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[infowar.de] NYT 24.04.03: Canadian Programmer Says U.S. Cut Funding After Comments
New York Times
April 24, 2003
Canadian Programmer Says U.S. Cut Funding After Comments
By Jennifer Lee
WASHINGTON, April 23 A respected Canadian computer programmer says the
United States government severed research financing for a computer security
project he was working on after he made remarks in the Canadian press
critical of the American military.
The programmer, Theo de Raadt, the 35-year-old founder of an international
collaborative software project known as OpenBSD, had been receiving support
from the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, or Darpa, a research arm
of the American military that is closely tied to the founding of the Internet.
The money, part of a $2.3 million grant given to the University of
Pennsylvania, was part of a military effort to create computer systems more
resilient to hacking, viruses and other attacks. The American military
estimates that it experiences 250,000 cyberattacks each year.
The controversy highlights the delicate balance between the military and
the anti-establishment bent of some in the technology community. It also
shows that the international pool of computer programmers and hackers,
possessing vast technological expertise, is not entirely sympathetic to the
American military's current role in world affairs.
A recent interview with Mr. de Raadt, published by The Globe and Mail of
Toronto, portrayed him as being uneasy about the military source of the
financing. He was quoted as saying, "I try to convince myself that our
grant means a half of a cruise missile doesn't get built." The article also
said he considered the war in Iraq a grab for oil.
Mr. de Raadt said that a few days after the interview was published,
Jonathan Smith, the Penn professor who heads the military grant project,
told him people had "expressed discomfort with what I had said." Then last
Friday Professor Smith sent out an e-mail message saying that work had to
cease immediately because the military stopped the financing and the
project was "over."
Mr. de Raadt said this left the OpenBSD project in crisis because it had
already committed tens of thousands of dollars to bringing together 60
programmers from around the world for a four-day "hackathon" in Calgary in
May. Darpa money has supported other hackathons for this project.
Some cautioned about reading too much into the military's decision. "These
kinds of `stop works' happen all the time," said Fernando Pereira, the head
of Penn's computer science department. "Federal budgets and priorities
change all the time."
Nevertheless, some computer specialists saw the incident as a rebuke.
People quickly voiced their displeasure on Web sites, over e-mail lists and
to the organizations involved.
On Monday, Darpa said it had not cut off all financing for the project,
just money for the hackathon. Jan Walker, a spokeswoman for Darpa, said the
agency was reviewing the rest of the project, which has three months left
in its two-year contract. Decisions about financing had been made because
of "recent world events and specifically the evolving threat posed by
increasingly capable nation-states," Ms. Walker said.
Mr. de Raadt said the decision extended beyond the hackathon because the
project's staff members had been notified this week that their salaries
would no longer be paid by the military financing. He said the hackathon
would go on, financed by modest online donations of $50 or $100. He noted
that even while he was on the phone with a reporter, $65 in donations had
"We are free people, we are hobbyists," he said. "We do this for fun."
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