Friday, February 24, 2006

Control of ports

Clark Kent Ervin editorialized in NYT could have imagined that, in the post-9/11 world, the United States government would approve a deal giving control over six major American ports to a country with ties to terrorism? But this is exactly what the secretive Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has done.

The committee is not secretive; financial newspapers reported this back in November, and no one raised any concerns. I don't know whether it is a good idea or not. I do believe that the Bush administration should delay it for the allowed for 45 day review period, but at the end of that period it might well be that it will turn out to be a reasonable idea. The purchasing company has already made concessions in the area of security, and they may make others during the 45 day review.
Since 1999, the ports of New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia and other cities have been operated by a British concern, P & O Ports, which has now been bought by Dubai Ports World, a company controlled by the government of the United Arab Emirates. Defenders of the deal are claiming that critics, including the Republican and Democratic leaderships in Congress, are acting reflexively out of some bias against Arabs.

This is simply not true. While the United Arab Emirates is deemed by the Bush administration to be an ally in the war on terrorism, we should all have deep concerns about its links to terrorists. Two of the 9/11 hijackers were citizens of the emirates, and some of the money for the attacks came from there. It was one of only three countries in the world that recognized the Taliban regime. And Dubai was an important transshipment point for the smuggling network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani scientist who supplied Libya, Iran and North Korea with equipment for making nuclear weapons.
That is true, however all of that was before 9/11. As Bush is fond of saying 9/11 changed everything, and since 9/11 the UAE has become one of our best allies in the War on Terrorism, and many US Navy ships have docked at the Dubai port.
Most terrorism experts agree that the likeliest way for a weapon of mass destruction to be smuggled into our country would be through a port. After all, some 95 percent of all goods from abroad arrive in the United States by sea, and yet only about 6 percent of incoming cargo containers are inspected for security threats.
Inspecting them in the US will do no good. Suppose a nuclear bomb is placed in a container. If it detonates when the container is opened for inspection, it will do almost as much damage as if the container is taken elsewhere for it to detonate. That is why most of the inspection is done overseas. If the Dubai Ports World wanted to help terrorists send a nuclear bomb in a container, we need to worry about it being loaded in Dubai, not unloaded in the US.
It is true that at the ports run by the Dubai company, Customs officers would continue to do any inspection of cargo containers and the Coast Guard would remain "in charge" of port security. But, again, very few cargo inspections are conducted. And the Coast Guard merely sets standards that ports are to follow and reviews their security plans. Meeting those standards each day is the job of the port operators: they are responsible for hiring security officers, guarding the cargo and overseeing its unloading.

Michelle Malkin has some interesting ideas on the other side of the argument.

No comments: