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Britain Approves U.S. Extradition of Accused Hacker

Britain's top law enforcement official on Thursday approved the extradition to the United States of an alleged computer hacker accused of damaging U.S. military systems.

Gary McKinnon, 40, has two weeks to appeal the order, signed Tuesday by Home Secretary John Reid, the Home Office said.

A judge ruled in May that McKinnon, who has been indicted in New Jersey and northern Virginia, should be sent to the United States to face trial. The decision required Reid's approval. His office said he was not convinced by the arguments McKinnon raised in his defense.

McKinnon said he planned to appeal, telling British Broadcasting Corp. television "I am very worried and feeling very let down by my own government."

He is accused of illegally accessing 97 computers, causing at least US$700,000 in damage -- the largest-ever attack on the U.S. government's computer networks, U.S. government attorneys told a British court.

Court records in Virginia allege McKinnon caused up to US$900,000 in damage to computers, including those of private companies, in 14 states.

McKinnon, an unemployed computer system administrator who lives in London, has said he did not intend to cause damage, but was seeking evidence that America is concealing the existence of UFOs.

But Judge Nicholas Evans said he left messages on one system protesting U.S. foreign policy.

"U.S. foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism," Evans quoted one such note as saying.

McKinnon was arrested in 2002. He opposed extradition, claiming he could face prosecution under U.S. anti-terror laws.

He is accused of hacking into U.S. government computers including a system at the Pentagon between February 2001 and March 2002.

He allegedly accessed a network of 300 computers at the Earle Naval Weapons Station in Colts Neck, New Jersey, and stole 950 passwords.

The break-in -- which allegedly occurred shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks -- shut down the whole system for a week, Evans said. The station is responsible for replenishing the Atlantic fleet's munitions and supplies.

It is up to officials in New Jersey and Virginia to decide where McKinnon will be tried.

If convicted of the charges in New Jersey, McKinnon faces a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine, U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie said when the indictment was disclosed.

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

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