March 3, 2006

MSNBC Hardball - Port Issue

On March 2, I appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews to discuss the possible involbement of Dubai with the management of terminals at some American ports. Here is the transcript:

MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Gregory. Now the Dubai ports deal, of course, the hot issue of the week. The Bush administration has triggered a national security investigation of another Dubai-based company with plans to buy U.S. plants that manufacture military parts for defense contractors.

Are we becoming too dependent on overseas companies to provide services that are critical to our national security. And would the Dubai ports deal make us less safe?

Frank Gaffney is a former assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration. He‘s now the president of the Center for Security Policy.

And Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona served as the defense attache at the U.S. embassy in the United Arab Emirates. He was there when the emir was the defense minister. Colonel Francona is now an MSNBC military analyst.

Colonel Francona, you‘re on a lot of security matters, so let‘s ask you on this one. Is it OK by your security instincts to allow the UAE to control our ports?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: On the surface of it, Chris, I don‘t have a problem with the UAE running our ports. Dubai has been a terrific ally of ours. We‘ve got a lot of defense cooperation, they understand our security interests, so I don‘t have a problem with a Dubai company running any of our ports.

MATTHEWS: Frank Gaffney, do you?

FRANK GAFFNEY, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR SECURITY POLICY: I do. I think that we‘ve got already too many vulnerabilities associated with these ports. I‘ve just come from a hearing with the House Armed Services Committee.

The testimony from some of my colleagues about how serious those problems are, just reinforce my belief that we don‘t want to do anything, even that might marginally make matters worse and I think this would at least make things marginally worse in three senses. One, there would be personnel hiring decisions made by this company. There will be some involvement with cargo and management of cargo.

And at the very least, there‘s going to be—some of the employees are going to be let in on security plans of the ports, each of which create, what I think is—as the lawyers would call an attractive nuisance. It‘s like having a swimming pool without a fence around it. Somebody is going to get in there and get in trouble.

MATTHEWS: Colonel Francona, Duncan Hunter, who chairs the Armed Services Committee in the House, he‘s a real tough soldiers kind of guy, he doesn‘t want to do it. He said that the problem with Dubai is not just that it‘s a state-owned operation here, which some people are against if principle. He says Dubai, the UAE, has had a bad track record.

He talks about high-speed electrical switches being sent through there, other materials that might be helpful to a nuclear program whizzing through the UAE‘s ports thanks to this company. Does that concern you?

FRANCONA: Well, yes, it concerns me, but I think you have to separate out all these incidents and look at them each. You know, is this the government doing this? Is there government complicity in this, or are the companies in the UAE being used either with or without knowledge? So I mean saying that something is happening in the UAE doesn‘t mean that the UAE government is doing it. So I think we have to be a little circumspect in how we look at these incidents.

MATTHEWS: Frank, if this was an Egyptian company or a Jordanian company, would you have the same concern?

GAFFNEY: I would. Frankly, I have the same concern about the fact that many of our ports are run by Chinese communists.

MATTHEWS: No, would you be coming on television to concern—show your concern?

GAFFNEY: I would be—I would be probably be raising the same kinds of alarms.
MATTHEWS: Even if it were Dutch or Belgian?

GAFFNEY: This is particularly worrying, Chris, because not only do you have the track record that Duncan Hunter was talking about, but we also know that this isn‘t necessarily a wrap on the government or even the company, but we also know the territory of the United Arab Emirates was where most of the operational planing and financing of the 9/11 attacks took place. So whether the government is complicit or simply missing the boat...

MATTHEWS: Well, so is Germany, if you want to get into that. Btu that‘s where a lot of these guys came from.

GAFFNEY: That‘s true. All of these raise questions, which is why I think the American public is so alive to this problem about whether we want to have control in other people hand‘s.

MATTHEWS: That‘s a cost. Risk is a cost, right? What are benefits, Colonel, and the costs of not doing this deal? Let‘s flip it around and look at the other side.


MATTHEWS: What is the advantage of doing this deal, sticking with it in terms of helping our relationship with Dubai? And what are the costs if we drop the deal, if we dump it?

FRANCONA: Yes, assuming you‘re going to allow foreigners to run our port, you can‘t cut out the UAE, because that would offend Dubai. Dubai has been a great ally for two decades. Look at the strategic position they occupy on the Arabian peninsula. They straddle the Straits of Hormuz. They have ports not only in the Persian Gulf, but on the Gulf of Oman.

I mean, this is a critical operational location for the U.S. Navy. Sixty-five port visits a month. There‘s no place else in the area that gives us that kind of access. We need those ports to project power, not only in the Persian Gulf, but into the Gulf of Oman.

MATTHEWS: React to that.

GAFFNEY: Well, I‘m willing to stipulate to all of that. I think that‘s true and it‘s why it‘s regrettable...

MATTHEWS: But you‘d pay the cost of dumping this deal?

GAFFNEY: It‘s why it‘s regrettable that this deal has been allowed to come to this. It should have been turned off. But the defective process by which it was evaluated put us in this position where we have...

MATTHEWS: What happened in this administration? You‘re politically conscious. What happened to this administration‘s nervous system? Why did didn‘t they pick up on this?

GAFFNEY: I‘m going to take that as a compliment, I think.

MATTHEWS: I think I am.

GAFFNEY: It‘s because the process, this so-called Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, is a black box. The president didn‘t know what was going on until it was a done deal. The secretary of defense didn‘t know what was going on...

MATTHEWS: He said he didn‘t know.

GAFFNEY: ... until it was a done deal.

MATTHEWS: You really think Rummy know about this at all?

GAFFNEY: Because it was done at a very low level. That‘s the way these things have been run by a Treasury Department-led effort when the Treasury Department is responsible for promoting foreign investment in the United States. It‘s designed to give rise to these kinds of outcomes.

MATTHEWS: Why didn‘t somebody say to Rummy, hey, boss, I think we got a problem here?

GAFFNEY: I think partly because he‘s missing some middle level management that can‘t get through Carl Levin in the Senate. We‘ve got serious problems with the process. We‘ve got some I think legitimate concerns about how this plays out in a post 9-11 world. And I think at this moment, it‘s very healthy to have a debate, as we did in the Armed Services Committee.

MATTHEWS: Well, we‘re having one here.


MATTHEWS: A little late, but we‘re having one here. Thank you, Colonel Francona and Frank Gaffney. Thanks for—both of you for joining us.