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For Sale: American Security

As usual, Sue Myrick's outrage is a day late and a dollar short

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She's at it again. This time Rep. Sue Myrick has pulled her head out of the gubernatorial campaign hole she's had it stuck in and now decided she's hacked-off at the president for backing an Arab bid to run our ports.

"In regards to selling American ports to the United Arab Emirates, not just NO -- but HELL NO!" she told President Bush in a letter. While nobody plans to sell our ports to anyone -- Dubai Ports World would merely be leasing and running them -- I'm thrilled to see Sue taking a renewed interest in her surroundings.

It would have been great if she'd gotten this jacked up about national security more regularly over the past four years, especially after that nasty episode with the runaway airplanes, the collapsing buildings and the burning jet fuel.

Every port in this nation could have begun nuclear screening of containers by now for a mere $280 million, if Congress had bothered to provide the money or the Bush Administration had demanded it. I don't remember Sue leading the charge on that one. I also don't recall any strident outrage from her office when a Government Accountability Office probe found that one of the government's many comically flawed port security programs was exempting inspection of cargo containers from hundreds of foreign companies if the companies promised to implement voluntary security measures. At the time of the probe, only 10 percent of companies exempted had their security measures verified.

Worse yet, the GAO report found that of the cargo US customs officials deemed suspicious, only 28 percent was ever inspected after being referred back to the host country for further inspection.

The bottom line, according to the highly publicized GAO report, is that US officials inspect only 18 percent of "high risk" containers before they arrive at our ports. And while federal officials claim the other 82 percent is inspected once it arrives, the thoroughness of that inspection is questionable, given that nearly every port in the country lacks the basic equipment needed to perform such inspections.

Like her colleagues, Myrick was AWOL when our own North Carolina ports officials groveled year after year for even basic equipment to screen for radiation some of the cargo containers that come through our ports. To her credit, Myrick has helped bring back millions in homeland security grants to Charlotte and the state, and she fought for legislation that funded 72 new customs agents for our nation's ports. But this year, once again, the NC Ports Authority is requesting funding for all the radiation detection portals it needs, and once again ports communications manager Susan Clizbe says she doesn't expect to receive all the needed equipment anytime soon.

Think that doesn't affect you?

Every day, shipping containers from terrorist hotspots and sketchy locales, including Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Lebanon, South Africa and Turkey, arrive at North Carolina's ports. From there, much of it is trucked or railed to two inland terminals -- including one off Hovis Road in Charlotte. If terrorists decided to detonate a nuclear bomb or some other deadly weapon in Charlotte, all they'd have to do is package it in a container leaving one of these ports. After that, said terrorists can count on the North Carolina State Ports Authority to personally deliver the bomb, chemical or biological weapon to a convenient detonation point off the Brookshire Freeway just a few miles from uptown.

Republicans and their apologists will tell you customs has already "screened" this stuff at foreign ports before it gets here. Problem is, we largely rely on pre-screening of shippers, not detection equipment, to determine whether containers are safe to ship. On top of that, the program is woefully understaffed. Last year, the five-person customs team in Singapore managed to verify the shipping records on only two-thirds of the 400,000 containers shipped to this country. As for verifying what was actually inside them, well, there just wasn't the equipment for that.

If Sue really wanted to get wound up for the cameras, the time to do it would have been in 2004, when Dubai became the first Middle Eastern government to sign on to the hole-filled US Container Security Initiative. That's where overwhelmed screening teams manage to physically inspect only a tiny percentage of suspicious cargo at foreign ports and then count on ports operators to make sure the cargo isn't tampered with afterward.

It's not like the Democrats didn't scream about this for a year leading up to the presidential election. It's not like national news programs haven't covered it exhaustively. So why hasn't Sue Myrick been inking curse words to the president all along if she finds this so outrageous?

Quite frankly, Sue, after the job you and your colleagues have done on national security, it wouldn't make a "HELL" of a lot of difference if we cut out the middle man and turned our ports directly over to al Qaeda. All they'd have to do to circumvent the present system is purchase a pottery-making outfit in Dubai with a decade-long history of safely shipping cargo to an American importer in New York. They could then load up their dirty bomb and blow right through our data mining protocols without anyone batting an eyelash.

When the inevitable happens, Sue will, as usual, be outraged.

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