Once upon a time there was virtually no distance between the Defense establishment and cutting-edge computer visionaries. Most of the groundbreaking research that has yielded today's Internet, personal computers and interactive software was done by scientists working on defense and intelligence projects. That perception shifted with the spread of computers to the public, the rise of PC enthusiasts to the highest levels of private sector companies, and the romanticizing of hackers and phreakers in movies like "War Games."
Not surprisingly, that perception has not always matched reality. But, as a Reuters article by Andy Sullivan explains, the feds are coming out of the woodwork at gatherings like the infamous hackers conference Defcon. And it's not just undercover agents scoping out the hackers. Assistant Secretary of Defense Linton Wells addressed the crowd, saying, "If you want to work on cutting-edge problems, if you want to be part of the truly great issues of our time ... we invite you to work with us."
The relationship between the two sides has turned less adversarial in recent years, according to long-time attendees, and government employees now account for nearly half of the audience. Some Defcon staffers even hold down day jobs with the National Security Agency and other government shops.
"You can't be deceived by the uniforms," said technology commentator Richard Thieme. "I talked at the Pentagon, and one-third of the people in the audience I already knew from Defcon."
Case in point, Roger Dingledine, creator of the anonymizing Tor system, is a consumate hacker. He claims his company is the only one to be funded both by the U.S. Navy and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.