The Bush administration continues to claim that the concerns being raised about the acquisition of six major American ports by a state owned company from the United Arab Emirates is a 'tempest in a teapot,' and that the U.A.E. is one of our staunchest allies which can be counted on in the war against terror.
Not according to the September 11 commission, however (you know, that pesky bipartisan investigative team that the Bush administration dragged their heels on appointing until they couldn't avoid it).
WASHINGTON — The United States raised concerns with the United Arab Emirates seven years ago about possible ties between officials in that country and Osama bin Laden, according to a section of the Sept. 11 commission's report that details a possible missed opportunity to kill the al-Qaida leader....
The Sept. 11 commission's report released last year also raised concerns UAE officials were directly associating with bin Laden as recently as 1999.
The report states U.S. intelligence believed that bin Laden was visiting an area in the Afghan desert in February 1999 near a hunting camp used by UAE officials, and that the U.S. military planned a missile strike.
Intelligence from local tribal sources indicated "bin Laden regularly went from his adjacent camp to the larger camp where he visited the Emiratis," the report said.
"National technical intelligence confirmed the location and description of the larger camp and showed the nearby presence of an official aircraft of the United Arab Emirates. But the location of bin Laden's quarters could not be pinned down so precisely," the report said.
The missile attack was never launched, and bin Laden moved on, the report said.
Of course, this was post-African embassy bombings, so if the Emiratis were schmoozing with bin Laden, there was positively no doubt about who he was or what he was about.
Now, it may be that the U.A.E. has changed their ways over the past seven years, and they are willing to not let business stand in the way of the war on terror. Or, it may not be, and it may be President Bush who is willing to not let the war on terror stand in the way of business.
We can see how much effort the administration put into finding any of this information out:
At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday, Sen. Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat, asked Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt if he was aware of the 9-11 commission's assertion that the United Arab Emirates represents "a persistent counterterrorism problem"for the United States.
Kimmitt replied that administration figures involved in the decision to approve the deal "looked very carefully" at information from the intelligence community.
"Any time a foreign-government controlled company comes in," Kimmitt said, "the intelligence assessment is of both the country and the company."
"Just raise your hand if anybody talked to the 9-11 commission," Levin told the administration representatives at the witness table. Nobody raised a hand.
But at the very least, he says he didn't know about this deal until recently, so it is unlikely that he knows off the top of his head what the 9/11 commission had to say about bin Laden and the United Arab Emirates. Under the circumstances, how DARE President Bush even pretend to claim that a review of the situation and how it will affect port security is not necessary?