WASHINGTON – The United States expressed disappointment Tuesday after Britain decided not to extradite computer hacker Gary McKinnon, who is wanted on suspicion of accessing secret NASA and Pentagon systems.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that American officials “are examining the details of the decision,” but insisted that the 10-year legal battle had not undermined close US ties with Britain.
“The United States is disappointed by the decision to deny Gary McKinnon’s extradition to face long overdue justice in the United States,” Nuland said.
But she added: “We have an incredible alliance and that will obviously continue in all of its forms.”
The Department of Justice also said it was “disappointed,” particularly in light of previous decisions by the British government and courts that McKinnon should face trial in the United States.
“We note that the home secretary has described this case as exceptional and, thus, this decision does not set a precedent for future cases,” department spokeswoman Rebekah Carmichael said.
She added that “our extradition relationship with the United Kingdom remains strong, as is demonstrated by the extradition of five alleged terrorists” from Britain earlier this month.
British Home Secretary (interior minister) Theresa May said her government had decided that to extradite McKinnon, a 46-year-old Asperger’s sufferer, would breach his human rights, as he was at high risk of attempting suicide.
“Mr McKinnon is accused of serious crimes, but there is also no doubt that he is seriously ill,” she told the British parliament.
Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service will now decide whether the hacker should face trial in Britain.
McKinnon was arrested in London in 2002 on allegations that he hacked into dozens of Pentagon and NASA computers, leaving 300 machines at a US naval air station immobilized soon after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
He has never denied hacking, but claims he was looking for classified documents on UFOs rather than seeking to harm US national security.
If he had been extradited to face trial under the relatively harsh US laws on hacking, he would have faced up to 60 years in a US jail for the breaches, which the United States says caused $800,000 (615,000 euros) worth of damage.
McKinnon became a symbol of the campaign to revamp Britain’s extradition deal with the United States, and lost appeals in Britain’s House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights during his decade-long fight.
He was diagnosed with Asperger’s, a form of autism, in 2007.