A Pentagon-funded website which invited participants to join a "futures exchange" speculating on the assassination of Middle Eastern heads of state, nuclear attacks on Israel, and similar catastrophes, was abruptly axed yesterday.
The scheme was devised with the help of The Economist magazine's "Business Intelligence Unit" - which has at last secured itself a historical footnote - and was funded by DARPA, the United States military's R&D division, along with a derivates software company.
The rationale behind this venture harkened back to the days of dot.com optimism, when pure, frictionless markets were thought to reveal the truth, so a "futures market" would, according to the accompanying blurb, reveal genuine insight into the effects of US policy in the Middle East.
At no point, until two Senators called their bluff on Monday, did the bright sparks at The Economist magazine or DARPA acknowledge that such a market could be rigged. It's an act of faith amongst such ideologues that no such thing can take place. It'll be interesting to see how The Economist - which at one time used (without irony) the expensive talents of Henry Kissinger in its TV advertisements - reports this example of putting into practice what it's preached for the past twenty years. Shall we run a sweep, dear readers?
Well, at a DARPA press briefing yesterday, a reporter asked, "It seems so absurd that a program like this could ever see the light of day, from what we know about it. I mean, did it pass your muster? I mean, did it pass anybody's muster?"
A DARPA spokesperson replied that "there's a lot of interesting, unusual and, in some cases, in this case, as it turned out, sort of not worthy research" going on in the organization. Having had a taste of the self-healing minefield, and the invisible GIs, one might conclude that perhaps not all of DARPA's research is well directed.
At moments of such doubt, we're often reminded of the "Teflon Principle", which is hauled out to justify the gazillions of dollars that the military-industrial complex spends on such whimsical projects, by reminding us that at the end of the process, we might, if we're lucky, get a non-stick frying pan.
Quite what the downstream social advantages of DARPA's latest wheezes might be for us, we can only imagine. But we expect nothing less than a camouflaged cigarette pouch that hops from pocket to pocket, collecting the optimally-priced cigarettes from an optimal spot market. Our expectations have been raised, and so nothing less will do.
[Cryptome has the now-deleted website and a press transcript. We will bring you some revelatory screenshots later today. (Did you imagine there was such a bounty on Arafat's head?) ®