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Security Must be Priority in Approving Foreign Investments

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Security Must be Priority in Approving Foreign Investments

By Congressman John Barrow

At the beginning of March, as Congress and the president were locking horns over the Dubai ports deal, news of a similar deal was leaked: A state-financed company from the United Arab Emirites (UAE) was buying Doncasters Group Ltd., a British company that produces, among other things, engine parts for military tanks and aircraft.

Nine of Doncasters' plants are in the U.S., including one plant right outside Savannah, in Effingham County, that is the sole provider of specialized turbine engine parts for the Abrams tank.

The Effingham plant is the best at what it does, and has tremendous growth potential. It's also an important asset to Effingham County and the state of Georgia, and it takes security very seriously.

While the ports deal raised questions about America's ability to control our borders, the Doncasters deal raises questions about the dangers posed by foreign businesses buying our military industrial base.

Foreign investment is critical to our economy. However, in a post-9/11 world, foreign investment that compromises our national security is a dangerous road to travel.

In the wake of the ports deal, many in Congress have been right to demand more scrutiny of foreign investment deals that may not be in the best interests of our national security.

Any attempt to excuse the sell-off of national security assets to other countries, based on their current status as our "friends," ignores a truth that we've had to learn over and over again throughout our history: Today's "friends" may be tomorrow's rivals. That point is particularly relevant to the UAE.

Since the war in Iraq started over three years ago, the UAE has supported our ongoing military operations. But the UAE's current cooperation with the United States is no guarantee for the future, or reason to ignore the UAE's past.

For example, two of the 9/11 hijackers were UAE nationals who reportedly used financial networks based in the UAE to help plan the attacks. Likewise, the Port of Dubai, in the UAE, has been named a key transfer point for illegal shipments of nuclear components to Iran, Libya and North Korea. In addition, the UAE was one of only three countries to have recognized the Taliban as a legitimate government in Afghanistan.

While we consider the UAE an ally now, how can we be sure where the UAE will stand in 2011, much less 2022? Like many of my colleagues in Congress, I hope that the UAE will continue to be our ally. But I'm not willing to bet our national security on it.

The ports deal and the Doncasters deal have shown that the system for reviewing and investigating the national security implications of foreign investment in the United States is badly broken.

Currently, the responsibility for reviewing these deals rests with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). Housed in the Treasury Department, CFIUS conducts secret reviews without any oversight from Congress. That might be OK if we had reason to believe that CFIUS is doing its job. But everything we now know shows that it isn't.

Remember, CFIUS approved the Dubai ports deal. It was the American people and Congress who stopped it.

Since 1988, CFIUS has reviewed over 1,500 foreign purchases of American businesses. Of those 1,500 deals, the president has blocked only one - in 1990. Neither Congress nor the American people know enough about the 1,500 deals that were previously approved.

A process that approves 1,500 deals and blocks only one means one of two things: Either there was never any problem to begin with, or the folks who are in charge of dealing with the problem are not doing their job.

Congress has a responsibility to fix what's broken with the CFIUS review process. That's why I've introduced the Protect America First Act. This bill would require that CFIUS notify appropriate members of Congress about all pending foreign investments that may affect national security. In addition, this bill takes CFIUS out of the Treasury Department and moves it to the Department of Homeland Security.

Some claim that congressional oversight would politicize the process and deter legitimate foreign investment in the United States. But there is nothing political about requiring that members of Congress be notified about federal investigations into business deals involving national security, especially when those deals are taking place in their own districts.

A responsible system of congressional notification would create accountability and take politics out of the process. Members of Congress and the American public wouldn't be blindsided by done deals that are bad deals for our national security.

I want to ensure what's best for the employees of Doncasters Effingham, just as much as I want to ensure what's best for our national security. If America is to continue to be strong and free, protecting America must always be America's business - and no one else's.

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