Will the king of Jordan be overthrown? Will Yasser Arafat be assassinated? Will North Korea launch a nuclear attack? You can bet on it.
Anyone — even terrorists, some lawmakers warn — will soon be able to place anonymous bets on future terrorist attacks on a Web site.
The Pentagon has set up a Web site for the Policy Analysis Market, which is intended for a group of scholars and analysts to bet on the likelihood of dramatic events, especially in the Middle East.
The Policy Analysis Market would be a joint project of the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and two private companies: Net Exchange, a market technologies company, and the Economist Intelligence Unit, a business component of the publisher of the Economist magazine.
The idea is to apply business market analysis to create a Defense Department "early warning system to avoid surprise," a DARPA statement said. The Pentagon says it's a technique that's been successful in predicting elections, even box-office receipts.
But as Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Ron Widen, D-Ore., told reporters in Washington, D.C., today, it is a sick idea.
"I think this is unbelievably stupid," said Dorgan. "It combines the worst of all of our instincts, in my judgment. It is a tragic waste of taxpayers' money, it will be offensive to almost everyone.
"Can you imagine if another country set up a betting parlor 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?" he said.
So far, $749,979 has been spent on the project and Wyden and Dorgan said the Pentagon is asking Congress for $8 million to set up the Internet program. Anyone invited to play will wager that specific events will happen or not. Participants can actually make a small amount of money if their predictions come true.
"The idea of a federal betting parlor on atrocities and terrorism is ridiculous and it's grotesque," said Wyden.
The government is hoping to attract 10,000 players by next year to interpret different scenarios.
"This is a harebrained scheme that … ought to be shut down," said Dorgan.
This is clearly a sensitive topic. Late this afternoon, several of the more provocative scenarios were removed from the Web site, like a graphic showing hypothetical futures contracts in which investors could trade terrorist possibilities.