- The Washington Times - Friday, February 24, 2006

The ports controversy

I have no doubt that the United Arab Emirates and specifically Dubai want to be U.S. allies and certainly are affording us port access, buying fighter planes and offering us base facilities in this strategically important Middle Eastern country (“Ports deal defended on Hill; UAE firm says it will wait,” Page 1, yesterday)..

But allies can host Trojan horses. While millions of containers go through American ports, just 4 percent to 5 percent are inspected. Anyone with access could slip anything into these uninspected Trojan horses.

Not only that, but as Rowan Scarborough noted Thursday (“Considered an ally now, UAE backed bin Laden,” Page 1), when bin Laden lived in Afghanistan, he played host to emirs from the UAE. In fact, we may have passed up an opportunity to kill bin Laden to spare the life of a UAE emir in his company.

Moreover, 11 of the September 11 hijackers came to the United States via Dubai.

Not only that, but Dubai was a transshipment point for the Abdul Qadeer Khan network’s nuclear dealings with Iran, North Korea and Libya.

So would this purchase endanger U.S. security? Possibly in conventional ways, such as unwittingly allowing containers holding weapons of mass destruction to slip through our ports.

Unconventionally, too, through compromised employees working for the company in the United States. Though the employees would be carefully vetted, how can we prevent al Qaeda sympathizers from working for Dubai Ports World? How can we prevent the coercion of workers whose family back home may be threatened by terrorists interested in influencing a port employee in the United States? Too many things have gone wrong in this relationship in the past, and the potential for al Qaeda gaining a foothold through America’s ports seems to be too great.

ONA BUNCE

Bethesda

It is surprising to me that Rowan Scarborough would be surprised by the fact that the president or Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff had no knowledge of the ports deal approval until it became public (“Chertoff unaware of ports deal until after OK,” Page 1, yesterday). These are huge agencies. Many of them are filled with holdovers, at all levels, from previous administrations. Contrary to what reporters might think, the department or agency heads do not see every action that underlings perform, and sometimes those actions are contrary to the current administration, depending upon the mind-set or political affiliation of the underlings. I would be curious to know who supposedly sat on the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States and actually saw and signed the deal — and what their political affiliation is.

T. ENDICOTT

Burke

One thing I do not see in 99 percent of the commentary on this issue is the underlying economic enabler of such a deal. There is no doubt that its symbolic impact is going to cut President Bush off at the knees — and the rest of the Republican Party if Republicans go along with it.

However, it is way past time most Americans, and the politicians who represent them, start accepting the fact that foreign governments and companies cannot acquire claims on U.S. assets without U.S. dollars. When most of the U.S. population borrows the money to buy a Lexus sport utility vehicle and an oversized house with the most modern appliances, and when Congress has no qualms about sucking money out of the credit markets to finance all kinds of largess, you had better accept that foreign governments and companies will be getting the dollars.

These dollars will not be put under a mattress. They will be invested in U.S. Treasury securities and American businesses. It is very simple: If you want to own your own house, you have to pay off the mortgage, which is now owned by foreigners. Congress and its constituents should look in the mirror if they want to get to the root of why this ports deal came about.

SAMUEL BURKEEN

Reston

As Cal Thomas notes (“Any port in the terrorist storm,” Commentary, Wednesday), at a time when our seaports are considered the weak link in homeland security, turning over the operation of parts of six American ports to a company based in the home of two of the September 11 hijackers may be the dumbest of all decisions made since the September 11 attacks.

The recent indictments of three Ohio men, two of them American citizens, on charges of conspiring to commit terrorist acts against U.S. forces overseas shows that no matter how carefully the deal was vetted or how much it rewards a loyal ally, al Qaeda can infiltrate and recruit anywhere.

Marwan al-Shehhi, one of the September 11 hijackers, called the United Arab Emirates home. It is an Arab country where al Qaeda has recruited, banked and roamed freely. Much of the operational planning for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon took place inside the UAE. Money for the September 11 attacks was wired through the UAE banking system.

American seaports handle about 2 billion tons of freight each year, but only about 5 percent of containers are inspected on arrival. A container on one of these ships would be an ideal delivery system for a weapon of mass destruction such as an Iranian nuke.

These ports, encompassing major population centers, are especially vital to our energy security.

Management of U.S. port terminals means entrusting foreign ownership based in a country known to have been penetrated by terrorists in the past with key information about U.S. ports, including physical access to key port facilities and operational details that potential terrorists might find extremely useful.

Security at our nation’s seaports needs to be tightened and enhanced. This will not be done by outsourcing responsibility for management of terminals to countries whose territory and banks al Qaeda once favored.

DANIEL JOHN SOBIESKI

Chicago

The current panic over the prospect that an Arab-owned company will manage terminals at six of our seaports reflects the bigotry, ignorance and plain stupidity that are increasingly dominant in our society.

Do people think the Arabs are going carry the ports off to the Middle East? Are the Arabs going to deliberately mismanage the port terminals? Are they going to admit terrorists to the ports and see their investments blown up? Are they going to trash their own reputations and be evicted from all the ports where they manage terminals?

Every government in the Islamic world is in the gun sights of al Qaeda and its friends. Osama bin Laden has declared all of them to be “infidels” and “unbelievers.” Al Qaeda had plans to assassinate Saddam Hussein. Al Qaeda has tried to assassinate President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. It would seem that too many Americans can’t distinguish friend from foe and businessmen from terrorists. Many are too willing to turn friends into enemies.

DON JONES

Fernandina Beach, Fla.

I support the decision of President Bush to allow the purchase of a ports-management company by a company controlled by an Arab country.

This is a complicated world. It requires extensions of trust to people in positions to hurt us. It requires alliance-building. Building alliances requires taking risks. What I ask of the president is that those alliances be shaped so that the risks assumed are reasonable. We are assured that was done here.

The uproar from Capitol Hill and the failure to support the president in this ports issue is substantially an uninformed and alarmist assumption that a serious risk exists here. The security of the United States is not compromised by risk-taking. Our security is enhanced by our taking reasonable risks.

By all accounts, those charged with making a risk-benefit analysis conducted their due diligence and made their decision, possibly without political calculation. That is not a bad thing.

By expanding our alliances, the president is pulling us into the future. We are blessed to have his brave leadership.

Some contend that the fault here was not dispatching staff to Capitol Hill to give private assurances and to secure conditional support for a couple of news cycles. Presumably, the president should have anticipated the instinct of congressmen who would govern from fear and prejudice matters impacting security. The president is accused of having a political tin ear. May that be so. Be assured. We are safer for it.

MICHAEL MARTIN

Mount Lebanon, Pa.

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