Yes, port operators operate port security

The argument that “port operators” such as P&O don’t actually, y’know, operate ports, and in particular that having a company owned by a country whose rulers used to be Osama’s hunting buddies couldn’t possibly pose any actual security threat — an argument I was willing to take seriously when Helen Delich Bentley made it, and which some media outlets are reporting more or less as fact — seems to be false.

Transparent Grid cites the relevant statutory provisions; it’s clearly the facility operator’s job to make security plans (subject to official scrutiny) and carry them out.

That Dubai Ports World is really a private company with independent management, albeit state-owned, is only somewhat reassuring. If the Emir calls the CEO of DPW and says “My nephew is interested in a job on the security side of your operation,” do you think the CEO is going to tell the kid to send his resume to human resources, don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you? Neither do I. And is the Emir’s nephew more likely to be a terrorist plant than the nephew of the biggest stockholder in P&O? Sure he is. That isn’t “racial profiling” or national prejudice; it’s a natural inference from things on the public record.

As Kevin Drum noticed, Michael Ledeen points out that it’s possible to build a firewall in such circumstances: possible, and in this case apparently necessary. But no such firewall exists in the deal as announced.

So I was wrong to doubt that the Bush Administration was, due to some mixture of arrogance, incompetence, and cronyism, prepared to put the country at risk. I’ll know better next time.