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Poindexter to resign in coming weeks following terror futures flap

Program generated firestorm on Capitol Hill

Ret. Adm. John Poindexter
Ret. Adm. John Poindexter

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Retired Adm. John Poindexter, who created a firestorm this week with his plan to create a futures market that would capitalize on predicting terror attacks, will resign in coming weeks from his post at the Pentagon, a senior defense official said Thursday.

The official said the research that Poindexter and his Total Information Awareness program (TIA) were conducting had become just too "unorthodox."

Poindexter, a central figure in the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan administration, had been causing a stir since he returned to the Pentagon in 2002 to head up the TIA research program to track terrorist activity.

But calls for his resignation intensified this week after his latest project -- which would have allowed investors to profit by correctly predicting terrorist attacks, assassinations and overthrows of regimes -- became public.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said it only took him an hour to scrap a program once he read about it.

"It was pretty clear to me it ought to have been canceled, so I did so," Rumsfeld told reporters on Wednesday. "Even if it had been a brilliant idea, which I doubt, it would not have been able to function in the environment that it was created."

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, said Thursday Poindexter's decision to resign "was probably a wise one."

Poindexter was Reagan's national security adviser when the Iran-Contra scandal broke. He and one of his aides, Oliver North, began electronically destroying more than 5,000 e-mail messages in the memory banks of the White House computer system. They apparently didn't know was the messages were still retrievable from the e-mail system's backup tapes.

Investigators from the FBI and the Tower Commission subsequently used the tapes to reconstruct the Iran-Contra scandal.

Many in Washington were shocked to learn of Poindexter's quiet return to the nation's capital last year. And he immediately came under scrutiny when his program came up with a terror-tracking system that would scour credit card records, driver's license records and passport applications to try to sniff out potential terrorists. Many lawmakers and civil libertarians said such a program would be an invasion of privacy and unconstitutional.

Under the latest now-canceled program, called the Futures Markets Applied to Prediction (FutureMAP), investors using futures market analysis would have been allowed to predict the likelihood of acts of terrorism or international incidents -- such as an attack on Israel or the overthrow of the king of Jordan, both cited as examples on the program's Web site earlier this week. A correct prediction would yield a profit for the investor.

As news of the program spread through Washington this week, lawmakers -- particularly Democrats -- reacted with shock and disbelief.

Democratic Sens. Byron  Dorgan, left, and Ron Wyden talk about the controversial program at a Capitol Hill news conference on Monday.
Democratic Sens. Byron Dorgan, left, and Ron Wyden talk about the controversial program at a Capitol Hill news conference on Monday.

"I can't believe that anybody would seriously propose that we trade in death," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said Tuesday.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, said, "The idea of a federal betting parlor on atrocities and terrorism is ridiculous and it's grotesque."

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota, called the idea "stupid."

Wyden and Dorgan brought the proposal to public attention Monday.

The Total Information Awareness unit that Poindexter heads falls under the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

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