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Bloomberg Defends NYPD’s Widespread Surveillance of Muslim Community After 9/11 Terror Attacks: ‘Natural Place to Go’

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Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg defended his city’s widespread spying on the Muslim community in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, saying surveillance of mosques and other cultural centers were a “natural place to go.”

In a long wide-ranging interview with PBS News Hour anchor Judy Woodruff, he strongly pushed back on the criticism of the New York Police Department’s surveillance program after the World Trade Center attacks. The self-funding presidential candidate has taken several hits of late about his past, from his demeaning comments about women to another of his policing policies, the rampant stopping and frisking of young minority men that was eventually ruled unconstitutional.

“You are being criticized by some in the American Muslim community for your actions,” Woodruff noted. “In 2011, the Associated Press reporting on a secret police surveillance program that targeted Muslims, focusing on places where they worked, prayed, and socialized. At one point, undercover officers were sent with a student on a rafting trip. You said later the surveillance was justified in order to keep the country safe, but there have been independent reviews since that showed not a single arrest was made.”

“Well, that’s good,” Bloomberg interjected, seemingly citing a lack of any terror arrests or convictions as proof that the program was valuable.

“Remember, you’re talking about right after 9/11 when everybody was petrified about another terrorist attack,” he continued. “We were super careful to always obey the law. Number one: It’s the right thing to do. Number two: We knew people would be looking at it. We sent some officers into some mosques to listen to the sermons the imams gave. The courts ruled it was exactly within the law, and that’s the kind of thing we should be doing.”

The Associated Press won a 2012 Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting for its exposé of the city’s police department. And while a federal judge did ultimately side with the city on the legality of the spying, outrage over the program prompted Congressional investigations and the NYPD eventually settled a lawsuit in 2018, where it paid more than $1 million in damages and formally agreed not to conduct future surveillance of groups based on religion or ethnicity.

“Do you think it was necessary to single out Muslim-Americans that way and would you do that as president?” Woodruff asked.

“Whether or not we looked elsewhere, there were lots of places we looked,” Bloomberg replied. “There’s no question about whether the people who committed the terrible atrocities of the three airplane crashes and all the people getting killed, where they came from and it’s a natural place to go, yes. But, remember, I was the one who defended building a mosque in New York City, which I got grief for, but I’m a believer of freedom of religion.”

“Just to clarify quickly on that, you’re saying it’s okay to target Muslim-Americans,” Woodruff pressed.

“No, it’s okay to go where you think there might be information that would be useful in keeping us safe, and there were imams who publicly at that time were urging terrorism, so, of course, that’s where you’re going to go,” Bloomberg argued. “It does not, incidentally, mean all Muslims are terrorists or all terrorists are Muslim, but there was — the people that flew those airplanes — airplanes came from the Middle East and some of the imams were urging more of the same and, of course, we sent the police officers in, and we were so super careful because you knew people would look at it, and I didn’t want anybody to think we were targeting an ethnicity.”

“But it wasn’t a religion that killed them,” Woodruff pointed out.

“No, but all the people came from the same place, and all that came were from a place that happened to be one religion and if they had been another religion, we would have done the same thing.”

Watch the video above, via PBS.

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