Security Experts Counter Dem Attacks on Port Deal

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

( - An additional 45-day government review of the controversial bid by a Dubai-owned company to operate some terminals at six U.S. ports will do nothing to change the minds of congressional Democrats like U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader.

"Congress must put an immediate halt to this deal that the (Bush) administration hastily approved in secret without input from the Congress or state officials and without a thorough review of how it might affect America 's security," Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

However, across town a group of current and former law enforcement officials urged patience while the new review of the deal involving Dubai Ports World (DPW) is conducted by an interagency panel called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

"We have a 45-day opportunity to sort out what needs to be sorted out and come to a reasoned conclusion and move on from there," said Adm. James M. Loy, the former deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Loy did not fault those in Congress who have demanded further scrutiny of the DPW deal, saying that "it is absolutely the prerogative, the right and the obligation of the United States Congress" to do so in order to "satisfy themselves that the right actions are being taken in the best interests of the United States."

Rear Adm. Craig Bone, director of inspection and compliance at the U.S. Coast Guard, rejected some of the criticism that has been leveled at the Bush administration following its initial approval of the DPW takeover of the ports.

"The idea that no one's watching and that these people can do whatever they want with our ports is false," Bone said. "They are not responsible for the security operations that the Coast Guard or state law enforcement agencies are carrying out. It has been misrepresented as they will have access to all our security information.

The only people who possess that security information are law enforcement or individuals with security clearances, Bone asserted.

David Heyman, director and senior fellow of the Homeland Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, added that many of the nation's ports are already run by foreign companies.

"Over half of U.S. ports today are currently being operated by firms from countries like China, Singapore, Korea, and the U.K.," Heyman said. Dubai Ports World "is an international company with billions of investments and operations in India, Romania, Australia, Germany, Dominican Republic, China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, all over the world," he said.

Contracts like the one involving DPW are normally approved by officials from 12 executive branch departments who sit on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The panel is chaired by the representative from the Department of Treasury.

The CFIUS website states that the original review of DPW lasted three months, during which time the committee "thoroughly investigated the transaction for national security concerns" and sought additional feedback from individuals with the Departments of Transportation and Energy "to widen the scope and expertise of the national security scrutiny."

"I was the individual who cleared on this process within Customs and Border Protection and reviewed all the material and there was nothing derogatory or any hesitation on our part in moving forward with supporting this decision," Jayson Ahern, assistant commissioner with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations, said Friday at the panel discussion sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Ahern admitted that in looking back on how the DPW transaction was handled, "we needed to have our political antennas up a little more throughout this process."

But Ahern did not waiver, saying Dubai Ports World was not a security threat. He noted that since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the Container Security Initiative has required that the ports in 42 countries involving 75 percent of all shipments to the U.S. are monitored by American officials. The port of Dubai signed onto the initiative in March 2005.

Still, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders are not budging from their view that the contract with Dubai Ports World should be scrapped.

"More than five years after 9/11, America is not as safe as it should be. Without implementing all of the recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, and creating a comprehensive plan for securing our ports, the President and the Republican Congress have not fulfilled their sacred responsibility to keep Americans safe," she said.

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