'UFO Hunter' Hack Looked Like a Terrorist Attack
After the computer network at the Naval Weapons Station Earle in New Jersey was breached and crashed just a few weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, investigators thought it might be part of a larger al-Qaeda plot against the United States.
Investigators worked around the clock to figure out who had been in and out of the system that runs the weapons station for about five months, stealing passwords, installing remote access software, deleting data and ultimately shutting down the network of 300 computers for an entire week. That weeklong shutdown meant that for that period of time -- in the aftermath of attacks on the U.S. -- the station couldn't do its job of replenishing munitions and supplies to the Atlantic fleet.
Was the break-in organized by a nation-state? A terrorist group? After throwing critical resources at the investigation when the government was already investigating not only the 9/11 attacks but the anthrax killings, investigators didn't track the breach to al-Qaeda. They tracked it to an unemployed system administrator in the United Kingdom -- Gary McKinnon, who was subsequently charged with hacking into 92 computer systems at the Pentagon, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Air Force, the Department of Defense and NASA.
It's been seven years since the break-ins and about six since the charges were leveled against McKinnon, 42, of London. Since then, he has been fighting extradition to the U.S., but just last week the highest British court dismissed his latest appeal against the extradition.
McKinnon, who has said he broke into U.S. military computers hoping to uncover evidence of UFOs, plans to appeal the decision to the European Court of Human Rights. According to his attorney, Karen Todner, it's the last appeal he can file.