Betting on predicting terror attacks

THE TERROR futures market, althoughsuffering a major set back from the Pentagon deciding to drop the project, will nonetheless open in March of 2004. The Pentagon abandoned the project due to much heated criticism over ethical issues related to essentially gambling on the incidence of horrifying events. Yet, the Pentagon's outsourced Internet development team, Net Exchange, had decided to finish the website on its own. This Web site which will feature the ability to buy and sell contracts based on the occurrence of events such as assassinations of major leaders, political instability, or certain terrorist attacks. Although the idea for this website may seem atrocious at first glance, the terror futures market should be supported for its potential for predicting terrorist attacks. The Pentagon should once again involve itself in the Web site in order to use analysis of the trends within the Web site's trades as warnings for terrorist attacks.

The notion of profiting off of the misfortune and misery of others is an ethically unsound and appalling idea. It is not surprising that the Pentagon was pressured into abandoning the project, as it received criticism not only from regular citizens, but also from many politicians. However, some safeguards can be instituted to ensure that terrorists or other nefarious elements won't benefit from the terror futures market. For instance, Net Exchange, the company developing the website has expressed that it will limit the amount available per contract to assure that, "people won't be profiting from violence or upheaval in the region [the Middle East]" ("Terror Futures Market Back in Business," Money.CNN.com, Nov. 17).

However, the positive contributions of the terror futures markets vastly outweigh any ethical concerns. This Website may very well be able to predict terrorist attacks on U.S. assets, soldiers or even world leaders. Other futures markets, such as the Iowa Electronics Market have been quite accurate in predicting the outcome of Presidential elections ("Terror Futures Market Back in Business", Money.CNN.com, Nov. 17). The terror futures market could possibly also provide a degree of accuracy in predicting events related to terror, which would give authorities the time or location of such intended incidents. People could possibly be evacuated, or terrorist plots may be foiled based on the information gleaned from this market. Although the terror futures market may be macabre, it is possible that it will save and protect lives.

However, the presence of the Pentagon in this market is essential in interpreting the information from the futures contract trades. It must be assumed that accurate information will come from traders who have some knowledge of planned attacks which will occur, and are therefore making relatively safe investments. Quite possibly, only the combination of several sources of confidential information which the Pentagon possesses will allow the differentiation of trades based on events which made by speculators, and those conducted by traders who have some ascertained knowledge of a planned terrorist event. Simply put, without the Pentagon, the information which the trading patterns of these futures contracts may reveal will not be properly deciphered, or fully understood without the cooperation of the Pentagon, and perhaps even the State Department, or the Central Intelligence Agency.

The terror futures market is being created and implemented regardless of the complaints of the public or the politicians. Although the essence of the ethical dilemmas surrounding this project remains, the Pentagon should realign itself with Net Exchange, and become a part of the terror futures market. With such an alliance, the Pentagon would become the beneficiary of information regarding trades and trading volume having to do with potential world events. Even if the Pentagon rejoins the project and receives the same moral outcry as when it was pressured to abandon the terror future market, the Pentagon should ignore the demands of politicians. The terror futures market offers an additional opportunity, even if it may not be the most reliable, to predict when an attack against a United States soldier, asset, or ally may take place. Any lives saved, or terrorist acts averted are worth the negativity derived from the ethical issues regarding the terror futures market. The Pentagon should rejoin the terror futures market project.

(Alex Rosemblat's column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at arosemblat@cavalierdaily.com.)

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