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By Larry C Johnson
Will someone please help the White House figure out which security playbook it should be using? In recent weeks the President's men have stronged arm Republicans to look the other way and not investigate whether George Bush has violated the law by authorizing domestic spying that ignored legal requirements to seek court approval. Those who have dared to challenge the Administration on this point have been accused of letting Al Qaeda have free run inside the United States.
Well, what about allowing a Middle Eastern country, one where some citizens have links to Al Qaeda, to have free run of key US ports? That appears to be fine as far as George Bush is concerned. Wait just a doggone minute!! Pliant Republicans when the issue was illegal domestic spying are now starting to kick back.
The alarm bells have sounded with the news that Dubai Ports World, now the third-largest port operator in the world, is on the verge of taking contol of Britain's Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co (aka P&O) (which currently runs port operations in six major U.S. cities). In simple terms, a Dubai based company, which is headed by Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, who also represented the royal family in buying two Manhattan trophy properties, the Essex House on Central Park South and the Helmsley Building at 230 Park Ave. for $ 1.1 billion, will be in control of the commercial operations of U.S. ports, including the New York City Port, the Baltimore Port, and the Miami Port.
It is true that Dubai has been an ally of the United States in combatting terrorism. But, it also is true that Dubai remains a questionable partner. US News and World Report's David Kaplan identified the problem in a December 2005 article:
"But Dubai also serves as the region's criminal crossroads, a hub for smuggling, money laundering, and underground banking. There are Russian and Indian mobsters, Iranian arms traffickers, and Arab jihadists. Funds for the 9/11 hijackers and African embassy bombers were transferred through the city. It was the heart of Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan's black market in nuclear technology and other proliferation cases. Half of all applications to buy U.S. military equipment from Dubai are from bogus front companies, officials say. "Iran," adds one U.S. official, "is building a bomb through Dubai." Last year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents thwarted the shipment of 3,000 U.S. military night-vision goggles by an Iranian pair based in Dubai. Moving goods undetected is not hard. Dhows--rickety wooden boats that have plowed the Arabian Sea for centuries--move along the city center, uninspected, down the aptly named Smuggler's Creek.
"U.A.E. rulers have taken terrorism seriously since 9/11, but Washington has a half-dozen extradition requests that they refuse to honor. The list includes people accused of rape, murder, and arms trafficking, and the last fugitive of the BCCI banking scandal. The country has put money laundering controls on the books but has made few cases. Interior Minister Sheik Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan told U.S. News the U.A.E. has made great strides in cracking down, but he insists that the real problems lie elsewhere. "We are a neutral country, like Switzerland," he says. "Give us the evidence, and we will do something about it. Don't blame others." Not everyone agrees. "All roads lead to Dubai," says former treasury agent John Cassara, author of Hide and Seek, a forthcoming book on terrorism finance. Cassara tried explaining U.S. concerns about Dubai to a local businessman but got only a puzzled look: "Mr. John, money laundering? But that's what we do."
The slumbering Republican controlled Congress has awakened, but will it mean anything? They have spent the past four years justifying policies and behaviors that Republicans, in normal times, eschew--you know, like exposing the identity of a covert intelligence officer, weakening the US Army, or increasing Federal Government spending. Key Republican leaders recognize the peril of allowing a commercial transaction to go forward that will be seen as selling out U.S. national security interests to a wealthy Arab buddy whose country has some ties to unsavory terrorists and criminals. That dog won't hunt and the Bush White House is going to take a beating on this issue.