New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg served notice on Friday that the New York Police Department (NYPD) would do everything in its power to root out terrorists in the US, even if it means sending officers outside the city limits or placing law-abiding Muslims under scrutiny.
“We just cannot let our guard down again,” Bloomberg said.
The mayor laid out his doctrine for keeping the city safe during his weekly radio show following a week of criticism over a secret police department effort to monitor mosques in several cities and keep files on Muslim student groups at colleges in Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and upstate New York.
Several college administrators and politicians have complained that the intelligence-gathering pried too deeply into the lives of innocent people.
With about 1,000 officers -dedicated to intelligence and counterterrorism, the police department has one of the most aggressive domestic intelligence operations in the US. Its methods have stirred debate in legal circles over whether it has crossed the line and violated the civil liberties of Muslims.
In perhaps his most vigorous defense yet of some of the department’s anti-terrorism efforts, Bloomberg said it is “legal,” “appropriate” and “constitutional” for police to keep a close eye on Muslim communities that terrorists might use as a base to strike the city. He also said that investigators were duty bound to pursue “leads and threats wherever they come from,” even across state lines.
“It would just be naive to think we should stop following threats when they get to the border,” Bloomberg said.
Critics have said it is not appropriate for the police to spy on citizens without reason to believe they have committed a crime.
The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement on Friday accusing the NYPD of turning the city into a “surveillance state.”
Faiza Patel, co-director of a civil rights program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school, said guidelines in federal court rulings do not allow the department to hold on to files detailing the conversations of mosque worshipers “unless the information relates to potential terrorist or criminal activity.”
Bloomberg said the police would continue to do “everything that the law permits us to do” to detect terrorists operating in the US before they have a chance to act.
He warned of dire consequences if the city fails to detect plots, citing the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington, and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which was carried out by followers of Omar Abdel-Rahman, a radical sheik who recruited -jihadists from Brooklyn mosques.
“We are not going to repeat the mistakes that we made after the 1993 bombing,” the mayor said. “We cannot slack in our vigilance. The threat was real. The threat is real. The threat is not going away.”
Newark Mayor Corey Booker was among several New Jersey officials who said they were surprised and concerned to learn that the New York police had broadly monitored Muslims and mosques in that state.
Bloomberg acknowledged that Booker himself had not been briefed by the NYPD, but said the Newark police department had been informed. In any case, he said, it is “100 percent legal” for city police officers to operate in other states.
“You have to also remember an awful lot of the 9/11 hijackers stayed in New Jersey for extended periods of time, training, planning their attacks,” Bloomberg said.