Print

Print


New York Times
April 24, 2003

Canadian Programmer Says U.S. Cut Funding After Comments

by Jennifer Lee

WASHINGTON - 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 come in.

"We are free people, we are hobbyists," he said. "We do this for fun."