Pentagon Abandons Plan for Futures Market on Terror (NY Times, July 29, 2003, registration required): The Pentagon office that proposed spying electronically on Americans to monitor potential terrorists has quickly abandoned an idea in which anonymous speculators would have bet on forecasting terrorist attacks, assassinations and coups in an online futures market. Senator John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, said today that he had conferred with the program's director at the Pentagon, "and we mutually agreed that this thing should be stopped.'' The senator's announcement - made during a confirmation hearing for retired Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, who has been nominated to be Army chief of staff - signaled the end of a program that was met with astonishment and derision almost from the moment it was disclosed.
I'm not surprised. What the hell could they possibly have been thinking? Were they thinking?
Under the discarded plan, traders bullish on a biological attack on Israel, say, or bearish on the chances of a North Korean missile strike would have had the opportunity to bet on the likelihood of such events on a new Internet site established by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The Pentagon called its latest idea a new way of predicting events and part of its search for the "broadest possible set of new ways to prevent terrorist attacks.'' But two Democratic senators who disclosed the plan on Monday called it morally repugnant and grotesque. The senators said the program fell under the control of Adm. John M. Poindexter, President Ronald Reagan's national security adviser. One of the two senators, Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, said the idea seemed so preposterous that he had trouble persuading people it was not a hoax. "Can you imagine,'' Mr. Dorgan asked, "if another country set up a betting parlor so that people could go in - and is sponsored by the government itself - people could go in and bet on the assassination of an American political figure?'' After Mr. Dorgan and his fellow critic, Ron Wyden of Oregon, spoke out, the Pentagon sought to play down the importance of a program for which the Bush administration has sought $8 million through 2005.
Not terribly well funded, actually, even for a relatively small program. But nonetheless, an outstandingly brain-damaged idea.
It doesn't surprise me in the least that Congress was, to put it mildly, opposed to the plan. It's so stupid that opposing it would be a political freebie. What I find truly astonishing is that anyone in the Pentagon or the administration ever thought that this could be a good idea in the first place. A public betting market on whether or not terrorist acts will be committed, especially one that provides a payoff, would be pretty much guaranteeing that something would happen. Fairly frequently, one would think. I suppose it would make certain that the Pentagon had something to do, and the results would be used to justify the retention of the more draconian sections of the Constitutional Evisceration Decree ... er, that is, the USA PATRIOT Act.
I will admit to being baffled as to how this sort of thing could possibly have fit into any TIA program. Unless they planned to simply arrest all the traders who signed up for it, on the grounds that they were conspiring to commit terrorist acts. Which might even be true, up to a point. I also wonder how you collect your payoff when you could play anonymously. (Well, it was a government site, and connected with TIA. "Anonymous" would not have been a term with any meaning in connection to this program.)Posted by iain at July 29, 2003 01:51 PM