Port security bill falls short, lack of teeth threatens San Antonio's inland port at Kelly

Link to Wall Street Journal article here.

In case you’re wondering how ports connect to the toll roads, here’s how. The County Judge, Mayor, TxDOT, tolling authority, Greater Chamber, and San Antonio Free Trade Alliance have all promoted the NAFTA Superhighway (read more here and here) known as the Trans Texas Corridor (a 4,000 mile network of toll roads to transport foreign goods imported into the U.S.) in Texas.

This corridor purposely connects to existing I-35 south of San Antonio so that foreign cargo can stop at San Antonio’s new inland port, literally called the Port of San Antonio (noted in the San Antonio Business Journal, October 2005), at Kelly USA. In so doing, our politicians and the globalist free trade camp are inviting untold crime and drug smuggling to San Antonio. Read on…

On the Waterfront–Still
Why did Congress kill a measure to keep felons out of U.S. ports?
By John Fund
Wall Street Journal
October 2, 2006

Congress is patting itself on the back for passing the Port Security Act last Saturday. But the day before, a House-Senate conference committee stripped out a provision that would have barred serious felons from working in sensitive dock security jobs. Port security isn’t just about checking the contents of cargo containers, it also means checking the background of the 400,000 workers on our docks.

U.S. harbors are filled with workers convicted of serious crimes. Just last year the Justice Department filed a RICO suit charging that the 65,000-member East Coast-based International Longshoremen’s Association is a “vehicle for organized crime.”

But the House-Senate conference drastically watered down a Senate-passed requirement that aligned the standards for hiring dock workers with those used at airports and nuclear plants. The statute still bans workers who have been convicted of treason, espionage and terror-related offenses–a mere handful at most. But a seven-year time-out period on hiring those who’ve committed crimes such as murder, bribery, identity fraud and the illegal use of firearms was dropped in the dead of night at the behest of unions fearful that too many of their members could lose their jobs.

“The security stakes are too high to trust serious felons who could be manipulated or bribed by people trying to smuggle a nuclear device or chemical weapon into our ports,” says Sen. Jim DeMint, sponsor of the dropped provision. Security analysts echo his fears. They say terrorists working with truck drivers could plant a bomb aboard a cruise ship or pack a 40-foot cargo container with explosives. Stephen Flynn, a former U.S. Customs official now with the Council on Foreign Relations, told ABC News that “if a bomb went off in a seaport, we would likely see a closing of the seaports, bringing the global trade system to a halt and potentially putting our economy into recession.”

Officials at several ports echo these concerns. “There is a gaping hole in port security,” Byron Miller of the Charleston, S.C., port, the nation’s sixth largest, told me. “Right now, by law we cannot do background checks on 8,000 people who work at this port.” He noted that a state bill to provide for background checks was killed last year after unions applied a full-court press against it.

The problem is massive. The Department of Homeland Security recently investigated the ports of New York and New Jersey and found that of 9,000 truckers checked, nearly half had criminal records. They included murderers, drug dealers, arsonists and members of the deadly MS-13 gang. It concluded that these security gaps represent “vulnerabilities that could be capitalized by terrorist organizations.” A dock worker who has been convicted of smuggling drugs is a potential danger. “Instead of bringing in 50 kilograms of heroin, what would stop them from bringing in five kilograms of plutonium?” asks Joseph King, a former Customs Service agent who now teaches criminal justice at New York University.

All this explains why the Department of Homeland Security supported Mr. DeMint’s bill even while it prepares its own administrative rules that would track much of the DeMint amendment’s ban on hiring serious felons for dock employment. “It’s important the restriction on felon hiring be codified into law,” one department official told me. “If it’s in a statute, we can’t then be pressured to weaken our regs during the upcoming rule-making period, activist judges will be less able to throw them out and a future president can’t alter them as part of a political deal.”

That such a political deal is possible can be seen by the clout of the unions who were able to gut the felon ban in the House-Senate conference committee. Sen. Daniel Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat, assured colleagues he would fight for the ban in conference but in reality fought to have it weakened. His staff even called Port of Charleston officials and told them their port would be shut down if the DeMint amendment became law. Mr. Miller can’t confirm the call was made, but other port officials remember it. Mr. Inouye’s office declined to respond to my questions about his role other than to send me an e-mail claiming the senator “supported the [DeMint] provision.”

Other legislators were also involved in smothering the DeMint provision. The staffs of three members of Congress told me that Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, a close friend of Mr. Inouye, also fought the measure, although his staff declined to publicly discuss the senator’s position on the bill. New York’s Rep. Peter King, the pro-union Republican who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, told the House that the list of proposed criminal offenses “includes vague and overly broad crimes” and supported the move “to narrow and limit the list.” Mississippi’s Rep. Bennie Thompson, the ranking Democrat on Homeland Security, told colleagues that “we should not play judge and jury” and opposed even the final statutory ban on felons convicted of treason and terror-related crimes. Steve Stallone, the communications director for the West Coast-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union, told the Daily Labor Report that barring felons from jobs at secure dock facilities would be “double jeopardy” and could push them back into crime to make a living.

But too many elements of the unions that now control the docks are already involved in crime. The DeMint amendment would also have had the added benefit of going a long way to cleaning up the Mafia control of many of our nation’s harbors. Too little has changed since 1954, when “On the Waterfront” depicted union corruption and violence. While less brutal today, tight union control of the ports remains a fact of life. Just ask the factory owners who had to endure parts shortages just months after 9/11 in 2002 as ports from Seattle to San Diego were forced to shut after a union slowdown paralyzed operations.

The Justice Department’s massive 400-page civil complaint against the International Longshoremen’s Association outlines the decades-long stranglehold the mob has exercised over docks from New York to Miami. The Associated Press review of the complaint concluded that “America already has a fifth column, of sorts, at work on its dock: gangsters who have made the piers friendly territory for drug smugglers and cargo thieves.”

The complaint details how since the late 1950s, two organized-crime families have controlled much of the business of the nation’s ports. The Justice Department complaint asserts that “the Gambino family exercises its influence at commercial shipping terminals in Brooklyn and Staten Island, and the Genovese family primarily controlling those in Manhattan, New Jersey and the Port of Miami.” The mob exacts its vengeance on those it suspects of ratting on them. Last October, reputed Genovese mobster Lawrence Ricci vanished while on trial on charges he directed International Longshoremen’s Association contracts to a mobbed-up drug company. There is speculation he was cooperating with authorities on the side. Whatever the motive of his killers, his body was discovered in the trunk of a car outside a New Jersey diner two months later.

Mob influence over the ports is so taken for granted that it even became a topic of discussion in one “Sopranos” episode, in which fictional boss Tony Soprano bemoaned the inadequacies of Newark, N.J., port security that he knew represented a potential threat to his own children.

Federal prosecutors want to oust the union’s longtime president, 83-year-old John Bowers, and three other members of the union’s executive committee and then have a court put the union into trusteeship, similar to the one the Teamsters has operated under for over 15 years. Union dissidents who have long unsuccessfully championed the right of union members to directly elect the executive committee have been supportive of the Justice suit.

Ever since congressional pressure killed the deal that would have turned over management–but not operation–of some U.S. port terminals to a Dubai company with a clean law-enforcement record, everyone has known that port security is a hot-button issue with the public. Pollster David Winston reported to members of Congress this summer that of all the proposed measures they would consider this fall the public most supported “strengthening port security with background checks for port employees.” Yet some of the same congressmen who whooped up public hysteria over the Dubai Ports deal decided to cave in when it came to cleaning up the waterfront of criminal elements.

The last time member of Congress kowtowed to union pressure on a national-security issue was in 2002, when then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle led an effort to block creation of the Department of Homeland Security unless federal union work rules applied to its employees. The ensuing political backlash became an issue in that year’s fall elections and helped defeat several members. Will someone dare to object to the bizarre favoritism Congress has just shown felons at our nation’s ports, or will the issue be swept under the legislative rug?

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