TCS Daily


Bipartisan Hysteria Is Not Security

By Veronique de Rugy - February 24, 2006 12:00 AM

The bipartisan hysteria over the pending $6.8 billion deal allowing the company Dubai Ports World to oversee operations at key U.S. ports demonstrates how misguided Congress is in matters of homeland security.

The fear over this deal is that Arab control would make it easier for terrorists to smuggle a dirty or nuclear bomb inside one of the approximately 9 million containers that enter U.S. ports every year, blowing up a port and shutting down commerce. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Peter King (R-NY) introduced emergency legislation Tuesday to "suspend the handover" of our port operations to Arabs.

Yet, the idea that this deal somehow means turning over the ownership of American ports to foreigners makes no sense. In the age of globalization, foreign ownership is commonplace. Most of the maritime infrastructure that sustains American trade -- the ships, the containers, the loading equipment, and the facilities -- is owned by foreigners. As the Baltimore Sun pointed out earlier this week, you can see a Greek-owned ship flying a Liberian flag, employing a Filipino crew and carrying cargo from China into a U.S. port terminal managed by a British company that hires American longshoremen.

At least 30 percent of terminals at major U.S. ports are operated by foreign governments and businesses. At the port of Los Angeles, the busiest in the country, it's 80 percent. And let's not forget that the current owner of the port terminals in question is the British company P&O. In fact, very few port terminals are operated by Americans: 24 of the top 25 ship terminal operators worldwide are foreign governments or foreign-based companies.

Furthermore, the notion that this deal will outsource our port security to foreign companies is absurd. The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials provide security independent of who is operating the terminal. The operator's job is to manage the incoming and outgoing shipments at their facility. This involves scheduling the pick up and delivery of shipments, loading containers on and off the right vessels, and providing storage space for cargo. Like P&O before it, the employees of Dubai Ports World would be local longshoremen who belong to the International Longshoremen's Association, an AFL-CIO-affiliated union. In short, Dubai Ports World would simply be a manager directing American longshoremen to load and unload cargo that is secured by American homeland security officials.

But none of this should matter. Our nation's port security shouldn't rely on who owns what in our ports. Effective port security should keep terrorists and their bombs as far as possible from U.S. shores. In other words, securing U.S. ports at home should be our last line of defense. Not our first.

Our first line of defense should be to make sure that terrorists do not get the dangerous materials necessary to build a bomb. The most cost effective solution would be to keep close tabs on fissile materials. It is easier to monitor a lump of uranium at a known location than to detect uranium smuggling. Part of this exercise might include buying foreign stockpiles or helping foreign governments protect or destroy their stockpiles.

Our second line of defense should be security mechanisms to prevent nuclear devices from arriving in the United States. For instance, we should help officials abroad to tighten security at the foreign ports that feed shipments to the U.S. These efforts could include helping fund systems to bolster foreign countries' ability to detect nuclear material in their ports or placing U.S. agents on site in foreign ports.

Another cost-effective strategy would be to create partnerships with foreign manufacturers and importers. Partners would agree to meet "supply chain" standards establishing a secure chain of custody for every unit of cargo traded overseas. This would ensure that their shipment methods repel potential terrorist attempts to use those shipments for introducing weapons of mass destruction into our ports.

Finally, our last line of defense should be direct on-site protection at local ports. Security measures could include fencing, surveillance cameras, and thorough background checks for foreign companies operating ports in the U.S. Of all defense strategies, on-site port protection is the least cost effective. It is hard to detect highly enriched uranium and almost impossible to detect anything if it is shielded. As such, the effectiveness of the detection devices in use now is dubious. And even if the detection devices were capable of detecting dangerous material, it would still be riskier than the other solutions because the stakes are so high: if the system fails, the illicit material ends up inside the country.

Our current policy focuses on local ports while overlooking the most cost effective security measures. Out of a $2.03 billion port security budget, only $200 million is spent on programs to secure foreign ports. And according to experts, we barely spend $250 million protecting stockpiles of fissile material abroad.

By obsessing about the nationality of a respected ports operator, instead of thinking about what would actually make our nation safer, members of Congress are not enhancing American security.

The author is resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and has testified before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

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6 Comments

Ownership
The ports are not and will not be owned by Dubai Ports, at least in the NY/NJ Port authority.
P&O has a 30 lease granted by the owners, the quasi-multi-state owned company NY/NJ Port Authority.

One complaint of the CIA has been not having any HUMINT.
Enlisting the management of Dubai Ports could be very useful for security.

Hyperbole induced Hysteria
When you unleash a campaign of hyperbole to win support for the Iraq War, then you had better expect hysteria when Americans learn that our allies also harbor our enemies.

"America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."
President Bush, October 7, 2002

Dole says he won't lobby Congress
The Charlotte Observer, February 24, 2006

On Thursday, Bob Dole said in a statement that his work for Dubai Ports World will be limited to talks with the Bush administration and efforts -- presumably including TV appearances -- to "help the American people understand the real facts" about the controversial $6.8 billion deal.

"I have not nor will I 'lobby' members of Congress on this issue, not even at home," Dole said. "I have not discussed the port issue with any senator or member of Congress or anyone working for the Congress, nor will I do so in the months to come."

Dole sent his statement hours after the N.C. Democratic Party put out one calling on Sen. Elizabeth Dole to recuse herself when Congress looks into the deal...

...Also Thursday, two other Tar Heel Republicans -- Reps. Robin Hayes of Concord and Patrick McHenry of Cherryville -- opposed the ports deal.

http://www.montereyherald.com/mld/montereyherald/news/nation/13954401.htm

Let's do both
Even if we accept that Congress ought to pay attention to the security topics the author mentions, how does that become an argument for creating new vulnerabilities at our ports? She vastly underestimates our enemies - their patience, methodology, connections, influence, and links to Iran, a regionally huge nation state with enough coercive and deterrant capability to kill our troops all over Iraq and get away with it. If we create an exposure, they will use it.

No substance, all emotion. And as usual with this administration, or any other, emotion wins.
Well the argument that the British Company already running our 6 ports will somehow be less secure when they are owned by a company from Dubai when security comes from the Coast Guard and Customs Service and not the port operator is winning the day.

Well this is certainly not the first time this administration is in an emotional fiasco, the only difference is that the other side has made up this false security argument.

The worst part of this mess is that any future buyers of US assets will think twice about it. Hopefully they will continue to bid for US contracts and buy US assets thus keeping MILLIONS of people employeed. But don't bet on it.

Hysteria?
After watching days of violent protest over a cartoon among Muslims throughout the world, how can a person be not weary of doing business with any Muslim government?

I don't get it...by northernguy
I don't get what all the fuss is about. If Americans are really convinced that foreigners should not be allowed to operate strategic assets why stop at ports. Why not airports? Why not pipelines? Why not refineries? Why should they be allowed to be suppliers to the American military? What about data storage banks some of which are actually located offshore? What about fibreoptic trunk lines? What about partnerships between American and foreign banks doing international trade which gives foreigners a an opening right into the heart of the American financial system? What about the critical role foreign manufacturers play in the provision of essential parts and services that are essential for modern American industrial society?


Why take the time and effort to sort out so called good foreigners from bad? Better to cut all foreigners off from any access to the American homeland. That's what North Korea does and look how well it works for them!!

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