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Pentagon Scuttles "Bet On Terrorism" Plan

by Jeff Milchen

"Unbelievably stupid" -- Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N. Dakota)
(PNS) -- If anyone even suggested publicly the idea of putting a bounty on the head of a Bush administration official you can bet they'd at least be jailed on felony charges promptly. Yet incredibly, the Bush administration initiated and then cancelled in the face of immediate opposition a scheme that could have provided financial incentives for would-be terrorists to assassinate political leaders in the Middle East -- the "Policy Analysis Market," or PAM.

detail of PAM screen
On the now-defunct Pentagon web page, futures investors could bet 17 cents on the assassination of Yasser Arafat
A graphic on PAM's web site ( on Monday displayed several hypothetical futures contracts. Investors could bet on the likelihood that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would be assassinated or Jordan's King Abdullah II overthrown. One less violent investment apparently was suggested -- the U.S. recognizing Palestine as a political entity. Those hypothetical investments were taken off the web site the next day.

The Pentagon office that devised PAM, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), said PAM arose from research "to investigate the broadest possible set of new ways to prevent terrorist attacks."

While cynics might attribute truly murderous intent to the Bush administration, another explanation is the preponderance of extreme market ideology, whereby President Bush and company believe capitalism is the answer -- regardless of the question. It's reflected in the administration's position that Iraq should open its oil industry to foreign investment before a permanent government is in place. In other words, ensure corporate profit-making opportunity first -- then we can discuss democracy.

In a statement released Monday, DARPA asserted that markets could reveal "dispersed and even hidden information. Futures markets have proven themselves to be good at predicting such things as elections results; they are often better than expert opinions."

DARPA partnered with two corporations to launch the PAM prototype: Net Exchange, a market technologies company, and the Economist Intelligence Unit, an arm of The Economist magazine.

Senator John Warner (R-Virginia) of the Senate Armed Services Committee announced on Tuesday that PAM would be cancelled -- just hours after many Americans first learned of the plan in their morning newspapers. DARPA already has admitted to spending $600,000 of taxpayers' money on the scheme. The Bush administration had sought $8 million for PAM through 2005.

detail of PAM screen PAM proposed to let traders buy and sell futures contracts just like commodities, but the contracts would be speculating on events in the Middle East. These events could have included economic trends, wars, even assassinations and terrorist attacks. Traders believing certain events would occur could buy a futures contract; those thinking the event unlikely could sell theirs. The site had planned to register investors, who could sign up anonymously, this Friday.

The bottom line: one could bet big money that a certain person would die, and then attempt to guarantee that investment. "This appears to encourage terrorists to participate, either to profit from their terrorist activities or to bet against them in order to mislead U.S. intelligence authorities," said Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.Dakota) in a letter to John Poindexter, the director of the Terrorism Information Awareness Program.

Announcement of the program's termination should be treated with cautious optimism. Recall that after public and multi-partisan outrage led DARPA to "cancel" the truly Orwellian "Total Information Awareness" program, it resurfaced shortly thereafter as the less alarmingly titled Terrorism Information Awareness. According to DARPA's Web site, "Previously known as Total Information Awareness, this name created in some minds the impression that TIA was a system to be used for developing dossiers on U.S. citizens."

Name changed, problem solved, right? You'd think they'd at least change the acronym.

The Bush administration has continually employed the strategy of tossing out the most outrageous ideas with the aim of making subsequent, slightly less offensive ideas seem moderate by comparison.

After the administration's Domestic Security Enhancement Act -- widely dubbed "Patriot Act II" -- was leaked to the public in February and promptly derided as an outrageous assault on Americans' freedoms, Attorney General John Ashcroft quickly backpedaled from the draft legislation. But just months later, there was Ashcroft, asking Congress to enact substantial portions of the act, which he had earlier dismissed as nothing more than discussion notes.

With this administration, even the worst ideas have a way of getting reborn.

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Albion Monitor July 29, 2003 (

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