DARPA pulls funding for OpenBSD, leader says

The U.S. military has pulled funding from a project involving OpenBSD, according to the open-source operating system's project leader, who said he suspects it was in retaliation for antiwar comments he made in a Canadian newspaper.

Theo de Raadt, leader of the OpenBSD project, said he found out yesterday 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 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 said. According to de Raadt, two days before the funding was cut off, Jonathan Smith, the computer science professor in charge of the project at the University of Pennsylvania, 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 and Mail of Toronto in early April.

In that story, the resident of Calgary, Alberta, said the U.S.-led 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 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 8-20, but de Raadt said he expects that the group will be able to continue without the DARPA funding. OpenBSD Version 3.3 is due to be released May 1.

The money from DARPA 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 yesterday detailing the loss of funding.

"We'll just go back to donations or try to get other grants," he 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.


Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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