September 7, 2011
Contact:
Anna Christopher, NPR


   

NPR NEWS AND THE CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING FIND PRIVATE COUNTERTERRORISM EFFORTS PLACE SEEMINGLY INNOCENT AMERICANS "UNDER SUSPICION"

MINORITIES MAKE UP NEARLY TWO-THIRDS OF 'SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY' REPORTS RELEASED TO NPR AND CIR, AND ORIGINATING FROM MALL OF AMERICA

QUESTIONED MALL VISITORS UNKNOWINGLY END UP IN POLICE AND FBI RECORDS

Ever since 9/11, the nation's leaders have warned that government agencies can't protect the country on their own; private businesses and ordinary citizens have to look out for terrorists, too. Under such programs as See Something, Say Something and the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, popular sites from shopping malls to sports stadiums have been encouraged to identify and then report “suspicious activity” to law enforcement agencies.

A joint investigation by NPR News and the Center for Investigative Reporting into the program at one location, the Mall of America near Minneapolis, found that it often ensnares seemingly innocent people with the FBI and other law enforcement organizations. The investigation found that "suspicious person" reports sent by the Mall's private counterterrorism and security units to local police were filed without the knowledge of visitors and shoppers interviewed by security, and may remain in law enforcement files for decades. NPR and CIR obtained and analyzed more than 1,000 pages of these documents. The documents released to NPR and CIR also indicate that the Mall has been mostly reporting to the police those who are racial and ethnic minorities.

NPR correspondent Daniel Zwerdling and CIR reporters G.W. Schulz and Andrew Becker report on the findings of their investigation in "Under Suspicion," airing this afternoon on NPR's All Things Considered and tomorrow on Morning Edition. An extensive database and analysis of 125 suspicious activity reports from the Mall are available now at NPR.org and CIRonline.org, along with additional reporting from Zwerdling, Schulz, Becker and NPR's Margot Williams.

About the investigation:

· NPR and CIR asked more than two-dozen law enforcement agencies across the country for suspicious activity reports from popular sites in their areas, from Epcot Center to Dodgers Stadium. Only officials in Minnesota provided them – 125 reports that had been sent from the Mall of America to the nearby Bloomington Police Department since Christmas Eve 2005. A Mall official told NPR and CIR that their security guards question more than 1,000 people each year.

· NPR and CIR report that the documents and interviews with dozens of sources show that the Mall's counterterrorism unit has often reported seemingly ordinary people for engaging in seemingly ordinary behaviors. Mall guards reported one man to police who they said walked "nervously" through the Mall, looked at them in a "very odd" way and displayed "defensive body posture." It turned out he was a health care manager shopping for a watch for his son.

· Almost two-thirds of the "suspicious" people whom the Mall reported to police, based on documents, were not white. In contrast, the U.S. population is more than 70 percent white, and Minnesota’s population is almost 85 percent white. Mall officials would not give NPR and CIR the ethnic and racial breakdown of its visitors.

· Several people named in the reports only learned from NPR and CIR that their birth dates, race, names of employers and other personal information were compiled along with surveillance images. Much of the questioning at the mall has been done in public while shoppers mill around, records show. In interviews with NPR and CIR, two people, a shopper and a mall employee, described being taken to a basement area.

· One 18-page Mall report labels an Army veteran and retired engineer “very suspicious” for filming Mall attractions to show his fiancée. As a result of the Mall’s suspicions, an FBI agent told local police to seize his camera’s memory card “for further analysis” and delete footage. He was also given a pat-down search.

· Other reports concern a Pakistan-born U.S. citizen, questioned at his home by the FBI after his father accidentally left his cell phone on a table at the Mall’s food court. More than three years later, there was still an 11-page report about the incident on file with local police.

The full report is available at NPR.org. All text excerpts must be credited to "NPR News and the Center for Investigative Reporting." Broadcast outlets may use up to sixty (60) consecutive seconds of audio from the reports. Television usage must include on-screen chyron to "NPR News" with the NPR logo.

The NPR News Investigative Unit crosses all news desks and programs to build upon, and strengthen the commitment to, NPR's established investigative work. The team’s extensive reporting includes Post Mortem, exploring why many suspicious deaths are improperly investigated; Brain Wars, an ongoing examination of traumatic brain injury and the military; and a continuing look at mine safety in America, following the explosion at Upper Big Branch in West Virginia. NPR reaches a growing audience of more than 27 million listeners weekly; to find local stations and broadcast times for NPR programs, visit www.npr.org

The Center for Investigative Reporting is the nation's oldest nonprofit investigative news organization. CIR reports have reached the public through television, print, radio and the web, appearing in outlets such as 60 Minutes, PBS Frontline, NPR, The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Politico and U.S. News & World Report. CIR stories have received numerous journalism awards including the Alfred I. du Pont-Columbia University Silver Baton, George Polk Award, Emmy Award, Investigative Reporters and Editors Award, and a National Magazine Award for Reporting Excellence. More importantly, its reports have sparked congressional hearings and legislation, United Nations resolutions, public interest lawsuits and change in corporate policies. For more information, visit www.cironline.org.