Archive for Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Shouts and Murmurs: Pentagon plan way off target

July 30, 2003

It seemed the funny pages had been switched to the front page.

Except it wasn't funny.

Tuesday morning newspapers carried a story about the Pentagon's plans to launch an unusual futures trading program. The program was planned by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA is the central research and development organization for the Department of Defense.

The Policy Analysis Market, self-described as "A Market in the Future of the Middle East," was supposed to have opened in October. The program would have allowed participants to buy futures in which they would make predictions as to where and when the world's next terrorist attacks, assassinations and coups would take place.

The winners' take would be commensurate with his or her bets.

For instance, one newspaper story quoted an opponent of PAM, Sen. Roy Wyden, D-Ore. Here's how Wyden described how PAM would work:

"For instance, you may think early on that Prime Minister X is going to be assassinated, so you buy the futures contracts for 5 cents each. As more people begin to think the person's going to be assassinated, the cost of the contract could go up to 50 cents.

"The payoff if he's assassinated is a dollar per future. So if it comes to pass, those who bought at 5 cents make 95 cents. Those who bought at 50 cents make 50 cents."

Fortunately, soon after the plan became public, reason reigned.

By 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., announced that the MAP program, which was supposed to have begun accepting applicants this Friday, would be stopped before it starts.

Roberts serves as chairman of the subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities of the Armed Services Committee.

The following is from Roberts' press release, which was e-mailed Tuesday afternoon.

"I was very disturbed to learn of the so-called Future MAP program being developed within the Defense Advanced Research Projects.

"Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz took the right action today when he announced before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the program will be terminated. This was welcome news and I expect that we will not see any similar efforts in the future.

"While I understand the purpose of the program, I cannot disagree more with the approach.

"The American people expect us to support research and development efforts aimed at protecting them at home and abroad.

"They also expect us to exercise common sense and prudence as we evaluate the myriad of technology development programs intended to detect and prevent future terrorist attacks.

"In this instance, there is no circumstance where I can see that the American people would or should support a program that appears to seek investors hoping to benefit from the successful prediction of an attack on their fellow citizens. The mere concept is absurd to say the least."

And now, back in Tonganoxie, we can only wonder how far those who guide our country have diverged from our own thought processes.

What were Department of Defense officials thinking when they thought Americans might be willing to embrace this sort of high-tech cockfighting?

War is bad enough. Today we have men and women serving overseas who could have been caught up as unwitting "victims" in this so-called futures trading program that banked on the death of others.

Perhaps the program was meant to ferret out tips of possible disasters. Perhaps those who participated, at least in some way, would have been punished. Perhaps in some small way it was a good idea that went bad.

I'm just glad it's gone.

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