OpenBSD contract suspended due to 'world events'

Open source project leader claims move is retaliation for antiwar comments

By Grant  Gross

April 24, 2003 

The U.S. Department of Defense now says "world events" are the reason it has suspended a contract with the OpenBSD software project, not the project founder's antiwar comments, but the agency that cancelled the project won't say much more than that.

Theo de Raadt, leader of the open-source operating system project, announced last week that funding had been cut for a project funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), just days after he was quoted in a Canadian newspaper as opposing the U.S. war in Iraq and expressing his discomfort with taking Defense Department funding.

DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker denied that the funding was pulled because of de Raadt's comments, saying last Friday the remaining portion of the $2.3 million Portable Open-Source Security Enhancements project was under review. But this week, Walker sent out a new e-mail, saying DARPA had shut down a "security fest" portion of the project because of world events.

"As a result of the DARPA review of the project, and due to world events and the evolving threat posed by increasingly capable nation-states, the Government on April 21 advised the University to suspend work on the 'security fest' portion of the project.," Walker wrote in an e-mail this week.

The security fest, what de Raadt calls a "hackathon," was scheduled to bring about 60 OpenBSD programmers to Calgary, Canada , in May. Asked how the evolving threat of nation-states would affect travel to the Calgary , Walker declined to comment further.

"I just don't think we're going to be able to go into any more detail," Walker said.

De Raadt said he still isn't buying DARPA's explanation. The University of Pennsylvania , which administered the project, has canceled the hotel contract for the security fest, he said, even though the OpenBSD programmers offered to take over the contract. The programmers had already paid for their own airline tickets when the DARPA contract was suspended.

The university is also trying to cancel the last three months of de Raadt's contract through the DARPA program, he said. The actions "are adding up together to a pattern of retaliation," de Raadt added. "I'm a bit stunned."

Jonathan Smith, the University of Pennsylvania computer science professor in charge of the project, declined to comment on the details of the suspected contract. "I don't really see the value in commenting," he said. "You should probably call DARPA. DARPA made the decision here.

Grant Gross is a Washington correspondent for the IDG News Service, an InfoWorld affiliate.


Copyright 2003