Should The Government Jail The Hacker That Broke Into The Pentagon? Or Hire him?

British hacker Gary McKinnon has finally lost his latest High Court bid to avoid extradition to the United States to face charges for breaking into US military and Nasa computers in 2001 and 2002. After his arrest, and without a lawyer present, McKinnon admitted to hacking, but denies it was malicious or that he caused damage costing $800,000 (£487,000). The argument of his lawyers was not that he shouldn’t be tried, but that he should be tried in the UK and that his extreme Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, should be taken into account, especially since it could lead to suicide, if he was to be extradited.

He faces up to 70 years in prison if convicted in the U.S. of what prosecutors have called “the biggest military computer hack of all time”. He accessed 97 government computers belonging to organisations including the US Navy and Nasa.

Now, exactly what was this hack? McKinnon has always insisted he was looking for classified documents on UFOs which he believed the US authorities had suppressed. This is not a normal guy here. This is a mega geek who believed in UFOs. We’re not talking terrorist material. He’s been described as a 43-year-old “UFO eccentric”.

In fact McKinnon’s case reminds me very much of the story of John Forbes Nash, Jr., the subject of the 2001 movie A Beautiful Mind. Nash was a mathematical genius who suffered from extreme paranoia – but his work on game theory ended up contributing to U.S. strategy during the Cold War.

Should Gary McKinnon therefore be left to rot in a U.S. jail for the rest of his life? Or should his skills be put to better use?