RW ONLINE: Pentagon's Betting Parlor of Assassinations
Pentagon's Betting Parlor of Assassinations and Coups
Revolutionary Worker #1209, August 10, 2003, posted at rwor.org
Deep within the Pentagon, a plan slowly took shape to use
free market greed to predict international events. The Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) called their little
project "FutureMAP" (Futures Markets Applied to Prediction).
The private market, they believed, would sort out truth and
rumor automatically, and without all that paper work and
Here is how it was supposed to work: The Pentagon would
endorse a website marketplace called the Policy Analysis Market
(PAM). Wealthy, anonymous people would go online to buy and
sell "futures" on international events. Will the King of Jordan
be overthrown? Who will win the next election in Iran? Will
there be "terrorist strikes" somewhere? Will Palestinian leader
Yasser Arafat be assassinated?
The thing was patterned on the futures speculation within
Chicago's Merchantile Exchange. ("Buy pork bellies futures!
Sell corn futures!")
According to FutureMAP, big-time players would register with
the PAM site and deposit their money into a special account.
They would bet these funds on particular world events--winning
and losing money based on how events turned out.
Senator Ron Wyden explained: "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 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."
The website for FutureMAP promised: "Whatever a prospective
trader's interest in PAM, involvement in this group prediction
process should prove engaging and may prove profitable."
What a classic corporate "win-win opportunity"! Successful
speculators would walk away with a rich payoff, while
government officials would get a magic mechanism for predicting
If the secret buying and selling was (say) "bullish" on a
coup in Nigeria, then U.S. policy-makers would notice the
"spike" in prices--and know that something big was up. A "run
on the market" would send the White House a warning, all
without having to wade through messy position papers or
considering shades of gray!
One Little Problem
Operation FutureMAP was moving along.
It was overseen by John Poindexter, notorious former
National Security Advisor under Reagan. Under the current Bush
administration, Poindexter also became the head of the
military's other DARPA operation, the Terrorism Information
Awareness program (TIA), designed to "mine" the details of our
lives from countless electronic databases.
DARPA had two private companies finalizing the details of
FutureMAP--Net Exchange, a San Diego-based "market
technologies" firm, and the Economist Intelligence Unit, an arm
of the Economist magazine. About 0,000 was spent on
their work. An additional million had been requested from
Congress for set-up costs, plus another million to run the
operation into 2005.
Registration was scheduled to begin on the first 1,000
traders on August 2. Actual trading was supposed to begin on
October 1, and the players were expected to reach 10,000 by
January 1, 2004.
There was only one little problem: When news of this
scheme leaked out on July 29, the world was outraged by the
cold-heartedness and blinding stupidity of Bush's free-market
What Were They Thinking?
"Can you imagine, if another country set up a betting
parlor, sponsored by the government itself, so that people
could go in and bet on the assassination of an American
political figure or the overthrow of this institution or that
Senator Byron L.
Dorgan (North Dakota), July 28
"What's next? Calling Psychic Hotline?"
Missourian 's headline, July 31
From the moment Senators Dorgan and Wyden went public on
this hare-brained scheme, FutureMAP was covered in ridicule.
People mocked the idea that you could predict events by having
rich people bet on them. Politicians asked how it would look if
the U.S. government handed out big payoffs whenever foreign
officials got bumped off.
And an obvious flaw was pointed out: The people with the
best "inside track" would be whoever was planning some action.
It is not hard to imagine the CIA (or some other shadowy
outfit) betting on a coup or attack, then launching it, then
walking with away with some quick funding.
Even DARPA announced it had discovered "technical
challenges" in their concept. They wondered if big speculators
might get pissed off if they bet a lot of money behind some
event--and the U.S. government then prevented it from
happening. Wouldn't they feel robbed and stop betting?
Within one day, the whole project was laughed off the stage.
The Pentagon's spokesman announced that DARPA had decided that
PAM "was not worth pursuing." Deputy Defense Secretary Paul
Wolfowitz insisted he had never heard of the plan. Admiral
Poindexter announced his resignation.
The top Senate Republican Bill Frist said, "I cannot
conceive of any reason why the United States should be involved
in a project of this nature." But the rest of us CAN
conceive of a reason. We can imagine those fevered little
rightwing brains dreaming all this up. Anyone who has ever
argued with some typical Campus Republican type knows
exactly the mix of imperialism, arrogance, ignorance,
and free-market dogmatism that created FutureMAP.
This bizarre episode is a window into a worldview.
Big Brother's Invisible Hand
"The point is, ladies and gentlemen: greed--for the lack
of a better word--is good. Greed is right; greed works. Greed
clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the
evolutionary spirit. Greed in all its forms--greed for life,
for money, for love, knowledge--has marked the upward surge of
mankind, and greed--you mark my words--will not only save
Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called
Gordon Gekko, in
the film Wall Street
As FutureMAP disappeared, Pentagon masterminds still
defended the theory behind it.
The Defense Department explained in a statement: "Research
indicates that markets are extremely efficient, effective and
timely aggregators of 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
In high government offices, the "invisible hand" of market
forces is worshiped as capitalism's great engine of rationality
and efficiency. Markets and privatization are treated as an
answer to virtually any problem facing this system.
Admiral John Poindexter, the daddy of FutureMAP, is himself
a classic example of all this--he was a genuine pioneer of
privatized foreign policy and war. In the 1980s, as Reagan's
National Security Adviser, Poindexter helped the CIA create the
private global arms corporation that secretly sold U.S. weapons
to Iran, and funneled the profits to the death-squad Contras
waging war against Nicaragua. One special innovation of the
Iran-Contra operation was creating a privatized airlift of arms
by hiring the planes of the cocaine cartels (and allowing them
free border crossings in exchange). Poindexter was sentenced to
prison in 1990 for lying to Congress about the CIA's "private"
operations--and the current Bush administration put him back
We are living in a time when--under both Democratic and
Republican administrations-- everything in the world is
considered ripe for privatization and U.S. takeover. The
world's "only superpower" insists that other countries must
"open up" their state-owned industries--and allow corporations
to "cherry pick" the profitable parts and leave the rest to
rot. All across the world this has produced empty factories,
closed railroad stations, unemployed workers, and a gutting of
already threadbare social services.
Washington corridors are abuzz with schemes for privatizing
Iraq from top to bottom--starting with its oilfields. Problems
with occupying Iraq? Hire mercenaries. Ruined infrastructure?
Hand over the country to private war profiteers like
The U.S. government even proposes an international market in
"pollution credits" -- where each country gets pollution
quotas, and the poorer industrialized countries can sell
their "pollution credits" to wealthier ones for cash. The U.S.
would get to pollute more, and poorer countries would get cash
(that would quickly flow back out to the world banks).
Another brilliant free market idea!
Meanwhile, inside the U.S. itself, is there a single social
function that isn't slated for free market "improvement"? The
possibilities are endless: McPrisons, McSchools, McHospitals,
McForests. We are told privatization will produce great
rationalization and efficiency: High medical prices, you see,
are the market's way of explaining it is irrational for you to
get a new kidney. High unemployment is the market's way
rationalizing your inefficient ass out of the workforce. And at
the end, this is all supposed to produce a leaner, more
aggressive capitalist America dominating a more efficient world
empire! Meanwhile, settling to the bottom of it all, there will
inevitably be billions of people--labeled "the losers" in
free-market dogmas--who will keep sinking into deepening
poverty and exploitation.
In other words, this FutureMAP affair is just a looney tip
of a much larger iceberg of raging extremism, imperialism and
privatization. The Pentagon think-tankers were planning to
free-marketize intelligence predictions long before planes hit
the twin towers. They first contracted out their plans in May
2001, but September 11 gave them a new "anti-terrorist" excuse
for rushing toward implementation.
Paul Wolfowitz explained that DARPA was funded to be
"brilliantly imaginative" and added: "Maybe they got too
imaginative in this area." Yeah, maybe.
But, is it REALLY weirder to have gamblers predicting
Turkey's future than it is to believe that more greed and
profit will "improve" education or medical care?!
FutureMAP went public, and sank. But think of all the other
gems of free market madness, known and unknown, that are
working their awful magic on our futures!
The Bush doctrine insists that the U.S. military can invade
countries "preemptively" based simply on U.S. government
predictions of future danger.
And the FutureMAP project gives just a hint of what
passes for evidence and prediction in the corridors of the
Pentagon. Isn't it pretty obvious that capitalism's true
believers can't be allowed to rule our world?
This article is posted in English and Spanish on
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