Thursday, February 23, 2006

U.S. Ports Raise Proxy Problem

This Wired commentary perfectly describes the issue:

We don't know what kind of security these ports have. We hear snippets like "only 5 percent of incoming cargo is inspected," but we don't know more than that. We read that security aspects of the P&O sale were "rigorously reviewed," and that the review was "cursory."

We don't know what kind of security there is in the UAE, Dubai Ports World or the subsidiary that is actually doing the work. We have no choice but to rely on these proxies, yet we have no basis by which to trust them.

Pull aside the rhetoric, and this is everyone's point. There are those who don't trust the Bush administration and believe its motivations are political. There are those who don't trust the UAE because of its terrorist ties -- two of the 9/11 terrorists and some of the funding for the attack came out of that country -- and those who don't trust it because of racial prejudices. There are those who don't trust security at our nation's ports generally and see this as just another example of the problem.

The solution is openness. The Bush administration needs to better explain how port security works, and the decision process by which the sale of P&O was approved. If this deal doesn't compromise security, voters -- at least the particular lawmakers we trust -- need to understand that.

The article describes the need for proxies in a society, and makes the larger case that trust in the institutions and individuals acting on our behalf is gained through transparancy.

I agree with the author that secrecy does reduce faith in government, but I also understand that a certain degree of secrecy is necessary. We have to rely on our proxies in Washington to walk that line. Generally, the more open they are, the easier it will be to trust that they're making the right call.

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