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The State Department looked into whether CNOOC violated the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act at the end of 2007 when the company announced a deal to help develop the North Pars gas field.

President Obama has supported sanctions against businesses investing in Iran. In August, his campaign put out a press release titled: “What McCain Won’t Tell You About Iran,” highlighting the lobbying work for CNOOC by Charlie Black, a strategist for Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

“CNOOC is among those companies that appears to be capitalizing on the U.S.-led effort to isolate Iran economically, particularly in the energy sector,” said Roger Robinson, the president and chief executive officer of Conflict Securities Advisory Group, a Washington-based risk management company that specializes in identifying and profiling public companies with business ties to states accused of sponsoring terrorism.

Mr. Freeman’s connection to CNOOC could oblige him to recuse himself from some matters regarding China as well as Myanmar. In October 2007, CNOOC’s chief financial officer publicly refused to divest from that country a month after army soldiers opened fire on a crowd protesting the ruling junta, suggesting instead that CNOOC would increase its investments.

The incident prompted the United States to toughen sanctions on the junta, according to statements at the time from the State Department.

Mideast money

Mr. Freeman’s ties with Middle East Policy Council (MEPC) also have come under scrutiny. According to the 2006 tax returns for the organization - considered a nonprofit by the Internal Revenue Service - 11 donors contributed a total of more than $2.7 million that year.

MEPC’s acting director, Jon Roth, said the organization would not disclose the names of the donors, but added, “If the government needs something, we will cooperate with them.”

In 2007, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud announced that he had provided a gift of $1 million to the MEPC for its endowment. Prince Alwaleed’s attempt to give New York money after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was refused by New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Buck Revell, the FBI’s associate deputy director responsible for investigations and intelligence from 1980 to 1991, said the receipt of Saudi money alone is not a reason to disqualify Mr. Freeman.

“Saudi money is everywhere. It is in the George Bush library, it is in the Clinton library, it’s everywhere. So that in and of itself is not disqualifying,” Mr. Revell said. “But how that money was used - was it used for the correct purposes, was it diverted to other entities or other organizations - that would raise issues of security. If it is going to organizations that say Israel should be wiped from the face of the earth and other stuff, that would raise issues.”

Another issue of concern is the client base for Projects International. On its Web site, the company lists among its clients Gulf Catering Co., a subsidiary of Agility Defense & Government Services, which prepares the meals for the dining facilities that serve U.S. troops in Iraq.

In 2005, Gulf Catering Co. was accused of offering a $50,000 bribe to an Army chief warrant officer in Iraq to win a bid to provide the U.S. military in Iraq with napkins and cutlery, according to an investigation by the Army Criminal Investigation Command first reported by USA Today in 2007.

Voice of experience

Three former NIC chairmen and one former vice chairman told The Washington Times that Mr. Freeman’s business ties to China, Saudi Arabia and other nations should be vetted before Mr. Freeman takes his post.

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