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DARPA pulls funding for OpenBSD, leader says

Apr 18, 20034 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsOpen Source

WASHINGTON – The U.S. military has pulled funding from a project involving the OpenBSD open-source operating system, according to the operating system’s project leader, and he suspects it was in retaliation for antiwar comments of his that were published in a Canadian newspaper.

Theo de Raadt, leader of the OpenBSD project, said he found out Thursday that the remaining funding had been pulled on a $2.3 million Portable Open-Source Security Enhancements project at the University of Pennsylvania, run through the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The project was part of DARPA’s Composable High Assurance Trusted Systems project, which focuses on protecting computer systems from malicious code.

About 15% of the funding, awarded in mid-2000, had remained unspent, de Raadt estimated. According to de Raadt, two days before the funding was cut off, Jonathan Smith, the University of Pennsylvania computer science professor in charge of the project there, phoned de Raadt. Smith told de Raadt that several people at the university and DARPA were uncomfortable with de Raadt’s antiwar comments, which appeared in the Globe & Mail of Toronto in early April.

But a DARPA spokeswoman denied that de Raadt is being punished for his remarks. De Raadt is mistaken about funding being cut off, she said; rather, DARPA is reviewing the University of Pennsylvania project.

“As part of our standard process, we are reviewing and evaluating the work now being done and proposed to be done in the future,” spokeswoman Jan Walker wrote in an e-mail. “We will not state in advance the result of our review process, but we have no a priori intention to end the research effort. We’re sorry if this review process has been misinterpreted as an effort to cancel the work.”

In the Globe & Mail story, the resident of Calgary, Canada, said the current U.S. war against Iraq “sickens” him. De Raadt also said he was uncomfortable taking money from the U.S. military, but “I try to convince myself that our grant means a half of a cruise missile doesn’t get built.”

Smith refused to comment on the reasons why the OpenBSD funding was pulled, and a DARPA program manager didn’t return an e-mail Friday. “I’m not going to discuss it,” Smith said before hanging up the phone.

“He was quite upset,” de Raadt said of his conversation with Smith. “I was a little bit upset myself to hear a tenured professor telling me not to exercise my freedom of speech.”

The loss of funding has left members of the OpenBSD project scrambling to pull off a “hackathon” development meeting in Calgary from May 8 to 20, but de Raadt said he expects that the group will be able to continue with arrangements without the DARPA funding. OpenBSD version 3.3 is due to be released May 1.

The DARPA money paid for de Raadt’s and at least three other developers’ salaries, de Raadt said. But the project in the past has run off donations, and de Raadt said he’s already gotten several offers of donations since he sent out an e-mail Thursday detailing the loss of funding.

“We’ll just go back to donations or try to get other grants,” de Raadt said. “Maybe now that we’ve actually lost the DARPA grant, people will know enough about us that we can go apply for (other) grants.”

De Raadt said he’s disappointed with the DARPA decision, but promised that OpenBSD will continue to move forward.

“If they take it away, it’s blood money, and I don’t want blood money,” he said. “If they’re upset by me making antiwar statements, and they take the money away for that reason, then fine. Freedom of speech in the U.S. doesn’t apply to noncitizens.”