Former archbishop's envoy calls for hacker not to be extradited

By staff writers
March 16, 2009

Former Lebanon hostage and archbishop's envoy Terry Waite has called for charges against British computer hacker Gary McKinnon to be dropped, amid fears for his safety if he is extradited from the UK to the USA.

McKinnon, aged 42, who was born in Scotland but now lives in north London, faces up to 70 years in prison if a US court finds him guilty of breaking into military computers. He has Asperger's Syndrome and was looking for details of UFOs.

Mr Waite, who was held hostage in Lebanon for four years during his time as envoy for the then Archbishop of Canterbury, the late Dr Robert Runcie, says the Pentagon ought to thank the self-confessed hacker for "exposing" the vulnerability of its computer security.

Waite said McKinnon's illness, a form of autism, made him "irrationally obsessive", that his motive for breaking into the US security system - and its outcome - was "harmless", and that it would be "a waste of time" prosecuting him.

He declared: "No nation under the sun ought to convict an individual whose behaviour is occasioned by illness. Gary is clearly a very clever chap. He has that unique ability to find his way through the internet jungle and enter the inner recesses of the Pentagon. Full marks for his ingenuity."

"Was Gary a spy? Was he attempting to bring down the mighty military force of the USA? As far as I know he was not. He was simply looking for little green men.

"Anyone who has the slightest acquaintance with Asperger's Syndrome will know that while the sufferer can be, and indeed often is, brilliant in certain logical processes they can become irrationally obsessive in other directions."

Gary McKinnon's lawyers have appealed for him to be prosecuted in the UK on lesser charges, but the Crown Prosecution Service says the US is the best place for the case to be heard.

He hacked into 97 government computers including those of the US Navy and NASA during 2001 and 2002. The BBC reports the US government as saying this caused damage costing $800,000 (£550,000) at a time of heightened security following the 11 September 2001 attacks.

McKinnon, who was arrested by British police in 2002, has already appealed unsuccessfully to the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights to avoid extradition. He is now seeking a judicial review of the government's decision to extradite him.

According to medical experts who have examined him, there are fears that McKinnon may self-harm or even take his own life if he is incarcerated.

In the 1980s Terry Waite was Dr Runcie's Assistant for Anglican Communion Affairs

As an envoy for the Archbishop, he travelled to Lebanon in an attempt to secure the release of four hostages including journalist John McCarthy. He was himself held captive between 1987 and 1991.

He now campaigns for human rights and humanitarian causes, is president of the charity Y Care International (the YMCA's international development and relief agency) and patron of AbleChildAfrica.

Keywords:spy | YWCA | hostages | terry waite
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