With absurd ease, Asperger's victim Gary hacked into Pentagon computers in a bid to prove the existence of little green men. So why is the U.S. using all its might to extradite him to face 60 years in jail? And more pertinently, why are our craven politicians doing nothing to help him?
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Pawns in a game
To all who know him, Gary McKinnon is a harmless computer nerd obsessed with proving the existence of 'little green men'.
Yet the U.S. authorities insist the British UFO fanatic is a 'cyber-terrorist' who hacked into top-secret Pentagon and NASA computers.
They say that Gary, who has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism, must be extradited and tried in their courts.
They have vowed to put the vulnerable 43-year-old behind bars for up to 60 years - which means he would almost certainly die in a notorious high-security Supermax jail.
Medical experts say the stress of extradition alone could kill him, or he might well take his own life.
Yet, incredibly, the Government is doing nothing to protect Gary from extradition - despite the fact that he freely admits computer hacking and could easily be punished here for his crimes.
That is why the Daily Mail today launches a campaign asking new Home Secretary Alan Johnson to halt the extradition. Gary could then be properly - but fairly - dealt with in the country in which his crimes were committed, close to his loving and supportive family.
Already there is a groundswell of support, with senior MPs urging Mr Johnson to intervene - on the grounds of Gary's recently-diagnosed mental condition - before it's too late.
His legal appeals are virtually exhausted and he could be on a plane to the U.S. within weeks under the terms of a highly-controversial treaty which allows British citizens to be extradited on little or no evidence.
For American citizens to be sent in the opposite direction, a detailed case must first be presented against them.
Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: 'This is a case which raises some very serious questions. Not just about the U.S.-UK extradition treaty, but also about how we deal with someone who clearly has mental health problems.
'I am far from convinced that extradition is the right way forward and I think this case needs to be reviewed again to see whether he should be tried in this country and not the U.S.'
Liberal Democrat spokesman Chris Huhne said: 'It would be an insult to British justice if Gary McKinnon were sent to America for trial.
'His medical condition should surely justify a more compassionate approach.'
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University, one of the world's leading authorities on autism, said there is a 'high risk of serious deterioration' of Gary's mental health if he is extradited.
He warned: 'If separated from his parents and put into the traumatic environment of prison, there is a risk that he would take his own life.'
More than 100 MPs are supporting Gary, a self-confessed 'bumbling computer nerd'.
His ordeal began in 2002 after he was caught hacking into the U.S. military network and NASA from the bedroom of his North London flat, using a basic borrowed computer. He was looking for evidence of little green men.
But according to the Americans he is the man behind the 'biggest military hack of all time' after breaching the security of almost 100 computers before and after the September 11 attacks.
Gary does not deny being behind the attacks. But he and his supporters say the hacking was naively motivated by his eccentric search for the existence of UFOs because he has Asperger's - a form of autism which leads to obsessive behaviour.
His legal team have protested against repeated failures by the Government to protect Gary or recognise the seriousness of his medical condition.
Ex-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was accused of failing even to request Gary be bailed if he were extradited to the U.S. or to be allowed to serve some of his sentence back home.
Meanwhile, the U.S. authorities stand accused of a 'distasteful' attempt to twist Gary's arm into accepting extradition without a fight by offering a crude plea-bargain.
Officials promised a short sentence if he voluntarily went to the States - while threatening decades behind bars in a tough jail if he contested the case.
But a string of legal appeals based upon these failing and dubious tactics have proved unsuccessful in the British courts, House of Lords and Europe.
Gary's final throw of the dice is a judicial review against Miss Smith's decision to uphold the extradition, in spite of his Asperger's, which took place last month, and a second judicial review - in a fortnight - against the decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions not to try him in the UK. Judgment is expected by the end of July.
Beyond that, Gary and his campaigning mother Janis are in the hands of Mr Johnson.
Gary said: 'What I did was illegal and wrong, but the American reaction is aggressive and totally out of all proportion.'
A Home Office spokesman said: 'This case has been subjected to the closest attention and the greatest possible procedural fairness. The Home Secretary gave very careful consideration before deciding in July 2006 to order extradition.
'It is important to be clear that, under the terms of the Extradition Act 2003, the Home Secretary must order extradition unless certain limited conditions are met.
'The courts have already said that those conditions are not met in Mr McKinnon's case; and his attempts to defeat the U.S. request have since been dismissed by the High Court, the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights.'
What is Asperger's?
Many of those with Asperger's Syndrome are gentle, a little unworldly, but normally with above-average intelligence.
And, as in Gary McKinnon's case, a great many adults have grown up without knowing they have it.
Although identified more than 60 years ago, it became officially classified only in 1992 when recognised by the World Health Organisation.
It is a form of autism, which is a lifelong 'hidden disability' that affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to others.
Those with Asperger's struggle to understand the unwritten social rules which help most of us act and speak appropriately.
Deciphering figures of speech is hard, they are frequently literal in what they say to the point of rudeness and when the world becomes an extremely stressful place, many retreat into their own safe haven of routine, solitude and obsessive special interests. It took an expert in Asperger's, watching Gary during a TV interview, first to alert his family and legal team that here was a classic example of the condition.
And once identified, much of his behaviour as a child and adult was instantly explained. But the diagnosis compounded the fear his family and supporters have for Gary if he is extradited to the U.S.
Because of the syndrome they are terrified of the severe mental distress he could suffer, warning that he would be at risk of psychosis or even suicide if forcibly removed from the UK.
Asperger's Syndrome was first described in the 1940s by Austrian paediatrician Hans Asperger, when he published a paper on four children who had problems communicating and interacting with their parents and peers.
The half million or so people in the UK with Asperger's lie at the milder end of the autistic spectrum. It can run in families and is more common in boys and men.
Silicon Valley in California has one of the highest rates of Asperger's and it has been suggested that Alan Turing, the father of modern computing, probably had the condition.
Computers make a perfect interest for those who do have the syndrome - there are no subtle nuances to miss, so someone with Asperger's understands his computer better than he does the people around him. Hence the desire to spend hour after hour on it.
Among famous sufferers are pop star Gary Numan, Satoshi Tajiri, the creator of Pokemon, Nobel Prize-winning economist Vernon Smith and Peter Howson, one of Britain's most celebrated artists.
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