Fear and Loathing in the Port Security Mess

The furor over an Arab-owned company's bid to run terminal operations at six U.S. ports isn't over. What are the connections between foreign investment, political lobbying and fear mongering?

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DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

The seaport management story broke over us like a summer storm, and having let loose a lot of anger and some blatant xenophobia, it began to recede with President Bush's cancellation of the contract.


NPR Senior News Analyst, Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: Before a story goes away, though, I'd like to mention a couple of things that didn't get much attention at the height of the storm. One is America's heavy dependence on foreign investment. Factories, companies, real estate, you name it. And the billions for port facilities was to the rulers of Dubai just another asset to diversify the profits from oil. And so when Representative Duncan Hunter, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, introduces a bill to require strategic clearance for a foreign investment connected with infrastructure, he should be aware that 27 of 145 oil refineries in the United States are foreign owned.

Secondly, as with almost anything involving money and a government decision, the seaport deal was the object of some heavy lobbying of the Federal Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. And with all that oil money, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, a ruler of the United Arab Emirates, could afford the best.

Ex-President Bill Clinton has collected many thousands of dollars from Dubai for speaking fees. Other advisors, as lobbyists are sometimes called, were former Senator and presidential nominee Robert Dole, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

After a bidding contest that lasted about three months, Dubai won the contract for six major American ports for $6.8 billion. And that probably would've created little stir were it not for the totally unexpected surge of public opinion reflecting a nervousness about foreigners, especially Arabs, that had been fueled by President Bush's war on terror.

The collapse of the ports deal has some lessons in it about influence peddling, and about spreading fear.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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