The Mall of America’s surveillance society

This is the kind of suspicious activity that can get you an interview with the FBI. The video was shot from the parking ramp at the Mall of America.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has pulled the curtain back from the world of counterterrorism at the Mall of America.

Their story, which is posted on its website and airs on NPR this afternoon, says many Mall of America visitors have ended up in counterterror reports without their knowledge, after private security officers interviewed them.

The report raises the possibility that the mall guards are using racial and ethnic profiling, a charge the mall denies.

In some cases, the questioning appears to have the hallmarks of profiling – something that officials at the mall deny. In nearly two-thirds of the cases reviewed, subjects are described as African American, people of Asian and Arabic descent, and other minorities, according to an analysis of the documents.

Mall spokesman Dan Jasper said the private security guards would not conduct interviews based on racial or ethnic characteristics because “we may miss someone who truly does have harmful intent.”

A mall spokesman, however, acknowledged to the reporters that the guards’ activities “may infringe on freedoms.”

“We’re charged with trying to keep people safe. We’re trying to do it the best way we can. You may be questioned at the Mall of America about suspicious activity. It’s something that may happen. It’s part of today’s society,” mall spokesman Dan Jasper said in a statement.

Here’s an example of a report that ended up in the hands of law enforcement. The suspicious behavior? The man took pictures inside the mall.


“For all the 30 years that I have lived in the United States, I’ve never been a suspect,” said Emil Khalil of California. After being questioned for taking pictures, the FBI stopped him and his brother at the airport for more questioning.

Another man, an Army veteran, was “caught” videotaping in the mall. He was questioned for two hours, the report said.

(Francis) Van Asten said it was not clear to him at the time why he was stopped. After all, he was told nothing prohibited him from taking photographs or footage of the mall. But the mall’s guards still called Bloomington police, and they alerted the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. Van Asten was given a pat-down search, and the FBI demanded that his memory card be confiscated “for further analysis.”

Exhausted and rattled, Van Asten had trouble finding his car after the ordeal was over.

“I sat down in my car and I cried, and I was shaking like a leaf,” Van Asten said in an interview at his home. “That kind of sensation doesn’t leave you real quickly when you’ve had an experience like that.”

Another person was questioned because he was writing in a notebook while waiting for his lunch date.

“Before the male would write in his notebook, it appeared as though he would look at his watch. Periodically, the male would briefly look up from his notebook, look around, and then continue writing,” the security guards’ report said.

Subsequently, he was photographed, his information recorded, and he ended up in a police report as a person of interest.

“Everybody that lives in this country,” one mall visitor said, “is a person of interest as far as these reports are concerned.”

There’s no indication that any terrorist activity has been uncovered at the mall.

Ever been questioned at the Mall of America? Tell me about it below.

  • Jake

    After reading both this and the story on NPR, I can only come up with two words.

    Mall Cop

  • no, but i was once stopped for ID upon entering the mall. apparently there is a curfew for kids 16 and under… i was 30 at the time. thanks mall cop!

  • Susan WB

    Just one more reason to shop at small, locally owned businesses.

    MOA – who needs it? At the price of my sanity and privacy, for sure not me.

    You won’t catch me doing any of my holiday shopping there. Not after this report.

  • justin h

    I’m reminded of this video from a law school professor explaining why you should never talk to the police:

    The ACLU also has a good reference about knowing your rights when interacting with the police.

    I am not sure how this information translates to a security guard though. A security guard is not a peace officer, and they don’t have any special powers. The most they can ask you to do is leave, or get an actual peace officer who may detain and/or arrest you if they deem it correct. It would seem the best thing to do with security guards is to ignore them.

  • Rick

    That’s one price to pay for safety. The activities that are listed, while being legal and just fine, to a place that has to be hyper-vigilant about terrorist threats, these can make them cautious. While they are going too far with some of these, it is tough to see who the good guys and the bad guys are. Knowing these things, I feel safer going to the MoA then going to a smaller mall. While it is a big target for a lot of potential terrorist groups (a lot of people, plus it’s call the Mall of America, come on…), these sort of reports make it sound like it is a safe place to go.

    Try and take a bunch of pictures around and airport or doing the same activities in the state capital. Public places, but these sorts of things would get noticed and you may get questioned there too.

    While rattling with these things, if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about and just remember your rights if you are worried.

  • Lori

    When I was a kid we were constantly told how horrible life was in the USSR, because neighbors were encouraged to report each other to the police. Welcome to the new police state…

  • Tyler

    No mention of the TV show? Seems like terrorist shakedowns would be fodder for MALL COPS: MALL OF AMERICA.


  • Gary Thaden

    Another reason to stay away from the Mall of America.

  • Emily

    I have often times wanted my students to draw inside a mall. People who shop walk slowly, looking at windows or are talking, so catching their expression is a great way to introduce figure drawing and gesture drawing. They are also, usually, of many ages and body types. However, I find that malls are horrible places for anyone not interested in buying. Security, I have noticed, doesn’t like it if you come to the mall for a sociological or art exercise. Makes me think that the photographer and the person taking notes might have been artists, writers, or social scientists. Sometimes we just like to observe each other, not cause mischief.