Our Opinion: Security must come first

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

When New York City and Washington, D.C. were attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, little did many of us realize that nearly aspect of our everyday lives would be forever changed.

Immediately, we all realized that air travel would change, and, as the days and months progressed, we realized that nearly all forms of transportation would be effected.

Federal and state governments reacted and a national discussion about security was held. One of the many things that resulted from these discussions were new layers of bureaucracy. The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), the folks that check your baggage and man the security checkpoints at airports, is the most visible result of these changes.

A new cabinet level agency was created as well, the Department of Homeland Security, which grouped a number of diverse agencies together with somewhat mixed results. Recent congressional hearings about the response to Hurricane Katrina reveal that the agency was more concerned about keeping our borders safe than responding to natural disasters.

We are confident that this will change. There is no guidebook, no history to be drawn upon, for the folks at Homeland Security. Unfortunately, they will be viewed more and more critically as the years go by until all the "kinks" have been ironed out.

One of the unforeseen kinks that surfaced this week for the folks at Homeland Security concerns a merger. Yes, a merger. A British firm, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., runs major commercial operations at ports in Baltimore, Miami, New Jersey, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia. They have been purchased by Dubai Ports World, a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Governors and federal representatives from New York and New Jersey have voiced their concerns about the change in ownership of the firm and are vowing to explore all legal options to bar the firm from maintaining their ports. Critics have noted that some of the 9/11 hijackers used the UAE as an operational and financial base. In addition, they contend the UAE was an important transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components sent to Iran, North Korea and Libya by a Pakistani scientist.

It would be wise for the federal government to cancel these contracts and work with local officials to ensure that their ports are secure. While it is dangerous to generalize, many would feel better if the UAE had nothing to do with security of any kind in our nation.

Security must come first, public confidence a close second.