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Subject: [LINK] Stupidity - terrorism futures & atom bomb rockets
Date: Wed, 30 Jul 2003 12:29:06 +1000
From: Robin Whittle <>
Organization: First Principles
To: Link mailing list

Here is something so breathtakingly stupid and counterproductive that I
think all those involved must be completely mad, without any of them
realising it:

(But read on for the latest update!)

The US government, via the Pentagon and DARPA, is funding a futures
market in which people can bet and make money if they correctly predict
terrorist attacks.  This is supposed to be a way the government can tap
the knowledge of other people to help predict such security problems.

What astounds me about the scheme, and this article, is that there is no
mention of the most obvious problem - that by betting on a future event
and then making it happen, you can make legitimate money from terrorism!

It will be a piece of cake for anyone, bin Laden, the Russian, American
or Italian Mafia or almost anyone with a bit of money, a few connections
and few scruples, to clean up with this.

Simply bet on a terrorist act in some obscure place - and make it happen.

Its not hard to get someone to place a bomb, poison a water supply, cut
fibre optic cables, set off an explosive device with acid or glue and
fine strands of copper wire in an electrical switching yard (I just made
that one up) etc.  Furthermore, there are plenty of people who would be
happy to do this and be paid for it, because in their view, such acts
are *good* acts, because they damage a pernicious society which needs to
have an attitude adjustment.

At least two factors would work against profiteering like this.
Firstly, betting on some obscure place would presumably increase the
scrutiny of that place - but such scrutiny is probably next to useless
for preventing an attack or for catching the perpetrators afterwards.
Secondly, anyone who profited from an attack would presumably be subject
to scrutiny - but its not hard to have communications and financial
relations with perpetrators in a way which cannot be detected.

This makes me think of further reasons why the system is flawed.

Lets say Mr, Ms or Mrs Cashed-up Respectable Investor, who genuinely
despises terrorism, enters this game and predicts and attack on city
XYZ.  Before long, XYZ is attacked, and the investor pockets a small
fortune.  For ever more, they will know that they profited from
someone-else's death and suffering - and the whole world will know this
too.  This is such a miserable business that decent people would surely
stay out of it.   On the other hand, a decent person could have genuine
concerns about a future attack in XYZ and see their putting their money
on the line as a way of convincing the Authorities that they too should
be more concerned about attacks on XYZ.

There could be runs of enthusiasm as "investors" (==GAMBLERS) monitor
the trends in predictions in particular places (or more likely assign
the task to brokers or their own computer software) - so there would be
momentum and self-generating runs on particular risk predictions.   This
would be indistinguishable from the predictions of people with genuine
knowledge of risk.  Any such speculators would be keen to hide their
speculative drive, I would think.

Here's another way of stuffing this system up.   Lets say the terrorists
want to mess with the system.  Every time there is a run on a particular
location, they lob a few sticks of gelignite into the compound of the
US/UK/Australian/Whatever embassy.  Then the gamblers get their payout -
and the operators of the scheme recognise that the system is generating
attacks and is worse than useless, so they close it down.

This is a prime example of something so bad and stupid that any
responsible government would surely ban it outright.  But instead it is
being paid for by the US government!  I can't imagine that governments
such as ours, part of the conga-line of suck-holes, would be critical of
anything the US government does.

Normally, I would have said that I had never heard of anything so stupid
for a long time, but this is a special week.  The other day I saw a book
on a US proposal for a nuclear powered spaceship.  I can't remember its
name, but the book was purportedly - and apparently - based on recently
declassified material on a 1957 to 1965 or so project to launch people
and equipment into orbit.  The craft was 30 foot in diameter, like a
large artillery shell - to be pushed upwards by the force of atomic
bombs detonated underneath it.  There were to be *427* or so bombs
stored in it, and they would be pooped out the bottom and detonated
nearby.   This seems so nutty as to be unbelievable, but the book had
genuine looking photos of a 3 foot diameter test vehicle powered by five
or so conventional explosive charges.

Googling " declassified rocket US 1958 atomic " finds a detailed,
illustrated, reference - Project Orion.

This is written by George Dyson, about his father Freeman Dyson's
involvement in this project.  There is mention of *800* nuclear charges
to launch this 20 storey high spaceship.

Human stupidity can apparently have truly unlimited scope and magnitude!

OK - I just Googled:

  "Policy Analysis Market" DARPA

and found:

News:   Pentagon to Abandon 'Terror' Futures Market Plan - Washington
        Post - 5 hours ago

Warner Says Pentagon To Scrap Terror-Futures Market Plan - Quicken - 8
        hours ago

Pentagon to start futures market for terror attacks - San Francisco
        Chronicle - 16 hours ago

Market analysis of potential events - Nanodot
  ... new Policy Analysis Market web site, supported by Net Exchange,
  The Economist Intelligence Unit, and the Defense Advanced Research
  Projects Agency (DARPA), to ...

The site still has its front page:

but the sole link from there goes to a missing file.

Google, of course, is our friend!   Using Advanced Search:

for all pages in the domain which do not
contain the word "zzzz" I find several pages in the cache, with many of
the images still available from the site.

In Google's cache, but not the site:


Still on the site:

I have kept copies of these pages.   For a future museum of stupidity
(Google finds no such thing . . . )  But I have better things to do than
document such things.   I do have a copy of the old RIAA site designed
to make music copiers think they were criminals . . .

  - Robin

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