Yes, port operators operate port security

I was wrong to doubt that the Dubai deal carries national-security risks.

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 &#8212 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 &#8212 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.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com