The New York City Police Foundation received a $1 million donation from the government of the United Arab Emirates, according to 2012 tax records, the same amount the foundation transferred to the NYPD Intelligence Division’s International Liaison Program that year, according to documents obtained by The Intercept.
A 2012 Schedule A document filed by the New York City Police Foundation showed a list of its largest donors, which included several major financial institutions such as JPMorgan Chase and Barclays Capital — but also a line item for the “Embassy of the United Arab Emirates.” The Intercept obtained a copy of the Schedule A document, which is not intended for public disclosure and only shows donors above the threshold of donating $1 million over four years.
Conspicuously, while the financial institutions are listed as donors on the Police Foundation website, the UAE is absent despite being one of the largest contributors listed that year with its $1 million contribution.
Publicly disclosed tax documents filed in the same year show a $1 million cash grant from the foundation to the NYPD Intelligence Division. The purpose of the grant is to provide assistance to the NYPD International Liaison Program, which “enables the NYPD to station detectives throughout the world to work with local law enforcement on terrorism related incidents,” the foundation’s 2012 tax disclosures state.
But the foundation denies the contribution was directed to the Intelligence Division. “The gift was an unrestricted gift to the General Fund. No such donation funded the International Liaison Program,” a spokesperson for the foundation told The Intercept.
When asked for further details, the spokesperson responded, “The gift was directed to upgrade NYPD equipment and facilities used to aid in criminal investigations throughout New York City.”
The foundation refused to provide information about which “criminal investigations” or equipment upgrades were funded by the UAE.
The embassy of the United Arab Emirates declined to comment about the $1 million contribution, which has not been previously reported. A February 2013 Washington Post article listed the Police Foundation as one of several recipients of funding from the UAE, but did not specify an amount, or the source of the information.
Strikingly little is known about the intended use of the $1 million. The Police Foundation never filed a Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) disclosure, a federal disclosure required from individuals and organizations (usually law firms and consultants) who work on behalf of a foreign country or political party, or any other public acknowledgement of the UAE embassy’s contribution.
A 2013 report by the Brennan Center documented the role the NYC Police Foundation plays in funding the Intelligence Division’s overseas operations. “Funding for [NYPD] counterterrorism operations comes not only from the city, state, and federal governments, but also from two private foundations,” the report said. “The New York City Police Foundation pays for the NYPD’s overseas intelligence operations, which span 11 locations around the world.”
The NYPD has had a presence in Abu Dhabi since at least 2009. In 2012, then-Commissioner Ray Kelly travelled to the UAE to sign an information-sharing agreement between the country and the department. At the time of the trip, it was disclosed that the memorandum of understanding would “[allow] for the exchange of ideas and training methods” between the NYPD and the UAE.
For its part, the UAE said in a statement released at the time that the agreement would entail “the exchange of security information as is permitted by laws” and allow both parties to “achieve general security.”
While the Liaison Program is notoriously opaque, comments by Kelly at a 2012 Carnegie Foundation event gave some insight into its operation: “[The program] has been very helpful in a variety of ways — again, funded by the Police Foundation. We are not using tax levy funds to pay their expenses. Their expenses are paid by the Foundation”.
Kelly said the program allowed U.S. police officers to be “embedded” with the local law enforcement. “They’re not sitting in the U.S. Embassy,” he said. “But this is a sort of cop-to-cop relationship that we find every effective.”
The fact that the foundation is being used to fund Intelligence Division operations — while taking donations from a foreign government — raises questions about how these funds may be used to potentially influence NYPD operations. “When we’re talking about large sums of money from a foreign government potentially being used to fund essential police functions, it raises serious operational and legal questions,” said Michael Price, of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security program.
“There is a serious issue with transparency since the NYPD is conducting these operations on a private budget,” he added. “It makes it incredibly difficult for the normal checks and balances to work.”
Michael German, a former FBI agent also with the Brennan Center, expressed concerns about the UAE funding, saying “any foreign government’s ‘assistance’ would invariably come with conditions and expectations, whether they are explicit or not.”
In addition to its overseas counterterrorism work, an Associated Press report in 2012 revealed that the NYPD Intelligence Division was conducting mass surveillance on American-Muslim communities domestically. Despite spending six years spying on and infiltrating Muslim communities around New York City, the effort failed to produce any terrorism cases or leads.
The UAE, in the meantime, has also been waging an international campaign to combat perceived political opponents in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings.
Late last year, the UAE included two Muslim-American organizations, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim American Society (MAS), on a list of over 80 designated “terror organizations” around the world. In response, the U.S. State Department has said that it rejects the UAE’s characterization of these organizations as terrorist groups, and that it is “seeking more information” from the UAE about its listing.
The NYPD did not respond to multiple requests for comment, or to a public records request filed by The Intercept.
Photo: John Moore/Getty