February 22, 2006

Port Debate Update

Carroll Andrew Morse

1. Writing in National Review Online, Mansoor Ijaz provides some recent facts consistent with Marc’s experience that the United Arab Emirates are in the top tier of the world’s port-operators…

As Jim Robbins noted Tuesday, in December 2004, Dubai was the first Middle East government to accept the U.S. Container Security Initiative as policy to screen all containers for security hazards before heading to America. In May 2005, Dubai signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy to prevent nuclear materials from passing through its ports. It also installed radiation-detecting equipment — evidence of a commitment to invest in technology. In October 2005, the UAE Central Bank directed banks and financial institutions in the country to tighten their internal systems and controls in their fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.
2. Writing in National Review Online’s Corner, Cliff May, another hard-nosed security hawk ala Frank Gaffney, would like to learn a bit more about the deal, but doesn’t see an obvious red flag…
While it can’t hurt to study this deal a little more thoroughly (which would be a face-saving measure for all concerned), it is not obvious that national security will be compromised by giving the UAE a green light,
…but also reminds people that there are increased vulnerabilities inherent in having a foreign country manage your ports…
Suppose a British firm manages the ports…And one day he gets a phone call telling him there are certain documents he will deliver to a specific location or his wife and children back in Devon will be toast. You think that wouldn’t pose a security risk?
3. James Lileks sums up my visceral feelings, as well as, I suspect, the visceral feelings of many others on this issue pretty well…
The average American’s reaction to handing port control over to the UAE is instinctively negative, and for good reason. There are two basic reactions: We can’t do this ourselves? and We should trust them, why?…

Wanting port control to remain in American hands is not a matter of Arabiaphobia, any more than selling Boeing to China means you harbor deep hatred of Asians. Some things ought to be left in local hands. It seems absurd to have to make that argument in the first place. The UAE is not exactly stuffed stem to stern with pro-American individuals; the idea that the emirs will stand foursquare against infiltration by those who have ulterior motives is the sort of wishful thinking that makes buildings fall and cities empty. I’m not worried that some evil emir is putting a pinky to his monocled eye, and saying Mwah! at last I have them where I want them! I’m worried about the guy who’s three steps down the management branch handing off a job to a brother who trusts some guys who have some sympathies with some guys who hang around some rather energetic fellows who attend that one mosque where the guy talks about jihad 24/7, and somehow someone gets a job somewhere that makes it easier for something to happen.


Also writing in National Review Online, Frank Gaffney stands by his original position.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Not to pick a nit, but Lileks has either missed or forgotten that the current operator of the ports is a British company. And we all know how well they've done handling Muslim extremists in their country. Besides, this is the age of multi-national corporations, folks. Even if it was an American company, how hard would it be for a radical Islamist to somehow get hired? Besides, why smuggle stuff in through a port? Just go over the Mexican or Canadian border!

Look, I understand the visceral reaction and how this doesn't seem like it passes the smell test. In fact, I don't particularly care about it one way or another. I'm just trying to make sure that we all slow-down in the rush to judgement. (Yikes, sounds kinda PC). I guess its the engineer in me trying to approach this analytically. All that being said, the problem apparently lays in the Administration's flawed political acumen (according to what I've read) than in the merits. Thus, it looks like this thing will fail, anyway.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at February 22, 2006 5:10 PM

Agree completely with your sentiments Marc.
Been quite amazed to learn how many of our ports are run by foreign companies, including those from countries like the not so sleeping giant China.
It's scary how small this world has become.

Posted by: Tim at February 22, 2006 9:12 PM

I have a question, where is Laffey on this port debate? I haven't heard yet.

Posted by: Grady Shipley at February 23, 2006 11:10 AM

Well, its good to know that our government was protecting "our" security interests with this secret agreement:

"The administration did not require Dubai Ports to keep copies of business records on U.S. soil, where they would be subject to court orders. It also did not require the company to designate an American citizen to accommodate U.S. government requests. Outside legal experts said such obligations are routinely attached to U.S. approvals of foreign sales in other industries...

Under the deal, the government asked Dubai Ports to operate American seaports with existing U.S. managers "to the extent possible." It promised to take "all reasonable steps" to assist the Homeland Security Department, and it pledged to continue participating in security programs to stop smuggling and detect illegal shipments of nuclear materials." (ProJo 2/23/06 pg A4)

I feel safer already.

Posted by: bren at February 23, 2006 12:50 PM