Pressure growing to cancel Dubai company's permit to run U.S. port security

Published 21 February 2006

Bipartisan pressure is growing on the administration to rescind its approval for a Dubai-based company to run operations, including security operations, in six major U.S. ports. On a Sunday talk show, DHS secretary Michael Chertoff said the government typically builds in “certain conditions or requirements that the company has to agree [to] to make sure we address the national security concerns,” but legislators say these conditions are insufficient and that, in any event, they may not be relevant because they do not address the question of who the Middle Eastern company will hire to meet and enforce these conditions. Representative Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is unimpressed. “I’m aware of the conditions and they relate entirely to how the company carries out its procedures, but it doesn’t go to who they hire, or how they hire people,” King said. “They’re better than nothing, but to me they don’t address the underlying conditions, which is how are they going to guard against things like infiltration by al-Qaeda or someone else, how are they going to guard against corruption?” King said.

London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation was bought last week for $6.8 billion by DP World, a state-owned business. Peninsular and Oriental runs major commercial operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami, and Philadelphia.

The impatience with the administration ran from right to left. “It’s unbelievably tone deaf politically at this point in our history,” Senator Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina), said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Most Americans are scratching their heads, wondering why this company from this region now,” Graham said. Senator Barbara Boxer, on CBS television’s “Face the Nation,” said, “It is ridiculous to say you’re taking secret steps to make sure that it’s OK for a nation that had ties to 9/11, (to) take over part of our port operations in many of our largest ports. This has to stop.” Senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) is working on legislation to prohibit companies owned or controlled by foreign governments from running port operation in the United States. Menendez said Chertoff’s comments showed him that the administration “just does not get it.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York), joined some family members of 9/11 victims at a news conference Sunday to urge President George Bush to intervene personally. The president “should override the agreement and conduct a special investigation into the matter,” Schumer said.

Dubai is part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a loose federation of feudal sheikdoms and family-owned tracts of desert known mostly for their anything-goes corruption and for serving as a haven for smugglers, arms dealers, and other shady types who prefer to operate without the encumbrance of an exacting legal structure. UAE served as an operational and financial base for the hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks. In addition, the UAE was an important transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components sent to Iran, North Korea, and Libya by a Pakistani scientist.

-read more in this AP report