Thursday, March 02, 2006

Dooby Dooby Dubai

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.


  1. Anonymous4:28 PM

    hedera, I especially agree with your next to the last paragraph. This is where the trouble will come from - weapons, crated and labeled as ball bearings, loaded onto ships in a foreign port, bound for the USA. If a nuclear devise were to be the weapon of choice and positioned on the deck of a ship entering the port of New York or San Franciso (sorry), it could be detonated before even being close to going through customs inspection. We need control in the foreign ports that we don't have now. Having DP World in charge of the terminal operations is a problem, but not the biggest hole in the dike.

    BTW, are you back at work? How's the new knee doing?

  2. Cooper, I was flattered this morning to read, in the S.F. Chronicle Sunday op ed, an article by Robert Reich saying approximately what I said in my post. Great minds think alike?

    Yes, I went back to work on Feb. 24 and so far am doing well, walking without a cane, slowly building my weight training routine back up. The knee is stiff sometimes, but on the whole is doing fine; I walked over to the bank yesterday to deposit my last state disability check, a round trip of about a mile and a half.

  3. By the way, you may not know that cargo ships no longer dock at the port of San Francisco; it hasn't had cargo operations since, I think, the 60's - didn't want to put in container handling. Oakland is the cargo port now; they say the container cranes at port of Oakland were George Lucas' inspiration for the Imperial Walkers in "The Empire Strikes Back."

    Since Oakland is where I live, I'm still not happy about the prospect of somebody running a hot one in, but I actually think Long Beach is the likeliest West Coast target...

  4. Anonymous7:35 PM

    Glad to hear you've made such a good recovery and are back at work. My daughter, Alyson was a soccer player in high school and after a kick to the knee, the patella kept wanting to leave home and wander around. That pretty much ended her career and made necessary several operations involving long screws and formal realignment of the knee. The screws are now working their way back out, so some day soon, she'll need to take care of that. If it ain't one thing it's another. But you know all about that, don't you?

    Sorry to here that Oakland is taking in the freight and sorrier still to hear that Long Beach (my home town) in now voted most likely... Charlotte, where I now live, has become a banking center of sorts, a major transportation hub in the Mid-Atlantic region and being 4 hours from the ocean, a port. So, I'm sure we're on the radar as well. Let's both keep practiced in the duck and cover drill.