What Happens When Mall Cops Try to Do Counterterrorism

Mall security is the worst, always kicking you out of the food court for not buying anything, then filing a suspicious activity report with the FBI. Private security officers have been trying to do counterterrorism at the Mall of America, with predictable results.

According to a fantastic investigation by NPR and the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Mall of America's private security force has remodeled itself post-9/11 into a private counterterrorism task force, conducting their own surveillance operations and invasive searches and detainments. The Mall of America's counterterrorism unit is unfortunately not called the Department of Legoland Security, but it does has a catchy acronym: Risk Assessment and Mitigation (RAM).

The Mall of America sent NPR all 125 of their suspicious activity reports. The people they snagged were not exactly planning a Mumbai-style rampage in Forever 21:

  • Francis Van Asten, an army vet who was filming the store for his Vietnamese fiance. Mall cops questioned him for an hour and turned him over to the police, who took his memory card and deleted all his videos after calling up the FBI.
  • Bobbie Allen, who was sitting on a bench "observing others while writing things down on a notepad." Security guards demanded to know his name and what he was doing there, then called the cops on him.
  • Najam Qureshi, whose dad left his cell phone at the food court, sparking a visit and questioning from the FBI.
  • So, questionably-useful counterterrorism techniques based on "suspicious activity" are being ineptly used by private security, which ends up snaring hapless shoppers in the security state. When we were kids, we used to just get chased out of the arcade for using our skateboard.