The Asperger suf­ferer who is fight­ing ex­tra­di­tion

Cara McGoogan talks to an Asperger suf­ferer who faces ex­tra­di­tion to the US on hack­ing charges

The Daily Telegraph - - Living & Features -

‘He has an amaz­ing mind, but he doesn’t see the con­se­quences of things’

Lauri Love had just got home from work in Oc­to­ber 2013, when his mother called him down­stairs: there was a UPS de­liv­ery for him at the door of the fam­ily house in Stradishall, Suf­folk.

“How was she to know that it wasn’t a pack­age, that it was a trick?” says Love, smil­ing wryly today.

When he got to the door, two men in UPS de­liv­ery uni­forms grabbed him and said, “We’re from the Na­tional Crime Agency.” They were swiftly joined by a dozen po­lice of­fi­cers, who “started ran­sack­ing the place,” says Love.

“My fa­ther, who has chronic heart disease, broke down in tears and started hav­ing crush­ing chest pain. They wouldn’t let him leave the house or make phone calls.”

Love’s ter­ri­fied par­ents – his fa­ther, Alexan­der is a lo­cal prison chap­lain and was still wear­ing his dog col­lar – had no idea what he was sup­posed to have done. Af­ter a five­hour search, dur­ing which a to­tal of 29 iPads, lap­tops and hard drives were seized, he was taken to the lo­cal po­lice sta­tion and told he was be­ing in­ves­ti­gated under the Com­puter Mis­use Act.

Now 31, Love is ac­cused of hack­ing into dozens of US gov­ern­ment web­sites, in­clud­ing the Fed­eral Re­serve, Nasa and the US Army, steal­ing the per­sonal de­tails of hun­dreds of thou­sands of em­ploy­ees and de­fac­ing nu­mer­ous web­sites. Today, a hear­ing will open at West­min­ster Mag­is­trates Court to de­cide if he should be ex­tra­dited to the States, where he could face up to 99 years in prison and up to $9 mil­lion (£6.8 mil­lion) in fines.

The case has par­al­lels with that of Gary McKinnon, whose decade-long bat­tle against ex­tra­di­tion to the US over hack­ing al­le­ga­tions ended in 2012, when Home Sec­re­tary Theresa May in­ter­vened due to his sui­cide risk. He is still wanted by the US.

Like McKinnon, Love has Asperger syn­drome and a his­tory of men­tal health prob­lems. “If there’s an ocean be­tween us and him he will die, of that I have no doubt,” says Alexan­der. But May is pow­er­less to block this case, as all ex­tra­di­tion pow­ers were handed to judges in 2013.

“My prospects of do­ing well in prison in the US are not good,” says Love, who also suf­fers from eczema.

It took un­til July 2015 for the NCA to charge Love on be­half of the US gov­ern­ment, which al­leges that dur­ing 2012 – when he was re­cov­er­ing from se­vere de­pres­sion – he plot­ted dozens of at­tacks on its servers.

He is ac­cused of be­ing one of four or­ches­tra­tors of hacker col­lec­tive Anony­mous’ <Oper­a­tion Last Re­sort>, protest­ing at the treat­ment of Aaron Swartz, an Amer­i­can pro­gram­mer and ac­tivist who com­mit­ted sui­cide while fac­ing up to 35 years in prison for charges under the no­to­ri­ous US Com­puter Fraud and Abuse Act.

Love equates Swartz to a Princess Diana fig­ure among hack­ers: “Be­cause of what she rep­re­sented through her work, her death felt very per­sonal for a lot of peo­ple,” he says. “I was … dis­traught af­ter Aaron died.”

The Anony­mous cam­paign led to the records of hun­dreds of thou­sands of US gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees be­ing stolen. Af­ter ac­cess­ing the de­tails of Depart­ment of En­ergy em­ploy­ees, Love al­legedly wrote to other hack­ers, “YASSSS, I AM IN­VIN­CI­BLE!!!”

The al­le­ga­tions aren’t as se­ri­ous as they sound, main­tains Tor Eke­land, Love’s Amer­i­can lawyer. “The in­for­ma­tion he al­legedly copied was never dis­trib­uted any­where, it was more a youth­ful prank.”

Love de­nies claims he is a cy­bert­er­ror­ist “or some threat to the se­cu­rity of West­ern civ­i­liza­tion. I’ve held some rad­i­cal po­lit­i­cal po­si­tions, but not bring­ing down the US gov­ern­ment.”

Love’s bat­tle with de­pres­sion and Asperger syn­drome – not di­ag­nosed un­til he was 29 – twice saw him drop out of a de­gree in physics with com­puter sci­ence at Glas­gow Uni­ver­sity. On the sec­ond oc­ca­sion, in 2011, he was home­less be­fore his par­ents took him back to Suf­folk.

“We look af­ter him now be­cause it’s the only way he can func­tion,” says Alexan­der. “He has an ex­tra­or­di­nary mind, but he doesn’t see the con­se­quences of things.”

As this is an ex­tra­di­tion hear­ing, Love has not re­sponded to the al­le­ga­tions against him. For now, he is try­ing to be pos­i­tive. He has started a new de­gree in elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing at Uni­ver­sity Cam­pus Suf­folk and is work­ing in cy­ber­crime preven­tion.

But he’s fright­ened. “In the wee hours of the night, I do lie there wor­ry­ing about my fu­ture.”

Lauri Love at home in Stradishall, which was raided by the Na­tional Crime Agency

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