Mayor of London Boris Johnson has called for newly appointed US President Barack Obama to drop an extradition effort against British hacker Gary McKinnon.

McKinnon broke into US military computers, including those belonging to NASA, in 2001 in a bid to prove the US government has knowledge of UFOs. The US government alleges that McKinnon stole 950 passwords and deleted files at a naval base in New Jersey, responsible for replenishing munitions and supplies for the Atlantic fleet.

They also estimate the damage caused by McKinnon's activities totals $700,000 (£470,000). He currently faces extradition to the US to stand trial, and if convicted faces a sentence of 60 years or more in the US.

In a column in The Telegraph, Johnson called US efforts to prosecute self-acknowledged hacker McKinnon a "legal nightmare".

"To listen to the ravings of the US military, you would think that Mr McKinnon is a threat to national security on a par with Osama bin Laden," Johnson said.

"According to the Americans, this mild-mannered computer programmer has done more damage to their war-fighting capabilities than all the orange-pyjama-clad suspects of Guantanamo combined."

Johnson then said it would be "brutal, mad and wrong" to send McKinnon to the US for prosecution and asked Obama to call the US Department of Justice off the case.

McKinnon, who was an unemployed system administrator at the time of the 2001 hack, has been using a series of legal maneuvres and appeals over the past seven years to fight extradition to the United States. McKinnon, now 43, has admitted to hacking the computers and described how he did it in detail at computer security conferences in London.

Johnson contends in his column that McKinnon meant no harm to the US and was only looking through government and military files for evidence of UFOs.

"It is a comment on American bullying and British spinelessness that this farce is continuing, because Gary McKinnon is not and never has been any kind of threat to American security," he said.

"It is time for Barack Obama to show the new leadership the world has been crying out for. It is time for the Commander-in-Chief to tell the US military to stop being so utterly wet, dry their eyes, and invest in some passwords that are slightly more difficult to crack."

Investigators and prosecutors in the US didn't take the hack as lightly, though. According to Scott Christie, who at the time was an assistant US attorney in New Jersey and was the first prosecutor brought into the case, because of the seriousness of the attack and the possibility that it could have been linked to a terrorist organisation, the government was forced threw a lot of resources at the problem - resources that could have been used in the 9/11 investigation.

Computerworld (US)

See also: NASA hacker could be tried in UK