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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 academic talk.
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 $1 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 events.
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 $750,000 was spent on their work. An additional $3 million had been requested from Congress for set-up costs, plus another $5 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 geniuses.
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 institution?!"
Senator Byron L. Dorgan (North Dakota), July 28
"What's next? Calling Psychic Hotline?"
The 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 the U.S.A."
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 expert opinions."
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 into power.
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 Haliburton.
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 Revolutionary Worker Online
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