As President Bush confronts congressional leaders this week over the operation of U.S. port terminals by a Middle Eastern company, industry leaders are also asking if the deal puts port security technology at risk.
The operation of terminals at six major ports are at issue. They would be operated by DP World, the Dubai, United Arab Emirates-headquartered company buying Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. for $6.8 billion. Terminals include New York and New Jersey ports, which participate in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiatives to secure maritime ports against terrorist attacks.
The debate has put the Bush administration squarely are on the defensive.
"The change of ownership at a terminal will not impact or affect the security of our nation's ports," said Leah Yoon, spokeswoman for the Customs and Border Protection, said. "Port employees go through extensive background and security checks."
But calls to block the sale raise questions about port security, experts said. And some industry watchers worry that high-tech devices and strategies, such as biometrics, radio frequency identification ((RFID) and radiation sensor technology, being installed at ports could fall into the wrong hands.
"We can't tell all Arab countries they can't invest in U.S. ports," said Didier Chenneveau, vice president of operations, Imaging & Printing Group in the Americas at Hewlett-Packard & Co. "All rules must apply to all terminal owners, even if that means installing technology to secure ports."
The highest threat for a terrorist attack being initiated lies on foreign soil, such as a port worker in China stuffing a container with a biological weapon, said Adrian Gonzalez, director, Logistics Executive Council and ARC Advisory Group.
"If there's to be a call-to-action by Congress, from a technology standpoint, it should be focused on making sure detection technology being used overseas is up to the task," Gonzalez said. "This would make global trade much more secure than blocking a business transaction here in the U.S."