Meet Gary McKinnon, a red-haired, 52-year-old man from northern London who managed to really piss off the US government. He has been said to have committed “the biggest military computer hack of all time,” and has himself been called “the most profligate military hacker of all time.”
As for himself, he seems to consider these ridiculous notions. He was only after the truth. He just wanted to know the government’s secrets regarding UFOs.
His interest in both computers and UFOs went way back, though it was some time before he used one as a tool to explore the other. Though he was bad in school, he found that he was rather adept when it came to computers and eventually taught himself how to program. Then, when he was about 11 or 12, he witnessed a UFO from his second-story window. He described it as a red light that zoomed in an massive arc across the sky, moving in erratic wiggles as it made its way. This, along with his stepfather, who was interested in UFOs, is what initially inspired his interest in the subject. Since he couldn’t afford books on the subject, he joined the British UFO Research Association (BUFORA), where at least he could be supplied with up-to-date material on the phenomenon.
After school, he initially took odd jobs. He was amazed when he discovered internet and got it at his home in 1995. Eventually he got a job at a company where he worked on computer security.
The spark of inspiration for his two-year hacking spree came in the Spring of 2001. This was when he learned of Stephen Greer’s Disclosure Project, a congregation of hundreds of individuals employed or previously employed by various branches of the US Government. All claim to have seen evidence of a cover-up regarding the subject of UFOs. Some claim the government has successfully reverse-engineered alien technology and even gained access to free energy, which they conceal from the public. They would be holding a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC that May. McKinnon got the associated book and took notes on areas of key interest that he could use to search for on the internet.
That’s when he began going home at night and engaging in hacking. With his personal computer, through his 56K dial-up modem, he hacked into the computer networks of the US Army, Navy, Air Force, Department of Defense, as well as the Pentagon, NASA and the Johnson Space Center. This happened between February 2001 and March 2002. He claims he’s no genius; after all, he was unable to comprehend the higher-level mathematics that would have allowed him to finish his Higher National Diploma in computer programming. He only had curiosity, creativity, that oh-so-necessary patience — and, of course, his own trusty copy of The Hacker’s Handbook.
And, he adds, what he accomplished would have never been possible if not for our government’s lax computer ”security.”
He wrote a program that tied together pre-existent programs that search for computers with their passwords set to default. Typically, he found that about fifty administrator accounts on a given ”top security” US network were set to such passwords. Easy access. Once he gained access to these administrator accounts, which were used to maintain such systems, he would have the widest access. He could scan almost any file in a given network. He then installed software that allowed him to remote control another computer. All he had to do was be cautious about hours specific to time zones and only hack in during the middle of the night.
And under the hacker-name Solo he did just that, time and time again, eight hours a day, every day for a year. He became rather obsessed, often neglecting to shower or change cloths. He ran up $2,500 in dial-up charges. And he went unnoticed. Just once was he caught by a network engineer, and after talking to the guy online, he said, he managed to convince him that he was with Military Computer Security.
So it wasn’t all that difficult, he tells us. This seems supported by his claim that in the midst of his hacking he found he wasn’t exactly ”solo”. He was in company. Running a command called NetStat (Network Status) that reveals all the connections to the computer he was hacking, he found IP addresses from all over the world. And they weren’t from other military bases, either.
Though he found nothing of significance for months, he said, he eventually came across two things of interest.
On a Navy network, he found a document entitled “non-terrestrial officers” that listed officer names and ranks. Included were 8 to 10 ship names, none of which he remembered in interviews, blaming it on his increased pot-smoking at the time. He was certain they were designated USS, though, and later searched the ship names but found no public mention of them. He also found reference to ship-to-ship or fleet-to-fleet material transfers.
The second item of interest he came across was found due to the testimony of Donna Hare, member of the Disclosure Project. Between 1967 and 1981 she worked for Philco Ford Aerospace, a contractor for NASA, as a design illustrator draftsman. She had a secret clearance and in the early 70s worked on site at Building 8 at the Johnson Space Center. One day, she walked into the restricted NASA photo lab across the hallway, where, she said, high-resolution images were regularly taken to be assembled into a mosaic. She was talking to one of the techs she knew, who showed her a aerial photograph mosaic, presumably of earth, and drew her attention to a round white spot on one panel of the photograph. When she asked if it was a dot on the emulsion, he smiled, his arms crossed, and stated that if it was, it wouldn’t be leaving a shadow on the ground. She also saw the shadow, which was cast at the same angle of nearby pine trees. When she asked if it was a UFO, he said he couldn’t tell her. When she asked him what he planned on doing with this information, he only told her that it was their duty to airbrush them out prior to their release to the public.
That was enough for McKinnon to work with.
Armed now with an exact location, McKinnon searched for Building 8, accessed it and began to search for relevant files. He eventually found two folders that were marked either “processed” and “unprocessed” or “raw” and “filtered”. In any case, in them he found a long list of photo files and he clicked on one of the raw or unprocessed ones. Due to his snail-speed internet connection, however, the image loaded only one line at a time. What he eventually saw astounded him.
“It was a culmination of all my efforts,” he described in an interview with Spencer Kelly. “It was a picture of something that definitely wasn’t man-made. It was above the Earth’s hemisphere. It kind of looked like a satellite. It was cigar-shaped and had geodesic domes above, below, to the left, the right and both ends of it, and although it was a low-resolution picture it was very close up. This thing was hanging in space, the earth’s hemisphere visible below it, and no rivets, no seams, none of the stuff associated with normal man-made manufacturing.”
Elsewhere, he added that there was also no insignia on the craft and that the domes flowed into the craft in a smooth manner.
Since it was a Java application, he told interviewers, he wouldn’t have been able to save but a frame of it. And he tried. Just as he had downloaded about two-thirds of the image, however, he saw the cursor move, and not by his own hand. Unbeknownst to him, he had miscalculated the time difference and had accessed the computer during the hours when it was still in use. Someone was physically at the computer terminal he was remotely operating and could see what he was doing. The cursor moved to cut the connection.
Amazingly, this didn’t stop him from continuing on with his hacking.
Issues with his girlfriend and the fact that he was smoking copious amounts of marijuana probably didn’t help matters, he has confessed. He even tried to get back to that same Building 8 file later on, but security had been tightened and he couldn’t gain access. He began getting cocky, too.
“It got a bit silly,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald. “I ended up talking to people I hacked into … I’d instant-message them, using WordPad, with a bit of a political diatribe. You know, I’d leave a message on their desktop that read, ‘Secret government is blah blah blah.'”
So when the British National Hi-Tech Crime Unit arrested him in March of 2002, he really wasn’t at all that surprised.
His personal computer was seized and the hard drive was ultimately sent to the US. He was held in custody for perhaps seven hours and confessed. Originally they told him he would probably just get a sentence for six months of community service. No big deal.
Ultimately the British Crown Prosecution Service dropped charges against him, as his crimes did not involve their own computers.
Unfortunately, the US Military was pretty pissed off.
In November of 2002, the US Department of Defense began their efforts to extradite him to the US to stand trial, where he could face a 70-year sentence and fines up to $1.75 million. There had previously been a law in the UK that required the US to produce evidence before they could extradite someone. Then a new treaty was signed. For extradition, the US now needed only “reasonable suspicion” and was not required to provide evidence. The UK, however, was still required to have probable cause. A little unbalanced, methinks.
“I was charged seven times,” he told The Observer, “with 10 years’ imprisonment on each. The most serious accusation was ‘bringing down the entire military network of Washington’.”
Their claim was that he caused some $700,000 in damages to 97 military and government systems that took over a month for them to repair. He claims, however, that he wasn’t attempting to damage anything, he was merely looking for something. He didn’t call this hacking. He called it research.
“I think it’s the biggest kept secret in the world because of its comic value, but it’s a very important thing,” he said to Spencer Kelly in an interview. “Old-age pensioners can’t pay their fuel bills, countries are invaded to award oil contracts to the West, and meanwhile secretive parts of the secret government are sitting on suppressed technology for free energy.”
McKinnon feared the prospect of facing US prison time, or even, he speculated, Gontomino Bay. Over a decade of legal battles ensued as he waited with this storm cloud looming over his head, and in the interim he was diagnosed with Aspergers and depression. This ultimately influenced the 2012 decision by UK Home Secretary Theresa May that sending him to the US would be in violation of his human rights. His extradition was denied.
McKinnon has been accused of making up the notion that UFO interests drove his hacking as a smokescreen for his malicious intent. He dismisses this as ridiculous, insisting that he wouldn’t have used UFOs as a cover if he had such intent, as it would only open him up to ridicule. I, for one, believe him to be sincere with respect to his motives and honest with respect to what he has seen — though his interpretations of the information he stumbled across is certainly open to interpretation.
McKinnon was impressed with Greer and got caught up in the free energy idea, for instance, and I am very suspicious of both. I am, for that matter, suspicious of allegations that the military has successfully reverse-engineered and replicated alien technology, though I don’t doubt that they have such alien technology in their possession. And I don’t think we have a secret space program, either, at least not to the degree suggested by the common interpretation of “non-terrestrial officers.” I will say that Greer amassed a collection of high-ranking military officials with interesting stories to tell, however, many of which I find entirely believable.
In addition, as described by Donna Hare and apparently verified by what McKinnon found while hacking Building 8, there are indeed NASA photos to be found that suggest apparent airbrushing, blurring, smudging, blatant deleting or similar techniques. If you are in doubt, take a moment and Google it. While some of these are no doubt due to photographic errors, many of them seem to be too localized and deliberate to dismiss on that basis.
As I’m not holding my breath with respect to government disclosure, I believe those like McKinnon are as close as we’re going to get. Though the US government didn’t make the example out of him in the manner they seemed to be aiming for, they did make his life a living hell for well over a decade, and that nightmare alone may be enough to ward off many future, would-be UFO Hacktavists. Our hopes for future public acceptance of the truth regarding what aspects of the US government knows are therefore likely only in the hands of a talented and courageous few.
I can’t condone it, and I’m certainly not one of them, but I can’t help but say it: I really hope they exist.
The Nerd Who Saw Too Much (The Sydney Morning Herald, 7/13/05).
Terrorist or UFO Truth Seeker? (Reuters, 4/28/06)
Gary McKinnon interview by Stephen Emms (The Observer, 4/22/07)
Hacker fears ‘UFO cover-up’ (BBC News, 5/5/06)
Breaking into the US citadel was easier than child’s play, by Maija Palmer, IT Correspondent (Financial Times, 4/22/06)
Mystery Space Machines Above (Rense.com, 12/1207)
Rampant insomnia-fueled Googling I could never hope to sufficiently detail.