Security concerns from DHS ignored in rush to turn over ports

In the Bush Administration, where the "war on terrorism" reportedly rules all decision, the Department of Homeland Security stood alone in opposing turning over control of six U.S. ports to a United Area Emigrates company.  American intelligence agencies, however, supported the deal.

Reports Ted Birdis of The Associated Press:

The Homeland Security Department objected at first to a United Arab Emirates company’s taking over significant operations at six U.S. ports. It was the lone protest among members of the government committee that eventually approved the deal without dissent.

The department’s early objections were settled later in the government’s review of the $6.8 billion deal after Dubai-owned DP World agreed to a series of security restrictions.

On Saturday, congressional leaders, the company and Bush administration officials reached for a compromise intended to derail plans by Republicans and Democrats for legislation next week that would force a new investigation of security issues relating to the deal. Talks were to continue through the weekend.

Under one proposal being discussed, DP World would seek new approval of the deal from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, given the company’s surprise decision Thursday to indefinitely postpone its takeover of U.S. port operations. Other proposals included a new, intensive 45-day review of the deal by the government _ something the White House had refused to consider as recently as Friday.

Yet while DHS raised objections, American intelligence agencies signed off on the deal.

Reports Walter Pincus in The Washington Post:

Reviews by U.S. intelligence agencies supported Dubai Ports World’s purchase of the British company running terminals at six American seaports, and the assessments were made available to the Treasury Department-run interagency committee that approved the deal, according to senior administration officials.

The intelligence studies were coordinated by the Intelligence Community Acquisition Risk Center, a new organization under the office of the Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte, said one official. The center normally does broad threat analyses of foreign commercial entities that seek to do business with U.S. intelligence agencies.

Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.), a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, yesterday asked the panel’s chairman, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), to have a full briefing on intelligence reviews of the port deal and provide "any classified intelligence community assessments that are pertinent." Holt’s concern is finding out how closely potential terrorism threats were examined, according to congressional sources.

While contents of the intelligence assessments remain classified, current and former intelligence officials yesterday spoke highly of the level of counterterrorism cooperation provided after Sept. 11, 2001, by Dubai and several of the other states that make up the United Arab Emirates.

A former senior CIA official recalled that, although money transfers from Dubai were used by the Sept. 11 hijackers, Dubai’s security services "were one of the best in the UAE to work with" after the attacks. He said that once the agency moved against Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan and his black-market sales of nuclear technology, "they helped facilitate the CIA’s penetration of Khan’s network."

Dubai also assisted in the capture of al-Qaeda terrorists. An al-Qaeda statement released in Arabic in spring 2002 refers to UAE officials as wanting to "appease the Americans’ wishes" including detaining "a number of Mujahideen," according to captured documents made available last week by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. The al-Qaeda statement threatened the UAE, saying that "you are an easier target than them; your homeland is exposed to us."

One intelligence official pointed out that when the U.S. Navy no longer made regular use of Yemen after the USS Cole was attacked in 2000, it moved its port calls for supplies and repairs to Dubai.

Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Tuesday praised the "superb" military-to-military relationship with the UAE, saying, "In everything that we have asked and work with them on, they have proven to be very, very solid partners."

The new emir of Dubai, Sheik Mohammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who as crown prince was the UAE defense minister, also played a major role in pushing financial deals such as the Dubai Ports World’s purchase of the firm, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. of London.

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