TCS Daily


Still Dubious About Dubai?

By Robert M. Green - March 9, 2006 12:00 AM

Critics of the plan that would put a United Arab Emirates (UAE) company in charge of operations at six major U.S. ports have cited security as their central concern. Advocates of the deal have most often argued that security will not be effected by Dubai Ports (DP) World management, largely because port security is the province of domestic U.S. agencies.

A third argument has not yet been made by the major factions, and may never be. That argument says that the UAE company's role here might result in better security implementation for the cargo container terminals than would otherwise have been possible.

Two factors explain potentially improved security under DP World management. The first is merely deductive. Given the intense furor already stirred to life in the media, the pressure to assure security could rise to a make-or-break agenda item for the ambitious company which already operates more than 40 terminals around the world.

Even before the media firestorm, a member of the U.S. committee that originally approved the DP World deal said that because the company is Persian Gulf-based it has "a strong incentive to make sure [terrorist threats to U.S. ports] never materialize." If anything, that incentive doubled when critics made a billboard issue of the deal.

More studied reasons for supposing port security in the U.S. could improve under DP World begin with the company's demonstrated ability to significantly grow its business managing shipping hubs while operating within environs associated with terrorism. In the same period that terrorist Web sites have increasingly advised jihadists on different ways of attacking or infiltrating ports and commercial maritime activities, the port of Dubai in UAE has soared from a mid-level operation to one of the busiest ports in the world.

Carved from the Dubai Ports Authority, the company's reputation for technological implementation dates back to its project to automate many of its processes in the 1990s. At that time, Dubai became one of the first ports in the world to implement so-called e-shipping, digitizing most of its planning, scheduling and operations while "building out" a CRM (customer relations management)/Web portal system that was one of the first of its kind used by a port.

According to American e-commerce experts who followed the UAE technology implementation as it has evolved, it was Dubai's willingness to invest in IT that allowed it to offer container shipping and related services at lowered costs for its customers. Last year, a Homeland Security official called the two-terminal Dubai facility "modern and extremely efficient ports."

While the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the implementation of the White House-backed Container Security Initiative (CSI) tested the resilience of port operators both here and abroad, the port of Dubai continued even in that period to grow both in volume and influence in worldwide shipping. In 2004 Dubai made another bold-stroke decision, becoming the first Middle Eastern port (and 35th overall) to agree to the CSI, signing formally last March. CSI gives U.S. Customs personnel a foothold in foreign ports and requires that state-of-the-art security systems such as gamma ray, x-ray and radiological detection systems be implemented for cargo inspection.

Dubai's interest in security has seemingly followed the same upward curve that most critical infrastructure operators have followed. All confront greater threats from terror groups, and particularly from al Qaeda.

The attack on the USS Cole in 2000 made it clear that Osama bin Laden's group was acutely interested in wreaking havoc on maritime targets, if it could. The Cole attack was, in fact, masterminded by an operative whose nickname inside the group was "Prince of the Seas," and who had gathered reconnaissance information on about 150 potential, mostly seaside targets around the world at the time of his arrest.

The port of Dubai itself has not gone unscathed as transnational terror has spread. The oft-cited use of the port by the notorious A.Q. Kahn nuclear weapons black market involved the creation of a bogus computer company in the Emirates that subsequently was able to ship banned materials to Libya. A few other conventional weapons proliferation incidents have been traced back through the port, though such problems are not exclusive to Dubai.

In fact, if DP World's most recent project is any indication, the Dubai company might already have absorbed its lessons and staked a claim in what is fast becoming a "security market." At the recently opened Pusan Newport in South Korea, DP World and tech partner Samsung of Japan worked with the Korean port authority to build a state-of-the-art security port.

Pusan opened for business late last year fashioned around a Samsung-developed central security system in which threats are anticipated and met via a network of monitors including advanced CCTV, lasers, radiological and other sensors, and explosives- and motion-detection fencing of the sort normally found in high-sensitivity military settings.

Samsung often relies on security specialist companies, such as GVI Security Systems of Texas, which increasingly build "intelligent" systems that rely on a portfolio of technologies including "smart cameras" that can send alerts and trigger other defenses, vulnerability analysis and remediation systems, biometrics and identity management devices, and other emerging applications.

Pusan aside, most ports around the world are analog facilities often operated more in accordance with maritime traditions than modern efficiencies. In fact, shipping in general is so under-automated that even an investment in advanced security can exert downward pressure on overall costs — such as that which occurred during a study of container "e-sealing" done in 2003 in Singapore.

Sponsored by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, officials from BearingPoint added radio frequency identification (RFID) chips to container seals for better cargo tracking, and not only achieved a higher level of security but a probable shipping cost reduction of about $220 per container if the port in Thailand and the one in Seattle (used in the study) were fully networked.

The value of automation in tracking cargo from points of origin through the supply chain to the destination has already been accepted conceptually elsewhere too, including the New York/New Jersey "Megaports Project." But projected security enhancements and cost savings related to RFID and other shipping innovations "will remain elusive" unless ports are prepared to more fully automate and network with one another so as to leverage Web services and other supply chain management practices, the Asian study determined.

The driving force for such innovations in hundreds of ports worldwide begins with the broadest international treaties and agreements and works down through national governments to ports and their operators. To all outward appearances, DP World's business model has seemingly been crafted around a parallel acceptance of e-commerce and technological standards, leading to better security such as that at Pusan.

The company's willingness to embrace technology could be the most significant edge it brings. While Bush administration officials and other supporters for the deal continue to insist that DP World is not going to be the security provider for ports in the U.S., security experts often note that the quality of organizational security is ultimately determined not by specialist providers or security officers but by the support (or lack of it) that operations and management interests bring.

To the extent that it can be measured, U.S. commercial port operators have not been all that committed to security. One Coast Guard estimate puts the security shortfall at American ports at about $7 billion overall, and the New York Times has reported that the very terminals DP World would operate here are among the lacking.

Moreover, as noted in the 2003 RFID test and by other technologists, the enterprise security model best suited for large and multifarious undertakings like port operations will likely be less than effective if built into an otherwise under-automated (or porously automated) operational infrastructure.

It requires no facts or metrics to say (with or without hysteria) that an Arab company represents a higher risk than weak technology does, merely because most terrorism is generated in Arab environs to begin with. But to all appearances, DP World's embrace of security innovation as encapsulated at the Pusan Newport in Korea and its own rise to prominence via broad technology investment, might indicate it uniquely understands the risks, in part because it faces them at point-blank range. If so, DP World could become a focal point of improved security at U.S. ports.

Robert M. Green is senior editor for the Washington-based Public Sector Institute.

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32 Comments

Let's win!
Folks, there really are good Arabs as well as bad ones, and it's not true that the only good Arab is a dead one. Our Arab and moslem allies are our most effective allies in this fight and are essential, much more so than Oldeurope type "allies". Dubai is a better friend than the know-nothings, left and right, who now revel in piling on the president. Our best hope is in all-out aggressive and ruthless initiatives to hit terrorists in their nests around the world, not in sitting around whining about lack of 'homeland defense'.

confusing issues
Because of widespread ignorance when it comes to things economic, politics keeps getting in the way of good business.
It is unfortunate that a good business deal needs to be justified by the "they are good allies" approach.

It's the Unions, not security at risk
As stated in the article DP World is heavily invested in IT. As demonstrated by the Christmas season stikes in Califonia (Long Beach?) a few years back over barcoding initatives Unions are afraid of any type of automation. If DP World gets to operate these ports there will most likely be less of a need for a large number of workers to track these containers. Unions give a lot of money & votes to politicans hence the outcry among politicans. Cry's about protecting Union jobs and high wages won't play so it's bash the Arab time in congress and the media.

'Still Dubious About Dubai?' is that good english?
'Still Dubious About Dubai?' is that good english? It seems wrong to me but I am no english expert. Does anybody know?
Should it be 'Still Have Doubt About Dubai?'

DPW deal isn't about security, it's about what GW sold us
It's just too bad that Bush and Company sold us the idea that ties to terrorism, financing terrorism, and having direct links to 9/11 are a bad thing. Otherwise, the UAE would be fine. Of course, Bush used a lot of licence when selling the war in Iraq....and now UAE is caught in the web of half-truths used to sell his Iraq war.

On the bright side, this is a perfect time for congressional GOPers to go officially on record to reject Bush. This Dubai Ports World deal is the best chance the GOP has to retain the House and Senate.

No it's about executive, legisislative, judicial
When I grew up, I was taught about the three sections of government. One runs the country, one writes the laws, one applies the laws.

For better or worse
Its not going to happen. W lost this one when he appropriated the techniques (this will go through by fiat) and the language (if you don't go for it, your a rascist islamophobe) of the left.

Deeper Question
Why are their no USA companies operating container ports? Why are most commoercial ships not flying US flags?
Could it be too many R-E-G-U-L-A-T-I-O-N-S ?

Another Question
Why are the local Ports Authority, who actually awarded the contract to P&O, not in hot water for awarding these contracts to foreign companies?
The Port Authority in NY/NJ is a state run company under the control of the governors.

Dubai is an ally of convenience not aligned with our long term interests
The plutocrats of Dubai need us in the short term as much or more than we need them. In the long run, they and all muslims are the blood enemies of our descendants unless we choose to convert to islam.

Allowing them any say or interest whatever in U.S. border security is madness.

Enemies of Islam, too
Dubai is no friend of the radical Islamist. All sorts of non-muslim behaviour is tolerated.
They will need us in the long term if they want to maintain their royal level of existence.

I'm feeling more secure already
We don't need Dubai to screw up our port security. For years it's been based on the premise that a cargo container is sealed at some loading dock in Yemen or Pakistan, and that means that when we open it up in New York Harbor it's totally safe.

So our Department of Homeland Security just spent $75 million and three years studying the issue. And guess what they found.

The seal is on the handle side of the door. On the hinge side, you can remove the pins and open the door without breaking the seal. Three years it took. And these are the best minds in the business.

Too many rules and regs
Then explain why non-US companies run all our port operations. Do they not mind being regulated?

Or you might illustrate which regulations apply, and favor foreign firms over US firms. We'll listen== if you can find same.

Why indeed
One would assume that there is a rule in place (one-a-them pesky regulations) that does not allow the Port Authority to discriminate against a company on the basis of national origin. Such a rule would require them to consider every proposal tendered only on its own merits.

Here's another question for ya. Why didn't this become an issue when a British firm got the contract, some years ago?

$7 billion question
"Here's another question for ya. Why didn't this become an issue when a British firm got the contract, some years ago?"

Where is the press?
Where is the press on this issue?

Liberal education
That's what you get with a 'liberal' education: socialism good, capitalist bad.

Roy Bean - Your question is easy to answer
You asked ""Why didn't this become an issue when a British firm got the contract, some years ago?""

It didn't become an issue because Great Briain has been a relatively constant ally for something on the order of 100 years. Perhaps we can talk about trusting the UAE if it stops funding and encouraging folks who want to cut our throats for 100 weeks.

Of course it would also help if they publicly and unequivocably renounce all the parts of the Koran which command them to cut our thoats unless we submit to Islam.

Roy Bean - your example if true simply amplifies why the ports issue is important
The administration and the congress (both parties) have been sleepwalking for four years since 9/11.

The other day it was revealed that a former Taliban government official, the equivalent of a professed Nazi, was granted a visa to come into the country and study at Yale. This occurred while we still have troops in Afghanistan fighting his ideological soul mates.

The Port controversy crystallized resistance to the notion that we can trust folks who openly avow their desire to kill us and destroy our way of life.

Cookie crumbs
Azcentral wants to plant cookies in my machine, and I don't like picking up the crumbs. Could you summarize their argument for me? Thanks.

A persistent rumor
"Of course it would also help if they publicly and unequivocably renounce all the parts of the Koran which command them to cut our thoats unless we submit to Islam."

This is an old canard. There are no such passages. You could prove me wrong by citing the wording of one such, and telling us which sura it is from.

Be cautious, but still keep the door open
You don't have to use my full name. Either "roy" or even "bean" will do just fine.

"The other day it was revealed that a former Taliban government official, the equivalent of a professed Nazi, was granted a visa to come into the country and study at Yale. This occurred while we still have troops in Afghanistan fighting his ideological soul mates."

I think that's fine. Taliban government officials weren't all stupid ideologues but also just included ambitious guys who wanted to make a career in government. The fact that one of them wants to go to Yale should be celebrated and encouraged. Maybe he'll go back and contribute something to his country-- or stay here and contribute something to ours.

Your observation depends on the notion that no one ever changes. If the Afghans are tainted for life by association with the Tals, do we just have to destroy them all? I thought the idea was to expose them to American ways, and by doing so win over their hearts and minds. Have a little faith in our way of life, will ya?

I would mention in passing that after May, 1945 the American government scooped up as many ***** as they could find, to bring back here and work for our side. And didn't folks like Ed Teller and Reinhard Gehlen make a contribution?

"The Port controversy crystallized resistance to the notion that we can trust folks who openly avow their desire to kill us and destroy our way of life."

It did that, all right. But it will prove to have been counterproductive. Now we've conveyed the idea that the US is hopelessly racist, and that even Muslims of good will who like the US and want to be like us will be excluded from participation in sharing the pie. This, of course, is one of Osama's most effective recruiting messages.

Note that immediately after 9/11 suspicion, ostracism and even detention fell on Muslim students in American universities. So many were harassed and sent back for often trivial visa violations that the bottom fell out of the lucrative market in bright foreign students. Our universities have never recovered from the brain drain, and have had to raise their rates to make up for the loss of revenue. The American scientific and technologic edge has suffered. These kinds of jingoistic tactics are often counterproductive.

I can call you Roy, or I can call you Bean; but I doesn't have to call you Roy_Bean
"Taliban government officials weren't all stupid ideologues but also just included ambitious guys who wanted to make a career in government."

You're absolutely right - I'm sure that many Taliban officials only beat their wives, smothered their shameless daughters and executed heretics when it was absolutely necessary.

"Your observation depends on the notion that no one ever changes. If the Afghans are tainted for life by association with the Tals, do we just have to destroy them all?"

I never said we have to destroy them all - I just don't want them here.

"I would mention in passing that after May, 1945 the American government scooped up as many ***** as they could find, to bring back here and work for our side. And didn't folks like Ed Teller and Reinhard Gehlen make a contribution?"

Edward Teller was a Hungarian - perhaps you could cite the association you imply. Unsure about Gehlen, but if he was the former spymaster he should have been executed rather than employed.

"Now we've conveyed the idea that the US is hopelessly racist, and that even Muslims of good will who like the US"

They don't have to like us, it will be enough if they fear us.

". . .immediately after 9/11 suspicion, ostracism and even detention fell on Muslim students in American universities. So many were harassed and sent back for often trivial visa violations that the bottom fell out of the lucrative market in bright foreign students."

This was one of the most productive responses to 9/11. Muslims make up 12% of the World's population, they can easily be replaced in our universities by Hindus and Buddhists. Bringing Muslims to this country is the functional equivalent of introducing pregnant cobras to the bedrooms of our grandchildren. Educating them in technical subjects is madness.

I'm too lazy to pull out the book again to quote Suras, but I read the Koran very carefully after 9/11. You should try that. The Koran is far more hateful and bloody minded than the Old Testament, and the Old Testament has some very bloody minded passages.

Can't be done
The only official Koran is in old Arabic, which is subject to interpretation by modern Arabic. English translations are not to be taken as official versions. That's why they don't believe the modern Bible.

Not a problem
There is certainly some slippage in any translation. And translations from the Arabic are worse than most, as it does not lend itself to objective, unambiguous statement. However it should certainly be possible to point to some specific verse that says they should smite the unbelievers.

In the Bible, for instance, we could point to Joshua. Where is the comparable passage in the Quran?

Casting stones
Many of our own esteemed legislators also have personal habits that don't stand close scrutiny. Bribery in exchange for legislation is one we should be concerned with.

Or, if sexual morality is more your thing, I used to know someone who was a dominatrix in DC. She could tell some tales about the high and powerful in baby diapers.

"Bringing Muslims to this country is the functional equivalent of introducing pregnant cobras to the bedrooms of our grandchildren. Educating them in technical subjects is madness."

Most of us consider this to be religious prejudice, and odious. There are probably no more nut jobs from Muslim nations coming here as students than there are Christians, here for generations, who read the Turner Diaries and are preparing for the coming race war. When I had life saving surgery a few years back every doctor on my team was either Iranian, Iraqi or Punjabi. Educating these people used to be one of our strengths.

I'm glad your surgery was successful but I'm not buying your argument
""Most of us consider this to be religious prejudice, and odious."

There was a time when I would have agreed, but I'm telling you that the Koran was for me a real eye opener. I'm a longtime skeptic who has read and listened to The Old Testament a couple of times for the poetry, so I know Yahweh was quite capable of explicitly ordering a vicious group specific slaughter, but Yahweh was a piker compared to Allah when it comes to issuing blanket and enduring directions to do murder.

"There are probably no more nut jobs from Muslim nations coming here as students than there are Christians, here for generations, who read the Turner Diaries and are preparing for the coming race war."

If foreign Christian Turner Diary readers were out there running planes into buildings, cutting throats, running SUV's into crowds and trying to carry bombs into footbal stadiums I would also be in favor of denying them visas, but they ain't, so I ain't too worried about them.

When a higher power uses a word it should continue to mean precisely what. . .
You wrote "The only official Koran is in old Arabic"

Who determines what is official in a religion with no central authority?

It has always seemed to me that a higher power worthy of the claim of omnipotence should be able to guard and ensure the interpretation of its words fully as well as it can cause them to be spoken or written down in the first place.

The experts
I was told by the experts on Islam, the Saudis, since they are the keeper of the two holy mosques, and Mohammed came from that region.
It doesn't matter what you think. It only matters what they believe.

Marjon - you are right in two ways
You wrote "I was told by the experts on Islam, the Saudis, since they are the keeper of the two holy mosques, and Mohammed came from that region.
It doesn't matter what you think. It only matters what they believe."

That's true, the actions of the Muslims will be predicated on what they believe, not what we believe. But they should know that our actions will be predicated on what we believe and not what they believe.

I, for instance, will heartily support a hundredfold payback on all Muslims if a US city is cored out by a nuclear weapon delivered by one Muslim whose ardor was whipped up by what the Saudis believe. I suspect that there are a lot like me.

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