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Protecting our Ports

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Protecting our Ports

By Congressman Joe Pitts

There are certain duties in America that simply must be the sole job of Americans. And I believe there is a strong case to be made that securing our nation's ports is one of those duties.

Recent days have seen no shortage of animated rhetoric, harsh scrutiny, and downright outrage over the announced takeover of operations at six major U.S. seaports by a United Arab Emirates company from a British company currently overseeing operations.

In this heated environment, I believe the first thing we must do is clarify a few things.

We hear so much about the animosity many Arab nations have for the United States, that there is a temptation to lump all Middle Eastern nations together and presume their unified hostility.

The UAE doesn't fit that mold, however. They are a reliable trading partner and have been an ally in the war on terror. I fully acknowledge this aspect of the debate and believe that we must continue to engage them and the rest of the Arab world.

But, the need to engage that region of the world doesn't mean that we should do so without discretion. Ronald Reagan had a saying - trust but verify.

It is true that the UAE has earned a level of trust in its relations with our country, but, even so, it would be foolish to turn a blind eye toward other aspects involved. The fact that the UAE is surrounded by a region known to breed terrorism and, indeed, that two of the 9/11 hijackers were from the UAE should be reason enough to proceed with caution.

Like it our not, we are engaged in a long term war against global terrorism. Any naïve doubt we may have had about our terrorist enemies' deep-felt desire to inflict destruction within our own borders was erased on September 11, 2001.

In this post-9/11 environment, the stakes are simply too high to risk taking a chance with the oversight of our ports.

Millions of shipping containers pass through our ports annually. Just one of these containers is able to hold many times the amount of explosive material used by Timothy McVeigh to bomb the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. And even that seems minor when one thinks about the ease with which a biological or nuclear weapon could fit into a shipping container.

When these factors are taken into consideration, it becomes clear that our ports are some of the most vulnerable areas of the entire U.S. border.

So why would we take a chance and allow a Middle Eastern company to gain intimate knowledge of our port operations unless there was a wide consensus that a sufficiently thorough vetting process of that company had taken place?

The fact is that such a consensus does not yet exist. Many leaders in Congress, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, have raised serious concerns about the investigation process.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-NY) has pointed out that the criteria involved in the initial review process were mainly business oriented, not security oriented.

Our leaders in Congress are not simply posturing when they call for further review of this takeover. Indeed, Congress has the responsibility to do all it can to protect the American people by insisting on oversight hearings in the proper Congressional Committees.

The facts involved demand that we take a step back and examine the legitimate concerns being raised over this deal. The stakes are just too high to do anything less.

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