The whole Dubai Ports World mess has so much wrong with it that I hardly know where to start.
First, if we outsource cargo management at our ports to foreign firms (like Peninsula & Oriental), then we've effectively given up control over it. So a firm owned by the UAE government buys a British firm: where do we get a say in it? Neither one is subject to U.S. law. The Brits happen to be managing our ports? Welllll... we can cancel the contracts...
And from what Molly Ivins said the other day, we probably should: those contracts don't require DPW to keep business records in the U.S., and effectively exempt them from U.S. law. Why our government, which is supposed to represent our interests, agreed to a contract like that is - an interesting question, yes?
But the real issue on port security is that no one wants to spend any money on it. It's entirely possible now to track cargo containers with RFID tags: the Pentagon requires it for all their containers. But nobody wants to enforce it on civilian cargo: to get position tracking and intrusion detection (i.e. you'd know not only where the container had been but whether it had been tampered with en route), it'd cost about $200 per container, plus tag readers and information systems for the ports. The commercial shippers say it's too much trouble and too expensive, and it would be a lot of money; and our government never wants to inconvenience big business. Even if it would improve security. And, of course, individual ports would be responsible for funding the technology: the federal government never wants to pay for anything it requires local governments to do. Look at "No Child Left Behind."
Of course, even if we did this, we'd still be vulnerable to a mole working as a cargo handler, who loaded, say, a small nuclear device, and labeled the RFID tag "ball bearings", and sent it off. Which brings us back to those port contracts; because what Dubai Ports World would be running is... the cargo handling.
It just seems to me that if we're going to make all this noise about Homeland Security, and how important it is to foil terrorists, the least we could do is not hire foreigners to manage the entry points to our country. I'm sorry, but either you have an open world in which it doesn't matter where any business is located, or you're fighting a War on Terror. You can't have it both ways.