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Blame Media, Turf Wars for Criticism of NYPD 'Spying,' Bloomberg Says

By Jill Colvin | March 9, 2012 1:53pm
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has repeatedly defended the NYPD's surveillance program.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has repeatedly defended the NYPD's surveillance program.
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

MANHATTAN — Criticism of the NYPD’s far-ranging counter-terrorism efforts is being fueled by the media and turf wars, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday in his latest defense against what critics have slammed as domestic spying.

The mayor and the NYPD have been under intense scrutiny in recent weeks for the city’s post-9/11 surveillance efforts, including elaborate mapping of Muslim neighborhoods in and out of the state, monitoring of Muslim student groups, and even accompanying college students on a whitewater rafting trip upstate, according to a stinging series by the Associated Press.

The AP’s latest report, published Friday, revealed secret police files on businesses targeted specifically because they were run by second- and third-generation Muslims.

The reports have sounded alarms among high-ranking officials, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

New Jersey’s top FBI official, Michael Ward, said Wednesday the efforts had hampered counter-terrorism efforts by undermining trust with the Muslim community. And U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress Thursday he found the reports "disturbing” and said the Justice Department was investigating.

But Bloomberg dismissed the firestorm on Friday, saying it was being fueled by the media and grandstanding politicians.

“You know, it’s a made-for-television thing. It gets you publicity,” he said during his weekly sit-down with WOR’s John Gambling. “If you want to talk, there’s somebody willing to stick a microphone or a camera in front of you and put it on the air.”

He also accused competing law-enforcement agencies of jockeying for turf.

“Every agency at every level of government would like to be involved," Bloomberg said. "And so, you know, if you have a big case, everybody rushes to get on board."

Gambling, who rarely disagrees with the mayor, sounded puzzled.

“Do you think that’s what the issue is in New Jersey?” he asked skeptically.

“No, but I think there is always that tension,” the mayor responded, insisting that the NYPD and FBI “work seamlessly together.”

“Do they each have their own pride? Sure,” he added, comparing them to police and firefighters “who want to be the first one in.”

The mayor also argued that most Muslims he’s spoken with overwhelmingly approve of the NYPD’s far-ranging efforts, which he again defended as “legal and appropriate" as well as necessary.

“The Muslim groups that I have talked to in the last few weeks, to say all I think is very close to being accurate. They keep saying…we do not need another terrorist attack,” he said, adding that the city will "take every precaution possible to not do anything that ever violates the law."