Back when I first arrived in Washington, almost eight years ago now, one of the big bugaboos on the right was the claim that key US ports and strategic facilities were being handed over to companies controlled by or linked to the People's Liberation Army, the armed forces of China.
One example was COSCO (not the discount store) taking over management of the Port of Long Beach near Los Angeles, another was Hutchison Whampoa a mammoth port facilities operator taking over management of the facilities on either side of the Panama Canal. I remember, probably at some point in late 1999 going to a forum at CATO of all places where it was debated whether letting Hutchinson assume management of the Canal put the Chinese in a position to take over the key strategic strangle points in the Western Hemisphere in a possible military confrontation with the US.
Trent Lott went so far as to call Hutchison "an arm of the People's Liberation Army."
Ahh, the 1990s.
In any case, now the AP is reporting that the Bush administration is subcontracting a key aspect of port security to Hutchison. And when I say 'key' I mean key. They're going to be the ones scanning in-bound cargo for signs of illicit nuclear materials. They're in charge of it -- no oversight or supervision by US Customs.
I thought those fears on the right were demagogic and overstated at the time, though I think that a little less today, for a variety of reasons. So I'm not going to flip my position now. But there are some elements of security so deeply vital that I'm not sure I see the logic of subcontracting them to anyone, let alone a company closely tied to what is arguably a potentially hostile foreign power.
In any case, I'd say this is probably a more genuine security concern than the Dubai Ports deal. So it should get some attention.