- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2006

Since September 11, our nation has taken unprecedented steps to ensure that the cargo arriving at our ports is fully screened, passes through multiple layers of security on its journey to the United States and meets tough national and international security requirements.

Port security begins overseas, before a container is even loaded onto a ship. First, 100 percent of all cargo destined for the United States is screened using the specific manifest data our Customs and Border Protection officials receive 24 hours in advance of loading the cargo on a ship. This screening system uses an advanced set of algorithms to detect anomalies and target shipments against corporate histories, parties to the transaction, intelligence and other information.

Additionally, Customs and Border Protection inspectors stationed in more than 40 international ports — representing some 80 percent of the container traffic bound for the United States — conduct a thorough review of shipping and cargo manifest information, company histories and intelligencetodetermine whether the contents of a container pose a risk to our country and require additional scrutiny. Once cleared, that cargo then passes through a series of security checks while in transit, including automated, risk-based targeting, scrutiny of the vessel and crew by the Coast Guard, and in some cases, physical inspection of the cargo when it arrives at our ports, including X-ray and radiation-detection screening.

At no point during this entire process is a private company responsible for our nation’s port security. Our Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection agents are always in charge of the all-important security responsibility.

In fact, companies that operate in our ports are subject to an extensive range of federal port and maritime security laws and regulations, and are required to work closely with U.S. security agencies to ensure the highest standards of port security. These are facts that cannot be changed and will not change with the purchase of a British company — Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. — by the Dubai Ports World, a holding company based in the United Arab Emirates that would take over certain container terminal operations and services in a number of U.S. ports.

Let us be clear: Dubai Ports World is not buying U.S. seaports and Dubai Ports World will remain subject to our Coast Guard and Customs officials. Dubai Ports World is proposing to purchase only operating interests in the ports in question — that is, the right to operate container terminals and provide logistical services, such as unloading cargo. This is not uncommon. Many foreign companies conduct commercial operations in U.S. ports and we have similar arrangements with our foreign counterparts, including the Port of Dubai, which is a key partner in our overseas Container Security Initiative. Indeed, the Port of Dubai allows our American inspectors to check cargo before it leaves their port. In addition, local port authorities will continue to retain ownership of our ports and the employment base at these ports will not change as a result of the purchase.

Furthermore, whenever a foreign entity notifies our government of its intention to purchase a foreign firm operating in the United States, and where national security interests may be touched, a multi-agency committee called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States rigorously reviews the transaction. As participants in this process, we cannot state strongly enough that our first and foremost priority in analyzing this transaction — and all transactions — has been the security of this nation.

The committee includes representation of the primary national security agencies of the federal government: the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, Treasury, Commerce and State, and the National Security Council staff, among others. This process allows each member of the committee to carry out its own independent analysis of the potential transaction and review any national security concerns. In the case of the Dubai Ports World purchase, as with others, the Departments of Transportation and Energy also participated in the review to provide a more thorough examination and broaden the scope and expertise of the agencies involved.

The intelligence community also provides the committee with an independent assessment of whether the foreign company poses a threat to U.S. national security and did so in this case. Based on that assessment, the committee’s 12 member agencies unanimously concluded that the purchase of Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. by Dubai Ports World would not pose a threat to U.S. national security.

But going even further, in this case the Department of Homeland Security negotiated a strong and unprecedented set of security and other commitments from Dubai Ports World to enhance that company’s security profile and to increase our ability to monitor and enforce security beyond what the law requires. With these assurances, which go far beyond what the companies are otherwise legally obligated to do, Homeland Security and all other members of the committee agreed that national security requirements would be fully addressed and the transaction could proceed pending other regulatory hurdles.

All of us involved in this process know that protecting America from terrorist threats involves a comprehensive effort, whether taking the fight to terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq, locating and capturing supporters of terror at home and abroad or protecting our borders and transportation hubs and ports. We reached approval of the Dubai Ports World transaction with all of that in mind and indeed to further that goal.

A key component of winning the war on terror is consistent and principled leadership. On this issue, the United States has a responsibility to act according to established procedures and to act without bias. As the president said on Tuesday, “it sends a terrible signal to friends around the world” if we hold an unfounded prejudice against a country that has played by the rules and acted as an ally. We and our colleagues in the administration are confident of our decision, and we believe that the facts bear out our decision.

Michael Chertoff is secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. John W. Snow is secretary of the Department of the Treasury.

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