By Jill Colvin and Ben Fractenberg
MANHATTAN — Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the NYPD Thursday against allegations its CIA-assisted domestic counter-terrorism unit has been inappropriately spying on Muslim communities.
“In the end the NYPD’s first job is prevention, and I think they’ve done a very good job at that,” the mayor told reporters at a press conference Thursday, one day after an explosive report by the Associated Press claimed police are infiltrating mosques to stave off future terrorist attacks.
The report alleges that the NYPD has been aggressively monitoring Muslim communities using tactics that some are slamming as gross infringements on civil rights.
The report included charges that the NYPD has dispatched secret teams of undercover officers into ethnic neighborhoods to collect intelligence at places like bookstores and bars, and has used special informants — dubbed "mosque crawlers" — to monitor weekly sermons inside of mosques, even where there was no evidence of wrongdoing.
But Bloomberg defended the tactics used by the NYPD in the city, which he said is a prime target for terrorist attacks.
“The first job is to make sure to the extent humanly possible that it does not happen,” he said, echoing top police spokesman Paul Browne, who said the NYPD is simply doing its job by being vigilant about potential harm within its legal limits.
“If there are threats or leads to follow, then the NYPD’s job is to do it. The law is pretty clear about what’s the requirement and I think they follow the law," Bloomberg said.
“We don’t stop to think about the religion. We stop to think about the threats and focus our efforts there."
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly acknowledged Thursday afternoon that the CIA plays an "advisory role" with the police department, including an agent that works with the force.
"We have a relationship with the CIA where personnel will come up [from Washington DC], will train, will provide us with information on events that are happening overseas," said Kelly during a press conference at police headquarters.
He also said that the information that the CIA provides is "usually coming from perhaps overseas," he said.
But Kelly did not go into detail about the NYPD's alleged intelligence gathering techniques in Muslim communities.
Bloomberg also stressed the fact that police have foiled approximately 13 plots against the city since 9/11, with countless others likely averted because of ramped-up security measures.
“The NYPD is world-renowned as an agency that not only stops street crime but has focused on the potential threat of terrorism from around the world," the mayor said.
"We all know that New York City is an iconic city and, if somebody wanted to hurt our democracy and take away our rights, the probability that they would go to New York are certainly high."