What were they thinking? In 1986 someone at the Port Authority sold a nonprofit organization the licensing rights to the World Trade Center name. The price was an unbelievably cheap 10 bucks -- and the rights have been worth millions.

The founder of the nonprofit, called the World Trade Centers Association, was a respected authority exec named Guy Tozzoli. He oversaw design and construction of the Twin Towers and later made millions in salary from the association. He died last February.

So who made his group the sole proprietor of the World Trade Center name? That's a mystery for now. The Port Authority Board says it doesn't know -- and the authority's executive director at the time, Stephen Berger, says the whole imbroglio is news to him.

It apparently came to light when the association sought a deal to let the authority use the World Trade Center moniker for the new 1 World Trade Center tower at Ground Zero in exchange for $500,000 in free office space.

Breathtaking gall, no? Patrick Foye, the authority's chief today, calls the episode shameful. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to find out exactly why Tozzoli "received exorbitant annual compensation" from the association. Cuomo says the group registered additional trademarks for the sole benefit of the organization and not for the authority.

The association has licensed the trade center name in 330 cities worldwide. And it says its mission is to foster a global network that "enhances the brand and promotes prosperity through trade and investment."

From the beginning, the name has been magic -- even after computers made obsolete the idea of uniting exporters, importers, traders, shippers, brokers, bankers in a single complex. And now the name has a deep emotional resonance in a post-9/11 world.

Enough of the profiteering. The association should take the continuing proceeds from its naming rights and give them to the 9/11 museum at Ground Zero, which needs the money. We can't think of a better way to atone.