FILE - In this Dec. 29, 2011, file photo, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly speaks at a news conference with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, left, in Brooklyn, N.Y. New York Police Department spying operations began after the 2001 terror attacks with unusual help from a CIA officer. "If there are threats or leads to follow, then the NYPD's job is to do it," Bloomberg said. "The law is pretty clear about what's the requirement, and I think they follow the law. We don't stop to think about the religion. We stop to think about the threats and focus our efforts there." (AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams, File)
Mayor Michael Bloomberg offered a defense Friday of a secret New York Police Department operation monitoring Muslims in several states, saying it was “legal,” “appropriate” and “constitutional.”
The mayor, speaking on his weekly radio show on WOR-AM, stopped short of acknowledging that police had spied on Muslims who weren’t suspected of any crime, reiterating that investigators only followed leads.
“We don’t target individuals based on race and religion,” he said.
Officials in three states have traded accusations over who knew what about efforts by the NYPD to monitor and catalog Muslim neighborhoods and student groups. Critics have said it isn’t appropriate for the police to spy on law-abiding citizens without reason to believe they have committed a crime.
This week, the police department came under harsh criticism from several college administrators, including the president of Yale University, after The Associated Press revealed that police agents had aggressively monitored Muslim student groups in the Northeast U.S., and had even sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip with one group of college kids.
Officials in New Jersey, including Newark Mayor Corey Booker, also said they were surprised and concerned to learn that the NYPD had broadly monitored Muslims and mosques in that state.
Bloomberg declined to discuss details of the monitoring programs, but said they were necessary to protect a city with a history of home-grown terror plots, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
“We’re not going to make the mistakes we made after the 1993 bombing,” he said. “We cannot let our guard down again. We cannot slack in our vigilance. The threat was real. The threat is real. The threat is not going away.”
He said the police department would do “everything that the law permits us to do,” even if those activities turn out to be unpopular.
“This is not a joke. This is not a political statement, a political football to play with,” he said.
Yet Bloomberg also suggested again that officers had not done anything to invade the privacy of law-abiding Muslims, implying that intelligence officers had done things like “look at websites” and “watch television to gather leads.”