The Asperger sufferer who is fighting extradition
Cara McGoogan talks to an Asperger sufferer who faces extradition to the US on hacking charges
‘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