President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser praised the New York Police Department's work Friday, saying the agency has struck an appropriate balance between keeping people safe and protecting their rights.
"It's not a trade-off between our security and our freedoms and our rights as citizens," John Brennan said Friday in an appearance at NYPD headquarters. "I believe that that balance that we strike has been an appropriate one. We want to make sure that we're able to optimize our security at the same time we optimize those freedoms that we hold and cherish so deeply."
The comments from the top counterterrorism official in the White House follow months of debate over an NYPD domestic intelligence operation that placed Muslim businesses, mosques and student groups under surveillance. The Associated Press revealed the details of the program in a series of articles that won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting earlier this week.
Brennan's comments represent a White House stamp of approval of the NYPD's tactics. For months, the Obama administration has sidestepped questions about the NYPD surveillance programs while insisting on the importance of building partnerships with American Muslims.
Some elected officials and community advocates have accused the NYPD of infringing on Muslims' civil rights and of illegally engaging in religious and ethnic profiling. More than 30 members of Congress demanded a federal investigation, and Attorney General Eric Holder said he was disturbed by reports about the operations. The Justice Department said Friday it was continuing to review complaints received from Muslims and their supporters.
City officials say the police department has done nothing illegal and argue the NYPD would have endangered the city it is charged with protecting if it did not take such preventative measures. Officers cannot wait to open an investigation until a crime is committed, they argue. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said it is a mischaracterization to describe the department's tactics as spying.
"I have full confidence that the NYPD is doing things consistent with the law, and it's something that again has been responsible for keeping this city safe over the past decade," Brennan said, adding that "the Muslim community here is part of the solution to the terrorist threat, and they need to be part of that effort, and that dialogue needs to continue."
Brennan said he would be speaking with local Muslim leaders during his visit to New York and asking them to share their views.
In the speech to police department officials and representatives from private security firms, Brennan said the NYPD's counterterrorism work was essential to the safety of the nation's citizens.
"If we're going to have the ability to identify and stop terrorist operatives and terrorist attacks here on our shores, the national government cannot do it alone," he said.
He called the NYPD a "model of how a community can come together."
"You have had a very, very difficult job. I think you've done it very well," he said. "The success is in the record, in terms of keeping this city safe."
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