18 January 2013

TRADECRAFT: Surveillance 102

It's been about a month and a half since my first installment on surveillance. By now, you've had several chances to try your skill at one-person foot surveillance and if so, then probably seen some of the problems first hand which result from conducting this type of activity all by yourself. To counteract these problem situations, someone way down the line in history took on a few associates to help out and maybe make these operations more successful. In recent times, this group activity became known as the ABC Method of Team Foot Surveillance.

In team foot surveillance, each member of the team acquires a letter of the alphabet, but only for the purpose of explaining his position. Each member then operates accordingly. Sounds simple so far, right? Don't worry, it becomes more complicated later.

The lead person, the one with The Eyeball, is always designated as "A." The person designated as "B" is across the street and almost parallel to but just a little behind the Subject. B keeps the Subject in view while trying not to be obvious about it. "C" is on the same side of the street as the Subject and is several paces behind A. It is not necessary that C be able to see the Subject, but C will always have A in view and will take his cues on where to go next based on A's actions and movement.

If you are lucky enough to have more members on the team, then "D" will follow several paces behind B, taking his cues from B and also A if he can see that team member. "E," if you have one, follows C and so on. Let's setup a crude diagram as a visual aid to better place this in your mind.


                                                              D                                          B

Got it? Good. Now pay attention because this can quickly become a fluid situation. If for some reason, A has been following the Subject for a long time, or feels that he has been burned by the Subject, then A will have C move up to become the new A and take The Eyeball. E then moves up to become the new C, while the old A drops back to the rear, becomes the new E and changes outer garments and appearance in order to cut down on recognition later by the Subject.

Okay, you've got a mental picture from the above diagram and you're starting to understand the fluid part. So now you know that if the Subject crosses to the opposite side of the street and continues in the same direction as before, then the old B becomes the new A and also acquires The Eyeball, while the old A becomes the new B and moves forward on his side of the street. All other letters follow suit. It now looks like this:


      E                          C                                 A                                            Subject

E, if you have one, is the only team member to cross the street, but he is well out of sight of the Subject.

So what do you do if the Subject (S) goes around a corner? Glad you asked. A stops just short of the corner, while B looks to determine whether the Subject continues on up the street, or if the Subject stopped and is waiting to see if anyone follows him around that same corner. B signals whether or not it is safe for A to go around the corner.
                                                                                                      ]                [
___________________________________________________]                [______________
                                                          D                                                          B

_____E________________C________________________A___                _______________
                                                                                                       ]               [
                                                                                                       ] S            [

Next situation: what does the team do if the Subject suddenly reverses course and starts back the way he came? Easy, everybody freezes in place until the Subject continues far enough for the team to figure out his new direction. If the Subject continues past E, then E becomes the new A and acquires The Eyeball. All other letter designations adjust themselves accordingly to fit the new pattern. Like I said, it's fluid, you gotta go with the flow.

As you can well see by now, some type of communication is necessary for team members to understand what's happening with the Subject and where each team member should go next. If you are a spy organization or high level law enforcement or expensive PI outfit, you probably have concealed radios with hidden microphones so you can talk into your collar or your sleeve. Otherwise, you get by with agency hand-held radios, or even walkie-talkies assuming you are an amateur group. It also helps to have silent hand signals similar to those used by the military or SWAT teams. For my surveillance workshops at writers conferences, I had the civilian teams use hand signals plus their cell phones to maintain contact with each other.

SIDE NOTE: Things go wrong. At the first workshop, one team member followed her "rabbit" down an alley, while the rest of the team hurried around both sides of the block to pick up their rabbit again after he emerged from the other side. However, upon reaching the far end of the alley, the rabbit suddenly reversed course to head back the way he came. The all alone team member panicked, ducked into a doorway and punched a quick number into her cell phone. "He doubled back and is coming straight at me," she said into the phone. "Alert the others and get here as soon as you can." There was a long pause on the other end of the call before a deep masculine voice replied. "Lady, I don't know who you are or what you're doing, but it sure sounds exciting." That wrong number made somebody's day. I recommend setting up Speed Dial to other team members, or setup an ongoing conference call.

One last item on team surveillance. If you are doing this for real, it helps to have one of the team members following way behind in a multiple person van or large SUV. This way, if the Subject suddenly gets into a taxi, private car, hops a bus or other public transportation, your total team won't be left standing at the curb. The van will pick up as many team members as possible without losing sight of the Subject, thus the foot surveillance starts up again at whatever point the Subject returns to walking. Any team members who were left behind have to make their own way to the new site. Once again, communication is imperative to get your team moving together and back on task.

So, you paranoid yet? You should be. Those subjects who are experts in this type of tradecraft may have their own teams out as counter-surveillance in order to follow you home or back to your office. They will want to know who is following them and why. That's right, keep looking over your shoulder, always check your back trail. Did you see that same person before? Could be coincidence. And then again.....

Have a nice day.


  1. R.T., I find this interesting though I'll have to read it several times to internalize all of it. I was stalked when a college student. Sure glad that jerk didn't have enough friends to do it properly!

  2. Positively algebraic! - but I love algebra, so great. Thanks for a very interesting and informative article.

  3. About a week ago, while walking, I passed a fellow I had arrested many years ago. He did not appear to recognize me, but...

    I enjoyed this chapter, R.T., and look forward to the next.

  4. Sorry I was out of the net when you posted this one, R.T. Really enjoyed it, and added it to your prior surveillance post as an in-computer reference for future writing.

    Thanks again, and I vote that ya’ keep ‘em coming,


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