Michael Bloomberg on Thursday defended his covert surveillance of New York City Muslims as mayor in the wake of 9/11 as he faces mounting criticism for the policy.
Under Bloomberg’s backing, the NYPD spent at least six years cataloging information on Muslim communities, surveilling Muslim-owned businesses, mosques and other schools and organizations linked to the faith — which advocates have described as racist and baseless religious profiling.
But Bloomberg said it was what authorities were “supposed to do” following the terror attacks during an appearance on PBS Newshour.
“We had every intention of going every place we could legally to get as much information to protect this country,” said Bloomberg. “We had just lost 3,000 people at 9/11. Of course, we’re supposed to do that.”
The program, which ended in 2014, had police coordinating with authorities in far off cities like Buffalo and went as far as to send an undercover agent along with Muslim college students on a whitewater rafting trip. The surveillance was subjected to several lawsuits, which resulted in a settlement deal with a court never ruling it to be legal.
Bloomberg stressed that he doesn’t believe “all Muslims are terrorists, or all terrorists are Muslim” and that he supported the Ground Zero mosque as a matter of freedom of religion.
“But all of the [9/11 terrorists] came from the same place — and all that came were from a place that happened to be one religion,” Bloomberg added. “And if they’d been another religion, we would have done the same thing.”
The billionaire appeared to downplay the extent of the surveilling, describing the NYPD as sending “some officers into some mosques “ to listen to sermons from imams.
The program never resulted in an arrest or a lead to a potential terror plot.
Mayor de Blasio on Thursday night called the surveillance “racist” and “counterproductive.” Hizzoner attacked the candidate in one of his late-night anti-Bloomberg tweets while being kept awake by the medication he’s taking for his knee surgery
“As the person who ended [Bloomberg’s racist + counterproductive Muslim surveillance program,” de Blasio tweeted, “I will tell you what he won’t: it actually made us LESS SAFE It bred resentment and distrust, just when we most needed to bring our police and our Muslim community together. Failure.”
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