Reports on Bush administration review of UAE port deal failed to mention Rumsfeld "just heard about this over the weekend"

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

In detailing the evaluation process the Bush administration purportedly undertook before agreeing to permit a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to manage port terminals in six major U.S. cities, several media outlets reported that the administration approved of the deal only after a thorough review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). But none of the reports noted the glaring inconsistency in the administration's account: that Donald Rumsfeld, a key member of CFIUS, acknowledged in a February 21 press conference that he possessed "minimal information" about the deal because he had "just heard about this over the weekend."

In detailing the evaluation process the Bush administration purportedly undertook before agreeing to permit a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to manage port terminals in six major U.S. cities, major media outlets -- including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times -- reported that the administration approved the deal only after a thorough review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The Post further reported that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld persuaded Sen. John Warner (R-VA) that "the proper procedures were followed" in evaluating the deal. But none of the reports noted a glaring inconsistency in the administration's account, highlighted by the weblog Think Progress: that Rumsfeld, a key member of CFIUS, and one to whom national security considerations would presumably be highly relevant, acknowledged in a February 21 press conference that he possessed "minimal information" about the deal because he had "just heard about this over the weekend."

It follows, then, that none of those reports raised the question of how the CFIUS could have signed off on the deal if at least one of its members had never heard of it.

The CFIUS was frequently cited in news accounts as the key component of the Bush administration's review of the deal with UAE-owned company Dubai Ports World. For example, The New York Times reported on February 22:

The administration's review of the deal was conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a body that was created in 1975 to review foreign investments in the country that could affect national security. Under that review, officials from the Defense, State, Commerce and Transportation Departments, along with the National Security Council and other agencies, were charged with raising questions and passing judgment. They found no problems to warrant the next stage of review, a 45-day investigation with results reported to the president for a final decision.  

A February 22 article in the Los Angeles Times similarly noted that the CFIUS had "approved" the deal. Moreover, a Post editorial that day cited CFIUS approval of the deal to completely dismiss concerns about the agreement raised by both Democrats and Republicans:

None of the U.S. politicians huffing and puffing seem to be aware that this deal was long in the making, that it had been reported on extensively in the financial press, and that it went through normal security clearance procedures, including approval from a foreign investment committee that contains officials from the departments of Treasury, Commerce, State and Homeland Security, among other agencies.

A February 22 Post news report went even further, reporting not only that the deal had "passed muster" with the CFIUS, but that after Rumsfeld had briefed Warner, "The senator said he was satisfied that proper procedures were followed on the deal."

But despite highlighting the committee's approval to downplay concerns about the deal, none of the reports noted a glaring revelation that appears to undermine the administration's claim that CFIUS thoroughly vetted the agreement's national security implications: Rumsfeld, one of the few members of CFIUS whose position is directly related to national security issues, said in a February 21 press conference that he didn't know enough about the deal to "make judgments" about whether it would threaten national security, because he had only learned of the deal "over the weekend." The Post report made no mention of Rumsfeld's acknowledgment even while reporting that Rumsfeld had satisfied Warner that the deal had been properly evaluated.

From the February 21 Department of Defense press conference with Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace:

RUMSFELD: I should add that I wasn't aware of this until this weekend, as I think is the case with Pete.

PACE: That's correct, sir, on the port --

RUMSFELD: Yeah. And I'm told that Deputy Secretary of Treasury [Robert M.] Kimmitt and others will be briefing on this, who do have the background of the discussions and the information on it.

REPORTER: There was a Defense Department representative in the decision-making process? Is that what you're --

RUMSFELD: There were Defense Department and -- I think as I said, there were six departments that were involved in the process in one way or another, and the Defense Department was one of them. The lead was the Department of Homeland Security.

REPORTER: Are you confident that any problems with security -- from what you know, are you confident that any problems with security would not be greater with a UAE company running this than an American company?

RUMSFELD: I am reluctant to make judgments based on the minimal amount of information I have, because I just heard about this over the weekend.

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