12 December 2014

After Action Report


by R.T. Lawton

In my blog article back on February 28th, I mentioned my upcoming Surveillance Workshop which was to be conducted at the Long Beach Bouchercon on November 13,2014. Roughly, it was to be eight celebrity author "Rabbits" and eight teams of conference attendees being taught how  to follow those Rabbits.

So, on Thursday morning at the conference, the Rabbits got a one-hour briefing as to what they could and couldn't do. Their pictures and physical descriptions were taken and they were provided with maps of the playing area and a separate starting location for each of the eight Rabbits.

Diagramming the ABC Method
Early that afternoon, the Surveillance Team Members received a one-hour lecture on the ABC Method of Surveillance, were quickly divided into eight teams and were given maps of the playing area, plus 8x10 photos of their individual Rabbits and a location for where their Rabbit would be at starting time. Cell phones and hand signals were to be used as communication in place of radios. Because conference attendees other than players were allowed to sit in on the lecture and the debriefing, the room was packed, with others left standing in the hallway outside the door.

At 2:30 PM, the Rabbits were off and, just like reality in the world of surveillance, anything that could go wrong did. Once again, I was amazed at how many of these civilians could adapt to and overcome adverse situations on the street. Since I was the only one in possession of the Master Rabbit Plan, I manned the base of operations where those who lost their Rabbit could call my cell phone and find out where to relocate their Rabbit at fifteen minute intervals. The phone soon began to ring, beep, chirp, whatever it is that cell phones do these days.

By 4 PM, everyone returned to the conference room for the Debrief. Each Rabbit, followed by the captain of the team conducting surveillance on that Rabbit got a few minutes of microphone time to tell their side of the story. The laughter began. One team started out trailing a member of another surveillance team. Well, in their defense, she did look a lot like their Rabbit photo. A local business, Radio Shack, got talked into recharging one team member's dead cell phone so she could continue playing, while another team kept running into what soon became a very paranoid drug dealer. No doubt he has moved his street business to another part of town to calm his nerves.

Here are some excerpts from an article in Ransom Notes (a newsletter from a Sisters in Crime Chapter in California) as written by Evelyn Moore with contributions by Eileen Magill, both players in the workshop.

     Our team's rabbit dashed north up the main road, cut across street against the light and stopped to talk with another rabbit under a yellow awning on the northwest corner. I raced up to the southeast corner and did my best to hide behind a palm tree. Ducking and weaving back and forth to avoid our rabbit's ever-scanning eyes, I attracted the notice of another sort. My attention was so intent on the rabbit that I didn't notice that I was standing outside the main entrance to a bank, and the security guard was not pleased with my furtive behavior.

     The tap on my shoulder nearly made me jump out of my skin. I was so rattled , I wasn't quite sure what he said to me, but the tone of his voice was rather harsh. I realized how bad the whole situation looked. The only things I had in my bag were multiple changes of clothes and disguises. No ID. Nothing to say that I was taking part in an exercise with Bouchercon. Gosh, nothing suspicious here. He did not look convinced when I described the exercise. Well, as they say, a good defense is a strong offense. When he told me to look at him--which would have meant turning away from my rabbit--I told him, "Sure, but you'll need to watch my rabbit for me," and then described the man I was watching.

     About this time, one of the members of the other team that was following the rabbit that my rabbit was meeting sidled up to the electrical box a few feet to my north. The guard looked back and forth between us, rolled his eyes, and disappeared back into the bank.

                                                     *      *       *

     At one point, while our rabbit was spending a long time under that yellow awning, I was on the other side of the street hiding in a doorway, or behind a large utility vehicle talking to Eileen on our cell phones while changing back and forth from my jacket to my sweatshirt. I noticed this woman who was also hanging out in my area. She was dressed in a provocative manner in a fancy black dress adorned with black roses and black lace. She kept glaring at me and I thought at one point she was going to come up and yell at me, but instead she angrily bustled away. It then occurred to me that she was perhaps what one would politely call "a lady of the night" and I was bad for business.

                                                       *      *       *

     I was also aware while running from one side of the street to the other that I needed to be very careful watching out for cars and buses. I didn't want my epitaph to read, "She got hit by a car while chasing a rabbit."

                                                        *      *       *

     At the end of the hour we followed our rabbit back to the hotel. We were certain that at several points he had made us, but were thrilled to find out during the debrief, that he hadn't. According to our rabbit Con Lehane, he had a good time but was "terribly disappointed that despite constant vigilance and innumerable evasive actions, I wasn't able to shake (or even see) you guys."

The SinC newsletter article afterwards concluded with hyperlinks to the four SleuthSayers blog articles I had written on surveillance tradecraft. These links allowed their SinC readers to obtain more information on how to conduct surveillance, both by foot and by vehicle, not to mention that it advertised our web site.

Other photos from the conference:
Eve, R.T. & Brian

Saturday panel on feds who write

View of the Queen Mary across the harbor at night

Making a podcast of AHMM story for editor Linda Landrigan

Old Russian sub berthed by Queen Mary (Ignore the people)

View from our room of Carnival Cruise ship & Queen Mary

6 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

Master Rabbit Plan…, not to mention harried hookers, hapless heists, and dicey drug dealers… the mind boggles! And it sounds like a lot of fun! I’m sorry I missed it.

David Dean said...

Brilliant, R.T.! Your course must have been the hit of the conference. I wish I had been there, too!

Melodie Campbell said...

What a riot! And a fab idea for a workshop. Wish I had been there for it - please do this again.

Eve Fisher said...

I wish I'd been there for that one! Maybe next time!

Dixon Hill said...

Brilliant, RT! Wish I'd been there. Would have loved a chance at practical exercise on this type of surveillance.

--Dixon

Anonymous said...

What a lot of fun! I wish I'd been there. I hope there's a next time.