The search for proof of the existence of UFOs landed Gary McKinnon in a world of trouble.
After allegedly hacking into NASA websites -- where he says he found images of what looked like extraterrestrial spaceships -- the 40-year-old Briton faces extradition to the United States from his North London home. If convicted, McKinnon could receive a 70-year prison term and up to $2 million in fines.
Final paperwork in the case is due this week, after which the British home secretary will rule on the extradition request.
McKinnon, whose extensive search through U.S. computer networks was allegedly conducted between February 2001 and March 2002, picked a particularly poor time to expose U.S. national security failings in light of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
McKinnon tells what he found and discusses the motivation behind his online adventures in this exclusive phone interview with Wired News.
Wired News: What was your motive or inspiration for carrying out your computer hacking? Was it the War Games movie?
Gary McKinnon: This is a bit of a red herring. I have seen it but I wasn't inspired by it. My main inspiration was The Hacker's Handbook by Hugo Cornwall. The first edition that I read was too full of information.... It had to be banned, and it was reissued without the sensitive stuff in it.
WN: Without this book would you have been able to do it?
McKinnon: I would have done it anyway because I used the internet to get useful information. The book just kick-started me. Hacking for me was just a means to an end.
WN: In what way?
McKinnon: I knew that governments suppressed antigravity, UFO-related technologies, free energy or what they call zero-point energy. This should not be kept hidden from the public when pensioners can't pay their fuel bills.
WN: Did you find anything in your search for evidence of UFOs?
McKinnon: Certainly did. There is The Disclosure Project. This is a book with 400 testimonials from everyone from air traffic controllers to those responsible for launching nuclear missiles. Very credible witnesses. They talk about reverse-(engineered) technology taken from captured or destroyed alien craft.
WN: Like the Roswell incident of 1947?
McKinnon: I assume that was the first and assume there have been others. These relied-upon people have given solid evidence.
WN: What sort of evidence?
McKinnon: A NASA photographic expert said that there was a Building 8 at Johnson Space Center where they regularly airbrushed out images of UFOs from the high-resolution satellite imaging. I logged on to NASA and was able to access this department. They had huge, high-resolution images stored in their picture files. They had filtered and unfiltered, or processed and unprocessed, files.
My dialup 56K connection was very slow trying to download one of these picture files. As this was happening, I had remote control of their desktop, and by adjusting it to 4-bit color and low screen resolution, I was able to briefly see one of these pictures. It was a silvery, cigar-shaped object with geodesic spheres on either side. There were no visible seams or riveting. There was no reference to the size of the object and the picture was taken presumably by a satellite looking down on it. The object didn't look manmade or anything like what we have created. Because I was using a Java application, I could only get a screenshot of the picture -- it did not go into my temporary internet files. At my crowning moment, someone at NASA discovered what I was doing and I was disconnected.
I also got access to Excel spreadsheets. One was titled "Non-Terrestrial Officers." It contained names and ranks of U.S. Air Force personnel who are not registered anywhere else. It also contained information about ship-to-ship transfers, but I've never seen the names of these ships noted anywhere else.
WN: Could this have been some sort of military strategy game or outline of hypothetical situations?
McKinnon: The military want to have military dominance of space. What I found could be a game -- it's hard to know for certain.
WN: Some say that you have given the UFO motivation for your hacking as a distraction from more nefarious activities.
McKinnon: I was looking before and after 9/11. If I had wanted to distract anyone, I would not have chosen ufology, as this opens me up to ridicule.
WN: Tell me about your experiences with law enforcement and the procedures you have gone through.
McKinnon: I was arrested by the British National Hi Tech Crime Unit in March 2002. They held me in custody for about six or seven hours. My own computer and ones I was fixing for other people were taken away. The other machines were eventually returned, but they kept my hard drive that was sent to the U.S. It was November 2002 when the U.S. Department of Justice started their efforts to extradite me.
WN: The British Crown Prosecution Service dropped charges against you because your activities did not involve British computers.
McKinnon: I was to be officially charged in 2003 but a warrant wasn't given until 2004.... In June or July 2005, I was scooped from the street by Scotland Yard. I was kept at Belgravia Police Station overnight. I just wore what I had on when I was out; I didn't get a chance to wear a suit in court. I was given police bail.
WN: When will they make a decision about extradition?
McKinnon: It's down to the Home Secretary, John Reid. The deadline for representations is 21 June 2006. Even after that date, it could be as much as 11 months for him to decide on my fate.
WN: How have you been coping?
McKinnon: God, it's very worrying and stressful. It's been worse because I'm unemployed. I worked on and off in IT, contracting and stuff, before this, but no one will touch me with a large barge pole now.