March 1, 2006

Harman wants 'solid answers' on ports
South Bay representative says the Dubai Ports World contract would impact 20 ports, not just the six mentioned in news reports.

By Toby Eckert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- South Bay Rep. Jane Harman introduced a resolution Tuesday to sidetrack the controversial takeover of some operations at several U.S. ports by a Middle Eastern company.

Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the pending deal by Dubai Ports World would affect more than 20 ports, not just the six identified in most news reports.

"When it comes to port security, we should have solid answers, not lingering questions," Harman, D-El Segundo, said in a written statement. "In this era of terror, there remains a constant threat to our homeland. We don't have the luxury of waiting to harden the obvious vulnerable targets."

The resolution -- also introduced in the Senate by Homeland Security Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine -- officially rejects the Bush administration's initial review of the deal; requires a new 45-day review, which the administration has already announced; and orders Congress to be briefed on any deal before it can proceed.

It is unclear whether or when the House will vote on the resolution.

Citing the 9-11 terrorists' use of Dubai for transit and financial transactions, numerous lawmakers have raised security concerns since learning that a secretive government committee approved DP World's $6.9 billion purchase of Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. P&O, a British firm that operates terminals at several U.S. ports.

The Los Angeles-Long Beach complex would not be affected by the deal. But Harman's office said the deal would cover P&O operations at 15 ports, mostly in the Northeast and on the Gulf Coast, in addition to the six ports identified in news reports: New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami and New Orleans.

The White House has argued that the security concerns are groundless and that Dubai has been a solid ally in the war on terrorism.

Nonetheless, it accepted a proposal from DP World to conduct a 45-day review of the security implications.

"There are a lot of foreign companies managing U.S. ports," Bush said Tuesday. "And so my question to the members of Congress as they review this matter is, one, please look at the facts. And two, what kind of signal does it send throughout the world if it's OK for a British company to manage the ports, but not a company ... from the Arab world?"

Foreign companies run nearly 80 percent of the terminals at the Port of Los Angeles.

Harman called the administration's decision to launch a new review and recent briefings about the deal on Capitol Hill "some progress."

"But," she added, "the bad news is that this process got as far as it did, and that it took deep bipartisan concern to have Congress brought into the loop. When our country considers these important deals, Congress should be on the front lines, not the back bench. And as we heard yesterday from a Senate briefing, the U.S. Coast Guard cited their concerns over the deal at the time."

Harman said the issue has highlighted a lack of adequate federal funding for security at Los Angeles and other ports. She and Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Sacramento, plan to introduce a comprehensive port security bill soon including a dedicated fund for security upgrades.

"When we focus nine out of 10 transportation security dollars on aviation security, we fall into the trap of fighting the last war instead of the next one," Harman said.

"Fighting terror requires that we look forward, and what keeps me up at night is the possibility of a radiological bomb or human terrorist entering our ports in an uninspected container."