Asperger Syndrome and Criminal Activity

In 2008, Albert Gonzalez was arrested for stealing more than 130 million payment card numbers. His defense team put forth that Gonzalez “might” suffer from Asperger Syndrome. The defence psychiatrist claimed that his behaviour was consistent with Asperger Syndrome.  He wasn’t diagnosed as having Asperger Syndrome but Asperger Syndrome was put forth as an excuse for his criminal activities.

In 2008, Lisa Brown beat and killed her mother after an argument over the care of a child. Her sentencing was postponed after being found guilty once doctors diagnosed her as having Asperger Syndrome. Asperger Syndrome was put forth to lessen the severity of the sentencing Brown might otherwise receive.  Asperger Syndrome was put forth as an excuse for criminal activities.

In New Zealand in 2006 and 2007, Owen Thor Walker leased server space or accessed servers illegally to spread 1.3 million illegal installations of adware on computers around the world.  While Walker admitted at trial that he knew what he was doing was illegal, Asperger Syndrome was used as an excuse for criminal activities.

In 2006, Hans Reiser killed his wife, Nina Reiser. At his trial, a defense witness “testified that those who use a computer regularly “possibly” might have Asperger’s syndrome.” He wasn’t diagnosed as having Asperger Syndrome but Asperger Syndrome was put forth as an excuse for criminal activities.

In 2006, former NASA astronaut Lisa M. Nowak was charged with assault and attempted kidnapping. Her attorneys put forth a temporary insanity defense based on their claim that Nowak had Asperger Syndrome. She wasn’t diagnosed as having Asperger Syndrome but Asperger Syndrome was put forth as an excuse for criminal activities.

In 2001, Billionaire Robert Durst killed Morris Black with a gun. At the trial, a psychiatrist who had met with Durst on a weekly basis, claimed Durst had Asperger Syndrome. Asperger Syndrome was put forth as an excuse for criminal activities.

HOWEVER, criminal activity is NOT a symptom of Asperger Syndrome.

Adrian Lamo was wanted by the FBI a decade ago for a string of brazen but mostly harmless hacks against corporations such as WorldCom and Microsoft.  He would hack into the corporation’s system and alert the media to his success.  Oftentimes, the hacked corporation would work with Lamo to lock down the security gaps through which he had gained access to their systems.

It ended in 2002 when he was charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.  He pleaded guilty in 2004 where he was sentenced to 6 months house arrest in his parents’ home followed by two years probation.

In 2010, Adrian Lamo was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome so one might think that he would try to use the diagnosis to excuse his criminal activities from the past.   That fact of the matter is that while Adrian Lamo believes the diagnosis explains his success as a hacker years ago, his willingness to break the law repeatedly was something well beyond the Asperger Syndrome diagnosis. 

If, in fact, the diagnosis is accurate, it had zip to do with my actions at that time,”  he says.  In other words, as an individual diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, he states that the diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome does not mitigate the consequences of illegal behavior.

In 2006, findings from a study conducted by a team led by clinical psychologist, Professor David Allen, of Bridgend-based Bro Morgannwg NHS Trust, studied a population area of over a million people across south Wales, were released.  The study sought to identify if those involved in criminal behaviour actually showed characteristics of Asperger Syndrome.  According to the findings, there was very little data to support an association between Asperger Syndrome and criminal behaviour. 

Foremost authority on Asperger Syndrome, clinical psychologist Dr. Tony Attwood stated that it was important to inform the public of findings of this study.

In 2001 and 2002, Gary McKinnon hacked into nearly 100 NASA and government computers — a crime to which he has admitted on several occasions. He claims that he was arrested after another night of smoking dope — also an illegal activity — and computer gaming.

Seven years after McKinnon was charged — and after countless appeals by McKinnon’s legal team — he was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and this has become the central point of McKinnon‘s argument against being extradited to the U.S. for trial on the charges against him.  Asperger Syndrome was put forth as an excuse for criminal activities.

So why is it that the Free Gary movement headed by Kevin Healey and McKinnon’s mother, Janis Sharp insist that Asperger Syndrome should be an excuse for McKinnon’s criminal activities? 

For those who are unfamiliar with Gary McKinnon, here are 10 important points on the subject.

1. Gary McKinnon was in his mid-30s when he hacked the NASA and US government computers.

2. Gary McKinnon was a gainfully employed Systems Administrator at the time he committed the offences with which he is charged. 

3.  Gary McKinnon spoke on a panel at Infosec Europe 2006 and stated that he was caught hacking because he made a critical miscalculation when poking around one of his targets and that the one critical miscalculation he made started an international investigation that led directly back to him.  The critical miscalculation he claims to have made was using a graphical remote control tool while forgetting what time zone he was in.

4. Gary McKinnon gave several interviews to reputable mainstream media in 2008 admitting that he wrote scripts to harvest passwords and that he used password crackers to get into protected systems.  Contrary to what Janis Sharp and Kevin Healey and his followers claim, the computers were not without passwords. 

5.  It’s been a decade since Gary McKinnon committed the offences with which he is charged.  This is due to people like Janis Sharp and Kevin Healey and his followers who, since August of 2008, have fought McKinnon’s extradition by misusing Asperger Syndrome as the excuse for fighting extradition.  Prior to using Asperger Syndrome as an excuse for fighting extradition, in an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, he claimed he would face “inhumane prison conditions” if extradited to the U.S.

6.  Gary McKinnon was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in August of 2008, 7 years AFTER he committed the offences with which he is charged.

7.  Many of Gary McKinnon’s hard core supporters support the misperception much of the general public has that Gary McKinnon was a teenager at the time of the offences.  This misperception has been perpetrated because in interviews, Gary McKinnon stated that he became a hacker after watching the film War Games, in a which a teenager almost starts a war by accessing Pentagon secrets.  The fact of the matter is, he watched the movie in 1983 when he was a 17-year-old teen and he hacked the U.S. government computers when he was in his mid-30s, nearly 20 years AFTER watching the movie he claims was his inspiration to become a hacker.

8.  Janis Sharp and Kevin Healey along with their followers claim to the general public that there were no passwords on any of the computers Gary McKinnon accessed, which is contrary to the admissions by Gary McKinnon himself in mainstream media in 2008.

9.  Gary McKinnon was offered a deal in 2003 wherein he would serve 6 months to a year in a minimum security jail in the US for his crimes, after which time, he would be returned to the UK and placed on probation.   The deal was structured similarly to the deal made with Adrian Lamo.  Gary McKinnon TURNED DOWN that offer.

10.  Gary McKinnon, Janis Sharp, Kevin Healey and Healey’s followers believe that the diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome McKinnon received in 2008 should excuse Gary McKinnon’s criminal behaviour.

When an individual or a group of individuals misuse the diagnosis — or potential diagnosis — of Asperger Syndrome in order to advance their agenda, that individual or group of individuals are doing harm to those with Asperger Syndrome who are law-abiding citizens … which is the majority of individuals with Asperger Syndrome.

What happens, however, is that the general public is misled to believe that those with Asperger Syndrome are not only LIKELY to commit a crime, but are MORE LIKELY to not understand they committed a crime … which means individuals with Asperger Syndrome are perceived as potentially DANGEROUS to the general public.

This is contrary to what scientific studies have proven.

Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg recently announced that the decision regarding Gary McKinnon is the responsibility of the Home Secretary, Theresa May, after a recent High Court decision to grant a judicial review into the decision to allow the extradition of Gary McKinnon to the US.

This is in keeping with The Ministerial Code that states that “Ministers are expected to behave in a way that upholds the highest standards of propriety.”  

It also states that “Ministers are personally responsible for deciding how to act and conduct themselves in the light of the Code and for justifying their actions and conduct to Parliament and the public.” 

In other words, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has acted appropriately in refusing to compromise his judgment by involving himself in the matter of Gary McKinnon’s extradition to the U.S.  What’s more, it would be absolutely inappropriate for him to meet with Gary McKinnon’s mother, Janis Sharp at this time for the exact same reasons.

Unfortunately, the Free Gary followers appear to believe that compromising or appearing to compromise one’s judgment is appropriate provided they get what they want for Gary McKinnon.   Criminal behaviour doesn’t just happen out of the blue, it starts small and grows from that point onwards.

Asperger Syndrome isn’t the cause of criminal activity.  Autism Advocates need to stop trying to use Asperger Syndrome as  a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card for adults charged with criminal acts.  They need to start focusing on creating positive change in the world starting with some of the world’s most vulnerable citizens — children living with disabilities.

UPDATE (7 March 2011):  As of today’s date, many of Gary McKinnon’s supporters and followers have been posting comments on various social media networks similar in tone to the tweet reproduced here.

Elyse Bruce
Founder and Creator

8 Responses to “Asperger Syndrome and Criminal Activity”

  1. William Says:

    This is just part of the continuing trend of finding all manner of excuses for any kind of bad behavior. Poverty, poor education, not hugged enough as a child, have all been used as excuses.

    Mental disorders have also been used as excuses. The original “mental defect” case was actually a very minor one. A mentally retarded man kept pulling down his neighbor’s laundry from the line and throwing it in the mud. He enjoyed doing this and apparently didn’t understand whythis made the laundry’s owners upset. His condition kept him from getting a serious penalty.

    Since that case, all manner of disorders have been trotted out attempting to use the “mental disease or defect” defense. Everything from low IQ to PMS and other things have been blamed for behavior from theft to assault. Fortunately the defense rarely works.

    On the other hand, the psychiatrists keep expanding the number of “mental disorders” to include things that are simply character flaws. I’ve read there are now named disorders for regularly showing up late for work, being rude, being nosy, even a new one “sidewalk rage” which is simply when a jerk bulls their way past people who are walking too slowly, sometimes even knocking them to the ground. Never mind about just plain evil behavior like serial killers, drug dealers and investment bankers.

    Anyway, might point is that AS is now being added to the pile and it will harm us by this association. I remember before I was diagnosed that the media was hyping a few cases of Autistic children or adults attacking people. I remember how people were talking about that and how they looked and people not “acting right.” This is why so few people know I’m AS.

    • Jonathon Says:

      William, it’s a shame that people trying to defend criminals with AS are having the effect you describe. The DSM V may eliminate AS as a diagnosis, and so there is a possibility that the law in countries where the DSM is recognized may no longer accept AS as a diagnosis. If the ICD 10 in Europe follows suit, perhaps we can be rid of the “Asperger’s made me do it” defense once and for all.

    • midnightinchicago Says:

      MIDNIGHT IN CHICAGO is aware that as of today’s date, Gary McKinnon’s supporters and followers are posting on social media networks that Gary McKinnon is a political hostage (see update in blog article above).

      MIDNIGHT IN CHICAGO does not know if this is solely because Gary McKinnon’s supporters and followers are displeased with David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Theresa May and other politicians following the Ministerial Code by which they are bound.

      • ZoomRocket Says:

        If he’s a political hostage, perhaps the US can negotiate for his release. If only those holding him “hostage” would do what’s right and let him go.


  2. Update on Organizations Supporting Gary McKinnon « Midnight In Chicago Weblog Says:

    […] Syndrome 4)  Organizations Supporting Gary McKinnon 5)  Are Autism Advocates Adversarial 6)  Asperger Syndrome and Criminal Activity 7)  Deliberate Deception? What Autism Advocates Aren’t Telling […]

  3. Justice is Being Served « Midnight In Chicago Weblog Says:

    […] I am not going to rehash everything we know about McKinnon’s admitted hacking. Readers interested in getting the details and look at past Midnight In Chicago articles. Here are some useful links:   Deliberate Deception? What Advocates Aren’t Telling You   Deliberate Deception? What Advocates Aren’t Telling You (Part II)   Asperger Syndrome and Criminal Activity […]

  4. A Decade Later « Midnight In Chicago Weblog Says:

    […] making the rounds … again.  For those who may not be aware of the story, Gary McKinnon is a middle-aged man who was charged 10 years ago with hacking into nearly 100 U.S. government and NASA computers.  […]

  5. Mental Health v The Law | Midnight In Chicago Weblog Says:

    […] more and more often over the years, defense lawyers have used the Asperger Syndrome defense to excuse criminal activity.  In 2006, it was former NASA astronaut Lisa M. Nowak as well as […]

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