U.S. to hire Hong Kong firm to scan for nuclear material

| 3/24/2006

Amid rising concerns about port security, the U.S. has announced a deal with a Hong Kong-based company to scan shipping containers for nuclear materials as they pass through the Bahamas on their way to the U.S. and elsewhere.

The Associated Press reported that the no-bid contract signed with Hutchinson Whampoa Ltd. represents the first time a foreign company will be involved in running a U.S. radiation detector at an overseas port without an American customs agent present.

Bahamian customs agents will supervise Hutchinson employees at the port.

Hutchinson Whampoa was one of the earliest adopters of U.S. anti-terror measures, according to The AP , but its chairman, Li Ka-Shing, has business ties with the Chinese government that have raised concerns in the past.

In 2003, the Bush administration blocked a Hutchinson subsidiary from buying part of a bankrupt U.S. telecommunications company, The AP reported. The company was also cited by U.S. military intelligence in 1999 as a potential risk for smuggling arms and other prohibited materials into the U.S. from the Bahamas.

However, CIA officials told The AP that the agency currently has no security concerns about Hutchinson's port operations and believes the pending deal would pose no security threat.