Lawyer: British Hacker Could Be Prosecuted Under U.S. Terrorist Statutes

A Briton accused of mounting the largest ever successful hack of U.S. government computer networks could face prosecution under U.S. anti-terror laws, despite assurances he will not, his lawyer told an extradition hearing Wednesday.

Gary McKinnon, 40, of London, is wanted in the United States over allegations that he illegally accessed 97 computers, including U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and NASA systems, causing $700,000 in damages.

McKinnon is accused of hacking into U.S. government computers in 14 states, including two at the Pentagon, between February 2001 and March 2002.

McKinnon's lawyer, Edward Lawson, told Bow Street Magistrates Court that McKinnon fears he could face prosecution by a military commission if he is sent for trial to the United States, under powers ushered in following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Lawson said he had received an "unsigned and anonymous" diplomatic note from the U.S. Embassy in London that said McKinnon would not be subject to Military Order No. 1, which allows U.S. President George W. Bush to detain terror suspects without trial or put them before military courts.

But McKinnon has not been offered any definite guarantee he will face a federal court trial, Lawson told the court.

Mark Summers, an attorney for the U.S. government, said: "The diplomatic note assures the U.K. that he will be presented before a federal court."

At an earlier hearing, McKinnon's lawyers claimed he had been carrying out his actions to expose lax computer security and because of his belief that the United States is withholding information about UFOs.

Though McKinnon was able to view sensitive details about naval munitions and shipbuilding, he did not access classified information, an investigation found.

District Judge Nicholas Evans granted McKinnon bail and said he would reserve his decision on whether McKinnon should be extradited until May 10.

Evans said if he rules in favor of extradition, the final decision will rest with Britain's Home Secretary.

Defense witnesses have told the court McKinnon could face up to 60 years in prison if convicted in a U.S. court which invokes sentencing rules brought in to penalize those connected with terrorism.