April 27, 2006

US port workers to face terrorist checks: report

LONDON (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of port workers in
the United States will face tough background checks for
possible terrorist links, industry newspaper Lloyd's List
reported on Thursday.

It said U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary
Michael Chertoff had this week ordered longshoremen (dockers)
across the country to be checked against terrorist watch lists.

Chertoff was reported as saying that the checks would
provide an "immediate security boost."

The announcement came after months of scathing criticism
about security gaps at the nation's ports.

An estimated 400,000 workers will be covered by the new
Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program,
with the U.S. Coastguard charged with vetting dockers' names

Immigration authorities will also ensure workers are
eligible to work in the United States.

On its front page the influential industry paper likened
the legislation to a law designed to weed out communists in the
1950s McCarthy era.

It said it expected the Coastguard's "McCarthy-era powers"
to issue port security cards would be revived as a prelude to
the new regime.

"In the 1950s, these powers led to the sacking of port
workers identified as communist sympathizers," the paper said.

Another leading shipping industry paper said the program
had already been delayed for three years, but was catapulted
back to the top of the agenda by the furor over a government
decision to approve a state-owned Dubai company's plan to
manage six U.S. port terminals. The plan has since been

Marine unions have warned that cargo operations could be
affected and trade delayed because of the tough legislation.