The Ports Deal Is History, But Is Security Still a Concern?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from March 10, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JIM ANGLE, GUEST HOST: Different people draw different lessons from the two-week debate over port security and whether to let a company from the United Arab Emirates own the unloading operations at six U.S. ports. Several experts repeatedly tried to tell Congress that it was focusing on the wrong thing. One of them is John Carafano of the Heritage Foundation and author of "Winning The Long War." He argues that the U.S. is less safe without the deal than it would have been with it. And he joins us now.

James, thanks for coming in.


ANGLE: So, why are we less safe without this deal than we would have been with it?

CARAFANO: Well, we’re slightly less safe. When the original deal came along, the Dubai company had agreed to all kinds of information sharing that normally companies don’t agree to. Of course that doesn’t go now. So even though it’s a U.S. company that will run it now, we’ll actually know less about what they’re doing than if Dubai Ports World was running it.

And the other thing is, is they had — they’re the third largest port facility owner in the world and they agreed to participate in all kinds of voluntary security programs that would help us out overseas. You know, regardless of where the American military goes in the world, it’s very likely that the Humvee that gets picked off the ship could very well be a crane that’s owned by DPW.

ANGLE: You know, that’s one of the interesting things about this, that the Pentagon seems to have an abundance of faith in DP World, the very company that we’ve just killed this deal on, because they’re the ones who load our aircraft carriers and other naval vessels in the Middle East.

CARAFANO: Well, you know, the fact is, is we couldn’t do Iraq without the cooperation of the UAE because that port in Dubai is our central power projection platform in the region. It’s invaluable to us. And here’s the other irony, is that the reason why Dubai wanted this company to begin with is because they had vast holdings in Asia. I mean, so it would have taken the U.S. security regime a lot of places we aren’t now, which is the risky places, the third world places, the places that don’t have good security, and it would have started to bring some of the security regimes that we use in Singapore and Rotterdam and these places into this third world. That’s all dead now.

ANGLE: Because they were willing to take all the security initiatives that we want to pursue and take them to all their overseas ports to use there before things are shipped to the U.S.

CARAFANO: Yes, they were going to spend their money to make our supply chain safer. And that’s off the table now.

ANGLE: They were going to spend their money to do it?


ANGLE: Huh. Now this — I think people may not fully understand what you’re talking about in the sense that we’re at one end of a global supply chain.


ANGLE: Millions of millions of tons of goods coming into the U.S. every year. And some people, I think you’re among them, argue that it is less important who is unloading that cargo when it gets here than who is loading it overseas and who’s bringing it to the U.S.

CARAFANO: Right. Well, if you wanted to do the most economic damage you could to the U.S. economy, you know the port that you would go after?

ANGLE: Where?

CARAFANO: Singapore. Because that’s where most of the stuff that comes to America comes from. And it’s the transshipping point for Asia. So all those other risky ports, all that stuff dumps into Singapore. Singapore screens all that stuff and then they send it to us.

So the point is, is American ports are not critical infrastructure. People don’t get this. The ports are not critical. We had a port in Seattle-Tacoma had a strike, shut down for two weeks. We had a port in New Orleans wiped out in a hurricane. What did we do? Ship the stuff to other ports.

The loss of one American port, even in a catastrophic terrorist attack, would not materially affect the U.S. economy. But if you started to go after some of these megaports around the world like Singapore and Hong Kong and Rotterdam, that would. And what we have to worry about is, all the ports that are feeding into these guys, who are a lot riskier than the stuff coming out of the main people that we deal with.

ANGLE: Now one of the fears that was expressed on Capitol Hill was that some infiltrator who would be working for DPW, the UAE company, would get into the company and would somehow be privy to all sorts of security details that the company knows in unloading the freight there.


ANGLE: How much information about security does a port terminal operator have?

CARAFANO: Well, this is the dumbest issue. What they’d have access to is their security plans. So if they wanted to blow up their company that would help them. But, you know, you don’t buy a $7 billion company to blow it up. You know, that’s not how terrorists operate.

ANGLE: So you mean their security is related to their own little situation there? It’s more against crime and unauthorized access?

CARAFANO: Right. I mean the only security they’re really providing is access, gate guards, fences, that kind of stuff. It’s really designed more to deter crime. The real security at the port is provided by the U.S. government through the Coast Guard and the customs and boarder protection and the state and local law enforcement.

ANGLE: And the companies are not — right, and the companies are not privy to that?

CARAFANO: Right. I mean, what they have access to is their security plan. So they can attack themselves if they want.

ANGLE: All right, less than a minute. One of the other fears was somebody would put a nuclear weapon on a ship.


ANGLE: It would somehow get into the U.S. Now aside from the fact that you wouldn’t have to dock at the port to set off a nuclear weapon, why is that not a concern for you?

CARAFANO: Well, these are silly scenarios. I mean, if you had one nuclear weapon, the last thing you would do is put it out of your hands in a container where the environmental conditions are very risky and let it go. I mean if you had a nuclear weapon, you’d smuggle it like anybody else smuggles stuff into the United States. You’d land it in Mexico or Canada and drive it across the boarder, or just land it any place other than a port. If you had biological weapons that you wanted to attack the United States with, you would put them in a FedEx box and mail it. If you had a dirty bomb that you wanted to screw up a port, you’d put it on a truck and drive it into the port from the landward side. So the scenarios that justify this phobia about inspecting containers are based on scenarios, which are dumb.

ANGLE: James Carafano, thanks very much for joining us.

CARAFANO: Thanks for having me.

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