Schumer and King question the port deal Posted by: McQ
on Thursday, February 23, 2006
Sen Chuck Schumer and Rep Pete King take a bipartisan moment to pontificate about the port controversy today in USA Today asking "Where's the Common Sense":
In a post-9/11 world, common sense would dictate that the proposed Dubai Ports World deal would trigger intense scrutiny on the part of our government. Yet common sense clearly did not prevail.
Schumer and King then go right to the heart of the matter that seems to be of concern to everyone. How does this effect our security?
While we agree with USA TODAY that port security depends primarily on what measures our federal government has in place, we believe that turning over significant control of six of our largest ports to the Dubai company without proper investigation could be a recipe for disaster.
Notice the wording. "Could be a recipe for disaster."
Based on what? Well, here's their justification for making that statement:
There are a number of serious questions that must be answered. The Dubai company is owned and operated by a country through which a number of the 9/11 hijackers traveled and al-Qaeda money was funneled. Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan used it as a crossroads for shipping nuclear technology and material to Iran.
Obviously, one would assume, those activities which Schumer and King claim took place in the UAE were the responsiblity of the government of the UAE to detect and stop, just as security in the 6 ports in question are the responsibility of the US government.
So common sense says that those activities weren't the job of the company in question to stop, prevent or detect, but that of the UAE's government.
Given that, what is the problem? If nothing is changed in terms of security responsiblity, how are these operators of a port anymore liable or responsible than the last?
Or said another way, nothing changes in the most important sphere ... the US government remains responsible for the security of the ports. Whether you find that comforting or believe the US government is doing an adequate job is an entirely different question. However, whether the company in question is a wholly owned subsidiary of the government of the UAE or not, nothing changes in the security sphere. And frankly, the fact that another government is involved through this company actually gives us more political leverage than having a mere commercial company in charge of the ports.
King and Schumer then ask:
Given all this, how can we be sure the company has security measures in place to protect against terrorist infiltration?
How can we be certain the company itself will not smuggle illicit weapons and materials into our nation?
How do we ensure that one of its employees is not working for our enemies?
Before answering those questions, I think it is important to ask whether the previous company had security measures in place to protect against terrorist infiltration? If so what were they? And if so, who required them to have the measures in place? I would assume the US government did. If so, I would also assume it would have the same requirements of the new owners. Seems a common sense thing doesn't it?
Secondly, were we certain the former company didn't smuggle illicit weapons and materials into our nation? If so how? And if not, why don't we know?
Third, how did we ensure that one of the former comany's employees was not working for our enemies? Surely we're not just discovering this need to know now? There is nothing about the former company, other than it was owned by citizens of an allied country, to preclude one of its employees from being exactly what Schumer and King are concerned about. Do we know? If so how? If not, why not?
There is nothing sacrosanct about a British owned international company being acceptable and a non-threat and an arab owned company being an automatic threat.
If the concern is security, then nothing has changed. If the concerns voiced in questions of Schumer and King are the real crux of their concern, we should already know the answers. Common sense would say that we've already ask and answered those questions concerning the former company and will simply ask and get answers of the new company.
Then we get to the nonsense talk:
Our call for increased scrutiny of this deal has nothing to do with the fact that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is an Arab nation. Our seaports remain the most vulnerable aspect of our homeland security. Therefore, handing over their operation to a foreign government, especially one with reported terrorist ties, deserves thorough review.
Seriously. This is just nonsense. Reread their justification for questioning the deal above. Although carefully worded, it does indeed indicate a concern with the fact that the UAE is an arab nation and as such allegedly allowed all of what they claim to be a problem go on within the ports they controlled in the UAE. And the implication is that they are sympathetic with the terroists of the region and that will carry over to the ports here.
Given that there the UAE had complete control of the security of the ports, whereas here they'll have none, this is nothing but scaremongering. And, since they obviously didn't have a problem with a foreign entity controlling the ports before in the guise of a British company, why are they concerned now, if it has nothing to do with the fact that the UAE is an arab country and all?
About the only common sense thing in their entire piece is this:
The Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States was established to answer these important questions of national security. Yet, in this case, CFIUS only completed a brief 23-day staff review and didn't even begin the 45-day investigation required by law when a foreign government is involved in a deal. More must be done.
Great. Do it. Take the 45 days. But quit pretending this is anything but a knee-jerk reaction to an arab country running the ports of New York. Run your investigation. Publish the findings. But don't pretend that this situation is any worse than the previous situation in terms of the 3 questions asked to justify blocking the deal.
Outsourcing Is Not the Issue. That the facilities at six U.S. ports will be foreign-owned is not significant. These facilities are already owned by a foreign company, the London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Company. Indeed, much of the maritime infrastructure (e.g., ships, containers, and facilitates) that supports U.S. seaborne trade and travel, which accounts for about 1/3 of U.S. GDP, is already foreign-owned. The globalization of maritime trade began decades ago, and this sale reflects the continuing globalization of a sector long-dominated by transnational firms.
Additionally, none of the infrastructure at these ports relates to military or national security facilities. The Defense Department controls the facilities that it uses to ship military goods.
Security Standards Will Not Change. Security standards for ports are governed by the International Shipping and Port Security (ISPS) Code, which is based on U.S. maritime laws adopted after 9/11. The same law applies to any company operating in the U.S., regardless of its origin.
The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for overseeing the implementation of ISPS. Every U.S. port has a Coast Guard officer who is the Captain of the Port and is responsible for coordinating all port security. The Customs and Border Protection agency and the Coast Guard, not the owner of the port, conduct security screening on individuals and cargo that enter the port.
Not a Terrorist Gateway. Dubai World Ports is a holding company, and it will have little to do with the day-to-day management of these port facilities. Its ownership alone does not entitle its employees to access any classified or sensitive security information unless, as now, they meet the requirements of ISPS and U.S. law. Moreover, almost all of the employees at these facilities are U.S. citizens. As well, with over $6 billion invested, no company would want to see its facilities used by terrorists. Finally, terrorist tradecraft does not involve high-profile purchases of companies. Terrorism infiltration, like criminal smuggling, involves penetration by individuals. That is a challenge for any company.
The Heritage Foundation agrees that a 45 day review is not at all unreasonable, but it certainly seems to agree that for the most part, this is much ado about nothing:
A Reasoned Approach
Congress certainly has the responsibility to ensure that the CIFUS process is being implemented as it intended. However, Because Congress has not taken the opportunity to review the CFIUS procedure since its implementation in 1988, it should take 45 days to review the Dubai World Ports deal. The country needs confidence in the procedures meant to ensure that foreign investment does not harm national security and this reasonable delay for review is the way to provide it.
Oh, and note how well Congress has done it's oversight job in this instance as well. It hasn't reviewed the CIFUS procedure since 1988. That's inexcusable, and especially so since 9/11.
Foreigners are already major operators in U.S. ports. Seven of the 13 terminal operators at the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex are foreign-owned, including companies from China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Denmark. The Dubai Ports World deal, scheduled to be completed March 2, would create the third largest port operator in the world.
Not to mention:
Dubai Ports World has a reputation as an efficient port operator with a good security record, including early participation in the U.S. Container Security Initiative, which places U.S. customs agents overseas to screen and secure cargo, according to port experts.
Dubai Ports World's chief operating officer, Edward Bilkey, is an American, and the Bush administration recently nominated a former company executive, David Sanborn, to head the U.S. Maritime Administration.
I'm sure at some point in this, opponents will seize on the notion that Sanborn must be a friend of Bush and thus the reason for his approval of the deal.
I wonder whether or not Chuckles Schumer realizes how much his whining and screaming about this issue plays right into Pan-Arabist/Islamicist memes about Zionists/Jews pulling the levers of western power to destroy their interests? Of course the assertion is poppycock but the memes are out there, firmly embedded and we are struggling against them.
From what I’ve read so far, no one has presented a clear and convincing case that this deal would negatively impact port security. It’s been suggested that even though DPW would not be handling security, they would have access to more information concerning the security strategy in place as carried out by the authorities, and that this info could be obtained and utilized by terrorists. So far, this is just a vague concern, but not one I’d dismiss out of hand.
At this point, whether you think Bush should have seen this coming or not, it’s clearly up to the administration to deal with these questions. I don’t think the Republicans in Congress are so eager to distance themselves from Bush that they would turn a deaf ear to his explanations. The Dems are, of course, going to continue the demagougery, but I think the President only really looks bad if he loses his party, too.
But for now, I can’t think that either DPW or the UAE would want to expose themselves to charges of enabling terrorist strikes inside the US via ports they control. Aiding al-Qaeda in so blatant a fashion would seem to be writing their own death certificates.
I seem to remember hearing that a UAE company owns an airline that runs in the US too. This seems to be a better editorial in USA today. There are Chinese companies that lease ports like this deal. There are Saudi and UAE airlines that lease gates in airports, which is analgous to this.
The UAE is one of our few arab allies, if we are going to alienate them, it should be over something more concrete than this.
From a political standpoint Bush should back down, but from a practical standpoint, this is a tempest in a teapot.
I do not have the details, but don’t we have a very important air base in the UAE? One that is the hub of all our middle eastern actions? And if we throw them out of this deal, could one not expect the possible response of losing that base?