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Former military advisor urges US to pardon Gary McKinnon - to help recruit more hackers

US authorities have refused to formally drop charges against Asperger’s sufferer

British computer hacker Gary McKinnon should be pardoned by US President Barack Obama in a bid to court others who may want to work for the American government, a former military advisor has said.

Asperger’s sufferer Mr McKinnon, who was accused of the “biggest military computer hack of all time”, fended off attempts to extradite him to America last year. But he is still officially wanted by US authorities, who refused to formally drop charges against him, despite the British Home Secretary’s decision to keep him at home.

John Arquilla, a US Naval Postgraduate School professor and advisor to former American Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, said that the gesture could help in a drive to recruit “master hackers”.

In the journal Foreign Policy, Mr Arquilla wrote: “If the notion of trying to attract master hackers to our cause is ever to take hold, this might be just the right case in which President Obama should consider using his power to pardon.

“One presidential act of mercy, such as in the case of McKinnon, won’t entirely repair relations or build trust between hackers and the government, but it would be a strong signal of officialdom’s growing awareness of the wisdom of embracing and employing the skills of these masters of their virtual domain.”

The US authorities have cracked down on hackers in recent years but plans were announced last week to increase the size of the US Cyber Command to about 5,000 hackers as America attempts to take the online fight to China, which he said is more supportive of its own hacking community.

He wrote: “Hackers may be courted and pampered in China, Russia, and other countries, but in the United States they are often hunted by lawmen. The judicial system is very tough on them, too.” This problem, he argued, could be partially solved by pardoning Mr McKinnon.

Mr McKinnon’s extradition was blocked by Home Secretary Theresa May on humanitarian grounds. His supporters argued that he suffered from depression and could kill himself if put on trial in America, where he faced up to 70 years in jail. Ms May tabled amendments to laws governing extradition, proposing to allow courts to block removals if a judge believed justice could be served by the defendant standing trial in the UK.