Love 'exaggerating mental illness to avoid extradition', court hears

Lauri Love is hiding behind his mental illness to avoid being sent to the US for trial, according to arguments heard in his extradition hearing yesterday. Tom Reeve reports from Westminster Magistrates' court.

Lauri Love outside Westminster Magistrates' Court yesterday. Photo SC Magazine UK
Lauri Love outside Westminster Magistrates' Court yesterday. Photo SC Magazine UK

Lauri Love is exaggerating his mental illness – namely Asperger's syndrome and depression – to avoid extradition to the US.

That was the argument put forth by counsel for the US government yesterday at Westminster Magistrates' Court in the ongoing application to extradite Love to the US to face charges in three separate cases.

The previous day, the court had heard from experts who said Love was a significant suicide risk if extradited. 

Lauri Love faces extradition requests from three courts in the United States – the District of New Jersey, the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of Virginia – for alleged offences related to the hacking of US government computer systems. 

The alleged hacking cases relate to an online protest dubbed #OpLastResort. The protest was launched in response to the suicide of internet activist Aaron Swartz who had been indicted by US federal authorities for downloading academic articles from JSTOR via the MIT university network. It is alleged that Love hacked into the FBI, the Missile Defence Agency and NASA and downloaded data.

Love testified that he was deeply upset by Swartz's death and he blamed aggressive prosecutors in the US for putting Swartz in an impossible position.

Studied response?

Peter Caldwell, counsel for the US government, in questioning Love, asked him if he had studied the symptoms of Asperger's syndrome prior to seeing specialist doctors who subsequently diagnosed him with the disorder.

Love replied that he had studied the condition as he had a close friend with Asperger's.

The experts – Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, and Prof Michael Kopelman, emeritus professor of Neuropsychiatry at King's College London – had testified the previous day that Love suffered from a previously undiagnosed case of Asperger's syndrome. They said that this contributed to Love's failure to complete a university degree and dropping out of Finland's military national service, a requirement to become a Finnish citizen.

Caldwell also pointed to the campaign to free Lauri Love and the frequent media appearances of Love, his family and his supporters.

Lauri Love outside Westminster Magistrates' CourtCaldwell asked Love whether he was, with the assistance of his friends in the support campaign, trying to “put yourself in the imprint of Gary McKinnon”.

McKinnon was accused of hacking into US government computers in 2002. The US government requested his extradition but it was eventually denied by home secretary Theresa May because of concerns over his mental health and fears he might kill himself in custody.

“Are you asking me if I am dissembling? I am trying to be as transparent as I can,” said Love, adding that he wished he had been able to build his case on legal principles rather than being predicated on his mental health.

Caldwell suggested that Love had only gone to see the experts at the advice of his lawyers rather than anything that his GP had recommended. Furthermore, he said that Love had made prominent use of these aspects of his condition that suited his case.

Love replied that he would rely on the testimony of the medical experts.

Caldwell pressed Love on the issue, asking why Love had not taken steps following the diagnoses over six months ago to seek out treatment for his previously unrecognised condition.

Love rejected the premise of the question, saying that he had modified his behaviour. In addition, with the knowledge of how Asperger's had affected his performance as a student, he was applying retrospectively for his tuition fees to be paid under the previous student finance regime.

Shield

He also rejected the suggestion that he should be on anti-depressants saying that they were not indicated for Asperger's syndrome and he had reservations about taking this type of medication because of the experiences of people close to him who had taken them.

Caldwell then put it bluntly: “Is your answer close to this? You are a vulnerable person with Asperger's syndrome but they are manageable disadvantages which you would like to use as a shield rather than deal with them.”

In his rebuttal, Love's counsel, Ben Cooper, asked Love if he had provided all of his medical records to the medical experts, to provide a history of his physical and mental condition since early childhood. Love replied that he had.

Cooper then questioned several witnesses as to the conditions in the US prison system, the length of sentence Love would be likely to receive and the chances that if convicted he would be allowed to return to the UK to serve out his sentence in a timely manner.

Sylvia Royce, former chief of international prisoner transfer at the US Department of Justice, testified by video link that there was no guarantee that Love would be allowed to serve out any sentence in the UK. It was more likely to occur, she said, if he were to agree to a plea bargain but in any case the wheels of bureaucracy would inevitably turn slowly.

Joshua Dratel, an expert witness on the US legal system, testified that Love would almost certainly be denied bail on his arrival in the US because he is not a citizen, has no ties to the country, would be coming under duress and has no significant assets to post as a guarantee.

He also said it would be difficult for Love to get certain medications and treatments that he requires for his severe eczema, a condition which is exacerbated by stress. He said that any guarantees given by the US government prior to extradition regarding conditions or maximum terms of imprisonment are “worthless” because judges defer to prosecution lawyers.

He said it was impossible to speculate on a best case scenario for sentencing because the judgement in a hacking case like this would likely be based on deterrence – so a 60-year sentence could be imposed as a warning to others.

The final witness was Tor Ekeland, Love's US attorney. He told the court that there would be significant arguments in any case over the cost of the alleged breaches to the US government. According to one witness statement, those are estimated at US$ 13 million (£9.5 million). The amount of losses is significant because it changes the sentencing guidelines and the maximum prison terms that can be imposed for each charge. In New Jersey, for instance, it would raise the guideline sentence to between 151 and 180 months (12.5 to 15 years).

The case was adjourned pending final oral arguments at a date to be determined.

Meanwhile, Love will be back in court in July in a case seeking the return of property seized from him by police in a raid on his parents' home in October 2013.