Reason Online on the Port “Scandal”

Reason Online’s Kenton Kelly has an article about the port deal that pretty much sums up the hysteria by both the Left and Right on this issue.

In the rush to judgment, few bloggers have bothered to discuss who actually “runs” ports. U.S. ports are run by either a state, local or multi-state government or port authority. In the case of the Port of New York/New Jersey, the Port Authority is the operator. Peninsular & Oriental (P&O) runs the passenger line terminal and a single cargo terminal that represents less than 5 percent of the berthing space available. P&O isn’t a major player there in terms of terminal management. Similar situations exist at ports in Baltimore, Miami, and elsewhere. The truth? P&O doesn’t “run” a single port in the U.S.; it operates a small number of cargo terminals at six of our ports.

Beyond that, port security is not in the hands of terminal operators; it is handled by four agencies of the federal government as well as state and local law enforcement agencies. A number of port authorities, such as New York/New Jersey’s, have their own police forces. While terminal operators have a variety of international and domestic security regulations to comply with, they are not in charge of any aspect of port security. The fact is that P&O never has had the responsibility for providing port security.

So…this is what the issue is about. The ports will still have the same level of security irrespective the company involved.

This leads to the question: is it really security that is at issue…or maybe something a bit more insidious such as racial and religious animus?

To review the actions and policies of the Emirates since 9/11 is to see an Arab Muslim state quietly providing meaningful, material support in the War on Terror. In other words, a country doing exactly what we have stated we want it to do.

For example, is it true that U.A.E. financial institutions provided money laundering for terrorist organizations? Yes. But what about the fact that the U.A.E. is the financial center of the Middle East? Nope, you hear almost nothing about that from Michelle Malkin, Duncan ‘Atrios’ Black, Captain Ed, an others? Do you hear anything about how the U.A.E. changed things to counter such money laundering after 9/11? Again not from these sources. Wonder why they keep this information to themselves?

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Middle East, National Security, Terrorism, US Politics, World Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. DC Loser says:

    I guess that’s a rhetorical question, huh? No other explanation but political opportunism or worse, racism.

  2. DC Loser says:

    Not to mention the help the UAE provided us in busting up the AQ Khan network and its participation in the Container Security Initiative.

  3. ICallMasICM says:

    Isn’t the who Dr. Evil World Enterprises thing a little contrived anyway? I mean WTC1 was accomplished by driving a rented van full of fertilizer into a parking garage. 9/11 was accomplished by taking some aviation classes and buying some plane tickets. I can understand the fascination of the Blofeld-run terrorist front company but think of the time effort and expense involved as opposed to planting a couple of security guards or overstaying visas. I don’t think it’s really racism so much as hysteria but this is a company that runs ports all over the world. What happens if all the sudden they somehow get implicated in a dirty bomb plot in Baltimore? This $BBB company goes down the tubes? The UAE declares war on the west? The strength of AQ is that they’re not tied to easily identifiable and addressable instituions like gov’ts. The benefits of friendly relations and an allie in the ME hugely outweigh what I see as a grossly exaggerated risk that somehow this company would be involved in an attack.

  4. Anderson says:

    Steve, I find it implausible that terrorists looking to attack a port, or via a port, wouldn’t derive some benefit from insiders in the port authority management, “security”-related or not. Really, really implausible.

    The Roman Empire became unable to defend itself without outsourcing to the barbarians. Of course, this went swimmingly, and Caesar rules in Rome today. Or maybe not.

  5. Anderson says:

    Right, because it’s the top officers of such a corporation whom we would expect to be security risks, not the guy who does the photocopies, or the IT guy, etc., etc.

    I am trying not to be prejudiced about the UAE involvement, but it fails two tests.

    (1) The defenses have all been really weak.

    (2) I cannot imagine the Republicans getting on board if Clinton had had such a notion, pre- or post- a 9/11-type attack.

  6. Steve Verdon says:


    The Roman Empire became unable to defend itself without outsourcing to the barbarians. Of course, this went swimmingly, and Caesar rules in Rome today. Or maybe not.

    What part about “DP World” will have no role in port security don’t you understand? Perhaps Ceaser should have outsourced things like farming to the barbarians….or your argument would have more weight if we were outsourcing U.S. military and intelligence operations to U.A.E. Since this doesn’t seem to be the case, I don’t see the point of your last two comments.

    I cannot imagine the Republicans getting on board if Clinton had had such a notion, pre- or post- a 9/11-type attack.

    So, the Republicans were nuts back when Clinton was in the WH. Look at all the nonsense we had back then. The Mena-Cocaine-Assassination themes were just nuts. If this is the standard for decision making this country is doomed.

  7. wovoka says:

    Be the port deal motovatided by economics or politics the Muslim belief is we are all “INFIDELS” and that should not instill a warm fuzzy feeling in any of us!

  8. ken says:

    Steve, you keep saying the company has no ‘role’ in the security issue. That is part of the problem. But even if we asked them to take a part in port security a foreign company couldn’t be expected to really care on way or the other.

    An American company, on the other hand, would not need to be deputized as a port security guard. They would already have a vested interest in that area.

    This makes the job all that much easier for those who are actually responsible for security. And since ports are high value soft targets for terrorist we need all the advantage we can get in protecting them.

  9. John Burgess says:

    Without trying to draw too many parallels between Soviet spies and the fears of AQ infiltrators, I’ll note that the Soviets didn’t really have much of a problem recruiting Americans. Not only contractors but active duty military and government civilian employees.

    While the rate of recruitment dropped drastically after WWII, there were still military personel, CIA and FBI agents willing to sell out.

    My point is that simply having Americans running things is not a perfect guarantee for security.

    Life means taking risks. You minimize them to a practical level, but you never get that 100% certainty. Given DPW’s record, there’s no reason to put them under any great a microscope than any US company that might–but isn’t–bidding for the business.

    Take a look at The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB.

  10. Anderson says:

    What part about “DP World” will have no role in port security don’t you understand?

    The part about “having no role in port security means they would have no info useful to terrorists” is the part that I don’t understand, because it seems so obviously false.

    Imagine, if you will, that post 9/11, al-Qaeda is infiltrating agents into the airline industry. Whether or not those people worked in “security” wouldn’t matter much. They could obviously find out all kinds of useful things.

    I don’t see why ports would be any different. Just chanting “no role in port security” really isn’t going to address that concern.

  11. Anderson says:

    Also, mea culpa–the “Roman Empire” comment was supposed to be for the thread about how because the company’s officers include Westerners, we have nothing to fear.

  12. Herb says:

    Back in the 50’s and 60’s during the height of the cold war, the Russians made an art of creating a crisis and then solving the crisis thereby making themselves “Heros”.

    “Sound Fimiliar”

  13. JKB says:

    This is simple old fashion protectionism with a whiff of racism. Are we now assuming every one of Arab decent is an Al Qaeda operative?

    Port facility operations is just a link in the chain for trade. They are concerned with providing facilities and capabilities to remove goods from a ship (most likely a ship of foreign ownership), holding them until released by customs, then putting them on a truck. Oh, by the way, the goods are most likely to be in a container, unless they are a bulk product. The people who unload the ships are longshoremen. And if you think that some port facility operator is going to bring in a bunch of foreign labor to unload the ships, you’ve never dealt with the longshoreman union.

    BTW, Anderson, you are aware that foreign airlines operate gates in U.S. airports. They have ground crews, baggage handlers, gate agents, etc. And this included the Saudi airline.

  14. Anderson says:

    BTW, Anderson, you are aware that foreign airlines operate gates in U.S. airports. They have ground crews, baggage handlers, gate agents, etc. And this included the Saudi airline.

    Not necessarily a good idea either. It’s not “protectionism,” it’s not “racism,” it’s “national security.” Sorry if I think Americans put American security a little higher than non-Americans do. It’s my irremediable ethnocentrism.

  15. JKB says:

    You’ll forgive me for putting my faith in individual and corporate self interest.

    DPW is an international company that operates ports all over the world. Not mention the largest port facility in the middle east. If they are found to be suspect in security, overnight no cargo from any of their operations would be allowed in the U.S. without debilitating delays. In short, they are probably out of business since they wouldn’t be able to handle any cargo destined for one of the largest markets in the world.

    Not mention, being owned by a sovereign government, I’ve no doubt we’d hold UAE responsible for a hostile act.

    When you need assurance, the best bet is to bet baser self-interests, like the desire for money.

  16. It’s pretty clear that Dems who voted against the Patriot Act aren’t concerned with Port Security as much as an opportunity to drive another spike into the conservative base.

    They are playing the naturual conservative concern about foreign investment in the U.S. like strings on a guitar.

    Nine days after 9/11 President Bush said “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
    It’s pretty clear from the statements of retired General Tommy Franks and JCS Chairman Peter Pace that the UAE has decided they would rather be with us.

    They are a strategic ally. And I have much less concern regarding their investments in the United States than I do of those by a strategic competitor like China.