In a letter to President Bush earlier this month, Senator Maria Cantwell accused the administration of moving too slowly in the effort to make Washington State's seaports, such as the Port of Seattle, safe from terrorist attacks. However, the White House is actually making the port an issue in the war on terrorism--just not in the way Cantwell intended. Wrapping itself in the flag of post-September 11 jitters, the Bush administration is using the war on terrorism as an excuse to meddle in a port labor dispute involving the longshoremen's union.

Here's the story: America's seaports have been identified as a weak spot in the country's war against terrorism. The Port of Seattle handles an estimated 2.5 million containers per year. Much of that cargo first arrives from overseas at the Port of Tacoma, the sixth-largest port in the country. Some estimates say that less than two percent of the containers pass security checks before arriving in Washington.

Accusing the White House of stonewalling on the port security issue, Cantwell introduced plans to increase security at Washington state ports, including the Port of Seattle, to prevent a terrorist attack.

In her letter to President Bush, Cantwell asked the administration to put together a new group to study port security. "Nearly one year after the September 11th incidents, efforts by your administration to develop and implement comprehensive cargo-security safeguards to protect port cities such as Seattle have progressed slowly and with little cohesion," Cantwell wrote. The White House did not respond to calls seeking comment, but no doubt the letter went over like gangbusters on that end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Cantwell spokesperson Jennifer Crider said the White House has not yet responded to her boss' letter.

But the Bush administration has not been entirely disengaged. In fact, Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge is reportedly taking a keen interest in Washington state politics. Ridge has been lobbying Jim Spinosa, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), telling him that a strike by the union could pose a threat to national security. Spinosa has reportedly also been in touch with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who presumably told him something similar.

Crider says union representatives have kept Cantwell's office in the loop regarding the progress of negotiations. A strike vote was originally set for earlier this month, but union leaders put it off as the negotiations continued.

In CounterPunch ["Strikers as Terrorists?" June 27], liberal journalist Alexander Cockburn blasted Ridge and Rumsfeld's meddling, saying that "'homeland security' is being used as a club to bash labor" by the administration.

Unfortunately, Cantwell's office was a bit more timid, and would not comment on Bush's meddling.