Friday, February 24

WHAT ABOUT HOUSTON, MR. PRESIDENT (WHERE YOUR PARENTS RESIDE)?

From World Trade Magazine, I quote an excerpt from this article by Jeremy N. Smith (published March 1, 2005):

Today, Houston takes the vanguard of a thorny new category of American port management: anti-terrorist protection. "Along the fifty-mile Houston Ship Channel, there are more explosive materials, toxic gases, and deadly petrochemicals than anywhere else in the country," observes the November 2004 Texas Monthly. "Most security experts agree that it's one of America's top targets." Chairman Edmonds concurs, estimating that about half of the nation's daily gasoline and petrochemical supply derives directly from private industry sited on the ship channel. Last March, the FBI announced a high terrorist alert specifically for the area.

All of which leads me to ask: if the President of the United States and Michael Chertoff are okay with Dubai Ports World, an United Arab Emirates-owned company, taking over the management of operations at six major U.S. ports, would they similarly be unconcerned if the deal further embraced an operations' management role in the Houston Ship Channel -- just a matter of miles from the downtown of America's 4th largest city and on a waterway where more explosive materials, toxic gases, and deadly petrochemicals exist than "anywhere else in the country?"

Little known to most Americans and all but ignored in the woof and warp of the Dubai ports' deal controversy is the following (H/T: blogHouston.net):

The company, Dubai Ports World, would also control the movement of military equipment on behalf of the U.S. Army through two other ports. From today’s edition of the British paper Lloyd’s List:

"[P&O] has just renewed a contract with the United States Surface Deployment and Distribution Command to provide stevedoring [loading and unloading] of military equipment at the Texan ports of Beaumont and Corpus Christi through 2010."

According to the journal Army Logistician “Almost 40 percent of the Army cargo deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom flows through these two ports.”

Thus, the sale would give a country that has been “a key transfer point for illegal shipments of nuclear components to Iran, North Korea and Lybia” direct control over substantial quantities U.S. military equipment.

Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle reports in today's edition that Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) is concerned:

U.S. Rep. Gene Green, the Houston Democrat whose district covers the Ship Channel, joined other lawmakers Thursday who signed a letter asking Bush to revoke the deal.

"Unlike the private sector British company that previously operated the terminals at the six ports — New York, Miami, New Orleans, Baltimore, New Jersey, and Philadelphia — Dubai Ports World is owned entirely by the United Arab Emirates, a foreign government ruled by a monarchy," he said.

Green said in a phone interview that he sees a difference between such a company running the port and performing limited shipping services.

"It is the managing of the port that concerns me. If a company comes in and does business and leases facilities, that is one thing, but managing a port is something else," he said.

The Chronicle also reports:

When it comes to United Arab Emirates companies operating at the Port of Houston, "we're already there," to paraphrase one firm's motto.

Besides the Middle Eastern nation's company whose U.S. port business is causing political headaches for the Bush administration, other companies associated with the Muslim country have been at work in Houston for a while, without any known misgivings about port security or terrorism.

There was little to no public attention paid in January when UAE investment company Istithmar bought Inchcape Shipping Services, the world's largest private shipping manager, which has a longtime presence in Houston.

Well, the fact that public attention is coming to the fore belatedly does not diminish the legitimacy of the concern. And the fact that federal government officials have had no "known misgivings about port security or terrorism" here in Houston is hardly the point either. The Houston Chronicle knows full well there's cause for concern. And so should all of us who live in the Houston-Galveston area!


FOLLOW-UP: The Anchoress and I agree to disagree (respectfully) on this subject -- a rare instance of us not being pretty much in lockstep on political issues of the day.