By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 54 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - Citing broad gaps in U.S. intelligence, the Coast Guard cautioned the Bush administration that it was unable to determine whether a United Arab Emirates-owned company might support terrorist operations, a Senate panel said Monday.
The surprise disclosure came during a hearing on Dubai-owned DP World's plans to take over significant operations at six leading U.S. ports. The port operations are now handled by London-based Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company.
"There are many intelligence gaps, concerning the potential for DPW or P&O assets to support terrorist operations, that precludes an overall threat assessment of the potential" merger," an undated Coast Guard intelligence assessment says.
"The breadth of the intelligence gaps also infer potential unknown threats against a large number of potential vulnerabilities," the document says.
Sen. Susan Collins (news, bio, voting record), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security committee, released an unclassified version of the document at a briefing Monday. With the deal under intense bipartisan criticism in Congress, the Bush administration agreed Sunday to DP World's request for a second review of the potential security risks related to its deal.
The document raised questions about the security of the companies' operations, the backgrounds of all personnel working for the companies, and whether other foreign countries influenced operations that affect security.
"This report suggests there were significant and troubling intelligence gaps," said Collins, R-Maine. "That language is very troubling to me."
Administration officials defended their decision not to trigger a 45-day review of national security implications of such a deal.
"In this case, the concerns that you're citing were addressed and resolved," Clay Lowry, the Treasury Department's assistant secretary for international affairs, told lawmakers.
The Coast Guard indicated to The Associated Press that it did not have serious reservations about the ports deal on Feb. 10, when the news organization first inquired about potential security concerns.
"Any time there's a new operator in a port our concern would be that that operator has complied with the (International Ship and Port Facility Security) ISPS code overseas and we just want to take a look at their track record," Cmdr. Jeff Carter, Coast Guard spokesman, said at the time. "And then we would look forward to working with them in the future ensuring they complied with all applicable regulations and international agreements," he added.
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