House Dems slam Bloomberg over NYPD Muslim spying
WASHINGTON (AP) — Ten House Democrats, including a member of the party's leadership and lawmakers who oversee intelligence and homeland security matters, have criticized New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his "underhanded and unprofessional" response to criticism of the New York Police Department's spying programs.
The Associated Press has reported for months that the NYPD systematically spied on Muslims neighborhoods, using informants and undercover officers to serve as "listening posts" in mosques and businesses in New York and New Jersey. Police documented the details of sermons, even when they were innocuous and peaceful, and infiltrated Muslim student groups on college campuses. NYPD officers catalogued where Muslims ate, eat and prayed — with no mention of criminal activity — and targeted Mosques using techniques typically reserved for criminal investigations.
In a March 22 letter to Bloomberg, members of Congress called for an end to the NYPD's out-of-state spying. Lawmakers said they were troubled by the tactics and by the city's response to concerns.
Bloomberg has defended his department's actions as lawful and necessary to keep the city safe. He and his administration have brushed off concerns, sometimes flippantly, raised by lawmakers, community leaders and civil rights groups who say the NYPD's activities are constitutionally suspect.
"Your administration's conduct in this affair has been underhanded and unprofessional," the lawmakers wrote.
Bloomberg has not responded to the letter. A spokesman did not immediately provide a comment Monday.
The letter was signed by Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., a former member of the Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., a member of the Democratic leadership and the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee's oversight body. They were joined by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress, and Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., who has compared the NYPD's spying programs to the World War II policy that sent him and his family to an internment camp.
The lawmakers asked Bloomberg to explain what exactly he knew about the NYPD's intelligence operations and to explain how federal money was used.
Though Congress appropriates money to the Department of Homeland Security that ultimately ends up at the NYPD, Washington does not know exactly where that money goes or how it's used. Also, the NYPD uses White House anti-drug money to help pay for cars and computers used to spy on Muslims, though the White House has said it has no control over how that money is used.
Also signing the letter were Reps. Judy Chu, D-Calif.; Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., Pete Stark, D-Calif.; Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio; Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y. and Laura Richardson, D-Calif.
Though there is little outside oversight of the NYPD, the lawmakers reminded Bloomberg of Washington's role in financing the police department.
"As members of Congress, we have voted for the federal funding that has helped New York City modernize its police force and better prepare the city to deter, and if necessary recover from, another attack," they wrote.
Thirty-four members of Congress have previously asked Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the NYPD's activities. Holder has said only that he's disturbed by the news reports.