Manassas Journal Messenger | Betting on death

There are stories about some groups that wager in what’s called a “death pool.” Participants usually put up some money (like a football pool) and dole out winnings based on who predicted which celebrities will die during a certain year. There have undoubtedly been participants who have picked Bob Hope or Buddy Ebsen this year.

As insensitive as a death pool might be, the folks up at the Pentagon have come up with something very similar. The Pentagon’s Defense Research Projects Agency drafted a plan for a futures market that would have allowed traders to profit by correctly predicting assassinations and terrorist attacks in the Middle East.

This proposal was first defended by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz as a creative means of obtaining intelligence on terrorist activities. But the politicians on Capitol Hill, including Virginia’s senior Senator John Warner, lambasted the plan yesterday and it was quickly scrapped.

The program was to involve traders purchasing and selling futures contracts (similar to energy traders) with investors collecting when events they predict come true. This could be an assassination of a particular leader or a bombing in a certain city. Some of the items on the DARPA Web site, according to the Associated Press, included the possibility of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s assassination, the overthrow of Jordan’s King Abdullah II or the possibility of a North Korean missile attack.

Theories behind this futures market is that those playing the game could quite possibly know something.

The ill-conceived program gave fodder to key Democrats already paranoid to the goings on at the Pentagon. Senate Minority leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., was one of the first to take shots at the Pentagon referring to the futures program as “an incentive actually to commit acts of terrorism.”

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., made similar criticisms, but outrage is universal on Capitol Hill as Warner and fellow Senate Republicans also spoke out against the idea.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., told Wolfowitz during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that heads should roll. “If it’s going to end,” she said. “I think you ought to end the careers of whoever it was thought that up.”

Looking at who might be in the firing line, a familiar face appears. Warner told the AP that the program was under the supervision of retired Adm. John Poindexter of “Iran-Contra” fame. Poindexter’s name recently surfaced when it was revealed that he was the head of the Terrorism Information Awareness program. This program was almost unilaterally condemned over concerns of its invasion of privacy.

While there aren’t many second acts in Washington, perhaps Poindexter’s encore should come to a quick end.

It will take innovative imaginations for America to get the upper hand in this war on terrorism, but there is a big difference between thinking outside the box and simply being out of one’s mind.

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