From their current website:
The Alexis de Tocqueville Institution core mission is supposedly studying the ideas and ideals of our namesake, Alexis de Tocqueville, on the extension and perfection of democracy.
So why did The Alexis de Tocqueville Institution (ADTI from now on) become involved in producing a book which claimed that the GNU/Linux operating system stole technology from Unix? And why am I digging up what is ancient history as far as Linux and the Internet?
It’s possible that no one is every going to know all the details of why ADTI did what it did, including Ken Brown, the ADTI staffer who was at the center of the confusion. But recently after ADTI had been totally silent for several years, apparently dead, they started to come back to life.
This got me thinking of them again. There are a couple of things that I know, that aren’t public knowledge, for during the time that they were heavily involved in attempting to produce Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt about Linux and Free Software of General, I was in sporadic communication with them, and with several other people who I think may have been privately briefed privately by them.
But a lot of people may not know the history, so let’s take a look at some of the historical details.
The first time that ADTI popped up on the horizon of most people in the Free Software community was when the published The Bottom Line: Software and Copyright by Gregory Fossedal. The original is no longer on the UPI website, however a copy is here. The article is not only badly written, it’s badly confused. Pamela Jones at Groklaw wrote an excellent article covering the issues then, and I highly recommend it.
However ADTI had first become publicly noticed a few years earlier, when as part of the 1998 Tobacco Settlement Agreement, the Philip Morris corporation released millions of pages of documents about their operations. In them was evidence that Philip Morris had hired ADTI to campaign against tobacco regulations.
It’s a rather curious that an institution dedicated to the ‘ideas and ideals’ of Alexis de Tocqueville, on the extension and perfection of democracy would be working as hired guns for the tobacco industry. And if they worked as hired guns for the tobacco industry, who else have they worked for? One suggestion was Microsoft not long after the publication of the UPI article.
Many of our questions were answered in May of 2004. ADTI put out a press release stating that Linux could suffer from patent issues. The original press release has vanished from the ADTI site, but a copy is here. The press release appeared to have only one reason for existence, to push users away from Free and Open Source Software, and towards using proprietary software.
The last capstone was a week later, when ADTI put out another press release in which they questioned whether Linus Torvalds really wrote Linux, which Pamela Jones deconstructed.
Ken Brown, the staffer who was writing a book exposing Linux,was instead exposed as a liar. Ken made a series of claims about what certain people, including Andrew S. Tanenbaum, the man who designed and wrote the Minix operating system, said, and curiously every single person that he quoted disagreed with his quotes. Such a total repudiation is unusual to say the least.
Now we get to the fun part. Unfortunately parts of this I can no longer prove. Times change, and I no longer have all the email accounts I was using in the 2001 through 2006 period. I’ve also lost a couple of hard drives which I was using for backups, and some CD-ROM backups are no longer readable.
Back in the 2003-2005 time period I was discussing the The SCO Group situation with a person who will remain unnamed, since I have no proof, and I don’t wish to hurt his/her/its reputation. This person told me that they’d been told by some of the Linux kernel hackers that “they’d stolen all off the good stuff out of Unix.,” and that this is why he/she/it believed The SCO Group. This was around the fall of 2003.
The person was 100% certain that The SCO Group would win. The question is, did they believe what they were telling me? The person in question had been in direct communication with people at The SCO Group, people at Microsoft, people at Apple… Not unusual in a reporter. But no reporter ever believes everything they are told until they have solid confirmation. I believe that ADTI was the confirmation for The SCO Group’s claims. I can’t prove this, any more than I can prove that I was talking to this person. I’m asking you to take this on faith.
But it would make sense. ADTI seemed to be acting more like a hired cheerleader than an impartial think-tank right from the start, up until the time that The SCO Group’s claims were looking very threadbare.
What ADTI Had To Say
During the time that they were making huge noises, I was traveling to Washington D.C. two or three times a year on business. I called ADTI several times before scheduled trips, to try to set up a meetings. At the time it wasn’t generally known that I used ‘The Mad Hatter’ as an alias online, and there was nothing to connect my real name to Linux, Free Software, or Groklaw where I was a regular poster.
You would have thought that ADTI would have been happy to sit down and explain their research and arguments, since they’ve issued press releases on them. But no. The idea of meeting someone in person apparently terrified them. The conversations, both by phone, and using my work email address, went nowhere.
The Website Evaluation
All the while I was talking to them, I was also exploring their website. It was badly laid out, and looked like web design by Bart Simpson, rather than the sort of site that a high-powered ‘Institution’ would have.
One of the more interesting things I found while crawling the website was that they were using the PHPBB Forum software. Curiously the PHPBB forum software is Free Software, licensed under the GNU General Public License. ADTI is spending all of their time talking down Free Software and the GNU GPL, and then they turn around and use it. Do they know what the word consistency means?
Then things got quiet. It was as if ADTI was lying low. So I stopped checking the site regularly, and left the bot watching the front page.
But I’d signed up for a forum account, and a year or so later I dropped in to see if anything was happening, and boy was it. The link spammers had found the unused forum, and filled it. Me being a nice guy, I fired off an email to the webmaster, Gregory Fossedal:
A while back you set up a forum, which I found when I was browsing your website one day. I set up an account, came back a couple of times, and came to the conclusion that you were not doing anything with it, and dropped it from my regular rounds.
A while ago I went back, and there were tons of posts. Tons. It looks like a couple of spam bots found your forum, and they’ve been posting advertisements. Advertisements that only other spam bots are reading, since you and I appear to be the only humans that have accounts.
I’d suggest that you disconnect the forum if you aren’t using it, it will save you some band width.
BTW, has Samizdat been published yet? I’ve been looking to get a copy.
No response. I dropped in on and off over the next couple of months, and the link spammers were still going insane. They went so insane, that the forum software died under the attack, and it’s still there today, but overloaded. Maybe they don’t know how to turn it off?
Where Is ADTI Going?
That’s a hard one to guess. They have a wonderful mission statement, that they ignore. They disappear for years on end, then come back to life for no clear reason.
This doesn’t seem like a normal Institution or Foundation. Normal Institutions or Foundations don’t drop out of sight, they keep working, even at a reduced level. Rather its used for short periods, and then ignored, most like an ancillary organization. But what is it ancillary too? As a last bit of proof, look at their Twitter account.
What’s going on? That I don’t know. I am however interested. If anyone has further information on ADTI, please email it to me. A full copy of Ken Brown’s book, if it was ever published would also be useful.
Tuesday January 18, 2011