Wednesday, February 22, 2006

UAE Port Deal Argument A Red Herring

The squabble over whether or not to allow a United Arab Emirates company control over shipping operations at six major US seaports is a red herring. The real issue is the shameful state of port security, part of an overall slackening of national security measures.

Following 9/11 a wave of public outrage forced the formation of the Transportation Security Administration to replace private security firms at the nation's airports. The plan then was for the TSA to live up to the ""transportation" part of its title and eventually take over security at seaports, railroad stations, bus stations...everywhere that mass transit operated.

But the TSA hit a funding wall and was forced to lay off thousands of screeners. While the screener forces at the large, high-profile airports increased, the Federal Security Directors (FSDs) at smaller airports lost manpower. The inexperience of many FSDs and their command staffs has led to extremely high turnover rates, further aggravating the manpower shortage. Many Federal screeners are now part-timers.

The fact is that many airports don't have enough screeners to provide adequate security. Some regional airport checkpoints are run with as few as five screeners. That means that the screeners aren't allowed breaks or lunch. If one of them needs to use the can, the checkpoint must be shut down while he or she is gone.

So the plan (and there were colorful brochures and everything) for TSA to take over port security was abandoned, and we currently check perhaps 2 percent of containers entering the US on a good day. Port security reverted to already overstretched outfits; the Coast Guard and Customs Service.

The bottom line is that Islamist terrorists don't really need help from a middle eastern company to penetrate security at our ports.

Also posted at The Jawa Report and Vince Aut Morire.