Matthew Brzezinski on Ports Controversy by Mitch E. Perry

02/22/06

Matthew Brzezinski

Matthew Brzezinski is the author of “Fortress America: On the Front Lines of Homeland Security – An inside look at the Coming Surveillance State�, and is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, and former foreign correspondent at the Wall Street Journal.

He has written extensively about American homeland security, and been critical of it. But in the uproar over a subsidiary of the United Arab Emirates taking over 6 ports in the U.S., Brzezinski says a mountain is being made out of a molehill (roll tape#1 o.q.�glaring lack of security in our ports�)

..."We have to make a clear

Brezezinski: "We have to make a clear separation of operation of ports and the security. The operation is really the business side, and the security has always been federalized and will continue to be federalized, I mean, you're not going to have people from the Gulf suddenly screening cargo containers, or replacing the Coast Guard or replacing the INS or ISIS has it's called now or Border Patrol. These things, these things will continue to be done by federal Department of Homeland security agencies. So this is why, I mean, people are sort of taking a superficial look at this and not seeing that there is a very clear distinction there. Having said that, my hope is that the controversy and hysteria surrounding this will focus some very badly needed attention on port security, which is frankly, atrocious. "We have spent very little money -- laughingly little money -- upgrading our security since nine-eleven. Basically, to give your listeners an idea, the amount of money we've spent in the past five years upgrading our security in our ports is more or less equal to what we spent in a week, maybe ten days, in Iraq. Which translates into a dire shortage of radiation portals to make sure nobody's trying to hide some sort of a nuclear device in a cargo container. "Um, what are called baccus (sic) machines, which are essentially huge gamma ray or x-ray machines that can look into a forty-foot long container without having to crank it open and take everything out of it and um, there's just a dire shortage of all these things because there's no money in the kitty. So if there's anything good that can come of this, hopefully, when the politicians get over the fact that a company based in the Middle East is writing these operations rather than a company based in London or, in the case of airports. A lot of our airports are run by Dutch and a lot of other countries. That's not really the issue. The issue is, and what frequently comes out, is just how poor our ports continue to be."

Mitch: "Well, you know, you bring up a really excellent point -- a point that has been made by congressional Democrats over the last couple of years. Senator Kerry really tried to emphasize it during the 2004 presidential campaign and I think we heard the other day that roughly six- to seven-percent of the shipments that come in, the containers that come in, including the port here in Tampa, are inspected and that's what you're talking about right here. The loudest Democrats are of course, from the Northeast, the states that are being effected here, Hillary Clinton and Bob Menendez. But this larger issue, I know it's a political discussion Matthew Brzezinksi, but, you think, can it be pivoted toward that because the president and Michael ernoff and Homeland Security have been questioned about this and they always seem to breeze through when they are quieried by reporters about this. Do you think this might get traction now finally because of this bigger issue which you say is kind of missing the point?"

Brzezinski: "I do remember since you bring up Kerry and the elections. Just around the time of the debates when Cheney and the President and Kerry and everybody else were talking about the greatest nightmare: somebody smuggling in a nuclear device. They held a media day at the Port of Long Beach, LA Long Beach, which is the largest container port far and away in the United States. I think it brings in like 43 percent of all the cargo that goes in there. So they decided to have a media day there to highlight all the upgrades. And they realize, 'Holy Smokes, we don't have a radiation portal.' So they flew one in the night before the media was supposed to assemble, and they set it up and they showed this to all the reporters. And to me, that is totally irresponsible that's [inaudible] Potempkin (?)security and that is very symbolic of how this administration treats homeland security, which is as a political tool, to scare the wits out of the American people. And the budget of DHS is really sort of a bit of Enron's style of accounting. They conglomerated 22 federal agencies that existed before nine-eleven and they slapped all their existing budgets together, added a little bit of money and they came up with a big number which sounds great at press conferences. But that's not new money. Most of that is old money. So, as you pointed out, any discussion of port security, hopefully, will eventually lead to the crux of the issue, the main problem, which is the glaring lack of security at our ports." -30-

That’s Matthew Brzezinski, author of the book “Fortress America�, released in paperback late last year, speaking about the controversy over the attempted purchase of 6 major ports – and possible the Tampa Port, by a company owned by the United Arab Emirates.

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