- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Coast Guard appears to have been largely in the dark about the particulars of the Dubai Ports World deal as recently as one month and four days before the Jan. 17 approval, and possibly more recently than that. If that doesn’t raise serious questions about the review process under the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, nothing will.

The Coast Guard didn’t know the security environment at Dubai Ports World’s facilities, it didn’t know the backgrounds of the employees and it couldn’t tell whether foreign entities could influence the firm. This much emerged Monday with the release of a Dec. 13 Coast Guard memorandum detailing “intelligence gaps” — gaps which, in the Coast Guard’s view as of mid-December, made it impossible to determine whether the port deal endangered national security. If one of the two key port-security agencies was in the dark as the Christmas holiday approached and as a January decision loomed, could it possibly have resolved all this so quickly?

The Coast Guard now somewhat suspiciously claims its concerns have been allayed. Monday it said that it concluded “that DP World’s acquisition of P&O;, in and of itself, does not pose a significant threat to U.S. assets in ports” in the United States. That awkward wording is troubling. Is “in and of itself” meant to suggest that, in context, the deal could be viewed otherwise? What about the use of “significant”? In our view, any threat would have required the 45-day review the administration declined. And we don’t view this deal “in and of itself”; we view it in the context of a war on terrorism.

This needs to be cleared up. The matter could be easily settled with a briefing of appropriately cleared lawmakers on what, precisely, the Coast Guard supposedly saw to alleviate its concerns. Either the Coast Guard received assuring intelligence information and procedural knowledge at some point since December, or its concerns were swept under the rug.

The first classified briefing didn’t allay the worries of Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, who sounded an alarm about a likely rushed review. “I am more convinced than ever that the process was truly flawed,” she said Monday. “I can only conclude that there was a rush to judgment, that there wasn’t the kind of painstaking, thorough analysis that needed to be done, despite serious questions being raised and despite the involvement of a wide variety of agencies.”

At the very least, the unclassified version of the Dec. 13 Coast Guard memorandum suggests that just about everything important about this deal was unknown to the Coast Guard as the Christmas holiday approached; just a few short weeks remained before the matter was slated to be closed. “What is the security environment at all the DPW and P&O; port or terminal operations; to include the methods of conveyance and the personnel management of related ports and terminal operations?” reads one of the memorandum’s “intelligence gaps.” Knowledge on port facilities, at least at the Coast Guard, was spotty. “What are the backgrounds of all associated personnel working for or associated with DPW and P&O;?” it asked second. So, too, was knowledge about the people: “Is there foreign influence on DPW or P&O; operations that affect security and other major decisions? If so, what countries and to what degree?” Even that question wasn’t resolved by mid-December to the Coast Guard’s satisfaction.

The administration should address the matter by briefing lawmakers with the appropriate security clearance. It can’t undo the political damage that this revelation has caused, but at least it can give some facts to support its as-of-yet-unsubstantiated assertion that no problem exists.

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