U.S. strategist calls for Gary Mckinnon pardon - to help recruit hackers

A senior U.S. military strategist has called for British hacker Gary McKinnon to be pardoned - as part of a drive to recruit hackers to the U.S. military.

A senior U.S. military strategist has called for British hacker Gary McKinnon to be pardoned - as part of a drive to recruit hackers to the U.S. military.

John Arquilla, a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, called for the British hacker to be pardoned by Obama in an essay entitled 'Uncle Spam Needs You' in Foreign Policy magazine.

Britain's Home Secretary ruled against Mckinnon's extradition on humanitarian grounds - but the U.S. charges against him remain in place.

'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,' says Arquilla.

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'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.'

Hackers are frequently employed by security firms after serving sentences - and Arquilla suggests that the U.S. military could do the same.

The Pentagon aims to expand its cyber security personnel from 900 to 4,900 in the next few years.

Arquilla says, 'Today's masters of cyberspace are not unlike the German rocket scientists who, after World War II, were so eagerly sought by both sides in the Cold War to help them build missiles for war and rockets for space exploration.'

' Hackers may be courted and pampered in China, Russia, and other countries, but in the United States they are often hunted by lawmen.'

China is widely thought to employ hackers, after a number of high-profile atacks on U.S. government targets originating from Chinese IP addresses.  

In 2011, U.S. government accounts were penetrated by hackers in China, after their Google Mail accounts were hacked.

The targeting of government officials led many to suspect the Chinese government was involved - and the attacks originated in Jinan, home of the Chinese army’s ‘Technical Reconnaissance Bureaus.’

'Blaming these misdeeds on China is unacceptable,' said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei after the attacks.

Cal Leeming, an ex-hacker who was convicted for a cyber crime, but now works in computer security for Simplicity Media, says that the practice of recruiting hackers is well-known in the private sector.

"One of our clients actually makes a point of tracking down people that abuse our systems, and then employing them rather than reporting them to the police - this has been a huge success and really keeps us ahead of the game," says Leeming.

"On several occasions I have given ex-hackers (or people on the edge), a certain amount of trust with our clients systems, and kept them under a very tight leash.. I make a point of telling them, if they abuse our systems, it's not hacking, it's abuse of trust."

"The military will obviously have to be more careful because some hackers may use the opportunity as a social engineering tool to dig their way into systems, but this is a risk associated with any employee."

"Not all ex-hackers are scary, and they do not pose an more of a risk to a company than any other employee. In fact, it could be argued that ex-hackers are quite possibly more trustworthy,  as they have a lot more to lose if they mess up again."