Sunday, February 26, 2006

The real port issue (and it's not Dubai)

Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes had an excellent story on the real trouble with port security:
It's companies like Dubai Ports World, the United Arab Emirates firm that hopes to manage container terminals at six ports on the East Coast, and has caused such a scandal in Congress this past week.

But Stephen Flynn thinks the scandal is not the nationality of owners, but rather the lack of rules and regulations that would govern them.

"Yeah, isn't it outrageous that we're basically delegating this job of policing this critical national asset to a terminal operator without much checking?" said Flynn. "We have one company out here now in the crosshairs. But we have a system wide failure. We are protecting this critical asset with rent-a-cops determined by all private operators, whether they're American owned or foreign owned, without setting the bar very high. That's crazy. And we're doing it without givin' the Coast Guard adequate resources to police it or enough customs agents to make sure that proper inspections are done. Those are the problems that I hope Washington gets around to debating."
Meet the Press gave this issue some coverage, but not enough:
MR. RUSSERT: I—gentlemen, the Democrats have—are saying very loudly that they have tried repeatedly to put more money into port security. Benny Thompson, Democrat on your committee, Congressman, he tried to increase spending by a billion dollars, he wanted to double the number of oversea port inspectors, he wanted to put radiation portal monitors. And every time, the Republicans said no, you voted no. Do you regret now opposing some of those measures to improve port security?

REP. KING: Tim, we have voted to increase port security dramatically, it’s gone up almost $2 billion since four years ago. Almost 100 percent is screened, it’s not actually examined. But even, you know—people use a number that only 5 percent of the cargo is actually examined. Even Senator Clinton the other day, said 15 is maximum. So it’s between 5 and 15, we do have to do more. I support doing more. In fact, my committee is holding hearings next month, Congressman Lundgren, Congresswoman Harman are holding hearings on the issue of port security. More does have to be done, but a lot has been done also.

MR. RUSSERT: So the Democrats were right?

REP. KING: No, we—no, a lot more has to be done. The fact is you don’t just throw money at it, you do it in a way that works. Well, half this technology the people are talking about doesn’t work that well, and the idea is how do you do it? You can’t be examining every piece of cargo that comes in, it’s to do it effectively and also to do it in a way that doesn’t stop world commerce. Having said that, we realize more has to be done. But their idea, in all due respect, often is throw money into it. And you—again, the idea is to do it in an effective, smart way. I think more should be done, and I’ve said that all along. I had hearings last year as subcommittee chairman, having hearings now that I’m full chairman, and we are going to move forward. I think Susan Collins is really moving the right direction.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator...

SEN. WARNER: If there’s one good thing that can come out of this, it is compelling us to go back and review this whole question about port security and the funding levels, and I...

MR. RUSSERT: It may take more money.

SEN. WARNER: It’s going to take a lot more money.


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