By Chris Strohm
House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said Thursday he will "do everything I can" to stop a Dubai-owned company from taking over operations at major U.S. ports, adding an important voice to Republicans who are bucking the White House on the issue.
Hunter and Armed Services Terrorism Subcommittee Chairman Jim Saxton, R-N.J., plan to introduce legislation Tuesday prohibiting Dubai Ports World from managing terminal operations at six U.S. ports and requiring all foreign companies to give up ownership of critical infrastructure in the United States.
"I intend to do everything I can do to kill the deal," Hunter said, putting himself at odds with GOP leaders who say they are waiting for a 45-day review of the deal before deciding what action, if any, should be taken. The White House strongly backs the deal.
Hunter and Saxton told reporters they have discovered information they believe will change the minds of their GOP colleagues and the White House about the deal. They issued a list of dangerous materials that were either shipped or attempted to be shipped in past years through Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates.
The list came from the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Only one of the shipments on the list was dated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. Bush administration officials have defended the Dubai transaction by arguing the UAE has been an ally in the war on terrorism.
Indeed, the Wisconsin Project's Web site says Dubai became the first government in the Middle East to participate in the U.S. Megaports Initiative, which is intended to detect and seize shipments of radioactive material.
Officials from DP World told Hunter's committee at a hearing Thursday that the sale is expected to be approved by a British court early next week.
Hunter told CongressDaily his bill will include language that nullifies the sale. "My bill would roll it back," he said. "We anticipate that [the sale] will pass before the bill does."
His bill would also require companies that are not owned by a majority of U.S. shareholders to relinquish ownership of any property in the United States that the departments of Defense and Homeland Security designate as critical infrastructure.
"To those who say my views smack of protectionism, I say America is worth protecting," Hunter said.
The 13-term Republican, who has long championed stricter "Buy America" procurement restrictions in annual defense authorization bills, strongly opposed last year's failed bid by the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corp. to buy Unocal Corp. of El Segundo, Calif. Beginning in 1997, he fought a successful two-year battle to block the Chinese Ocean Shipping Co. from leasing terminals at the former Long Beach Naval Base despite findings by U.S. security agencies that the state-owned firm posed no security risks.
Some industry and think tank experts argued that foreign companies are the only ones that will buy and invest in U.S. infrastructure that is capital intensive. Stephen Flynn, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told
Hunter's committee that U.S. companies and citizens have rejected options in the past to own port operations.
Hunter said his bill would mandate the inspection of all cargo coming into the United States. The Homeland Security Department now screens all cargo heading for the United States through the Container Security Initiative, which requires shipping companies to give the Customs and Border Protection agency their manifests. But only cargo that is deemed by CBP to be high risk is actually inspected, which averages about 5 percent of all shipments coming into the country.
Hunter said a "major investment" will be needed to inspect all cargo, but indicated that shipping companies would have to bear some, if not all, of the costs. Governments, shippers and traders here and abroad have been loath to support such comprehensive inspections for fear the practice would paralyze ports and hurt commerce.