Friday, February 24, 2006

Rethinking the Ports Deal

While the Dubai Ports World has agreed to delay the deal so that lawmakers can take another look at the proposed takeover, we're finally seeing a debate on port security emerging. This is long overdue.

By a decade. Or more. Ad Ed notes:
In the end, the increased scrutiny of the deal may be the biggest boon of the debate; we're finally talking about port and border security, and Congress and the Administration is finally listening. I think Krauthammer has it correct that the deal will likely go through; however, we may wind up with better focus and security at our commercial ports as a result of the controversy.
This would be a good thing - improved security at the ports is a paramount concern, but let's hope the focus is expanded to border control in general, which both sides of the aisle are loath to address.

New Jersey is also looking to sue to block the deal. That's on the heels of the PANY/NJ lawsuit to intervene.

This story about Vado Diomande and how he contracted inhalation anthrax from cattle skins he brought into the US from the Ivory Coast to make drums shows how much of our border control and baggage/cargo checks rely on the honor system to safeguard against threats.
Officials suspect that the skins he bought during his two-week trip to Africa ultimately made him sick with inhalation anthrax — an extremely rare affliction, and a development that for New Yorkers amounted to a jarring flashback to the scares of October 2001.

Interviews and records show that the authorities had at least two chances to prevent the spread of the disease and that both, in the end, depended on Mr. Diomande's telling them the details about what he was bringing back from Africa. As of yesterday, it appeared he had not, officials said.

The first time that Mr. Diomande, who lives in Greenwich Village, was obligated to inform authorities about his purchases was when he packed the shipments of goatskins to send them out of Ivory Coast as cargo. A law enforcement official said that Mr. Diomande shipped the skins in a plane's cargo hold, not as part of his carry-on bags or checked personal luggage. It is unclear on what date he did this.

But United States Customs and Border Protection officials in New York and Washington say that if Mr. Diomande had followed regulations precisely, an entry form filed with a Customs broker would have spelled out what was being imported.

The second opportunity for Mr. Diomande to reveal his cargo was when he flew to Kennedy International Airport on Dec. 20, on an American Airlines flight. He was subjected to standard questioning, but officials say it appears he did not tell anyone of his shipment. Had he said anything at any point, a long list of standard procedures would have kicked in. Customs agents say they would have debriefed him more thoroughly, and federal agriculture officials very likely would have become involved.

"Absolutely, there are questions on the Customs declarations asking if the person is importing any type of animals, plants or meats, or whether they have been on a farm," said Lucille Cirillo, a supervisory Customs and Border Protection officer in the New York field office. "All the indications that I have gotten are that Mr. Diomande did not declare anything on his Customs declaration on the 20th of December."

She added that in "everything I looked at from his travel, there is nothing to indicate he had skins. If he had them, he should have declared them."

Experts in the field say that Mr. Diomande's case makes clear a fundamental reality: it is all but impossible to systematically stop the entrance of all potentially lethal germs, whether anthrax or other organisms, in plants, insects or animals. The ports are porous, and systems are not in place to inspect everything, law enforcement officials said. So, little winds up being thoroughly reviewed, in part to keep the travel and commerce of the world moving. And, despite the presence of security agents, a great deal hinges on the honor system.
So, for all the talk about Dubai Ports World and the potential security threats that deal may pose, there are other more serious security loopholes that need to be addressed as well.

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