Betting on terror?


WASHINGTON – The Pentagon (news – web sites) is setting up a commodity-market style trading system in which investors would be able to bet on political and economic events in the Middle East — including the likelihood of assassinations and terrorist attacks.

Two Democratic senators said Monday they want the project stopped before investors begin registering this week.

The Pentagon office overseeing the program said it was part of a research effort “to investigate the broadest possible set of new ways to prevent terrorist attacks.” It said there would be a re-evaluation before more money was committed.

The Policy Analysis Market is intended to help the Pentagon predict events in the region based on investors’ information or analyses.

A graphic on the market’s Web page showed hypothetical futures contracts in which investors could trade on the likelihood that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (news – web sites) would be assassinated or Jordanian King Abdullah II would be overthrown.

Speechless, I am.

(Thanks to alert reader Z.G.)

Update: I haven’t read John Brunner’s classic, Shockwave Rider, in many years, but alert reader Colin T. reminds me that the Pentagon is apparently taking cues from 1970s sci fi novels:


It works, approximately, like this.

First you corner a large — if possible a very large — number of people who, while they’ve never formally studied the subject you’re going to ask them about and hence are unlikely to recall the correct answer, are nevertheless plugged into the culture to which the question relates.

Then you ask them, as it might be, to estimate how many people died in the great influenza epidemic which followed World War I, or how many loaves were condemned by EEC food inspectors as unfit for human consumption in 1970.

Curiously, when you consolidate their replies they tend to cluster around the actual figure as recorded in almanacs, yearbooks, and statistical returns.

It’s rather as though this paradox has proved true: that while NOBODY knows what’s going on around here, EVERYBODY knows what’s going on around here.

Well, if it works for the past, why can’t it work for the future? Three hundred million people with access to the integrated North American data-net is a nice big number of potential consultees.

Unfortunately, most of them are running scared from the awful specter of tomorrow. How best to corner people who just d not want to know?

Greed works, and for others, hope. And the remainder will never have any impact on the world to speak of.