Mobile Surveillance Detection


This is the second article in a two part series about mobile surveillance detection. My first article delved into mobile surveillance in order to explain the problem (hostile surveillance) that mobile surveillance detection is meant to detect. For those who haven’t done so, it might be best to start with my previous article first. For those who’ve already read my previous article, those who already know all about mobile surveillance, or those who just want to skip mobile surveillance and learn about mobile surveillance detection, feel free to jump right in and read away.

Just like with my last article, this article discusses mobile surveillance and surveillance detection as they’re conducted on foot, rather than in vehicles. The reasons for this are: a) the general principles of the two are pretty similar (with non-vehicular surveillance and SD being simpler to explain), and b) because I’m much more familiar with, and experienced in, surveillance and SD on foot, rather than in vehicles, and don’t feel comfortable writing about what I’m much less experienced in.


Mobile surveillance detection

There are (as had been mentioned in my previous article) two general categories of mobile surveillance:

  1. Mobile surveillance on a static target: moving around in the vicinity of a static target, usually because there are no good static vantage points from which to conduct surveillance.
  2. Mobile surveillance on a mobile target: following a mobile target to see where it goes and what it does.

The detection of type 1 is much more straightforward than that of type 2. For starters, if the target is static then in almost all cases, so should the SD be. Being static will not only make you less conspicuous, but will allow you to observe and notice more yourself. In cases where the environment around the target is not very conducive to surveillance (therefore forcing the surveiller to remain mobile rather than being comfortably static), the job of the SD operator is made easier – trying to spot any individuals who keep buzzing around. As for where the SD operators should be located (since they also have to contend with the same unconducive environment), there are no silver bullet formulas for this, but keep in mind that the SD operator has the home-field advantage here, and doesn’t have to necessarily work as hard on remaining covert (at least not from the target or the target’s security force). SD can also be incorporated into the security camera system if the right kinds of cameras can be pointed at the right locations, with the footage monitored in real time, and/or analyzed later on.

Since static SD on static targets had been discussed at length in previous articles, let’s move on to mobile targets, and the detection of mobile surveillance on those mobile targets.

One modification we’ll have to make when discussing this, though, is that, since we’re now looking at things from the perspective of an SD operator, rather than a hostile surveillance operative, instead of referring to a mobile “target”, we’re going to refer to a mobile “principal”, as in a protected client.


What to look for

As in any other type of surveillance, the answer to this question will always center on the idea of correlation – individuals who correlate to the principal in movement, observation, action and/or presence. My previous article discussed various ways in which hostile surveillers can blur and mask these correlations, but these tactics will not effectively eliminate them. And if you know where to look, what to look for, when to look for it and where to look from, you stand a decent chance of detecting these subtle correlations.


Where to look

One of the main reasons why we need to learn surveillance before we can understand surveillance detection is to understand where to look for surveillance. The simple answer here is that you should look for surveillance at the locations where you yourself would be if you were the one conducting the surveillance. When it comes to mobile surveillance, the surveiller will usually want to be somewhere behind the principal, and possibly behind and to the side. As the principal moves forward on a typical city sidewalk, we can imagine potential surveillance “Red Zones” (one behind the principal and one behind but on the opposite side of the street) that will be “dragged” behind the principal as he/she moves forward. These “Red Zones” are where you can reasonably expect to find a mobile surveiller if one is present. I say you should reasonably expect this because it makes sense – based on what I would do if I were conducting surveillance. But remember, this is only an educated guess, not an airtight formula (there are no airtight formulas when it comes to SD).

Another important place to look for correlations are locations where a change of direction is made by the principal. If the principal takes a right turn, notice who else takes that same right turn afterwards (within the timeframe you can expect a person in the “Red Zone” to reach the turn). The more turns or changes in direction the principal makes, the more opportunities you’ll have to spot someone who keeps correlating. This same idea also applies when the principal stops moving – thereby transitioning from mobile to static (this will be discussed a bit later on).


Distance and speed

The distance and speed the surveiller would want to maintain in relation to the principal will depend on the principal’s movements (fast, slow, erratic, consistent, etc), on the environment (quiet, bustling), on the people around the principal (mostly static, largely mobile) and on the mission (detecting a general route, spotting a particular action, etc).

Knowing this, we can begin to make more educated guesses about the size, location and proximity of the above mentioned “Red Zones”, and about the people who are in them. This will be most easily achieved the longer we can observe the environments the principal moves through, and the more varied the environments will be. If, for example, we notice that an individual who was walking half a block behind the principal on a normal street, shortens the distance to the principal when the area becomes busier, this could indicate a correlation. If the individual slows down and allows more distance between them and the principal as the principal starts walking down a city block, but quickens their pace to get closer to the principal as the principal nears the next intersection, this could also indicate a correlation. And the more times we see these back and forth changes in relative speed and distance, the better chance we have to determine that we have a correlation to the principal.


Short stops

Any time a stop is made by the principal, we have an opportunity to spot a correlation because a surveiller might be forced to also stop. In my last article, I discussed how such inevitable surveillance ‘Oh shit’ moments can be either mishandled or handled correctly by a surveiller. A mishandling of this (which is not uncommon) is obviously easier to spot. When the principal makes an inevitable short stop (traffic lights, checking their phone, etc), a surveiller in the above mentioned “Red Zone” might come to a nervously abrupt stop – thereby demonstrating not only a correlation of observation and movement, but conventional symptoms of suspicious behavior. If the surveiller is a bit more skilled however, they might be able to blur these correlations by stopping to check their phone, walking into a store for a few moments, passing the principal and stopping up ahead or moving around in the area until the principal starts moving again. But the blurring of a correlation can never eliminate it completely, and a skilled SD operator who knows what to look for should still be able to identify the correlation. Keep in mind that as soon as the principal stops, the “Red Zone”, which till that point was primarily “dragged” behind the mobile principal, can spread itself into a radius that surrounds the principal on all sides – thereby expanding the options a surveiller has for justifying a stop or for buzzing around the area. The larger the “Red Zone”, the more territory and people the SD effort will have to cover. This can make SD more challenging, but the more stops that are made, the easier it will be for a well trained eye to spot the correlations through repetition – as blurry as they may be.


Long stops

I define long stops as locations that a mobile principal reaches on purpose. This could include a scheduled meeting point, event venue, meal location, residence, school, etc. Since these locations are arrived at on purpose, oftentimes for prescheduled reasons, the ideal situation would be for the SD operators to know about these scheduled stops in advance. SD can still be conducted without this prior knowledge, but that would be less than an ideal situation. For this reason, it’s a very good idea for an SD unit to have some form of communication with the principal, the principal’s protective detail, or with a personal assistant or other support staff member (driver, nanny, etc). The reason why prior knowledge is ideal is because this can enable SD operators to remain static in the area of the long stop, which, as has been explained, can enable the operators to be better covered while observing and noticing more themselves. This is the type of ‘home-field’ advantage SD operators might need if they are to uncover the actions of a surveiller that can skillfully blur their correlations to the principal. As an SD unit is preparing (or advancing) for a scheduled long stop, it should become well acquainted with the environment around the stop location, the type of traffic that flows in and out of the area, and most especially, the potential vantage points around the stop location. The team should be set up before the scheduled stop, and as the principal arrives, every individual who arrives in the area within the next few seconds-minutes should be noted. If a less than skilled surveiller displays any of the visible symptoms of the ‘Oh-shit’ moment, then the job of the SD team will be a bit easier. But if a surveiller is more skilled, they might just naturally flow into a vantage point around the principal’s location (or into the location itself) without exhibiting any suspicious indicators. It’s for this reason that every single individual must be noted – suspicious or not. We’d like to believe that we can spot a surveiller as soon as he/she first shows up, but our better judgement tells us that if a surveiller is skilled enough, it might take a bit longer to spot their subtle and skillfully blurred correlations to the principal. There could, for example, be a situation where no suspicious behavior is detected at all, but a non suspicious individual who happened to show up in the area a minute after the principal, also happened to leave the area half a minute after the principal left, and was later observed walking nonchalantly half a block behind the principal. A single SD operator might not notice every single correlation, but with teamwork and careful attention to people, timing and mobile and static vantage points, even subtle correlations can be detected over time and distance.


Where to look from

The principles of SD location are not all that different from those of surveillance. The actual locations might be different, but the principles are essentially the same. You need a location that will enable you to do two important things:

  1. Spot and observe the target.
  2. Not be seen by the target, and/or identified as someone who is observing the target.

The first different between surveillance and SD is who the target is. Though I often refer to the principal as the target, keep in mind that this person is only the target for the surveiller. For the SD team, the surveiller is the target. For this reason, mobile SD operators will want to position themselves in locations from which they can observe the above mentioned “Red Zones”, and where they would ideally not be seen or recognized by surveillers in the “Red Zones”. This can, in some cases, be behind the “Red Zone” or at various angles to it. Keep in mind that this “Red Zone” keeps moving with/behind the mobile principal, and expands around the principal as soon as he/she becomes static. In an ideal situation, you’d want to be able to see both the principal and the “Red Zone” because that way a correlation will be easier to spot. This is easier said than done – especially when going mobile – since the movements and distances involved can make it tricky to keep track of all the different pieces of the puzzle. As far as moving altogether, as I keep mentioning, the ideal way to conduct SD (or any other kind of surveillance) is by remaining static, which necessitates prior knowledge of the movements and destinations of the principal. In this sense, the “mobile” part of Mobile Surveillance Detection refers more to the surveillance rather than to the detection of it.

Remaining static can be most useful when observing locations where the principal changes directions or transitions from mobile to static, and back again. Once these locations are identified in advance, SD operators can position themselves in static SD vantage points in relation to those locations. From the perspective of the SD team, these transition points between directions or movements can be considered as SD ‘choke points’, since they’re locations where the surveiller will be forced to reveal a correlation to the principal, and the more ‘choke points’ you can control and observe, the better chances you have to determine whether someone is correlating to the principal.


Surveillance Detection Route (SDR)

An SDR is a predetermined route that is given to the principal by the SD team in order to allow the team to detect mobile surveillance. This is done by carefully plotting out a route that will include a sufficient number of short stops, long stops and directional transitions that can be observed from SD vantage points. Ideally, this route should not be a routine one (say, from the residence to the workplace), because that route might have already been plotted out by a hostile surveiller, who might by now be able to remain static. Even though the route should not be a routine one, it should still be one that makes sense for the principal to follow. If the route makes no sense at all or contains too many stops and transitions, a cautious hostile surveiller might realizes that it’s an SDR, and break contact. The route must be sufficiently new and interesting (in order to lure a potential surveiller), but not so strange or extraordinary that the surveiller breaks contact.

Since the SD team members are positioned in different locations along the SDR, after the SDR is over, they should pool together their observations to see if the same person/people might have been observed by different team members at different times and locations. This can also be done in real time, with the SD members notifying each other of potential correlations as the principal moves through the SDR (using covert communication, of course). It’s very possible that no single SD team member will detect a strong enough correlation on their own, since they only occupy a single location along the route. It’s like each SD operator only gets a short video clip portion of the full SDR movie, but once all the SD operators splice together their short clips to create the full length movie, longer and more subtle patterns and correlations might begin to appear.

As always – no article, book, or seminar can be said to actually teach people how to conduct surveillance or surveillance detection. Though some of the wording in this article might seem instructional, please keep in mind that this article is not intended to teach anyone how to execute surveillance detection operations.


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