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Bush aides' business ties to Arab firm

MICHAEL McAULIFF / NY Daily News | February 22 2006

WASHINGTON - The Dubai firm that won Bush administration backing to run six U.S. ports has at least two ties to the White House.

One is Treasury Secretary John Snow, whose agency heads the federal panel that signed off on the $6.8 billion sale of an English company to government-owned Dubai Ports World - giving it control of Manhattan's cruise ship terminal and Newark's container port.

Snow was chairman of the CSX rail firm that sold its own international port operations to DP World for $1.15 billion in 2004, the year after Snow left for President Bush's cabinet.

The other connection is David Sanborn, who runs DP World's European and Latin American operations and was tapped by Bush last month to head the U.S. Maritime Administration.

The ties raised more concerns about the decision to give port control to a company owned by a nation linked to the 9/11 hijackers.

"The more you look at this deal, the more the deal is called into question," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who said the deal was rubber-stamped in advance - even before DP World formally agreed to buy London's P&O port company.

Besides operations in New York and Jersey, Dubai would also run port facilities in Philadelphia, New Orleans, Baltimore and Miami.

The political fallout over the deal only grows.

"It's particularly troubling that the United States would turn over its port security not only to a foreign company, but a state-owned one," said western New York's Rep. Tom Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee. Reynolds is responsible for helping Republicans keep their majority in the House.

Snow's Treasury Department runs the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which includes 11 other agencies.

"It always raises flags" when administration officials have ties to a firm, Rep. Vito Fossella (R-S.I.) said, but insisted that stopping the deal was more important.

The Daily News has learned that lawmakers also want to know if a detailed 45-day probe should have been conducted instead of one that lasted no more than 25 days.

According to a 1993 congressional measure, the longer review is mandated when the company is owned by a foreign government and the purchase "could result in control of a person engaged in interstate commerce in the U.S. that could affect the national security of the U.S."

Congressional sources said the President has until March 2 to trigger that harder look.

"The most important thing is for someone to explain how this is consistent with our national security," Fossella said.

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