Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Ports Deal - more muddy'ing of the factual waters

Former CIA Officer: Dubai Ports Not So Secure
By Jeff Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

There's a catchy headline. Made me want to read what was new. Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer who now heads the Business Exposure Reduction Group (BERG), is weighing in with his two cents worth.

For the record, BERG is an investigation, security risk assessment and training facility that works with businesses doing international trade. From their mission statement...

BERG was created to help businesses protect themselves against fraud, product counterfeiting, contraband, or criminal subversion. Our services and programs are designed to add value to existing corporate compliance programs. We help companies minimize risks, counter threats, and surmount adversity. We offer cost effective solutions and programs that protect key assets vital to the success of dynamic enterprises.

What are some of Mr. Johnson's reasons for poo-pooing the P&O/DP World sale?

"There is current intelligence that individuals with ties to jihadist terrorist groups have sought refuge in Dubai/UAE, within the last three months," from countries that are considered sympathetic to terrorists, Johnson said. "They felt more secure going to the UAE."

Let's see... terrorists, in addition to bolting to the US, Netherlands, Syria, Iran, Canada and the UK (amongst a plethora of other countries), are also filing into the UAE. I'm not sure how the UAE handles their immigration screening, but I'm quite sure it's not as in depth as the US must (hopefully) have now. But the presence of terrorist linked immigrants in any one country is not surprising, nor a bellwether of that nation's support of terrorist activities. The human cockroaches are everywhere.... including here at home.


"When you look at three of the top world ports for smuggling, counterfeit and contraband activity, those are, by my count, Hong Kong, Dubai and Panama. Dubai Ports World controls two of the three" Johnson said, referring to Dubai and Hong Kong.


Johnson's company has been investigating port operations in Dubai on behalf of a client as part of a federal racketeering lawsuit.


"One of the things we observed in the course of collecting evidence in that case was cigarette smuggling that started with cigarettes that would come out of Europe and the United States, go to Panama and then were shipped to ... ports in Dubai," Johnson said. "We also had evidence and saw direct evidence of other types of products being smuggled through Dubai, going into Pakistan through Afghanistan and going into Iran and going into Iraq."

No new news here. We already know that nuclear centrifuges passed thru DPW ports in the past. Pre-911 DP World and UAE is a different animal than post-911.

Yet Mr. Johnson himself has an impressive background, serving as a CIA agent from 1985 to 1989, and Deputy Director in the U.S. State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism from 1989 to 1993. He was also a terrorism analyst for various media... including the Jim Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio, ABC's Nightline, NBC's Today Show, the New York Times, CNN and the BBC. Woof... that's a seriously liberal lineup there.

That BERG is investigating racketeering, plus his history, certainly lends more than the average creedence to his findings.

But racketeering, including the cigarettes and other "contraban" under BERG's investigation has been going on for considerably longer than DP World has been in the port ops business. How about the port ops that had those smuggling centers prior to 1998? I find it hard to believe that DPW's entry into the maritime world in the late 1990s marked the onset of racketeering.

"It would be one thing if the owners of Dubai Ports World were the same individuals in the United Arab Emirates who are cooperating with us in the efforts to combat terrorism, but they are not," Johnson said. "There are elements in the UAE government that are helping us and there are elements that are not helpful."


"Would Israel allow Dubai Ports World to run its ports at Haifa? If the answer is 'yes,' then we should say 'okay,'" Johnson said. "But, you know what? The answer is 'no.'"

A couple of comments here. There isn't enough specifics in this "it's not the same individuals" statement for me. DPW is owned by UAE, but not operated by the UAE government. In fact, the DP World executives are comprised of a wide varieties of nationals, including Americans. Is Mr. Johnson suggesting that those operating DP World are not willing to cooperate in the WOT? When, in actuality, everything they have done since their burst onto the maritime marketplace proves otherwise.

There is ample room for questioning his Israel observation. Granted, no one ever asked the hypothetical question of "what would you do" were DP World acquiring Israeli ports. But we do have on record the
unequivocal support of the firm by the Israeli based company, Zim Shipping, stated in a letter sent to Sen Clinton. So contrary to Mr. Johnson's blanket statement, some Israeli's - most notably those with experience with the company - wouldn't have a problem with DP World running Haifa.

Thus I set off looking for more about Larry Johnson. What is of particular interest is that Mr. Johnson's publication on his website,
Is Terrorism Getting Worse?, reads that the global attacks are not intensifying, but lessening, and that they are controllable. Indeed, he makes his living providing a service to do just that.

Naturally, many security professionals are re-examining whether their companies or clients are doing enough to defeat the threat of terrorism. Assessing the threat has been made more difficult because there is substantial public rhetoric claiming the threat is worsening. If this is true then additional security measures and expanded security programs are in order.

However, if you look past the rhetoric and the slanted news coverage, a dramatically different picture of the threat emerges.

Terrorism is not widespread.
Terrorist groups are not proliferating at an uncontrollable rate.
Terrorism has and can be contained.

Add to that one of his included charts on what countries have had at least two anti-US terrorist attacks since 1990.

For a guy so concerned about the UAE and links to terrorism, I have to wonder why. By his own research, the UAE doesn't even make the chart for US risks... even during the "recognized the Taliban" era prior to 911. On the flip side, our greatest ally, the UK, is right up there in the top 10. Yet he had no concerns with P&O operating US ports.

Were Mr. Johnson's experience not so vast, I wouldn't waste a moment typing. But I do open my mind, eyes and ears for more data daily. And this is just more information added to the pile of BS that's been spread around on the ports deal, and certainly one to be taken into consideration. But so far, none of what Mr. Johnson has said truly gives me any qualms about the P&O sale.

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