05 July 2013

TRADECRAFT: Surveillance 401

Regardless how good you are at conducting or eluding surveillance, sooner or later, you will run into at least one problem or more. It's the nature of the business. Your target (or you if it's the other way around) may see the same face or the same vehicle more than once and suddenly ask what's going on. How much is coincidence? And, that's if you are looking for surveillance. For the target who is checking behind himself, a surveillance team can easily get into trouble if they're not careful.

So here's a few tips. Just know that these tips can be taken from either side of the surveillance equation. If you are the one doing the following, these may be hints that your target is checking to see if he has grown a tail. Also, if you are in a situation where you wish to check your back trail or maybe ditch any surveillance on yourself, consider these suggestions on actions to take. Use as is appropriate for yourself or your fictional character. Many of these techniques can also be adapted to vehicle traffic.

From the viewpoint of eluding:
  1) While walking briskly in one direction, suddenly turn around. Which people behind you are caught short? Do they abruptly turn into a doorway? Awkwardly start window shopping? Look directly at you, then avert their gaze in embarrassment? When you move briskly, your surveillance needs to move fast too in order to keep up. When you suddenly turn on them, you catch them in mid-stride. It's awkward for them to recover quickly.

  2) Similar to the above is to completely reverse course and go back the way you came. You get all the benefits of #1, plus you disrupt the surveillance team's pattern. If you remember Surveillance 102, you'll know that any professional team has been trained to deal with this situation. In this case, go one block over to a parallel street and pull the same trick. Recognize any of the same faces from the block before? Naturally, you don't want the other side to know you're onto them (knowledge is power), so try to make your route appear to be normal. Have an apparent reason for all these changes of direction. Of course if you are a high profile target, the opposition may have two or even three teams on you and you may keep seeing new faces. However, in those circumstances where you are worth that much expenditure of their assets, you shouldn't be out in the open anyway.

  3) Pause long enough to tie your loose shoe lace or peruse a map, something which appears to be a normal action. What you're really doing is taking time to look behind you, across the street and around you to take notice of who is there.

  4) You've seen it done in thriller and spy movies, and you too can look in store windows to watch reflections of movements around you.

  5) Change your pace. Move slowly, then fast, then slow again in combination with other techniques mentioned here. This allows you to disrupt their team pattern and then catch them off guard.

  6) Enter a building or turn the corner of a building, stop and put your back to the wall. Who followed you into the building or around the corner? How did they react when they saw you standing there, waiting?

  7) Enter a building and immediately leave by another exit. Same faces? People running around the corner to watch the side door?

  8) Get on an elevator. Then get off on the same floor or anther floor. Walk up or down a flight of stairs and take a different elevator. They can't follow you without being obvious. In the end, they have to wait for you to leave the building. Does the building have a basement with a parking garage exit?

  9) Start to leave a building, then suddenly stop just outside the exit. You already know what you're looking for now.

 10) Assuming the opposition is merely following you, but not trying to kill or kidnap you, go down an alley. They either expose themselves by following else have to run around the block to catch you coming out the other end. But, what if you go halfway and then backtrack? Most of their assets will end up in the wrong place.

 11) Go around the same block several times to see who is still with you before suddenly heading off in a different direction. I recommended this one to a friend of the family who was in the middle of a divorce from a child-abusing husband. She used it to detect and record the license plate of a car following her and then reported the license plate to the Air Police when she went back on base. Turned out to be a PI hired by the abusive husband hoping to find some dirt on her in order to contest the divorce. She got the divorce without problems. He went to Leavenworth.

 12) While temporarily out of sight, change clothes, appearance, vehicles or method of transportation. The opposition may not recognize you with the change.

 13) See a policeman on a corner? Ask him for directions to a business you passed about half a block back. When he points behind you, you then turn and point in the same direction. Anyone following you will assume you fingered them to the cops. When you continue on your way, they will be reluctant to follow you past the cop. Our instructors in Basic Agent Training loved to use this one on trainees, only in this case they had the cop stop us to hear our explanation of what was going on.

 14) Use an associate for counter-surveillance. The pros do it and so can you. Let other sets of eyes watch your back trail for you. This technique is difficult for the opposition to detect and therefore is very effective. Unless of course, the opposition also knows who your people are. During the Cold War and even today, both sides of opposing governments keep files on their opponents, which keeps the game a little tighter.

So now are you ready to go out and try your luck? Follow someone or see if you're being followed? Hey, stay a little paranoid. It's good for you. You never know who's out there, or why.


  1. Mr. Lawton: This is so coo! It was like reading a really good short story. Seriously. Plus all the tips for aspiring writers. Yours truly, Toe.

  2. I love this article! Wow! Talk about giving me ideas... Speaking of surveillance, I think one of the best techniques for the surveiller is to be fairly nondescript. Your average middle-aged woman, wearing casual sloppy clothes, window shopping, would never be noticed by anyone. The eye skips right over.

  3. Reminded me of my Hardy Boys Detective Handbook and an afternoon I spent following innocent strangers around Carteret, New Jersey, circa 1964. Somehow, I didn't get arrested.


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