Port of Miami Deputy director Imam Khalid Salahuddin with ties to Islamists in favor of port sale to UAE
February 22, 2006
MIM: For more on Khalid Salahuddin the deputy director of the Port of Miami see:
Deputy Director of the Miami Port Khalid Salahuddin aka Imam of the Al Ansar mosque
Port of Miami or Port of Jihadi ?
Port purchase draws more heat
Criticism mounted over the takeover of some American port operations by a government-owned firm from the United Arab Emirates.
BY STEVE HARRISON
Two Democratic U.S. senators said Friday they will attempt to stop a sale that gives a state-owned company from the United Arab Emirates control of significant commercial operations at six American ports -- including the Port of Miami-Dade.
Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey said they will file legislation prohibiting companies owned or controlled by foreign governments from purchasing port operations in the United States, citing national security dangers. The bill targets the sale of the British firm P&O Ports to Dubai Ports World.
But some maritime and security experts said the DP World deal posed no particular risks and called the pushback political.
"We've worked with Dubai Ports, and their management company is committed to improved security at all of their acquired ports," said Kim Petersen, president of Fort Lauderdale-based SeaSecure, a consultant. "The vast majority of their managers are ex-pats. It's not like you will find Dubai nationals running security or even managing the operation at an American port."
P&O Ports owns 50 percent of the Port of Miami Terminal Operating Co., which handles about half the cargo containers at the Port of Miami-Dade. There are two other terminals at the port.
"It's a nonissue," said Harlan Ullman, a senior advisor on national security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "If someone is going to infiltrate, you can infiltrate an American company as well as anyone else."
They noted DP World will have an American board of directors for its American operations and must comply with new, tougher worldwide security standards promoted by the U.S. Coast Guard.
LOOKING FOR WEAPONS
To protect the country against weapons of mass destruction being imported in a cargo container, U.S. Customs and Border Protection established programs to flag suspect containers for inspection and has sent teams of inspectors to dozens of ports worldwide to review manifests before ships leave.
But it's estimated only 3-to-5 percent of containers entering the country are scanned, prompting criticism of gaping security holes.
"Our ports are the front lines of the war on terrorism. They are both vulnerable targets for attack and venues for smuggling and human trafficking," Menendez said. "We wouldn't turn the border patrol or the customs service over to a foreign government, and we can't afford to turn our ports over to one either."
Earlier this week, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers expressed concern about the Dubai deal's impact on national security, as well as what some say was the "secretive" manner in which a U.S. government committee signed off on the sale.
After the White House defended the sale, saying it had been fully vetted, lawmakers from both parties lobbed more criticism Friday at President Bush, who was visiting the Port of Tampa.
"How can President Bush come to Florida and talk about homeland security when he's outsourcing the security of our ports?" said Karen Thurman, chair of the Florida Democratic Party. "The threat to major ports, including those in Tampa and Miami, is real. The United States, not a foreign company, should be responsible for keeping our ports secure."
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said she plans to hold a briefing next month with port security experts to review the takeover. Ros-Lehtinen chairs the House subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia.
DUBAI IS NOT A FOE
The UAE is considered an ally in the war on terrorism, and the tiny emirate has become one of the few places in the Middle East where freewheeling capitalism has taken root and been successful.
But the emirate's banking system was used by 9-11 hijackers, and the UAE was one of three nations that had recognized the brutal Taliban government in Afghanistan.
DP World is offering no public statement, other than noting the Treasury Department's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States had approved the deal. CFIUS reviews foreign investments to make sure they don't endanger American security.
Some lawmakers called for CFIUS to conduct a full, formal 45-day investigation.
The UAE's interest in global ports comes as it prepares for the end of its petroleum reserves.
Its DP World became a major ports operator in 2004 when it bought CSX Terminals, a subsidiary of Jacksonville-based CSX Corp. The former CEO of CSX was U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow, who left the company for Treasury before the sale.
The Treasury Department is one member of CFIUS, along with Homeland Security, Defense, Commerce, Justice and State departments.
DP World bid $6.8 billion for the venerable British firm Peninsular & Oriental Steamship Navigation Co. in 2005.
It's believed that most of P&O's employees will remain with DP World, and that little will change at the American ports, said Rick Eyerdam, editor of The Florida Shipper.
Port of Miami-Dade executives aren't concerned.
"They are not buying the Port of Miami," said Deputy Port Director Khalid Salahuddin. "They are buying part of one of the operators at the port."
Miami Herald staff writer Lesley Clark contributed