New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended on Thursday his police department's monitoring of Muslim student groups' websites.

Story highlights

The mayor addresses an AP report that said police monitored Muslims at various schools

Yale's president describes the program as "antithetical to the values" of the university

"We have to keep this country safe," Bloomberg tells reporters

New York CNN  — 

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday fired back at the president of Yale University and others who have suggested city police went too far in their surveillance of Muslims.

“We have to keep this country safe,” the mayor told reporters, addressing questions about an Associated Press report that said the NYPD was closely monitoring Muslim student associations in schools across the Northeastern United States.

“If people put things on websites and make them available to everybody, of course the NYPD is going to look at anything that’s publicly available in the public domain,” Bloomberg said. “And given we’ve had a dozen people arrested or convicted of terrorist acts who’ve come from similar organizations, we have an obligation to do so.”

The AP article said police have tracked websites, and on one occasion sent an undercover officer with students from The City College of New York on a whitewater rafting trip.

“The police department goes where there are allegations,” the mayor said, adding that the city’s officers are seeking to protect “the very things that allow Yale to survive.”

But Yale President Richard Levin described New York’s surveillance program as “antithetical to the values” of the New Haven, Connecticut, university and those of the nation.

When asked by a reporter if police had gone too far by sending the agent on the rafting trip, Bloomberg responded “no.”

Police spokesman Paul Browne told CNN that his agency does not monitor students directly, but confirmed it does monitor the websites they use.

“In any case where you see an NYPD officer present, it’s an indication that we were looking at an individual,” he said.

Browne accused the AP of “hyping these stories” to sensationalize them. He provided a list of 12 people arrested or convicted on terrorism-related charges in the United States who were once members of Muslim student associations.

The Columbia University Muslim Students Association condemned the police practice in a statement Tuesday.

“We are concerned that news reports about NYPD’s presence on our campus have a chilling effect on the intellectual freedom necessary for a vibrant academic community,” it read.

In December, a prominent group of Muslim leaders boycotted Bloomberg’s annual interfaith breakfast in protest of the controversial program.

The move stemmed from a series of earlier news reports that raised questions about the nature of a CIA partnership with the NYPD that allegedly helped to build city intelligence programs to spy on Muslims.

The boycott stood in a stark contrast to the goodwill the mayor earned among Muslim leaders when he defended plans for a controversial Islamic community center near the former site of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.

The CIA later announced its internal watchdog found no issue or evidence of wrongdoing in the spy agency’s partnership with the NYPD.