A Cautionary Tale
UFO Hackers Pay the Price
Were Gary McKinnon and Matthew Bevan just a couple of civilians with an abiding curiosity about UFOs? That’s not how the government sees it. A tale of two hackers.
UFO hacking. The action, although seeming rather self-evident, is the detailed, and sometimes arduous task of hacking into government funded, and/or military-centered computer systems in order to uncover information pertaining to official investigations or monitoring of UFO activity. But how successful have hackers been in obtaining UFO information?
Perhaps the most relevant case involving UFO hacking came in a media frenzy back in 2001/2002 with a Scotsman named Gary McKinnon. His name was soon being whispered on the pages of almost every major newspaper in the United States and abroad.
During this entire affair, talks between President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron had taken place, concerning the legality and punishment that would concern. The United States wanted him extradited, considering his hacking of sensitive material within the confines of over ninety-seven military and NASA-owned computer systems over a thirteen month period. According to one U.S. prosecutor, McKinnon’s actions were being viewed as “the biggest military hack of all time.” And although widely publicized, this wasn’t the first major breach of sensitive material by a civilian. For that, we need to look a little over a decade prior to a hacker who, like McKinnon, suffered the slings and arrows of surveillance, threats, and possible prosecution.
Prelude to a Hack
At a young age, British-born Matthew Bevan was perceived as your typical adolescent. Bullied at times by his peers, he searched to find a community in which to fit within.
And like so many loners, he found the world of computers to be his refuge. He would spend his nights on a Commodore Amiga 12, tapping into different online forums. This was back in the days of dial-up, so naturally, Bevan’s phone bill would have been astronomical. But his first dive into the world of illegal activity came from a friend who offered Bevan a black-market program that would use tonation to fool the phone company into believing that no one was using the line. Surfing the Net for free, he soon tripped upon several bulletin boards dealing with UFOs. As he began making online friends and digging deeper into the topic, he heard rumors of classified UFO files floating around on different systems. Some of them belonging to NASA and the military. Bevan soon went from being an outcast in the real world to being a hacking prodigy in cyberspace.
And So It Begins
Known by his handle, Kuji, Bevan’s first major hack was that of a program called FLEX (Force Level Execution) in 1994. This was at Rome Laboratories, located on Griffiss Air Force Base in Upstate New York. As he chiseled his way deeper into the system, he realized that with just a few more days, he had the potential to single-handedly launch missiles from the base. Wisely, he decided to veer his focus away from warfare and concentrated solely on trying to find any information related to highly advanced aircraft. Searching for space-related activity, he first looked at Goddard Space Center. He began to download and copy dozens of files that he had found about space-related technology. But this didn’t seem to satisfy his appetite, and he then shifted his focus to a base that held a hefty reputation for supposedly storing the wreckage of a downed UFO.
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, located near Dayton, Ohio, contained much lore within the confines of its secretive walls. But this didn’t stop Bevan from finding his way in through the digital back door. After learning that Project Blue Book was created and housed in Wright Patterson, Bevan began searching endless files for anything that may have to do with the famous Roswell incident of 1947. As he began digging, he was surprised to discover that one of the system’s accounts wasn’t even password-protected. Other systems contained emails that different Wright-Patterson employees were sending back and forth about a certain aircraft that they had been developing. Diagrams showed a prototype that seemed to use anti-gravity propulsion, the technology theorized to propel many of the often-silent UFOs throughout witness history. With this information, Bevan hastily found his way out of the files at Wright-Patterson and thought he was in the clear. But what he didn’t know was that his actions were being meticulously monitored. This is when his life took a nasty turn with a little help from both local and governmental authorities.
Hand in the Government Cookie Jar
It was now 1996, and Bevan was comfortably employed at an insurance agency doing computer work in his hometown of Cardiff, Wales. Everything seemed to be going swimmingly for him until the day he was called into the office of one of his superiors. Thinking that he was being requested for a quick evaluation of an office computer system, he was instead visited by a handful of men who later identified themselves as local authorities and members of Scotland Yard. In cinematic fashion, blinds in the room were drawn, making Bevan very uneasy. Clearly, this wasn’t about anything work- related. One of the men offered Bevan a handshake and bluntly explained to him that he was being put under arrest. When Bevan asked what he was being accused of, the man simply told him that he was under arrest for hacking both Wright-Patterson and NASA.
One of You Will Betray Me
To understand the complexity of Bevan’s arrest, one must look back to 1994 when he first began his hacking activity and how he was identified. The D.I.S.A (Defense Information Systems Agency) was the first to discover Bevan’s hacks. Next came the A.F.I.W.C (Air Force Information Warfare Center) The hacks were traced to New York City-based internet provider, Mindvox. When Bevan had infiltrated the systems at Goddard Space Center and Griffiss Air Force Base, the monitoring had begun. It wasn’t until the Wright-Patterson hack that the D.I.S.A and A.F.I.W.C thought that this person could potentially be an informant and/or hired hacker from a rival nation, specifically Russia or Iraq. Bevan, however, remained elusive. Both agencies failed to positively identify him on their own. Instead, they turned to other hackers. The people whom Bevan had learned from had subsequently become his digital Judas, spilling the beans on Bevan’s identity and assuring the A.F.I.W.C that he was their man.
Now detained, Bevan was thrown into a tornado of interrogations. The authorities questioned his past, his methods, and ultimately, his motives. He was bombarded with inquisitions primarily connected to his hacks within Wright-Patterson. The term, Hangar 18 was being tossed around at an alarming rate. Bevan complied with every question, spouting answers about the information he had uncovered about supposed anti-gravity propulsion technology. He was asked if he had any political motivations in which he replied he had none. Clearly, this was boiling down to a case of espionage and possible military implications. Bevan remained truthful, explaining that he was simply searching for information pertaining to UFOs. With this, the authorities began to ease down, their tone becoming a bit more light as they began to peg this hacker as nothing more than “an X-Files idiot”, as one Scotland Yard member had once stated.
Even if Bevan’s motives were far more innocent than the authorities had first inferred, he had still committed illegal activity, and there had to be a decision on how to prosecute him for his crimes. But to do so, they needed specific information from the American’s about what Bevan had discovered. Stubborn to give up any evidence, the U.S. Government gave a cold shoulder to the prosecution, and because of this, the entire case against Bevan was dropped in 1997. After almost two years of monitoring, tracking down sources, and eventually nabbing their man, The U.S. Government hypocritically let him go with nothing more than a stern slap on the wrist. He was, however, told that if he ever stepped foot on American soil, he would be arrested on sight. Clearly, Bevan wasn’t going to be visiting the International UFO Museum or Area 51 anytime soon.
Repeating the Past
With the case against him swept quietly under the rug for decades, Bevan went on with his life, never forgetting about the detailed chain of events that could have landed him in prison perhaps for rest of his life.
But in 2001, his past came back to haunt him in the form of Gary McKinnon. Being charged with startlingly similar hacking activities under the handle, Solo, McKinnon’s fate rested in the hands of the United States. Causing over $700,000 in damages and repairs of the systems he had hacked into, McKinnon was terrified about being extradited to the United States where he could face up to seventy years in prison. Had he learned anything from Bevan, perhaps he wouldn’t have even attempted to play with digital fire. And perhaps the race to uncover UFO information both hackers were ultimately chasing after would have eventually caught up to them.
In 2012, then Homeland Secretary to the UK, Theresa May, made this stunning announcement about the fate of Gary McKinnon:
“Since I came into office, the sole issue on which I have been required to make a decision is whether Mr McKinnon’s extradition to the United States would breach his human rights. Mr McKinnon is accused of serious crimes. But there is also no doubt that he is seriously ill. He has Asperger’s syndrome, and suffers from depressive illness. The legal question before me is now whether the extent of that illness is sufficient to preclude extradition. After careful consideration of all of the relevant material, I have concluded that Mr McKinnon’s extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr McKinnon’s human rights.”
McKinnon was safe, and had finally won his ten-year battle with the court systems and the threat of extradition. He now runs his own company where he helps businesses gain visibility on internet search results. He sometimes speaks about his past UFO-hacking days, but very rarely. He and Bevan both appeared to have moved on with their lives. But with the recent revelations of AATIP, the secret Pentagon UFO program, and now a newly formed UFO Task Force across intelligence agencies and the Office of Naval Intelligence, perhaps a new crop of UFO hackers will inevitably arise.
Ryan Sprague is a lead investigator and co-host of the CW television series, Mysteries Decoded and is also a regular on the Travel Channel series, Mysteries at the Museum. He is the author of Somewhere in the Skies: A Human Approach to the UFO Phenomenon and is also the creator and host of the Somewhere in the Skies podcast.