Monday, January 26, 2004

In Defense of Admiral Pointdexter: Admiral John Pointdexter was Ronald Reagan's National Security Advisor. He was implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal in the late 80's and was convicted of conspiracy, lying to Congress, and obstruction of justice. The conviction was later overturned on technical grounds.

The Pentagon hired him as a consultant soon after Bush was elected president. While at the Pentagon, Pointdexter came up with two controversial proposals.

i. The Information Awareness Office. Pointdexter's idea was to combine all existing government public record databases into one. Once this was done, you could search this database for unusual patterns -- such as 19 immigrants from the Arab world buying tickets on the same day to flights leaving the east coast and heading to the west coast.

ii. The Terrorism Futures Market. Some people argue that markets are efficient, i.e. that prices of stocks in the stock market accurately reflect the available information about these companies at any given time. Pointdexter proposed creating a market where 'terrorism futures' -- i.e. bets that the U.S. will be hit by a major terrorist act before a certain date -- would be traded. This would give the government a more accurate perspective on the risk of terror attacks.

Both of these are interesting and novel proposals -- and both are troubling to some degree. How can we make sure that the new combined database wouldn't be misused? How can we make sure that terrorists themselves wouldn't trade on the futures market? There should have been a measured, reasonable public discussion of the risks involved.

Instead, the Democrats had a hysterical fit. There was no discussion; there was no debate; there were simply hysterical allegations by Democrats that these proposals were part of the Administration's war on civil liberties. The Administration itself, which was only vaguely aware of Pointdexter's proposals, quickly backed down. Pointdexter was relieved from the pentagon.

Flawed as Pointdexter's proposals were, they were an attempt to stay ahead of the terrorists by adapting innovative tactics. Its too bad that no one will seriously consider them in the future.


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