Another Perspective

Port Security? Fuhgetaboutit

To be on the safe side, make an offer that can't be refused.

By 4.5.06

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"Allowing a Middle Eastern country such as Dubai to run our ocean ports seemed pretty bizarre to me until I remembered that during World War II, we turned the security of the New York/New Jersey docks over to the Mafia," explains Palm Beach Post columnist George McEvoy. "The government hired the mob to keep the piers safe from Nazi saboteurs and espionage agents."

As the story goes, there wasn't much trouble on the docks from Nazi infiltrators after some of Tony Soprano's goombahs were running the show. The joke among U.S. intelligence agents was that the bottom of the Hudson was littered with German spies in cement shoes.

McEvoy explains that the U.S. government was desperate: "In 1942, the French ocean liner Normandie burst into flames and sank at its Hudson River pier. With France officially out of the war, the United States had seized the vessel and planned to convert it into a troopship, capable of carrying an entire division."

U.S. Navy intelligence knew that information was being leaked to the Germans, and to German submarines operating right off the U.S. coast, regarding sailing dates, cargoes and military operations at the New York port, reports McEvoy, including plans for the conversion of the Normandie: "The official explanation for the mysterious fire was that an unknown workman had been careless with his acetylene torch, but nobody in New York older than 12 believed that story."

To better nail things down, the government could have put some rookies from the Naval Academy on the dock. And if they did things back then the way they do now, these guys would have been ready after a few weeks of classes on the illegalities and insensitivities of profiling to go out and stop the correct percentages of Irish nuns and Swedish deckhands.

Instead, operating with more savvy than is generally apparent in today's intelligence maneuvers, the government recruited New York's wise guys. "Naval intelligence, headquartered at 90 Church Street in downtown Manhattan, had an idea," reports McEvoy. "One of their agents approached a gentleman named Joseph 'Socks' Kanza, a known Mafioso who controlled the sprawling Fulton Fish Market. Would he be willing to act as a go-between to get the mob patrolling the piers?"

Under indictment for extortion, "Socks" agreed to play ball and the feds quashed the indictment. Top Mafia boss "Lucky" Luciano, serving 30 to 50 years on multiple counts of running a prostitution ring, also was brought on board.

"Luciano promptly was moved to a prison closer to Manhattan and soon had regular meetings with Naval Intelligence agents," reports McEvoy. "Exactly what was discussed never has been revealed, but soon, a strange army of counterintelligence began working the piers."

The "strange" assemblage included "longshoremen, fishermen, people who knew every inch of the port," explains McEvoy. "This army of spy catchers even included a good number of the prostitutes and their pimps who regularly plied their trade along the piers."

The result? "Within a few weeks, instances of sabotage dropped to practically zero," McEvoy reports. "Any Nazi who tried to get information on sailing times and cargoes was taking his life in his hands."

Under American interrogation after the war, German spies told of comrades in New York who had been beaten by "very violent men" and of a number of their cohorts who had simply "disappeared."

And so, what's better? "Socks" from a mob-run fish market or Sheik Mohammad from Dubai? Or "Lucky" and his hookers or a company that's in bed with the leaders of Communist China?

A recent editorial in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review pointed to the dangers of the latter: "Fast on the heels of the scuttled Dubai Ports World deal, the Bush administration is finalizing a no-bid contract with Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. of Hong Kong to help operate sophisticated port radiation detection equipment in the Bahamas, sans any on-site U.S. oversight."

On top of monitoring shipping through the Strait of Hormuz and the Arabian Sea, Hutchison Whampoa holds leases on port facilities on both sides of the Panama and Suez canals. The firm's president, Li Ka-Shing, continued the Trib, "is so close to Communist China's leaders and the People's Liberation Army that intelligence sources are convinced the company is a front to aid China's strategy of world hegemony."

All things considered, I'd stick with the American wise guys and the homegrown working girls.

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About the Author
Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise and an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.