WASHINGTON — The Bush administration gave control of six crucial ports to a Sept. 11-linked Arab nation after a flimsy investigation and with weak guarantees the company in charge can stop Osama bin Laden from infiltrating, the House homeland security chairman said.
"There are conditions, which shows they had concerns, but it's all procedural and relies entirely on good faith," Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., told the New York Daily News. "There's nothing those conditions . . . nothing that assures us they're not hiring someone with bin Laden."
The firm, Dubai Ports World, owned by the United Arab Emirate of Dubai, cut a $6.8 billion deal last week to buy control of the ports — including Manhattan's cruise ship terminal and Newark, N.J.'s, giant container port — from a British firm.
A source with knowledge of the purchase echoed the chairman, telling The News that while Department of Homeland Security administrators rubber-stamped it, senior analysts at the agency were never told, and they don't like it now. News of the sale, approved by a secretive multiagency panel headed by the Treasury Department, has sparked a growing outcry from both political parties.
"It's unbelievably tone-deaf politically at this point in our history, four years after 9/11, to entertain the idea of turning port security over to a company based in the UAE, (which) vows to destroy Israel," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told "Fox News Sunday."
Hearings on the deal have been called for this week in Congress, and Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y, and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., have proposed a law to ban such takeovers.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., demanded that President Bush personally intervene.
"The president must act," he said at a news conference with New York Harbor as a backdrop. "Outsourcing the operations of our largest ports to a country with long involvement in terrorism is a homeland security accident waiting to happen."
But the administration is defending the port transfer, pointing out that even though Dubai was an important base for the Sept. 11 plot, the emirate is now an American ally.
"You can be assured that before a deal is approved, we put safeguards in place, assurances in place, that make everybody comfortable that we are where we need to be from a national security viewpoint," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told ABC's "This Week."
But King, who was briefed on the deal by top officials last week, disagreed.
"Our investigation was very superficial," he said. "We're talking 20 to 25 days of work, and that includes all the financial aspects and everything else."
King said a huge blind spot was the identity of the firm's employees.
"All we know are principals and people at the top level," he said. "We don't even know the midlevel guys, who are the ones who will be doing the work, really running things."