- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 21, 2006

On Sunday, the Australian government issued the following alert to its citizens: “We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in the United Arab Emirates because of the high threat of terrorist attack. We continue to receive reports that terrorists are planning attacks against Western interests in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Commercial and public areas frequented by foreigners are possible terrorist targets.”

The United States has approved a business deal that would turn over the operation of six major American ports to a company owned by the UAE, the very country Australians are to be wary of visiting. The obvious question: If it is dangerous for an Australian to travel to the UAE because of terrorism, isn’t it even more dangerous for a company owned by UAE to own the rights to American ports where terror might be directly, or indirectly, imported?

There have been some dumb decisions since the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001, including the “welcoming” of radical Muslim groups, mosques and schools that seek by their preaching and teaching to influence U.S. foreign policy and undermine the nation. But the decision to sell port operations in New York, Newark-Port Elizabeth, N.J., Baltimore, Miami, Philadelphia and New Orleans to a company owned by the UAE may be the dumbest of all.

Security experts have repeatedly said American ports are poorly protected. Each year, about 9 million cargo containers enter the United States through its ports. Repeated calls to improve port security have mostly gone unheeded.

In supporting the sale decision by a little-known interagency panel called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), the Bush administration dismissed security risk concerns. National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones said the for $6.8 billion to Dubai Ports World was “rigorously reviewed” by CFIUS, which, he said, considers security threats when foreign companies seek to buy or invest in U.S. industry. Apparently money talked more than common sense.

In a rare display of bipartisanship, congressional Republicans and Democrats are forging an alliance to reverse the decision. Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, has announced plans for her Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs to hold hearings. Sens. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, and Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat — both members of Mrs. Collins’ committee — have raised concerns. New York’s Democratic senators, Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton have also objected to the sale. Mrs. Clinton and Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, expect to offer a bill to ban companies owned or controlled by foreign governments from acquiring U.S. port operations.

Republican House Members Chris Shays of Connecticut, Mark Foley of Florida and Vito Fossella of New York are among those who want to know more. In a House speech, Mr. Foley said, “The potential threat to our country is not imagined, it is real.”

The UAE was used as a financial and operational base by some of the September 11 hijackers. A New York Times editorial said the sale takes the administration’s “laxness to a new level.”

Members of Congress may wish to consider the UAE was an important transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components bound for Iran, North Korea and Libya by a Pakistani scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan. The UAE was one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate government before the U.S. invasion toppled it.

The Department of Homeland Security says it is legally impossible under CFIUS rules to reconsider approval of the sale without evidence the Dubai company gave false information or withheld vital details from U.S. officials. Congress should change that law.

Last year, Congress overwhelmingly recommended against the Bush administration permitting a Chinese company to buy the U.S. oil services company UNOCAL. Six years ago, when a Chinese company took control of the Panama Canal from the U.S., former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff retired Adm. Thomas H. Moorer warned of a “nuclear Pearl Harbor.”

Congress must stop this sale of American ports to foreign interests and, in an era of terrorism, prevent any more potential terrorist targets from falling into the hands of those who wish to destroy us.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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