Is the multimillion dollar deal that would hand over operations of six major United States ports to a company from the United Arab Emirates a major misstep from the Bush administration? We asked a few national-security experts. Here’s what they had to say.
Washington claims that the United Arab Emirates is a reliable friend and ally of the United States in the war on terror. To the extent that Dubai Ports World is a UAE state-owned company, this may in fact be the key question to ask. The answer is not hard to find if you start looking at the role played by the UAE as an eager financier of the huge worldwide infrastructure of radical Islam built over the past three decades by Saudi Arabia. An infrastructure that’s the main breeding ground of extremism and terrorism.
From the very beginning in the 1970s, the UAE has been a key source of financial support for Saudi-controlled organizations like the Islamic Solidarity Fund, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), World Council of Mosques, and the Muslim World League (MWL) as documented in The Muslim World League Journal, an English-language monthly. The IDB alone, for instance, spent $10 billion between 1977 and 1990 for “Islamic activities” and at least $1 billion more recently to support terrorist activities by the Palestinian Al Aqsa and Intifada Funds.
One of the most successful Islamist operations in the U.S. early on involved the Wahhabi ideological takeover of the Nation of Islam after the death of its founder Elijah Muhammad. Of the $4.8 million “presented” to W. D. Muhammad, Elijah’s son and successor, in 1980 alone, one million came from UAE’s president Sheikh Zayad, according to the August 1980 issue of the MWL Journal. Zayad continued his “philanthropic” activities by donating $2.5 million for a Zayad Islamic Center at Harvard University’s divinity school of all places. The donation had to be returned after it became known that a similar Zayad Center in the UAE was closed because it had become a hotbed of Islamic extremism. And this is likely just the tip of the iceberg. A reliable friend and ally? Perhaps, but hardly one of ours.
The U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment’s decision to allow the United Arab Emirates’ Dubai Ports World (a government-owned company) to buy Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation (a private company), to run as many as six major American ports, including New York, Baltimore, and New Orleans, is by no means a trivial national-security matter.
While it’s likely that CFIUS made a sound–at a minimum, a well-intentioned–decision in its behind-closed-doors deliberations, considering 9/11, the al Qaeda threat, not to mention this election year’s charged atmosphere, it makes heckuva lot of sense to shed some light on the decision through congressional hearings.
American ports receive nine million containers annually, and–in theory–these large metal boxes could be used to bring nukes into the U.S. for use against American cities, surface to air missiles to down civilian airliners, or, even, smuggle terrorists ashore. While advances have been made in port security, some analysts still see shipping as a big fat Achilles’ Heel for homeland security.
Moreover, while the UAE has become a war on terror partner, its history is checkered–to say the least. Critics claim that the UAE recognized the Taliban, and al Qaeda used it in 9/11 preparations. Dubai, a Middle Eastern banking “Mecca,” has long been the crossroads of money laundering and terrorist financing. In addition, the UAE has ties to Iran, and Pakistan’s Dr. Strangelove, A. Q. Khan, used the Emirates as a shipping hub for his nuke network.
It’s not clear that there would be any change in management, personnel, or security procedures at the British company currently running the ports if the sale is approved, but after all we’ve been through–and don’t want to experience again–this is a decision Americans have to feel comfortable with. “Trust us,” just won’t cut it.
–Peter Brookes is senior fellow for national-security affairs and director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation. He is author of A Devil’s Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States.
James Jay Carafano
Foreign companies already own most of the maritime infrastructure that sustains American trade–the ships, the containers, the material-handling equipment, and the facilities being sold to the Dubai company. It’s a little late now to start worrying about outsourcing seaborne trade, but congressional hearings could serve to clear the air.
Sure security is important. That’s why after 9/11, America led the effort to establish the International Ship and Port Security code that every country that trades with and operates in the United States has to comply with. And compliance isn’t optional—it is checked by the U.S. Coast Guard. And the security screening for the ships, people, and cargo that comes into the United States is not done by the owners of the ships and the ports, but by the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection, both parts of the Homeland Security department. Likewise overall security for the port is coordinated by the captain of the port, a Coast Guard officer.
What happens when one foreign-owned company sells a U.S. port service to another foreign-owned company. Not much. Virtually all the company employees at the ports are U.S. citizens. The Dubai firm is a holding company that will likely play no role in managing the U.S. facilities. Likewise, the company is owned by the government, a government that is an ally of the United States and recognizes that al Qaeda is as much a threat to them as it is to us. They are spending billions to buy these facilities because they think it’s a crackerjack investment that will keep making money for them long after the oil runs out. The odds that they have any interest in seeing their facilities become a gateway for terrorist into the United States are slim. But in the interest of national security, we will be best served by getting all the facts on the table.
This is the foreign-policy equivalent of the Harriet Meiers nomination to the Supreme Court, isn’t it? Just as her wit and wisdom were beside the point, so Homeland Security’s careful negotiations with the new owners have nothing to do with the main issue, which is that only a tone-deaf bureaucrat would turn over the operation of our ports to a company from Dubai. Not only does it add new security burdens to an agency already overwhelmed by its impossible mission, but it puts one of Iran’s closest partners in a most sensitive position inside the United States. As I’ve had occasion to note over the past few years, Dubai is home to billions of mullahdollars, and the black market through which all manner of illegal arms shipments and money-being-laundered have passed. I’m sure it will have the same outcome as the Meiers fiasco. Faster, please.
James S. Robbins
I have to wonder if the approval of Dubai Ports World is payback for recent support by Dubai and the UAE in the war on terrorism. Some data points:
‐December 2004: Dubai was the first government in the region to sign on to the U.S. Container Security Initiative to screen all containers heading for the United States for security risks.
‐May 2005: Dubai signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy to bar passage of nuclear material from passing through its ports, and install radiation-detecting equipment.
‐June 2005: The UAE joined the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings and the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.
‐October 2005: The UAE Central Bank directed banks and financial institutions in the country to tighten their internal systems and controls in their fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. UAE banks routinely cooperate with U.N. and international law-enforcement agencies in supplying information about suspect accounts.
‐November 2005: In the wake of the terror bombings in Jordan, General Shaykh Muhammad Bin-Zayid Al Nuhayyan, heir apparent of Abu Dhabi and supreme commander of the UAE armed forces, stated that “Muslim scholars who live among us must adopt a stand toward this terrorism… If they do not declare [terrorists] to be infidels, they should at least consider them as non-Muslims. …If there are no honest stands toward these non-religious and inhumane operations, these [attacks] will continue.”
‐December 2005: The UAE National Consultative Council called for declaration of an all-out war against terrorism and depriving any person who pledges allegiance to foreign extremist groups the right of UAE citizenship. The council proclaimed that it regarded links to such groups as high treason.
‐The UAE has also assisted the Coalition effort in Iraq, in particular training Iraqi security forces and sending material assistance to the Iraqi people.
There is a lot on the other side of the ledger too–particularly a thank you statement from Hamas to the UAE in July 2005 for all the support–but given the way relationships work in the Middle East I can see Dubai expecting favorable treatment in return for its recent cooperation in the effort to combat terrorism, and especially for supporting the war effort in Iraq. It is the way of things.
–James S. Robbins is author of the forthcoming Last in Their Class: Custer, Picket and the Goats of West Point and an NRO Contributor.