Coast Guard Changed Tune on Ports Deal; Senators Question Agency's Sudden Support

Article excerpt

Byline: Rowan Scarborough, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Coast Guard went from appearing to question the Dubai ports deal to enthusiastically supporting it, all in the course of 12 hours in Washington this week, as senators questioned the Bush administration decision to let the United Arab Emirates run major U.S. sea terminals.

The Coast Guard's seeming flip-flop has raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill, where the sea and air service carries much weight. It alone among federal agencies won unanimous congressional praise for its relief efforts in Katrina-flooded New Orleans.

To clear up its position, the Coast Guard issued a new statement yesterday from its No. 2 officer, a day after the disclosure of an internal Coast Guard memo that stated "many intelligence gaps" existed in the proposed sale of terminal-operating rights to DP World (DPW).

"The Coast Guard continues to believe that DP World's acquisition ... in and of itself does not pose a significant threat to U.S. assets," Vice Adm. Terry Cross, the vice commandant, said yesterday. The Coast Guard, as an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, has responsibility for enforcing counterterrorism measures at all major U.S. shipping ports.

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, released the internal Coast Guard assessment at a Senate hearing Monday. "Intelligence gaps" meant to most senators on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee that the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) did not do a thorough review before approving the sale on Jan. 17.

What made the report even more disturbing, senators said, was the acknowledgement by the Department of Homeland Security, which sits on CFIUS and is in charge of port security, that it never saw the "gaps" memo before voting to approve the sale. DPW has since asked for a new 45-day investigation.

"I'm really trying to get to the process here of, if there is an assessment, why given the Coast Guard is a key agency within the Department of Homeland Security, why you as the representative to the committee did not have access to that," Miss Collins said to Stewart Baker, assistant homeland security secretary for policy. …