There is controversy over the Bush administration's decision to allow an Arab company to manage six major ports in the United States. Critics say the deal puts national security at risk, while supporters believe it poses no risk at all. President George Bush is warning that he will veto any legislation Congress may pass preventing the port management deal.
Seaports are the heart of commerce in the United States with more than two billion tons of cargo passing through them each year. Many security experts warn that they are also the weak link in fighting terrorism since only five to seven percent of shipments are ever checked by security.
"No question that the ports are one of the true vulnerabilities,” says Jerry Hauer, the former head of New York City's Emergency Management office. “So little cargo is inspected that the likelihood of getting something through a port is very high."
He and other local officials believe the government is not doing enough to upgrade port security. Now the Bush administration's decision to allow Dubai Ports World, a state-owned company from the United Arab Emirates, to take over operations in six major ports from New York to New Orleans has members of both political parties outraged.
Republican Representative Peter King, the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is among the deal's critics and points out that two of the 9/11 hijackers came from the U.A.E.
"I simply don't believe that the ports of the United States should be operated in the hands of any foreign government. Dubai [a part of the United Arab Emirates] just happens to have a particularly bad history," said Mr. King.
Democratic opposition Senator Charles Schumer of New York says the deal is not just wrong; it is dangerous. "Outsourcing operations of our largest ports with a country long involved in terrorism is a homeland security accident waiting to happen."
The administration does not consider the U.A.E to be involved in terrorism and considers it an ally. Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff says the deal was fully vetted. "We make sure there are assurances in place in general sufficient to satisfy us the deal is appropriate from a national security standpoint," he said.
Secretary Chertoff points out the contract only covers port operations with security still being handled by the U.S. government.
But two Republican governors whose states are homes to major ports are threatening legal action. And two Democratic senators and Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist plan to introduce legislation prohibiting the sale of port operations to foreign governments.