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Our Arab-run ports?
The Providence Journal


February 22, 2006

It sounds absurd when U.S. soldiers are dying in the cause of preventing further terror attacks on America, but it's true: A company from the United Arab Emirates - home to one of the 9/11 hijackers, and loaded with al Qaeda sympathizers who helped finance its attacks - is poised to take over significant operations at the Port of New York and New Jersey, as well as the ports of Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.

Although the Bush administration calls the United Arab Emirates an ally in the war on terrorism, such skeptics as Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., are wise to raise questions. He is concerned about "outsourcing" port security to foreign-owned operators.

The company, Dubai Ports World, has won U.S. approval to take over operations of the ports from the London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., for $6.8 billion, having convinced U.S. authorities that this poses no security risk. The deal was cleared this month by the secretive U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment, which includes representatives of the departments of the Treasury, Defense, Justice, Commerce, State and Homeland Security. But some critics wonder where Dubai Ports World got the money, and whether it makes sense to invest so much trust in a company operated with the blessings of an Arab state.

It is impossible to inspect every piece of containerized cargo that comes into a big U.S. port - or any big port, for that matter. America has relied on random inspections and the profit motive to protect the public from a nuclear device or dirty bomb. Port-operating companies have a huge financial incentive to maintain security.

Dubai Ports World would use U.S. longshoremen to handle containers in the U.S. ports. And some experts assert that the deal presents al Qaeda no more opportunities to infiltrate ports than it has had in the past.

But we can't help wondering: Why are no U.S. companies willing or able to operate these ports, which serve America's ever-growing hunger for cheap foreign goods? Indeed, why don't we have more ports, which would make us less vulnerable to disruption at one - caused, say, by orders from the Mideast?

Meanwhile, we import more and more ...

How much more in America - from our industrial capacity to the production of our energy - will be "outsourced" (in part to please NIMBYs, who don't want any facility evoking an industrial economy anywhere near them)? How much risk with security should we be taking with foreign control of our ports?

The Bush administration and Congress should take a closer look and explain to Americans - if they can - why this deal is good for the public.


Distributed to subscribers by Scripps Howard News Service,


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