SUMMARY OF SENATE ARMED COMMITTEE's BRIEFING BY CFIUS MEMBERS
SUMMARY OF SENATE ARMED COMMITTEE's BRIEFING BY CFIUS MEMBERS
After a 2.5 hour briefing to the Senate Armed Servicess Committee today by CFIUS representatives from various Departments on the facts and details of the UAE port acquisitiong from P&O, Sen Clinton (who will no doubt have company in this) will still introduce legislation bent on stopping the port sale until there is an additional 45 day investigation into potential security risks.
CFIUS members, including Robert Kimmitt (Dep Treasure Sec'y), Michael Jackson (Dept DHS Sec'y), Radm Gilour (Asst. Commandant for Prevention), Jayson Ahern (Asst. Commissioner, Customs & Border Protection) were among the plethora of experts willing and able to answer all questions from both Committee members and press - within classified guidelines, of course.
Michael Jackson explained the process of port operations and security. As it's impossible to inspect 100% of containers without disruption of the bulk of legitimate trade, Jackson revealed the multi layers of checks and balances in place to identify the more questionable containers for auditing. No doubt explains the statement "only 5% of the containers are inspected", and why. In short, the line of defense starts before the containers are loaded onto outgoing ships.
It was emphatically stated that the port operations are *never* in possession of the knowledge of just what containers are lined up for inspection.
Jayson Ahern added that there was a 24 hour rule used to "score" containers and cargo for risk prior to loading at origin. Among equipment used to inspect containers are x-rays and radiation screening. While they don't have all the radiation screening equipment in place (more enroute and part of what he called Phase III of bolstering port security), the added layers of prescreening could be immediate as a Phase I action, and were put in place to lessen the risk until more radiation machines were acquired.
Jackson pointed out that 42 (soon to be up to 50) terminal locations - currently about 80% of inbound traffic from ports, including those under DP World - were on board with the new cargo contained security measures implemented after 911. DP World was, in fact, the first Arab nation to agree and comply with the container measures. Even such, in light of this P&O acquisition, security asked and received additional assurances as a condition to the sale... including the fact that DP World agreed to current management and changes are subject to approval.
INRE personnel, Jackson pointed out that, in addition to the sale conditions (Mata note all P&O employees and management's rights are safeguarded in the offer to purchase), there are visa regulations and background checks as the norm. Thus infiltration of suspected terrorists by replacing current personnel would not be an easy task. In a later interchange, Stewart Baker (DHS) said that P&O currently was a US business, and that DP World was not changing that status.
These and more conditional assurances are to be made public soon.
Radm Gilmour informed the Committee that MTSA regulations allowed the Coast Guard to visit foreign ports to confirm their procedures met int'l requirements, and that this has been done. The US has been using Dubai ports for at least 3-4 years.
Possibly of most interest to me was the process timeline presented by Robert Kimmitt on the investigation. Contrary to claims that this deal was rushed thru willy nilly, Mr. Kimmitt stated that there was nearly 90 days of reviews and research starting back in fall of 2005 on the proposed merger.
He also described the CFIUS as a "not so secret" committee, noting that while Congress wasn't briefed, nor local state authorities contacted, the merger was publicly broadcast in a multitude of American press publications in Oct and Nov of 2005. No concerns or complaints had been raised by any with this public disclosure. Had they been, the concerns would have been addressed as part of their reviews.
When queried by Sen Clinton on how many meetings, Clay Lowery (Treasury Sec'y for Foreign Affairs) said there was one formal meeting, and at least 4 meetings following to review documents. Most research after the first meeting was done by the individual departments, and their results (and/or concerns) presented in the ensuing meetings. The Armed Forces Committee has requested all minutes of all pertinent meetings.
Questioning by Carl Levin revealed his fixation on a pre 911 mentality, voicing concerns about the UAE based on their actions prior to the WTC tragedy. Like Schumer's quote in the Kuwait Times, stating that this deal was all about whether the UAE could be "trusted", Levin gives little credence to the UAE history since 911 as a counter terrorism ally.
Levin insisted that the Clinton administration had pleaded with the UAE to break off ties with the Taliban back in 2001 and that they had not complied. Tom Wayne (Secy' of State Economic and Business Affairs) responded that he did not know about pre 911, but that post 911 the UAE strengthened money laundrying and banking regulations, and froze terrorist assets.
Bob Joseph (Arms Control) added that the UAE was instrumental in helping to unravel the terrorist network in their territory. There was a large number of centrifuge parts that transited out of Dubai to Iran and Libya pre 911. However the UAE's actions post 911 led to intradiction of the AQ Con Network, and eventually led to Libya giving up it's WMD program.
It should also be pointed out that Levin did alot of posturing on who, if any, discussed this deal with the 911 Commission. But in fact, there is no legal requirement to talk to such an entity. And evidently Levin places more faith in the bogus, and glaringly deficient report (ala, no Able Danger mention....) than I do.
Kennedy addressed what the standards for "national security risks" encompassed, and otherwise added little to the briefing.
Hillary, lawyer that she is, focused in on statute language that could possibly thwart her proposed pending legislation. Hillary is hell bent on forcing a 45 day investigation on top of the 90 days already spent on the deal, thus staying the sale until Congress can grant their blessing. Her tact in doing such concentrated on statute wording, insisting that a gov't held and owned company made the 45 day investigation mandatory and not an option.
Kimmitt responded that for the past 14 years and 3 administrations, the CFIUS (formed in 1975), the interpretation was that if any department entity expressed concerns, the 45 day investigation commenced. If no concerns were raised, no investigation commenced. Hillary sez that' isn't the way it was written....
For the record, they stated that in the period of 1988 to 2005, there have been 25 cases that were sent to investigations, plus many more than were withdrawn when the applicants knew they could not pass the investigation's criteria. There have been many gov't owned or held deals which also never went to investigation without Congressional objections.
Hillary and Committee have requested details on cases sent to investigation to determine the "triggering mechanisms".
There were some queries by Committee members and a few press representatives as to the impact of a johnny-come-lately 45 day investigation on US-Arab relations. However all answers were based on speculation. Thus I won't address the portent abilities of those who commented from the Committee or panel.
The press was given opportunities to ask questions, and on the whole behaved with far more dignity and professionalism that we are used to seeing from the WH Press Corp. Most questions didn't add much substance to the already presented data, but a New Haven Registery reporter did ask if the President had the power to stay the ruling after the CFIUS vote. The response was that the investigation could be reopened if it were found that the principles (P&O and DP World) were found to have given false information.
I'd take that as a "no", myself...
The Congressional Quarterly followed with a similar put question, asking if the 45 day additional investigation could go on without legislation, or could Congress halt the sale. Sen Warner, Committee Chair, says Congress could enact legislation.
In light of the Bush's vowed veto of any attempt to halt the sale, it is unclear whether legislation could be pushed thru unless Congress overturned the President's veto. And if such legislation were enacted post approval, would it have the ability to stop the sale?