[This article was contributed by Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier]
If you follow the news at all, you've probably already heard about the
OpenBSD project losing the funding from the U.S. Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA). What's less than clear is why the
funding has been pulled. In fact, it's quite a test to figure out who's
actually responsible for pulling the plug, much less the reason. DARPA
is, essentially, just an intermediate agency for the funding, which is
passed on to the University of Pennsylvania. The funds themselves come
from the Air Force Research Laboratory.
Most speculation has gone to comments made by OpenBSD project leader
Theo de Raadt. The comments in question come from an interview in The
Globe and Mail, where de Raadt is quoted as saying he's "uncomfortable"
about the source of the grant. De Raadt also told the Globe and Mail that,
"I try to convince myself that our grant means a half of a cruise missile
doesn't get built," which might not sit well with U.S. military types. A
few days after the comment appeared in the Globe and Mail, de Raadt was
contacted by University of Pennsylvania professor Jonathan Smith. According
to de Raadt, Smith objected to the comment, but wouldn't give a specific
reason why. The funding was pulled on Thursday of last week.
If that is the reason for the cancellation, it's not the official story
from DARPA, in as much as DARPA has or will give an official story. A
statement forwarded to LWN by de Raadt, attributed to DARPA spokesperson
Jan Walker, claims that the funding is under review.
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 [sic] on April 21 advised the University to suspend work on
the "security fest" portion of the project.
Walker did not respond to e-mails or phone calls requesting confirmation
of this statement or requests to elaborate on or clarify the statement.
The most immediate consequence is that the OpenBSD project has had the
rug pulled out from under them with regards to the upcoming hackathon in
Canada. 60 OpenBSD developers are scheduled to travel to Canada for the
event, almost all of whom have already purchased tickets based on a
go-ahead given in January. The hotel was contacted and told to cancel
the reservation, despite the fact that an 80% cancellation fee is
in effect. According to de Raadt, this amounts to about $24,000
Canadian. De Raadt also reports that the hotel was instructed not to
allow anyone to pay the remaining balance to keep the reservation.
However, de Raadt said that the hotel has agreed to cut the OpenBSD
project a deal for the hackathon, even if they cannot apply the
cancellation fee to the bill.
Fernando Pereira, chairman of the Department of Computer and Information
Science at the University of Pennsylvania sent this statement to the
OpenBSD "misc" mailing list to explain why the cancellation fee cannot
be used towards the hotel costs:
When the contracting agency requested that work be stopped
on the security fests component of POSSE, the only expenses that they
would still allow are documented losses to the conference hotel due to
cancellation. Any other use of funds, including use of the cancellation
costs in partial support of conference accommodation, would not be an
allowable contract expense. Contrary to a widespread misconception, the
University of Pennsylvania could not have "allowed" that use of US
Government funds. The funds belong to the US Government, not to the
Apparently, quite a few people in the OpenBSD community have already
sent letters of protest to the University of Pennsylvania, newspapers
and other sources. If you'd like to write a letter to complain or
comment on the decision to official sources, de Raadt notes that it's
helpful to have the contract number. The contract was granted by the Air
Force Research Lab, Material Command, and is DARPA contract number
With the exception of the hackathon, the loss of funding may not be as
dramatic as it sounds. On Monday, de Raadt said that the OpenBSD project
had already received about $7,000 in donations, and more was "in the
mail." The OpenBSD project has been around for eight years, and has done
just fine without the DARPA funding. In addition, the funding was set to
run out within four months anyway and de Raadt noted that he works
through a Canadian contracting company that should ensure that he
receives the rest of his pay for the next four months. The major losers
appear to be the University of Pennsylvania grad students who were also
receiving money from the grant, as well as the 60 OpenBSD developers who
are wondering whether there will be a place for them to stay when they
arrive at the hackathon.
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