Pentagon punishes software developer for anti-war
By Gary Wilson
The Pentagon has cancelled funding for a
software project because the lead developer said he was
sickened by the war in Iraq.
On April 6, the Toronto Globe and Mail published an
interview with Theo de Raadt of the OpenBSD project
(openbsd.org), based in Calgary, Canada. The article focused on
a controversy that was developing over the funding OpenBSD
received from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects
DARPA is the Pentagon agency that funded the development of
the system that eventually evolved into the Internet.
OpenBSD is a computer operating system that is widely used
on computer systems requiring strong security. Users range from
universities to Fortune 500 companies like Adobe to many
governments as well as non-governmental agencies like Amnesty
International--all worried about security.
OpenBSD has been developed almost entirely by volunteers
over its seven years of existence. The primary focus of the
developers has been security.
During its first seven years, OpenBSD reported only one
security hole. Microsoft, on the other hand, reported 68
security holes in its products over the last year, or more than
one a week.
The Pentagon believes OpenBSD "may be its best bet to
protect its computer networks from so-called cyber-terrorist
attacks," reported the Globe and Mail.
A controversy developed because many questioned OpenBSD's
acceptance of funds from the Pentagon. Not many outside the
United States are ready to trust the Pentagon and its motives.
It is already widely believed that the Pentagon has a secret
deal with Microsoft that gives it a back door into Windows
servers--the powerful computers that run networks, databases
and internet shopping services--that can be used to gain access
to data without anyone else knowing. For that reason many
governments have banned Microsoft products from their most
OpenBSD has emerged as a favorite for many looking for an
alternative system. But then came the revelation that the
Pentagon had been funding the project since the year 2000.
The developers of OpenBSD at first welcomed the funding.
DARPA's funds meant that after years of people working on a
volunteer basis, a full-time staff could be hired. Five
developers, including de Raadt, were given full-time jobs on
But then the questions started coming. De Raadt told the
Globe and Mail that they had accepted Pentagon funding only on
the condition that absolutely no strings would be attached.
The war on Iraq was making it more difficult to justify
acceptance of Pentagon funds. The war, de Raadt noted, is about
oil, not human rights. "It just sickens me," he said. As for
the Pentagon's funding, he said, "I'm actually fairly
uncomfortable about it."
He then added, "I try to convince myself that our grant
means a half of a cruise missile doesn't get built."
Soon after that interview, de Raadt was called by Jonathan
Smith, the computer science professor in charge of the DARPA
project funding OpenBSD at the University of Pennsylvania, who
said that people at the university and DARPA were uncomfortable
with his anti-war comments. Two days after the phone call he
was told officially that all funds were terminated. This fits a
pattern. Many public figures who have spoken out against the
war on Iraq are being publicly punished by the Bush
administration and the Pentagon.
OpenBSD had planned a seminar in May. Without notice, DARPA
representatives called and canceled reservations at a Canadian
hotel for 60 developers who were to attend. And all other funds
In an online conversation available on slashdot.com, de
Raadt said, "I am not sorry for having said my anti-war stuff,
in fact if anything, this comes to something I said to Ty a few
nights ago at the bar: 'If they take the money away, then it
was blood money, and I don't want it.'"
The OpenBSD project has put out an appeal for help that has
gotten wide support. Funds were quickly raised to replace the
$30,000 withdrawn from the conference; it will happen as
Reprinted from the May 1, 2003, issue of
Workers World newspaper
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