NEW YORK -- The process for obtaining federal permission for New York Police Department investigators to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects has improved since a recent clash with the Justice Department, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Tuesday.
Kelly had complained last month in a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey that federal authorities were too slow to authorize wiretap warrants, "and the city is less safe as a result." Mukasey fired back with a letter accusing the NYPD of trying to short-circuit constitutional safeguards, adding, "We are acutely aware of the stakes."
Following a promotion ceremony Tuesday, Kelly downplayed the dispute. He told reporters he has "the utmost respect" for Mukasey.
"We feel that we needed a much quicker process and more attention to the process by the Justice Department, and I think the exchange of letters had that effect," Kelly told reporters. "The system has now improved, in our judgment."
Federal authorities have "adopted several measures to enhance coordination with the NYPD and to ensure the continued effectiveness of the FISA process consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States," Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said Tuesday in a statement. "We look forward to working with the NYPD on these issues to advance our shared goals."
The federal Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requires investigators to obtain a warrant from a secret court in Washington to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists inside the country.
Kelly said he wished his correspondence with Mukasey, which was reported last week, had stayed private.
"The exchange of letters was made public apparently by the Justice Department," he said. "It certainly wasn't our intention to make those letters public."
At issue was the legal process police and prosecutors must go through in applying for wiretaps or other surveillance methods on foreign terrorism suspects.
Generally, the warrants are a tool used by the FBI, National Security Agency or other federal investigators. They must be reviewed by the Justice Department before they are submitted to the FISA Court for final approval.
But in recent years, the NYPD has ramped up its own counterterror mission, and is allowed to apply for the warrants as part of a joint terrorism task force with other local and federal agencies.
Associated Press Writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.