Washington, Aug. 1 (Reuters): John Poindexter, the Iran-Contra scandal figure who headed two criticized Pentagon projects, including one that would have enabled investors to profit by predicting terrorist attacks, will quit his post within weeks, US defence officials said yesterday.
Poindexter, a retired US Navy admiral, “expects to, within a few weeks, offer his resignation,” a senior defence official said. Disclosure of his planned departure from the defence department came just two days after defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld terminated a Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, project supervised by Poindexter for a potential futures trading market in predictions of assassinations, terrorism and other events in West Asia.
The programme was derided by Democrats and Republicans in Congress, some of whom called it “bizarre,” “unbelievably stupid” and“offensive.” Rumsfeld himself said he cancelled the programme “an hour after I read about it.”
Poindexter earlier spearheaded a computerised surveillance project to collect information about potential terrorist threats by scouring private databases containing mountains of information about millions of people, drawing fire from privacy advocates. The official indicated Poindexter had become a lightning rod for criticism, but did not answer directly when asked if Rumsfeld forced his resignation.
Poindexter served as President Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser in the 1980s. He became a central figure in the Iran-contra scandal in which Reagan administration officials diverted cash from secret sales of arms to Iran to bankroll Nicaraguan guerrillas at a time when such aid was forbidden by Congress. He was convicted of lying to Congress, but the conviction later was set aside.
“Everybody certainly recognises Admiral Poindexter’s background. And in the context of that background, it became in some ways very difficult for him to receive an objective reading of work that he was doing on behalf of finding terrorists,” the official said. Poindexter has worked for DARPA since January 2002, serving as director of its Information Awareness Office, and earns an annual salary of $142,500, the Pentagon said.
Among the lawmakers who expressed concern about the DARPA projects, Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, said, “The problem is that these projects were just fine with the administration until the public found out about them. ... The lesson seems to be that you can do whatever you want quietly, so long as it doesn’t become a public embarrassment.”
DARPA had said the $8 million Policy Analysis Market project was meant to explore the power of futures markets to predict and possibly prevent terrorist attacks, arguing that futures projects had a track record of being good at predicting events such as election results.
Poindexter also was embroiled in controversy over the surveillance project previously called Total Information Awareness. After a wide range of critics blasted the project’s potential for invasion of privacy, lawmakers and the defence department established limits on the scheme. The official said Poindexter possesses “a very creative intellect,” but noted he had been involved in “a couple of programs of varying degrees of merit that have been seen as certainly unorthodox” and beyond merely being “cutting-edge.”