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The Real Focus for Port Security February 26, 2006

Posted by tkcollier in Economy & Business, In The News, News and politics.
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Stephen E. Flynn, a specialist in maritime security at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted that although the company is state-owned, several members of its top management are Americans — including its general counsel, a senior vice president and its outgoing chief operating officer, Edward H. Bilkey, who is a former U.S. Navy officer. And since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the United States has increasingly depended on such foreign port operators to cooperate in inspecting cargo before it heads for U.S. shores.

“It’s a global network at the end of the day that we’re trying to secure here,” Flynn said. “And that doesn’t happen by the United States owning every bit of it. What we should be focusing on instead is the question, are the security standards adequate?”

Critics voiced strong doubts about whether the existing procedures are commensurate with the threat. “There are not enough Customs and Border Protection inspectors at the nation’s ports to handle the incoming traffic that we have now, and our guys at the ports are being told that they can’t do any overtime,” said Charles Showalter, president of the American Federation of Government Employees union, which represents officers who inspect ships. “That combination often results in uninspected ships being left unattended in port overnight.”

Concerns over insufficient inspectors worry many security experts far more than the issue of who owns the companies managing the terminals.

Flynn cited a litany of unsettling practices, such as the lack of any screening for the thousands of truck drivers, many of whom are immigrants, hauling containers from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., to railway lines.

“What I hope for out of this whole debate is that, as Americans suddenly realize most of our marine terminals are managed by foreign-owned companies, they ask, given that that’s a reality, how do we secure it?” Flynn said. “I also hope this current situation doesn’t lead to a feeding frenzy [against foreign operators], because if we want things to be secure over here, we’re going to have to work with foreign counterparts.”

 

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