probably be the only one here to admit I have no idea. We’ve had no trial. Some here are claiming to know what is happening in McKinnon head. Way to be skeptics, folks.

    “Soooper Eeevil Genius Hacker!” sounds a lot better than “our security is a total joke, our security processes are non-existent, and actually, we are almost entirely incompetent.”

    Meanwhile, outside the world of false dichotomies…

    Hey, we’ll just put you in charge of a vast, international network with million of nodes and laugh and call you totally incompetent every time you have a glitch.

  36. feroxx

    He has to go on trial, allright, but in the UK. Its a joke to just hand him over to the US, I’d expect better from my home country. If I remember correctly how aspergers is like a foreign regular prison could well kill him.

    /me strikes the UK from the list of countries to emigrate to if germany keeps going down the drain like it is these days

  37. David D.

    He definitely needs to be prosecuted, and then he definitely needs to have some creative sentencing applied.

  38. I think you will find that Federal prisons are vastly different to State run prisons. If Mr. McKinnon is unfortunate enough to end up in Federal prison it is unlikely that he will be abused the way many expect. Federal prisons are better funded and better managed due to a few issues. Bigger supporting infrastructure (Federal as opposed to State), a smaller prison population at that level and as a White Collar crime his case isn’t going to land him in jail with violent rapists and murderers. In addition it is very likely that his unique mental and physical attributes will also be taken into account especially considering his British citizenship and public extradition. Mr. McKinnon has the advantage of being a high profile case with a lot of advocates for his rights. I’m not going to worry excessively about his predicament. As for his guilt or innocence, I’ll leave that to the Judge and Jury.

  39. IVAN3MAN

    In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories:


    We are totally pissed off that some limey smart-ass hacked into our computers and threatened our National Security, so we are going to have his ass on a platter!

  40. Gary Ansorge

    Steven Dunlap and Lurker 753 have it nailed. I expect in a US prison, he will have protection from more brutal inmates by hooking up with the local Hells Angel underground(or the equivalent). He will trade his skills for their protection, they will educate him in how to REALLY frak with the system.

    The only reason the US has for brutalizing him is because he has shown how totally inept our “security” systems really are. Bad press for the Gov MUST be punished. It has nothing to do with his actual “crime”.

    The obvious solution is to hire him for his expertise, keep him away from those who would profit from him and provide him with the medical assistance he needs.

    But that would be the smart(civilized) thing to do,,,

    GAry 7

  41. @ #7 MarkH

    Umm…I’m pretty sure we are talking about many very different offenses here. Break and entering, theft and all sorts of computer related crimes. Breaking and entering is not theft. Just because you break into someone’s house does not preclude theft. And theft itself carries many different sentences depending on the monetary value of the items taken. So stealing a candy bar is, in the eyes of the law, MUCH different from stealing a Mercedes. So, I would say that YES, actually, you WOULD get a lesser sentence for breaking into a house and leaving than a guy who breaks into a house and steals a TV (especially if it were a very expensive TV).

    My point is that your analogy is somewhat flawed, as I think laws regarding cybercrimes have a much different punishment system. Consider the RIAA and illegal downloading. People are forced to pay $12,000 PER SONG, while if they had merely shoplifted the CD from a store, they probably wouldn’t even pay that much in total crimes (especially if it were their first offense). Ummm…I don’t have proof for that, it’s total speculation. Maybe someone would care to point of my errors?

    Careful with your analogies.

  42. RL

    We are a nation of laws and the laws should be followed in both the prosecution and sentencing phase, if he is found guilty. If circumstances exist that are mitigating, they can be taken into account according to the law but under no circumstances should he be treated differently because of what we think his intent was (looking for UFOs, not security secrets) or how popular someone is or any other feelings or opinions. Once you start bending the law like that, they system will break down and great miscarriages of justice can result. And I suspect, if he got off lightly given what I’ve read here, the number one cover for internet spies would now emerge.

    I don’t think words like “heartbreaking” apply here.

  43. Peter Beattie

    Punishment must be meted out

    So you’re not certain what the purpose of punishment is, but it has to be handed down? To attain what objective exactly? And what is the evidence that the current criminal justice system actually does attain such objectives?

  44. Alan in the US

    Unfortunately, prosecution is often more about improving the prosecutor’s “wins” than it is about justice. Equally unfortunate is the common practice of pressing as many charges as possible, and then telling the accused “You can plea or we’ll put you away forever.” That sounds like extortion to me.

    Clear skies, Alan

  45. kitty

    this is more a commentary on the American prison system though. This man knowingly broke the law. Despite having Aspergers he knew he was breaking the law. If the prison system in the US was better, this man going to prison would not be a problem He would be safe. When a prison sentence means your life is in danger, that’s the problem of the prison system.

    Justice is blind.

    If you go to the Supreme Court in Washington DC, you will see the famous statue of blind justice.

    It’s a backbone of our justice system.

    Every day there are probably hundreds of mentally ill people or people with special conditions that are sentenced to prison. This man has media backing and a quirky crime (“he was looking for UFO evidence”). I work with alien abductees and UFO types and there are many that are just like this man. He’s not unique. I’ve had good luck with getting them to go see a therapist or doctor, though in the end, while they find more peace of life…they still believe. I’m not sure this guy will stop hacking, or that he is capable of accepting that he can’t hack. It’s like a person that drinks. When you take away his license, often they just drive the car anyway, and often to a bar. This mans life and identity of self is based on his being a “UFO crusader”. I’ve seen it over and over again. Without the UFOs, without this super hero fighting the man…he’s just a guy with Aspergers that doesn’t fit in socially and is lost. He’s a nobody. RIght now he’s a celebrity, which goes to show once again that being a UFO nutter can pay off (when asked “why do they still believe, what payoff can they have?” I find again and again the answer is “well, it makes them somebody instead of nobody”). (see web site for a peek into the world of the abuctee)

    I do feel badly for this man. But mainly because our US prison system is so broken. But I also feel badly for all the other people that have commited nondangerous crimes that are commited to our penal system every day.

  46. @Preston From, read my analogy more carefully. I wrote nothing about an actual theft having taken place; I was writing about the intent behind the hypothetical B&E. Adding a theft would obviously add an additional serious charge.

    And to some others who have written, Asperger’s is not mental retardation; it’s a low level form of autism. I’ve met several people with Asperger’s — all of whom happened to be very successful software developers — and they’re not retarded, just…weird, and differently social, to put it mildly. Excluding some form of retardation — which I think would reduce the ability to commit this particular crime — no one can possibly make a serious claim that they didn’t know hacking into a government computer network wasn’t illegal.

  47. >>“Soooper Eeevil Genius Hacker!” sounds a lot better than “our security is a total joke, our security processes are non-existent, and actually, we are almost entirely incompetent.”

    Man, I get sick of hearing that one. It’s one of the stupidest positions a person can take, almost equal to “the moon landing was faked”.

    Not wearing a bullet-proof vest does not make it acceptable for a person to shoot me.

    Not putting bars on my windows does not make it acceptable for a person to enter my home and take my belongings.

    Not locking my car does not make it acceptable for a person to steal my car.

    Not having impenetrable security on computer files does not make it appropriate for cretins to hack them.

    It doesn’t matter if the security was a total joke. It does matter that someone broke the law.

    This guy broke into systems with full knowledge it is against the law. He should be HARSHLY punished as a warning to others. That punishment should take into account his condition, but his condition is not an excuse for what he did.

    I should think that 2 years less a day in a minimum security facility should get the job done, and a fine that covers the cost of investigating the incident and repairing the damage, plus 5 years of probation including conditions like “must not own a computer”. Odds are, he’ll go back to the UK on release, so the fine won’t be paid, but that’s OK – It kind of limits him and if he does ever come back, he’ll be on the hook. He’ll be out of prison in what, 8 months less pre-trial custody? Such a sentence would set a decent precedent that allows a lot of future lee-way and sends a clear message to other 1337-hackers.

    Right now, there are far too many people who believe that the anti-hacking laws in many countries have no teeth. Here’s an opportunity for the US to demonstrate otherwise.

  48. Gerry

    Lets face it…. they’re probably not really going after him just to slam him in jail.

    They want to get him over here to get him to reveal all his knowledge on how he broke into the systems and what other tricks he knows. They want to seal the holes and find out what else someone of his capabilities can do.

    Hell, they’ll probably offer him a cushy but secret security job in return for playing ball.

    This is not exactly new, kids….

  49. T.E.L.

    He should go to a special prison for hackers. It’d be like Cheers: a place where everybody knows you [user]name… and password.

  50. >>The obvious solution is to hire him for his expertise,

    No, absolutely not.

    Every time some hacker gets a job as payback for his illegal schemes, 10 new hackers spawn.

    How many drug dealers does your company hire to help speed things up with import/export issues and marketing difficulties?

  51. Jan D

    Give him a form of alternative punishment, community service, whatever, which will show:
    – to him: you can’t just do this. Even if he has Asperger, there is a means to get this message across. You can’t *just* give him the punishment, you will need people to explain it
    – to others: your punishment will be related to your intent and mental ‘capabilities’

    Essentially, this leaves all the reasons for punishment in place, we just adjust the measure.

  52. EmaNymton

    Well, The Chef, I should have known that someone would trot out the lie that calling our justice system racist is a falsehood. It is. Very much so. You are as well, but you knew that.

  53. Albert Bakker

    Has the Pentagon been able, say since 40 years or so, to handle anything succesfully with complete secrecy then? Because if so they must have kept that a secret too.

    But facts are facts and he did turn down a deal that enabled the parties to keep this relatively low profile on grounds that are to my mind (not an American myself and don’t aspire to be, believe me) quite indefensible.

    And this story in the Guardian differs somewhat from a version Wire reported a year ago on the content of that plea bargain. The Guardian reports 18 months without any guarantee and Wire reported McKinnon’s laywers claimed it was 6 months to a year followed by repatriation and after 6 months time in the UK he’d be released. If they are talking about a different deal, then that only reinforces my point, that he and/or his lawyers should have been more pragmatic.

    Now there is this mess and he is now not only a martyr for UFO co-religionists, New Age nutters and the like, but also for politicians he is a cause célèbre and even the mayor of London wrote quite a funny story more or less on his behalf in the Telegraph:—but-it-doesnt-make-him-a-terrorist.html

    It’s stupidity all around.

  54. I wonder if they are looking at this as an act of terrorism, then the punishment may be far more severe.

  55. Dan I.

    I’m not going to say our justice system is perfect, it most certainly isn’t. But anyone who suggests that most prosecutors deliberately go easy on the rich or go deliberately harder on minorities hasn’t done their research.

    There are certainly unethical and bad prosecutors and cops in the system, no group is perfect. But the bottom line is that the system tries, it really does.

    At least in the U.S. system you have an absolute right to a lawyer if you can’t afford one. Now yes, most public defenders are grotesquely overworked and underpaid, but trust me its a lot better than going pro se.

  56. I posted earlier, but apparently any comment on this blog containing a URL is thrown away? I was not aware of that and got no error message, and yet my earlier comment is gone.

    I will admit to perhaps being biased on this case because I have long worked in the area of computer security. As such, I was in a position to have to help clean up the messes that people like McKinnon make. If you are responsible for any computer which is publicly accessible on the internet, the shenanigans of people like McKinnon are the bane of your existence. They cause many late nights and long hours of extra work. That costs money.

    You might scoff and say, “Oh, he didn’t destroy anything.” But the required remediation after incidents like these is tedious, lengthy and VERY VERY expensive. (Especially in government situations where there are significant rules and public laws that come into play). There is a huge industry of very highly paid consultants who work on these cases. Since these were government computers, the expense of this remediation comes out of all of our pockets as US taxpayers.

    But I believe Phil and Jon Ronson have been biased in their reporting of this case as well. In their cases it is caused by bad news reporting in the UK on the facts of this case.

    Now, residents of the UK are understandably upset about the terms of the US/UK extradition agreement of 2003. I understand and perhaps even share your disdain for that agreement. But your disagreement with a treaty does not mitigate the fact that this *43 year old man* committed a very serious crime.

    Kevin Anderson of the Guardian blogs wrote an article just about a year ago in which he claims that oft repeated tidbits about this case (including several repeated once again in the Ronson article) are not supported by facts. This includes the idea that the deal offered to McKinnon was not set down on paper, and the quote about “fry”, as well as others.

    I apparently cannot post the URL, but type the following search term into Google: “trust journalists audiences anderson mckinnon” (without the quotes) and the article I’m talking about will come up on top. Read that and reconsider what you have been reading about McKinnon.

    I would also echo the sentiment in other comments: why is it that Gary McKinnon deserves mercy because he didn’t mean harm? He still caused significant damage to property. Just because he *says* he meant no harm, its OK? How could our justice system ever work if that were allowed?

    Phil, elsewhere on this same blog you have said that others who face the justice system based on irrational beliefs like faith healing deserve harsh punishment. Why is McKinnon different? Is it simply a difference between property damage and personal injury? Or is it something else? Because I’m not understanding why everyone thinks McKinnon deserves special treatment.

  57. Rob Crawford

    Errr hate to break the news to you US based commenters

    1: Simply by opposing extradition McKinnon is now counted as being a fujitive from justice. Meaning he has absconded from prison.

    2: as a foreign national he will be considered a flight risk and therefore will NOT be placed in anything considered low security.

    3: suitable legislation already exists to prosicute him under UK law.

    4: Uber hacker my ass 3rd rate is a better description, but the shortcomings of the security in place will be ignored within the US

    I may have had some sympathy for a US trial if there was some crinimal charges had turned up against the so called security experts who where responsible for the networks / servers / workstations. But that has been swept under the carpet.

    As for the $7000 per workstation for cleanup that’s merely an invented figure so federal laws could be used to make an example of somebody

  58. Gary Ansorge


    For every crack dealer busted on the streets of LA, there are ten waiting in line to take over his territory. Criminal liability does little to dissuade others from crime. It’s all about the money, for most. The only thing incarceration does is prevent(sometimes: there are drug kingpins who have been known to run their empires from prison)) the incarcerated individual from repeating their crime, while they’re incarcerated. My feeling is that the ONLY crimes requiring incarceration are crimes of violence, physical, mental/emotional or economic, with differing levels of incarceration.

    What you do to yourself (or another consenting adult) is your business.

    Gary 7

  59. Poul-Henning Kamp

    Just a footnote here:

    It is very typical in this sort of cases, that the extradiction is conditioned.

    In other words, UK may, and very likely have, told USA something like:

    You can have him, but only if:
    A) he does not get sentenced to death penalty
    B) That he serve any jail sentence exceeding the first 6 months, back home in UK.


  60. Nim

    Max Fagin Says:

    “Do not forget that (in addition to the effects you listed) punishment also prevents the perpetrator from offending again during the period of time that they are incarcerated.”

    Soo…. prison keeps all the murderers and rapists from… oh hold on.. no it doesn’t. It might keep some offenders from re-offending during their time inside, but just about anyone who’s in prison for committing violent crimes against other people, is in jail with a whole lot of other people that they could potentially assault/rape/kill.

  61. gss_000

    I have two problems with this case that make me believe McKinnon needs to be extradited, regardless of his defense.

    1) He caused damage to US property. He didn’t just snoop around to loo for files, but allegedly purposely crashed computers over two years doing $900,000 in damage.

    2) The Asperger defense came after it was ruled he should be extradited. It amazingly only was found after the ruling.

    The timing of this makes me think it is more of a ploy here, which I definitely want examined in court. I don’t see why it wasn’t brought up years ago, but I will grant that this may be something that is hard to diagnose.

    What I find interesting in the debate is the amount of people that already assumed he will be sent for the maximum time in jail before any trial has happened. If Asperger syndrome is his defense, let him defend himself and let the justice system sort it out.

    Frankly, if his Asperger’s is real, which it very well could be, then he has bad counsel because he was given a pretty fair plea deal in 2003 that he rejected.

    There are a lot more accounts of this than the one currently in fashion. If people are true skeptics, you should look at more than just one account before drawing your conclusions. Last year, the US according to the British press was going to sentence McKinnon to an absurd 70 years in jail, which was never true.

    I don’t want to see him locked up just because, but this is serious and the US court is the right place to sort this out.

  62. Paul Judd

    As someone who suffers from Aspergers, I still think he ought to be punished. If his legal defense wants to make a case of mental deficiency, than that is fine. Let the courts do their job of determining if that is indeed the case and assure that he receives the treatment that he needs. However, given what happened, he is very well capable of understanding that what he did was illegal. It doesn’t matter if his intent was not malicious – crimes do not always have that intent and it should be considered for the trial.

    He should be tried and if convicted, serve his sentence. That’s the fact of the matter. Opinions of the status of prisons and the reluctance of people to go to them are unfortunate, but end up being a distraction. If he is mentally capable of understanding what he did and knew that it was wrong, he should be convicted. If he needs medical attention, he should get it. The fact that he suffers from Aspbergers can be used as a defense if the defendant wishes it. I know that if I commit the same type of crime, that I should expect the same as someone without Aspergers. I may not think of things the say way as regular people do, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am considered very high functioning and am very capable of knowing right from wrong. If the defendant or his lawyer or doctor do not believe that is the case after an evaluation, than they should argue it in court.

    Prisons are a scary thing and being thought of as a terrorist is not good – but that is a separate issue and should not be looked at any differently weather it is a person suffering from Aspbergers, a religious lunatic or a terrorists that hates Americans. The quality of our prison system is unrelated. If this person is not mentally capable of understanding what happened, he can hopefully get the treatment he needs. We should not base our decision on the possibility that his cellmate could be Bubba who needs a new friend.

    ETA: I think that we should look at this case as f we look at any case as if the defendant has a well known and documented psychological condition and not rush to label him as a hacker terrorist who should be locked up and have the key thrown away. If his condition factored into his crime, it should be brought up. Flawed as our legal system is, we should remember that our legal system can deal with defendants who can be found mentally deficient. Weather or not that happens or the outcome of this doesn’t change the fact that he did commit a crime and he has been legally extradited and is being given a trial. That is the purpose of our legal system and its should apply equally to everyone.

  63. The current trend these days to to avoid locking up criminals if they can be punished some other way. I suspect that in this case, the justice system would choose house arrest (ankle bracelet), with no access to a computer.

  64. Nomen Publicus

    A practical point: By demanding extradition and prosecution in a US court the US tax payers get to pay for any jail sentence for the next 10, 20 or 30 years. That’s a minimum of $1 million and probably a lot more.

    The only real punishment is awarded against the US tax payers.

  65. TS

    Mentally ill people should not be extradited, shame on UK.
    I still believe that some sort of trial should take place though.

    As a side note, he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome by Simon Baron-Cohen, cousin of Sacha Baron-Cohen…. For some reason I find that funny. 😀

  66. bkallee

    As someone who occasionally works in max security prisons, many of the above perceptions are completely wrong. Prison is an extremely dangerous environment, however, most non-violent inmates do have a few options. Counselling is widely available to all inmates, legal rights are unprecedented, and diagnosed patients with a wide variety of mental ilnesses or conditions have the meds and counseling sessions run by paid professionals and volunteers.

    Television and the media rarely get it right for the vast majority of prisons or inmates. What you see on Discovery and The History Channel ARE mostly accurate, but only for places like Terre Haute, Colorado SuperMax and Pelican Bay in California. These prisons are there for the exceptions, controlling violent behavior, of inmates who often cannot be rehabilitated. Many inmates choose to not cooperate and are segregated from the general population and their privilages are revoked. These are the vast minority.

    Did you know that the famous Folsom Prison is actually 2 separate prisons? One for level 3 and one for level 4. There is no way he would qualify for maximum security. Prisons are in general listed in five levels. Level 1 is minimum, Level 4 for is maximum. The fifth Level is generally called the SHU, (special housing unit) and that’s what you see on TV like the one with Lisa Ling, National Geographic, at Pelican Bay, California.

    Many who work daily in the in the prison system are easily offended by what they see on TV and comments from the general public. They know they work in a dangerous environment, but actully help many of the inmates they work with and receive no notice from the public or media. Not sensational enough I guess. Inmates are NOT treated like caged animals. In fact, a few inmates will readily agree that what you see on TV is crap.

    Mr. McKinnon would have difficult time in prison, but he will not be just abandoned and mistreated like many of the perceptions above. As far as punishing him, personally I doubt incarceration will do him any good, but I do believe in paying for ones crimes. He’s probably scared as hell right now.

  67. Thorne

    There are several issues which are being bandied about on here. The first, of course, is whether he should be tried. Absolutely, he should be. Jurisdiction could be a problem, as he was physically in the UK when he allegedly committed the crime, though the actual location of the crime was in the US. Since the UK caved in on extradition, this point is moot.
    The second issue is punishment, if he’s found guilty. I don’t claim to know all the facts, but from what I’ve seen there would be little to be gained by sending him to prison. A long probationary period, and possibly banning him from recreational computer usage, would serve justice far better, I believe.
    The third is the nature of the US prison system. Admittedly, my knowledge of it is indirect, thankfully. But I would pose a puzzle: A young, starving, homeless black male is caught stealing food from a grocery and arrested. At the same time, a young son of a wealthy industrialist, white, is caught after stealing a neighbor’s BMW and wrecking it in a joy ride. Anyone like to take bets on which one goes to prison and which one gets parole, at most?

  68. Paul Judd


    It should be pointed out that the US prison system is budgeted by our taxes already. It doesn’t matter one bit if he serves time or not – the prison system budget means it gets paid for anyway.


    I don’t think we should be so quick to call Gary “Mentally Ill”. While technically that may be accurate (for me too since I have the same condition), we should be careful to point out that simply having a condition like Aspergers does not preclude legal mental incompetence. I agree that if a doctor does not feel that he understood the nature of the crime he should not be extradited, but people can suffer from Aspergers (or other conditions) and know very well that they broke the law and know the consequences.

    The question is intent – he may not have intended to do damage. I argue that damage was a side effect of his break-in and doesn’t change the fact that the law was broken.

  69. I’m having trouble with the idea that what he did constitutes a crime.

    But maybe I am biased, as I don’t believe governments should keep secrets from their citizens. We’re the ones in charge, after all. The idea that elected officials are public servants does not mesh well with the idea that they are a privileged class entitled to privileged action or priveleged information.

    Further evidence that we do not live in a democracy, or a republic. The US is an oligarchy.

  70. Martin Gill

    The outrage (possibly too strong a word, but I can’t think of a better one atm.) by many in the UK about this comes down to a couple of factors in my view. How true/factual/realistic they are is up to you to decide.

    1) The lopsided extradition treaty. The impression that the USA regularly refuses to extradite people, whereas the UK government just hands them over at the drop of a hat. Possibly exaggerated because only those cases tend to make news where the UK wants someone the US refuses to hand over, or the US wants someone the newspapers/politicians decide shouldn’t be handed over.

    2) The nature of the crime. No one was hurt, the damage was trivial (given the budget of the US Military) and most people don’t believe the damages claimed anyway.

    3) Opinion of the US Justice system. The opinion by the general public is that the US Justice system is crap (regardless of whether that’s true or not); supported most ably by the notion of 60 years imprisonment for what public perception sees as a trivial crime (murder in the UK is around 25 years [1]). Add to that the newspapers/media love to report cases where British people have been mistreated by US Justice, but no mention is ever made of UK people justly tried and sentenced.

    4) Compassion for his illness. Add his illness and the general view in the UK is that his extradition is a death sentence (be it by suicide, murdered while in the “awful US prison system”, or death before his time is served) in all but name. A death sentence for a slightly nuts kid trying to find UFOs?

    5) Compassion for his cause. We love eccentrics, and nothing is more eccentric and lovable than a UFO hunter going up against the US Military; ably supported by our love of the under-dog.

    6) General unhappiness about the US throwing it’s weight about and dictating terms to the UK, c.f. Iraq War, Afghanistan, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Hollywood etc.

    The damage to the US and UK political reputation, in my view, far outweighs anything this “hacker” might have done. The main opposition party (who is extremely likely to be the government in 12 months time) is already talking about removing the extradition treaty, which would be a spectacular own-goal for the US if it comes about.


  71. T_U_T

    I am with carey. Taking information which ought to be public anyway is not a crime.

  72. Paul Judd

    The problem with being open is twofold:
    1) It assumes that you have no enemies
    2) It assumes that everybody is either your ally or follows the rules and can be trusted.

    Unfortunately, number one is false and always will be. The differences in the way the world is structured ensures that we have enemies that exist both outside of our borders and within them. Second of all number two is false as well. Despite the fact that we all wish people can be trusted and that everybody does the right things, some people do not care about our well being and doesn’t care about trust. We open everything up, there’s someone out there that will cry “sucker!” and use our knowledge against us.

    Until we have a way of knowing who we can permanently trust and who we cannot, we need secrecy to a degree.

  73. Mike

    @ Paul Judd – My wife has Asperger’s too, and I was going to say what you said.

    I’m also an engineer and I work with quite a few people whom I believe have it. One coworker in particular has a thing for Ferraris. His entire cubicle is plastered with posters and models big and small. Mention them and he will talk to you for an hour about them. But he would never try to steal one. People who suffer with Asperger’s know what is right and wrong and should be held accountable for their actions.

  74. T_U_T

    1) It assumes that you have no enemies

    If the country happens to have enemies, then only things of military relevance should be secret.
    And the military should know how to protect their data. If someone manages to get through, it is all fault of the ones who had duty to protect it. So they should be punished. Not a random guy who stumbles upon a weak spot, because in fact he does them a service by revealing it. There is no public interest in preventing people from testing defenses which must be impenetrable in principle, so this should not be a crime at all.

  75. gss_000

    I think he very well knew what he was doing at least. Whether his defense holds is another matter. However, he did post on Army computers that dealt with munitions:

    “U.S. foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days…. It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand down on September 11 last year … I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels.”

  76. Paul Judd


    If somebody notices a security vulnerability, you mention it to the owner. Similarly if I notice that thelock on your door is loose I let you know about it, not barge in.

    If you want to have classified information declassified, there are legal methods (how someone from the UK can argue that is beyond me) in which that can be done. Hacking into computers, regardless of their contents, is a crime. Not to mention that Gary is from the UK, he has no business with US owned computers.

  77. Peter Beattie

    » Evolving Squid:
    Every time some hacker gets a job as payback for his illegal schemes, 10 new hackers spawn.

    Oh no, we can’t have that, seeing to it that people have the opportunity to put their specific talents to good use for the society. Where would we be if we did that?

  78. gss_000


    So in other words, blame the victim? That has some really scary consequences.

  79. T_U_T

    Again. Government is not a person, it has no intrinsic right to privacy. And also I don’t share your a priori assumption that hacking into any computer under any circumstances is a crime.

  80. T_U_T

    So in other words, blame the victim? That has some really scary consequences.

    stop creating straw men.

  81. Somewhere over a million bucks will be wasted on the show trial of a harmless nut. Those who intend to hack into military software with malicious intent would be no less likely to do so if he were hung, drawn and quartered. The only people to benefit will be desperate journalists delaying unemployment by peddling a cliffhanger at the expense of real news about the next impending economic collapse.

  82. Particularly in cases like this, it would do well for the prosecutors, judges, and juries to remember that the Law serves Man. Man does NOT serve the Law.

  83. gss_000

    That can lead to straw men arguments, true. But that is exactly what you are saying.

  84. Asperger Defintion

    Sigh, another “Asperger made me do it” excuse. This is the most accurate definition of Asperger’s I’ve seen, from

    “A self-diagnosed developmental disorder contracted from reading the wikipedia page about the condition. Having Asperger’s means you are smarter than everyone else and it totally forgives all of the lazy anti-social choices you make.”

  85. Paul Judd:
    Your explanation is good, but it also makes one giant assumption:
    1) It assumes that governments should be engaging in actions or holding information that should be kept secret from nebulous “enemies”.

    I’m not saying that we should air our dirty laundry out there for everyone to see. I’m saying we should stop soiling our underwear, and then it won’t matter if everyone can see it.

    Our “enemies” (whoever they are this week) won’t have anything to use against us if we don’t do things that we wouldn’t want them to know about. It’s very simple. Individuals live by this standard every day – some people think “WWJD?” and some say things like, “If you wouldn’t want your mother to read it, don’t post it on the internet.” Governments should live by this standard too. Is it altruistic? Probably. Naive? Not at all.

  86. T_U_T

    the ‘victim’ was not hurt, and it had DUTY to prevent exactly the ‘crime’ that was committed and it failed.

  87. Joe

    I don’t see how it was possible to extradite him to the U.S seen as we have illegal Muslim immigrants who are preaching hatred against Britain who can’t be deported back to Jordon because they may be tortured. How then can this man be deported to America where he will also be tortured?

    Your new president claims to have banned these methods. Even if he has a new Republican administration in 2012 will probably re-introduce these methods and expand the authority to use them to prison and law enforcement officers. If they aren’t already using these methods. No British citizen should ever be extradited to the U.S ever again.

    I do love how stupid this guy has made your military look. I only hope hackers will one day spread every secret every government on the planet has all over the internet seen as governments have no rights what so ever to keep secrets from their people.

  88. fred

    My wife is a lawyer in the U.S., and has worked as both a prosecutor and defense attorney. She will tell you that in almost every case, the thought of punishment NEVER enters into the accused minds when they are deciding to commit the crime. They only time they need to worry about punishment is if they get caught. They feel they won’t get caught, or else they wouldn’t do the crime, therefore any possible punishment is irrelevant (not that they consciously think that through)

  89. gss_000

    Wait, close to $1 million in damages is not “hurt?” Your definition is way different than mine then. So you are saying it’s okay to damage government property as long as people are not hurt, right, because they should have protected it?

    Your own logic leads to really disturbing places even if people aren’t involved. No straw man there.

  90. They will tell him to look across the river and think about the movie TRON. They will tell him that they are going to digitize him and let him use his powers to fight the MCP.

    But really they’ll just kill him.

  91. Peter Beattie

    And by the way, why should anyone be extradited to a foreign country for criminal prosecution? It is absolutely possible to prosecute crimes that were committed in a another country according to rules and procedures of the offender’s home country, if punishable in the foreign country or under international conventions. Under those provisions, I can see no reason why anyone should be forcibly extradited from their home country to be prosecuted abroad. It simply doesn’t make any sense—except if you buy into the rather Puritanical American belief in punishment, that has led to 1 in every 100 people in the US being in prison, a total of 3 million at the beginning of 2008. By comparison, that’s at least a quarter of the world’s prison population and about 11 times higher in relative terms than e.g. Germany.

  92. Paul Judd


    That would only work if the whole world operated on the same wavelength and that we all agreed about things. As Phil and many other people will point out, the nature of humanity guarantees that no matter what your position on something, someone will oppose it no matter how you frame it.

    I would love for the needs of secrecy to go away, but the way the world works makes that more and more unlikely. And we still have the fundamental problem is that we cannot read people’s minds to know when they are up to no good.

    But this is all a side issue. the fact is, hacking is a crime. thats the way things are framed now.

  93. t’s a tough call, in my opinion.

    McKinnon acting by himself using impossibly modest resources made mincement of “NASA, the Pentagon, and more.” Does the US punish such a man? Absolutely! Lobotomize the freak.

    The rest of the world would hire him, allocate vast resources, and set him loose on enemies. That is why Google is invincible and US industry as a whole is a sour dysfunctional joke. The Severely and Profoundly Gifted are ineluctably smarter than anything management can erect in counterpoint. Embrace them or lose the competition.

  94. Paul Judd


    While extradition is certainly a controversial system, its intention is to prevent criminals from exploiting legal loopholes in other countries to avoid conviction. What conditions follow extradition are based on legal agreements between the two countries. Excluding kidnapping, its always done with the other nations permission. Thus, it appears that in this case, the UK decided not to deny the extradition request that was legally made by the US.

    The issue at had is jurisdictional. Gary hacked a US based computer. The US thinks that having the UK prosecute him would not be fair because he did not hack a UK computer. The UK government agreed and said that his crime is a matter of US courts and said that he should be tried in that country. Outside of kidnapping, the US can’t get Gary to the US without their counterparts permission. The UK government could have easily said “no”. That did not happen.

  95. USS Kevin

    Has anyone asked what I have been wondering about this: Did the guy
    actually find anything interesting information in regards to his search?

    Maybe that is why the US Government is so intent on getting him.

    As for poor computer security in the US, read The Cuckoo’s Egg. It
    may be 20 years old, but little has changed unless you count rearranging
    the deck chairs on the Titanic as new security measures.

  96. Squee

    Carey said “It assumes that governments should be engaging in actions or holding information that should be kept secret from nebulous “enemies”.

    Yes, that’s part of the definition of an enemy, genius.

    Carey said Our “enemies” (whoever they are this week) won’t have anything to use against us if we don’t do things that we wouldn’t want them to know about.

    I think you should post your credit card numbers. After all, you’d only want to keep those secret if you were guilty of something nefarious, right?

    Can you see the non sequitur there? You’re doing the same thing in relation to national security. You are massively naive.

    Wait, let me guess… you’re a 9/11 Truther, aren’t you?

  97. B Dash

    It seems like if you have two people talking…you may still get 4 different opinions. How can anything get accomplished if by presenting not only his actions, but the personality of the individual and his feeling or emotions which become a factor of his actions. How can laws and sentences be determined if having to deal with a multitude of personality issues? It’s best to break the situation down to the individual components.

    Part 1: Laws are typically reactive and not proactive. To try and write legislation to encompass all aspects of potential crime (both current and future) may evolve into further limitations of basic freedoms most people expect. Upon the perception of this, the laws that we currently have are altered by court cases because someone else wanted to interpret it differently because of other “mitigating” circumstances. Thus investigators are required to not only build a case based on current law…but what some other court interpreted in their situation. What is the law? That…basically for any action that is determined to be a crime, there will be a reaction from the community that wants the law enforced.

    To prove a crime has occurred, investigators typically must show the person either knowingly, intentionally, recklessly or with criminal negligence have committed the crime.

    If the facts show as stated above that McKinnon committed these actions (for sake of argument, lets assume he did), where does the issue of Asperger’s Syndrome come into play? It doesn’t. He knowingly and intentionally committed the act. His condition may explain the “why” of the action to a certain level, but it doesn’t take away from the action. So the first thing…does evidence show that he committed the offense?

    Part 2: Now where the “why” comes into play, it does deal with the punishment portion of a trial. (totally separate from the first part) What helps to determine the motivation of the individual and as such what should be done to prevent this action again. Unfortunately this is totally subjective and I see this as the biggest argument that most here are making. What is appropriate for his actions?

    In the courtroom, the only people who will truly understand the actions of McKinnon will be McKinnon himself, hopefully his attorney, maybe the prosecutor and the investigation team. The judge or jury will have little to no clue (regarding the technology of the action) as to what’s being said. The attorney’s will basically “dumb it down” for those who will make a final decision. It will not be because of facts…typically emotion. What their “gut” feeling tells them to do. That’s why with overwhelming facts of a crime can be found “not guilty” because jurors say “it doesn’t feel right.”

    The prosecutor will show the facts they have and describe him to be a “menace” to society, a terrorist and any other label to cause a reaction. That’s job 1. The defense will show him as a harmless individual who was trying to get at the truth and did not hurt anything/anyone. A defense will throw anything out there to diffuse any direct accusation for personal involvement within the act and to attack any action by government to investigate the case. That’s job 1. The jury will have to interpret all of this to determine guilt or innocence. Normally not punishment – that’s for the judge.

    Their interpretation will be based upon their core values as an individual. How do they perceive right and wrong? What are their feelings about government action? Will they be compelled for “feeling sorry” for McKinnon’s “condition” or will they see it as a way to getting away from taking responsibility for his actions.

    Part 3: If he is found guilty, US Federal government has specified punishment phases depending on the crime itself. Even though there can be rehabilitative programs in the prison system, there are minimum confinements that will be enforced. Judges will have a limited window on what is allowed with little discretion to the time of incarceration. It will depend upon how the case is presented.

    Part 4: If the law states his action is criminal, then retribution is required. Consideration for past behavior and future possibilities are subjective and is a guess at best and will only apply while in prison. If he can show and prove to a board of individuals that he understands his actions were wrong, that he has complied to the counseling programs offered and he will no longer take such action again, can he be allowed to leave once he has satisfied the minimum sentence.

    If any part of this system you don’t like…it’s time then to start talking to your representatives (local, state, & federal) and begin to persuade them about your argument for change. If you have a better way to design laws for others to abide by and enforce…then your help is needed. Don’t just say the system is broke and bias and then turn a blind eye to what is being done!

  98. Peter Beattie

    » Paul Judd:
    its intention is to prevent criminals from exploiting legal loopholes

    Are you saying that breaking into computers is not a crime in Britain? If it is, where is the justification for extraditing the man?

  99. Bog

    It may be 20 years old, but little has changed


    McKinnon acting by himself using impossibly modest resources made mincement of “NASA, the Pentagon, and more.”

    Some of you folks need to read up on what actually happened, and stop using Hollywood movies as your reference material for computer hacking.

  100. Paul Judd


    I never said nor implied that Britain does not have crimes against computer hacking. I was talking about extradition in general, broad terms. If you continued to read my post, I clearly say that the US probably felt that since Gary did not hack a UK computer, he should be held accountable since the crime occurred with US property. The UK government agreed and granted extradition.

  101. Peter Beattie

    I am aware of that, Paul. That’s why my question was about why extraditing the man would be justified when the general, broad-term reason obviously didn’t apply.

  102. T_U_T

    gss_ooo, I have to take back everything I said. I thought the guy just took some irrelevant information without causing any damage, but from the article

    In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, McKinnon intentionally caused a network in the Washington DC area to shut down, resulting in the total loss of internet access and email service to approximately 2,000 users for three days at a cost of $900,000

    So he intentionally sabotaged the system, That is a completely different animal than a harmless crazy hacker I assumed him to be. So while I still think that someone who does nothing else but breaking into a system that should be secure in the first place should not be punished by jail, this !$!$! deserves to be put behind bars.

  103. Utakata

    I often ask the same question, Mr. Bad Astronomer…

    …for example, what purpose does 150 years jail term serve? Is it incentive for that person not to commit that crime again, making him aware what he did was wrong and harmful? Yet to my mind ….there’s no person that lives past 150. Especially when they are incarcerated past age 70. What rehabilitation for anyone does this serve?

    Why not give the person 10 years, strip him of his ill gained assests and allow him never to step foot in anything to do with finances again? That would be rehabilitavie, protect the public that he doesn’t re-offend and act as form of closure to people he bilk’d that his next career may not make him wealthy again. Thus, he remains disgraced.

    …these are just my thoughts. And don’t let me even get started on capitial punishement.

  104. Pieter Kok

    What I find disturbing about this case (and others) is the willingness of Western countries, particularly in Europe, to extradite their citizens to the US. In Europe (to my knowledge) we do not have plea bargaining, and as a result an innocent defendant does not have the dilemma of choosing to plead guilty and get a lighter sentence, or plead not guilty and risk a much longer sentence. Some people claim that this is what happened to the Natwest Three, and to two Dutch DJs who were charged with XTC trade.

    Every country gets the justice system it deserves, but I don’t want to have to worry about the long arm of another country’s law enforcement, especially when I’m innocent.

  105. T.E.L.

    Carey Said:

    “We’re the ones in charge, after all.”

    We, as in the voting constituency? That’s not precisely so. If We were really in charge (even in principle), then we’d have no use for elected offices. When We are totally in charge, it’s the Wild West. In the U.S. system, there’s (in principle) a balance between the bulk will of the People and the decisiveness of centralized government. Neither the People nor the Government is supposed to be solely in charge of everything.

  106. kitty

    well he knew he was breaking the law. If he is capable of knowing he was breaking a law, he’s capable of standing trial. I also was moved by the reply by the person that works at a prison. Think about where Martha Stewart served. Yes, a real prison, but survivable and maybe even a good thing for this man. You can’t force someone to therapy. However in prison, it is available and for many a choice they make simply out of boredom.

    I also agree with Tim. Just because keeping this man in prison would cost money, well, I guess if someone steals from my house as long as it isn’t more than it would cost to keep him in jail.. he should walk?

    I think the most telling is that he KNEW he was commiting a crime. In a way, it was his choice and I will admire him if he takes his punishment and says that his belief in the need for the UFO information to be made public was worth the punishment that he knew was possible. I mean, I’ll still think he’s as confused as any of the abductees and UFO types I work with, but I’ll respect him more if he’s willing to go to prison for his “beliefs” (do not believe what you read, even in many skeptic books, about how the average abductee and UFO believer is “as sane as the rest of us”. The definition of “sane” used is such that this man would be fully considered “sane”. There is “sane” for trial and “sane” for functioning well. Let’s say you wouldn’t want to sit next to the average abductee on a long bus ride.).

  107. MarkW

    I was under the impression that in the UK we have a policy of reusing to extradite to countries that use torture.

    This is especially to the point in this case where (laughably) McKinnon is a “terrorism” suspect.

  108. unquiet_mind

    Re @31 PhilG:

    As for aspergers syndrom, have you tried the AQ test?

    I got a 38. Oops.
    Not surprising, actually, as many behaviors can be symptomatic of various disorders. (Or none at all). A lot of other info. about an individual is needed to differentiate.

    For the record, no competent shrink and/or therapist would make a diagnosis based solely on such a test. (There are equivalent ones for most psychiatric illnesses.) It’s just one of many ‘tools,’ often used as a preliminary screening, etc.

  109. jemand

    dude, the guy HACKED THE PENTAGON!! And the government wants to toss him in prison with some buff dudes who want to beat him up unless he starts a “hack the pentagon” crash course??

    LOL… so when they all get out every gangster on the planet’s going to be able to walk in the back door of the pentagon, CIA etc.

    Sometimes law enforcement just screws itself. They have a MAJOR incentive here to NOT have this guy undergo prison bullying, but yeah, they won’t do it. That said though, his info is enough to make him friends with the in-prison enforcers so he’ll probably be alright.

  110. From what I’ve heard, the documents he accessed weren’t even hiding behind mandatory access controls. I’m sorry, but if that’s the case, then it’s more about government incompetence than his hacktastic abilities.

  111. sophia8

    T_U_T@87: That quote about McKinnon’s alleged “intentional” damage is from the US Attorney General’s office. AFAIK, they have not offered any proof to back up this allegation. Is it to much to hope that their evidence will be offered to a US jury to evaluate?

  112. T_U_T

    IF he intentionally damaged computers, THEN he deserves to be imprisoned ELSE he does not deserve to be imprisoned.
    I have nothing more to say because I don’t know whether the condition is true or false

  113. As the son of a career criminal, I’ve seen first hand the results of our prison system: the cons come out better educated in new techniques, physically stronger and better connected with other criminals. “If you can’t do the crime…” is more a mantra of how tough you are, rather than incentive or warning to stay on the outside.

    Once outside, the cons are kicked to the curb with no money and no prospects. Their chances of finding a job are practically nil because although they did the time, they’re still criminals and no one will hire them. “The time” is “the rest of your life” regardless of what you’ve done. So, what’s a criminal to do? Well, you go and steal what you need to survive. You don’t know how to do anything else. If you’re lucky, you don’t get caught. If not, the cycle continues.

    So, what’s the solution? I don’t know. I do know punishment doesn’t work as a deterrent to crime. We’ve had punishment of crime for all of recorded history (and no doubt prior) and we still have crime. It’s fairly obvious to me it doesn’t work. There are a number of groups who have had significant success with actual rehabilitation programs that teach the criminals how to break their old habits and stops them from following the code of the streets. But, that kind of program, while infinitely more successful than the prison system, will never gain widespread acceptance as approximately half of the population falls on the right side of the political spectrum and believe that such programs “just coddle the criminals and reward them for their crimes”. When you have a group of people for whom evidence is the least likely thing to change their minds…you can’t win.

  114. Damon

    McKinnon should get a medal, not jail-time.

  115. QWE

    dude, the guy HACKED THE PENTAGON!!

    No, he found some poorly secured computers.

    Seriously, the other poster was right. You are all Hollywoodizing this thing.

    As the son of a career criminal…

    Wow. Nice job.

  116. Kimpatsu

    In many and perhaps most cases our criminal justice system is fair if somewhat overtaxed.
    And that’s your big mistake, Phil, the US system is NOT fair. It favours the rich over the poor, and Americans over everyone else. Garry McKinnon has already been convicted, because he will be tried by (in the words of John Grisham) “12 people too stupid to get out of jury duty”. People from the bottom of the socioeconomic scale, who are most easily swayed by prosecution rhetoric about “threats to US soverignty” and the “war on terror”. IOW, he will be convicted for the crime of not being American. Do you really call THAT “fair and just”?

  117. @84 Asperger definition

    @108 unquiet_mind

    unquiet_mind said it best when pointing out that the test on is not the true diagnostic tool.

    As someone with close (albeit only one case) contact with an person with Asperger’s I can assure anyone who asks that a person has to have a documented childhood history of certain behaviors in order to have a diagnosis that would hold up in court (assuming that U.S. law recognizes Asperger’s as a mitigating factor – I don’t know). Some (not all) Asperger’s people can exhibit psychotic symptoms starting in early adulthood that require medication to control. These behaviors are pretty obvious. If it happens that McKinnon has self-diagnosed after reading a wikipedia article (and getting caught) that does not invalidate Asperger’s as an actual psychiatric diagnosis nor disprove it as form of mental illness. It would only disprove that McKinnon has Asperger’s.

    [standard I’m-not-a-lawyer disclaimer] To the best of my understanding the so called “insanity defense” has great limitations, so much so that such defenses seldom succeed. The person has to fail to realize or understand the possible consequences of his/her actions or fail to understand that they were illegal. Also, the person has to understand the charges and be able to assist their lawyer in their defense. Even if McKinnon has a documented childhood history of Asperger’s (or documented childhood behaviors that went undiagnosed before) he’s still fit for trial. He had to know what he did was wrong and even if under the influence of obsessive-compulsive aspects of Asperger’s he could still ask for medical help to control those behaviors. Rightly or wrongly, most likely a U.S. judge will deem him fit for trail. Whether or not Asperger’s presents a mitigating factor would, to the best of my understanding, fit into the sentencing part of the process and not the defense.

  118. Random

    Only on the Internet could so many people mindless utter such nonsense. “Terror, security threat, crime, some metaphysical sense of WE ARE RIGHT IN DOING THIS…”.

    The fact is he was delusional (I’m not bringing in Asperger’s, as I see it is irrelevant) with benevolent (if deluded) intentions.

    I recall someone in the above comments commenting on how the UK “must do this” to help the US fight its “War on Terror”. How about sending a few IRA members to the UK first, people who actually, I dunno, *killed* other people?

    Of course, Asperger’s per see is irrelevant to this case. But he could have a lot of nasty comorbid conditions (like paranoia, which he appears to have) which may mitigate the case against him. Certainly the purple comments here about “the Law’s the Law” or “he know what he was doing” are too simplistic in this nuanced case (which is driving me a bit furious).

  119. Crux Australis

    Hacking is illegal. Lock him up. This comes from someone who:
    a) has Asperger’s Syndome
    b) is obsessed with computers and the internet
    c) has never hacked a computer.

  120. LukeL

    I think the bigger question is why do governments, banks, and other highly sensitive companies and organizations continue to have classified information available on the internet?

    These types of files should be on closed intranet servers only and better yet on computers which have no internet or network access at all.

    Should this man be punished? The simple answer is yes of course he should, but as his intentions were not terroristic in nature confinement to a mental hospital would be the best solution. As aspergers is thrown around a lot as a common disease for anyone who is eccentric and intelligent it must first be known if he truly has this condition and if he knows the difference between right and wrong and if he can control such impulses. OCD is not an excuse to break the law.

  121. kitty

    someone brought up the question of setting a precedent. If this guy isn’t sent back, then the next guy with “Aspergers” or that can’t hack the American prison system will have a good case to say “well you didn’t send HIM back, why would you send me?” Maybe the answer is no one with this excuse should be sent back.

    Or maybe we say, “ok, send this guy to Martha Stewart prison and make sure next time someone doesn’t use this case to keep from being sent back to the US.” Crazy UFO nutter, that’s one thing, but justice is blind and the next one could be a child pornographer. Sounds nutty to me, but this UK lawyer said setting any kind of precedent is a BIG DEAL and has to be clearly thought out. Becuase if this guy stays the next guy that wants to stay has a much easier time.

  122. Alan

    Maybe they should have just sent somebody to him to tell him he was right: that some shadow government thingy is covering up a deep dark UFO secret, and the good guys need his help to find it. Surely the US and/or EU have people that could maniupulate this guy into being an operative for them, whether to perform penetration testing on their own systems or to break into foreign systems? He probably wouldn’t need to be paid tons of money, just convinced that he was involved in some effort to root out the real UFO secret.

    And–honestly–if this is done covertly, and people that know him know he’s a conspiracy nutter with Aspergers, then who’s going to believe him if he tells people he’s working for the CIA?

    It just seems like it would have cost less to just make use of the guy’s abilities than to carry out this silly extradition argument. Or am I giving too much credit to our governments when it comes to imaginative hiring practices?

  123. >>Oh no, we can’t have that, seeing to it that people have the opportunity to put their specific talents to good use for the society. Where would we be if we did that?

    Let me ask again, since you missed it before:

    How many drug dealers does your company hire to help speed up customs and tax issues, and help with marketing and distribution?

    After all, they should have the opportunity to put their specific talents to good use for the society, yes?

  124. Anti-Objectivist

    There was no way that Mr. McKinnon could have diagnosed himself with Asperger Syndrome as he was banned and is still banned from using a computer. The diagnosis was made after McKinnon showed up on Channel Four’s Richard and Judy show, and viewers called in with their suspicions. Following this, the ASD expert Simon Baron Cohen found out and helped to evaluate McKinnon and came up with the diagnosis. This diagnosis did not exist widely until the mid 1990s and this is a reason why McKinnon was not diagnosed…

    If you watch the Richard and Judy show with McKinnon, his posture and mannerisms appear to very consistent with ASD…

    I see many people are taking the American government’s claims at face value. McKinnon was caught in 2002 by the High Tech Crime Unit. He was told that he had been monitored and that he would get six months for computer misuse, and he confessed everything without a lawyer present (typical of ASD people to think that truth will set one free)… they acknowledged that he caused no damage.

    In 2003, Britain passed the infamous extradition treaty. At the end of 2004, lo and behold, the American government demanded McKinnon’s extradition. They claimed all sorts of unsubstantiated damages, necessary for the crime to be worthy of extradition. They did not have to present any evidence in Britain to substantiate their claims.

    It appears to me that the Americans are lying through their teeth about this, and just want to make this person a sacrifice. They could have asked for him in 2002 but did not do this. They waited until this ridiculous law was passed – the British, had they had any sense, should have said, “Sorry, too late”, but then again they have no sense as they passed that law.

    It’s funny how many Americans believe the cops and the government all the time when it comes to criminal justice, yet they claim that forced abortions and visits to encourage the elderly to commit suicide are part of the health care plan! In one case, government does no wrong, the other, they’re almost to the point of trying to kill them!

    Is it just me, but there are many people who say “He went into the Pentagon! What did he expect? He must pay!” Are we a primitive tribe? You’re suggesting that he committed sacrilege, violated a taboo, entered the Holiest of Holies.. get off it! He just wanted to get information for his own use… out of curiosity. So he went to the sacred off-limits temple to do it. I don’t think you’d complain if he went into Iranian computers…

    I almost think people would rather he looked for secrets to sell to the highest bidder. Better still, he should have told them he was spying for Israel – a perfect way to get away with it …(the recent AIPAC case is proof of that – they actually passed confidential info and got away with it)…

  125. Maurice

    @ Ray says

    I will give you just a couple out of the many I have read.

    Several cases of USA military personel committing offences while overseas. eg rapes in Okinawa. Since you refuse to allow your people to be tried by the local juristiction, you should not expect to be able to.

    A while back, a USA citizen was tried in Singapore for vandalising cars. There was an uproar in the USA up to and including the President that a USA citizen was tried in another country for breaking that country’s laws.

    There are many other I could give, but that should be enough.

  126. Here’s a link to @dailygalaxy pagewith a 49 interview of Gary McKinnon:

    Seems he’s a true believer in UFOs and thinks NASA & the Pentagon are sitting on alien free energy technology. Woo with a capital W.
    Ought to serve 1 or 2 years instead of 60. Rather a Sad Sack.
    Should the US government hire him? Heck no. He has no particular skills we need. He was just lucky to get as far as he did. The NASA guys were sloppy to have blank passwords. He’s of no particular value to the US.

  127. Gary Ansorge

    I don’t know about hiring drug dealers but I DO know that some of the best POT growers have been given access to minimum security status in return for their expertise in growing pot for the US government(ok, I knew one pot grower who claimed that he was in such a situation).

    Still, we have hired other skilled hackers for their expertise and it has supposedly been quite useful to us. I have no idea what to do with this guy, but I DO know that incarceration isn’t likely to dissuade anyone intent on breaking into secure systems. All we can really do is make those systems completely isolated from the outside world. Unfortunately, the whole reason for the internet was to allow the military to have access to a distributed system that would remain intact during a nuclear war, so I guess we’re stuck with what we have.

    I still think he should be put to work for us,,,(China, are YOUR systems secure???)

    I took the AO test and totally flunked it. Only got a score of 15. That’s the worst test score I’ve EVER had,,,bummer,,,

    Gary 7

  128. MadScientist

    This is why we leave it to judges to decide and why judges and trial lawyers generally oppose laws which coerce a judge to impose penalties prescribed by law. In this case it would not be unusual to have negotiations and the case may not be brought to a court at all. Punishing McKinnon accomplishes absolutely nothing, but he has important information to share with the government. Then again it’s not unknown for officials to do incredibly stupid things – for example banning Feynman from certain offices at the Los Alamos labs when he demonstrates gaping holes in security – yeah, that would have stopped the real bad guys.

  129. Those pot growers might get minimum security, but they’re still treated as CRIMINALS.

    Hacker types will always have the upper hand as long as people keep blaming everyone else for the hacking except the hackers. Right now they know they can do whatever they like and for the most part get away with it even if they’re caught, and if they’re lucky maybe land a plum job.

    That paradigm is wrong, and as far as I know, hacking is the only crime that enjoys such status.

  130. Richard P

    Anyone for a game of tic tac toe?

  131. Tony Webster

    What alarms some of us in the UK is that the offence was committed in the UK and he could be charged and tried here. That would seem more appropriate but our government seems over anxious to wash its hands of the issue and hand him over.
    No one. not even he denies the offence and it is proper that a court decides the appropriate punishment within the law but we fear for his health and well being in the US penal system.

  132. @Steven Dunlap

    The Aspergers claim is not intended to be used as an insanity plea in a US Court. It is directed at UK politicians in order to try to give a reason for not extraditing and/or serving any sentence in the UK. The fact that US courts are not sympathetic to Aspergers has been cited in the media here to get sympathy.

  133. Peter

    AS an Aspie in London there are a few points to bear in mind.

    People in the UK are getting very angry over this.

    Everyone believes he should be tried and Gary has admitted his crime.

    But the Gov have used legislation that was decided on behind closed doors and never voted on in Parliament.

    They reassured us that these requirements were to combat terrorism.

    Most people’s definition of a terrorist over here is, like, people who fly panes into buildings.

    A socially naive geek looking for little green men is not a terrorist.

    It is the miss-application of the law that compromises all of our freedoms that is worrying here.

    By pursuing revenge rather than justice, the US Gov is in danger of causing our mutual ant-terror arrangements to fall, to the benefit of the real terrorists.

    The Asperger’s is not an excuse, but a mere confirmation to understand Gary’s motives.

    Aspie’s have a tendency to quest for truth and justice.

    What started as a compulsion became an obsession and then an addiction. It does not excuse it, but explains it.

    He will have known it was wrong but would have seen it as his duty to pursue his hacking “for the greater good”.

    There is no evidence of any other criminal activity in his life.

    Despite his ability, he did not steal any money or take advantage of other people.

    He is a misguided man who has broken the law. Not a terrorist.

    The US have threatened him with 60 years in jail. One of your chief prosecuters have said they want to see Gary fry.

    A tad hysterical?

  134. Peter Beattie

    » Evolving Squid:
    Let me ask again, since you missed it before:

    Not exactly Self-awareness Day today, is it?

    How many drug dealers does your company hire to help speed up customs and tax issues, and help with marketing and distribution?

    Since you seem to think that there is some clever point hidden in that not-quite-rhetorical question, why don’t you elaborate on that? Do you think, for example, that skills acquired by criminals by definition cannot be used in legal ways? Or is it just that you’re hung up on the idea that punishing people is a virtue?

  135. Gonzo

    Of course the reality is that in the United States the penal system is passed off as being “rehabilitative”. Otherwise the propensity to release convicts on parole would be pointless. By releasing people the U.S. is essentially saying, “yes, our system is rehabilitative”. The truth is far, far darker, as Phil so cogently pointed out. The prison system in the U.S. is beyond broken, and it’s a symptom of a larger malfunction of society. As Dostoyevsky once said: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons”. U.S. prisons are little more than punitive and sadly the darker side of that, which includes rape against thousands of inmates annually, is widely accepted as a just and deserved part of punishment. It is not, and it never will be. I would urge fellow BAblogees to become active on this issue. The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission just released a report on this troubling trend in June.

    Groups such as Just Detention International are active in the area of prison reform as well. The United States wastes billions on its ineffective prison system incarcerating many non-violent offenders such as McKinnon, sending them into a broken and ineffective system which dehumanizes them, takes their dignity and violates the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

  136. Gonzo

    And also @Carey (#69): HERE, HERE!

    “Shame on your boasted institutions of liberty”.

    Have you read “The Populist Moment”? Highly recommended for those who can think and have not bought the lie that the U.S. is a democracy or a republic.

  137. Sticks

    What ever happened before, the fact of the matter is that this is seen as terrorist action. Britain MUST show it is shoulder to shoulder in the war on terror. We must hand this criminal over today without delay, regardless of how he would be treated, even if the US were to say he was to face the death penalty, we must still hand him over.

    Only that way will we prove our commitment to the Americans in the war against terror, otherwise we stand accused of being soft on terrorism and the friend of terrorists

    I also have Aspergers which was diagnosed by an acredited clinical person at a local hospital in 2005.

  138. Elmar_M

    I dont know whether this has been said before, since I dont have time to read the entire thread. I do have to object Phil (which rarely happens) here:
    The oldest and first and foremost reason for punishment has been to remove a criminal from society. Before we had prisons, when mandkind consisted of a bunch of tribes that were scattered in a mostly empty land with dozens if not hundreds of miles between, back then criminals would be expelled from their tribe. When they were seen, they were hunted away. This was not so much as a punishment for the criminal, or in order to “teach” him a lesson, this idea is a foolish idea created by people that think you can change human nature and turn a wild beast into a lamb (you cant, get over it behaviorists!). Resocialisation is a myth. Anyway, the one reason was to keep the criminal away from the tribe, so he would not be able to hurt anyone anymore. Of course when population became denser, expelling people became impractical. So we invented prisons. If you cant lock them out, you have to lock them in. Of course there was also always the option of capital punishment. Personally I dont like it, mainly because it is not reversible and errors do happen… Being innocently imprisoned for a long time would be bad enough, but at least one could give this person some compensation. Someone who is dead is dead. Thats why most civilized countries dont have death penalty anymore.
    Now of course punishment can also be a deterrent and some people might feel some justice when the guy that hurt them ends up in prison. Personally I dont think that it helps much. A refund of costs and generally money would probably do better. The only thing that is left is the good feeling for the victims that know that the person wont be out of prison for a while and they will be saver for it.
    Now the guy there from England is a nutbag. He should be in an asylum next to the guy who claims that he is from Mars. So they can have a good talk. I dont think he should be etradited to the US, because the US justice system is in all honesty, backwards. Judges have to much power and to little general education. Politics, lobbies and money influence the outcome of court cases to much. This results in many sentences that are beyond what the general public would consider just (and the law should be what the people want and need, not what the powerful want and need). You know, “power to the people!” hehehe.
    Anyway the US justice system is being ridiculed all over the world. You can ask my wife what kind of questions she gets to hear from people here. To many idiotic sentences by idiotic judges.
    That from the POV of a European who ponders moving to the US.

  139. Elmar_M

    Yeah Sticks that is of course important to prove to the Americans that we all are whatever they say is politically correct and important.
    The war on terror, LOL. I have not seen much in that way. Where is Osama Bin Laden? Hu?
    Instead resources are being put into a war elsewhere that has nothing to do with the war against terror.

  140. RParadise

    The following appears on the Wired Magazine website for July 31, 2009:

    ‘U.S. foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days,’ McKinnon wrote on a hacked Army computer in 2002. ‘It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand down on September 11 last year … I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels.’

    In interviews, McKinnon has admitted a hacking spree, which he says was a ‘moral crusade’ in search of evidence of a military UFO cover-up. He has long denied doing any damage, but his lawyers recently said that McKinnon intended to cause ‘temporary impairment’ of U.S. military computers.”

    In view of the messages he left on the computers, one has to question whether McKinnon is now telling the truth about what he was doing and thinking when the hack took place. If one is innocently looking for information, one does not leave messages like “I will continue to disrupt.” The question of intent is crucial here, and I take McKinnon’s at his word that his intent was to disrupt. In that case, punishment is meritted.

  141. CT

    IF (and I think it is a big IF), McKinnon has a mitigating condition that might give an “excuse” for his behavior, punishment doesn’t necessarily have to be NEGATIVE. He could lose “rights” while performing beneficial services. Extensive community service comes to mind based on his specific skill set(s).

  142. >>Since you seem to think that there is some clever point hidden in that not-quite-rhetorical question, why don’t you elaborate on that? Do you think, for example, that skills acquired by criminals by definition cannot be used in legal ways?

    Yes there is a point there and it should be very obvious. The specific example I used is quite relevant: a successful drug dealer has a number of highly useful skills for business – he can network effectively, he can market and move product efficiently, and he sure knows how to deal with moving stuff across borders, he has dealt with cranky suppliers effectively. Yet, for some reason, people don’t flock to hire busted drug dealers. Some of them are/were business geniuses (the Medellin cartel people, for example). On the other hand, a hacker rears his little criminal head, and people think he deserves a high-paying job where he can put his skills to work.

    This hacker knew what he was doing was illegal. There was no extenuating circumstance (like stealing bread when you’re starving). He acted out of malice for personal gain and should be PUNISHED for it – not given a job, not patted on the back for making some unseen cabal in the big nasty government look bad.

    Why is that difficult to understand?

  143. Martha

    Speaking as a parent of an autistic child, NO ONE seems to be talking about what drives a person like that. I can’t tell you how many people I have met who are parents of or themselves are autistic. You’ll just have to take my word for it. This man and others like him will get fixated on a task that has to be completed. He probably already feels he has NOT accomplished this task since he was stopped and caught. Since he is an adult I am assuming he did not have the benefit of therapies that are available today and is unable to control his Asberger’s . There is probably a highly intelligent mind in him and if he could break into the Pentagon, the military better make sure they put him to good use. That’s what they used to do to all the hackers! He really doesn’t think he did anything wrong. All of these people making comments should look things up before they pass judgment.

  144. Anti-Objectivist

    If the Americans think that what he did was terrorism that’s their problem. Others don’t have to accept that interpretation. One of their officials several years ago claimed that they had the power to re-define reality, and condemned those in the “reality-based community” for refusing to accept that fact. I say let’s stay in the reality-based community, and those who have strayed from it should return to it.

    To extradite McKinnon is to encourage American officials who believe they are re-defining reality as if enough people accept that power, it will be real.

    Asperger people are more inclined to quest for truth and justice, whilst being unimpressed with taboos, rules and conventions, like that which states that the Pentagon is the holiest of holies that must not be defiled lest it be sacrilege. As for McKinnon returning to such activities, he said that he found out what he wanted to know, mostly from more “legitimate” sources, and also having to spend seven years on the rack in this way has also sent a message… indeed as far as I’m concerned, that seven years is enough…

    What personal gain was there for McKinnon? Was it to satisfy his ego, to make him think that he is saving the world? Did he think he would find something that would get him money? There’s no proof that he thought of making money, if he did there were surer ways of doing that.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if politicians take money from spyware people and identity thiefs – I’m sure they’d prefer McKinnon if he made lots of money through identity theft and used it to bribe his way out of harm… they’d respect him for being a shark like they are.

  145. My son, and probably myself, has been diagnosed as Asperger’s. There are high and low function Aspies, and it doesn’t mean that because one person has made a good life as an Asperger’s sufferer that all might, nor that because one can tell right from wrong that all do. I have learned, from bitter experience, that people refuse to take my son’s actions as being what he thinks is right; instead preferring to think he is being “difficult” or “rebellious”. This is a multidimensional syndrome, not a matter of a gain function turned up or down.

    Some (many?) Aspies are simply not able to modulate their behaviour in terms of what is socially acceptable. If McKinnon, who is ten years my junior, was ever diagnosed, he didn’t receive treatment, as there simply aren’t the treatments available even now. I can’t get a 17 year old any counselling today; what hope did he have 30 years ago?

    For the person who found Baron-Cohen risible, note that he is the specialist on this today, although I think he is not fully correct in a number of respects. His being cousin to someone else is irrelevant.

  146. George Duncan

    If, as we are led to believe, justice should be equal to all, why don’t we insist on this?

    There are countries who want Tony Blair to stand trial for war crimes. Are we saying that these countries can be ignored but, America can’t?

    That, in itself, is injustice and proves that our laws are selective and therefore flawed.

    If Mr. McKinnon were to be found guilty in this country, he would probably receive a suspended sentence. If he goes to America, the length of the sentence is likely to be many years more in a much more degrading place and, meet with those people who would like to use his talents to much greater harm when he was released……

    Justice should be the same for one person as another.

  147. fontwell

    I am ashamed that the UK will allow him to be tried by the USA. It will serve no useful purpose and he runs the risk of being on the receiving end of the USA’s security paranoia. Yes, I know some people actually are out to get them but Gary isn’t one of them.

    The other purpose of prison (don’t laugh now) is to provide an education out of crime.

  148. I personally don’t feel this is a grey case in any way, given the condition of the individual in question and the actual purpose of his hacking it is clear that the present course of ‘punishment’ that befalls Gary is disproporationate in the extreme.

    It is more likely the Americans are embarrassed.

    Gary is nothing more then a scape goat for the Americans and the UK Government has no balls to stand up to them and, protect one of their own citizens from what is a clear abuse by the Americans of a friendly treaty aimed at helping the Americans with terrorist suspects.

    Both Obama and Brown should be hanging their heads in shame at this clear abuse of such a vulnerable individual, they are nothing more then school yard bully’s

  149. Petrolonfire

    @ 3 Gadfly :

    the structure of our justice system makes its best stab at fariness, it’s in the *execution* that things fall apart.

    Umm … choice of words there? 😉

    Execution still bein’ an issue an all …

  150. Voltaire-o-2009

    Lets not confuse the ideal of how US legal system should be with how it actually *is*.

    The US justice system is “supposed” to be “colour blind”, equal to all & actually sorta resembling fair. It isn’t. Period.

    Really, we all know that’s undeniably true – or should do.

    Also lets not confuse someone hacking into a computer looking for evidence of a crackpot theory about aliens with – for pity’s sake! – *actual terrorists*!

    … & thinking America’s “war of terror” (as Borat aptly put it) :

    Is that dumb rhetorical excuse to invade innocent third party nations still going post-Bush the Lesser?

    Really? When will the US authorities realise that you can’t impose freedom and democracy by force -that no-one wins guerrilla wars in Afghanistan (just ask the Russians & Brits!) and that Iraq, Vietnam and Bay of Pigs et al .. should have taught you guys something about the limits of brute military power?

    Never mind wondering about punishing Gary McKinnon for – it is quite clear (prosecutors absurd claims to the contrary) – not doing anything much that’s really harmful.

    Why are we allowing leaders who misled the world into a needless, totally counter-productive bloodbath, who committed war crimes, organised torture and imprisonment without trial, who violated international law, common humanityand thegeneva conventions and conspired to create thousands of dead innocent civilians and a wrecked nation allowed to escape any sort of accountability for their actions?

    Before the USA can talk about “justice” for lesser criminals it needs to put George II Bush the Mad, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld & the other neo-conservative Reich wing loons on trial first. Will they ever face justice for what they did? Are their crimes NOT many orders of magnitude worse than what seems awfully like a victimless (non-)crime?

    How about those here who take the stupid, unimaginative and demonstrably FAIL “tough on crime” approach try advocating for “Shrubya” Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Tony Blair, John Howard etc .. to be extradited to Afghanistan for a bit of immediate justice – & see them hung like Saddam or beheaded?

    Because that’s the logical endpoint of their “argument” such as it is! 😛


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