Sunday, February 26, 2006

Port, Port, Port.....

This morning, we went out to the new Bagel City Cafe in Wheaton Mall for breakfast. Sitting in their bar area (yes, its a Bagel City bar in the mall, with decent happy hour specials it seems), I could see 2 large TV's tuned to the Sunday shows. One was Derek McGinty on Chanel 9's Eye on Washington. The other was CNN with Wolf Blitzer. Neither had sound, so I was reading the captions as I ate my bagelwich.

The hot topic of debate among McGinty's guest was-- you guessed it-- the port deal. The latest is that the Dubai company is "asking" for a 45 day review of the deal's security implications. Now, this is mostly political cover, designed to give the Administration time to recover from the political outcry of the deal. The Administration isn't backing down, but they are clearly on their heels after the bi-partisan political backlash. On ABC's This Week, EJ Dionne made a good point--the Republicans are running away from Bush on this, and it opens a contradiction within the party. However, its hard for the Democrats to make real traction on this because there just isn't a lot here.

Perhaps the real win here is that people will start to take port security a bit more seriously. The NYT today reported on how open the global supply chain really is in ports like Dubai and others world wide. The Post had a great graphic on how cargo travels through the shipping system. Love graphics like that! What you can see from both is that the management of the Port operations is but one link in a clearly global chain that is vulnerable and under-staffed at nearly every link. Now some of this is for good business reasons-- security is expensive and in a very competitive industry like shipping, where the margins are narrow, speed is essential, and competition is fierce, any time and money spent on security really threatens your bottom line. There are no votes to be won from adding money to the Customs service, so they are under-resourced and stretched thin. Real security isn't sexy, it comes from a reliable system. As of yet, no one has good talking points on that...... We'll see if this broohaha over the port sale produces any real progress on this issue.

Oh-- and on Late Edition with Wolf? National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. His name was right below his head on the TV and still, I bet no one knew who he was. Talking about Iraq or something....

Filed as

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Port Retort

So the big political hubub of the week is the sale of the management contracts of major east coast ports from a British company to a company owned by Dubai, part of the UAE.

The political hay is being made like this: Congress is upset that the Administration didn't properly consult with them on the terms of the sale. Though a private economic deal involving two firms, both of which are non-US firms, the federal government still has jurisdiction to approve any transactions that have clear national security implications. Here, the implications are giving management control of our major East coast ports to a government-owned company based in the Persian Gulf. Several 9-11 terrorists were from the UAE, and some terrorist financing comes from sources in the UAE. So, this is a travesty.

Well, the Bush administration fires back: There's no need to worry. We've looked at the deal, its fine, the UAE is a key ally in the war on terror, and oh by the way, if Congress happens to pass a bill to prevent the sale, here's the veto pen. Nevermind that this would be the first time in his whole presidency Bush would ever use the veto.

So is this a big deal or just political hay?
Selling management of key US ports to a company owned by an Arab government poses a huge security risk?

Or, as the NYT reports, does this all miss the larger point: In an era of globalization, nearly all US ports are managed by foreign firms. Security comes from two places:
1) the global network of shippers and sellers and cargo handlers who regulate what is actually sent in and out of these ports, keeping track of what is in and not in cargo containers; and
2) the US Coast Guard and US Customs agencies who regulate and inspect incoming cargo.
As the times points out, its not so much the deal that has created the risk. Rather:

The administration's core problem at the ports, most experts agree, is how long it has taken for the federal government to set and enforce new security standards — and to provide the technology to look inside millions of containers that flow through them.

Only 4 percent or 5 percent of those containers are inspected. There is virtually no standard for how containers are sealed, or for certifying the identities of thousands of drivers who enter and leave the ports to pick them up. If a nuclear weapon is put inside a container — the real fear here — "it will probably happen when some truck driver is paid off to take a long lunch, before he even gets near a terminal," said Mr. Flynn, the ports security expert.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Follow the Money

The QDR is out.

So is Bush's budget.

We're going to be spending a lot, and I mean a lot of money on this thing--but are we buying the right stuff?

And will all this for things like Iran or things like China?

(each of these three articles are worth reading)


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

counter create hit