The Difficulties of Teaching Surveillance Detection

Since I occasionally get requests from people who want me to train them in surveillance detection, I thought it’ll be a good idea to explain why I very rarely teach SD courses anymore.

I want to make it very clear that what follows are my own personal opinions about the SD marketplace. It stands to reason that others might also share some of these opinions but I’m not trying to make any sweeping statements about the experiences of others or about the industry as a whole.

I am in no way calling for anyone else to reduce or stop teaching SD. On the contrary, when people ask me about training, I’m very happy to refer them most of the time to some great organizations like ESI and AS Solution that provide SD training on a regular basis.

All I’m trying to do is share some of my opinions about a side of the industry that doesn’t usually get discussed.

Training Academy vs Operations Provider

People talk quite a bit about the differences between training and real-world operations. This usually centers around the subject of transitioning from training to field operations or about training academies who also provide field operations. But what you don’t often hear about are the logistical difficulties that a field operations provider has to overcome in order to provide training services—especially in open-enrollment situations.

It’s not a question of better or worse but of different sets of logistical, operational, human resource and marketing requirements. If you’re a field operations provider it becomes difficult to plot-out field locations for exercises, take field operators away from their shifts in order to give them sporadic surveillance role-play schedules, deal with external trainee (rather than internal employee) safety and liability concerns, and sort through the mess of calls and emails from prospective trainees who ask for discounts, different training dates, free accommodation, specifically formatted diplomas, and on and on…

I don’t mean to denigrate people’s training requirements, it’s just very difficult for a protective services provider to give trainees what they’ve become accustomed to getting from training academies.

All of these difficulties can absolutely be overcome if the organization has a sufficient amount of time, resources and willingness to do so. And once again, I want to give a big tip-of-the-hat to those who manage do this on a regular basis.

Realism in SD Training

Besides the huge headaches, there’s no denying that SD courses can also be a lot of fun. Staging elaborate field exercises where trainees have to go through bustling financial districts and world-famous landmarks while trying to detect multiple hostile role-players who are surveilling a principal can be a trip.

The problem is that real-world SD operations rarely look like that. Real-world SD operations can be extremely boring, stressful and frustrating—all at the same time. But these, unfortunately, aren’t very good ingredients for a training product that’s supposed to excite, motivate and satisfy the people you try to market and sell it to.

As long as your trainees are paying customers (rather than your own employees), there’s always going to be the temptation to satisfy them, even if it means you compromise realism. And this is the primary reason why most courses (including the ones that are marketed as realistic) misrepresent actual SD operations.

SD courses can be very important in order to get the SD ball rolling (as in my case), but many of them can also instill some misconceptions and fail to equip trainees with some of the vital tools and coping mechanisms that are important for field operations.

Also, SD is often a complete paradigm-changer, especially for seasoned security professionals. This means that many operators with years of military, law enforcement and high-level protection experience tend to do horribly when it comes to covert methodology and surveillance detection. The process of getting better at it is constructed of countless mistakes you have to make—embarrassing mistakes that have to be pointed out to you. Of course, I’m not excluding myself from this. I too was quite terrible when I first started.

It’s a hard pill for many people to swallow and the fact of the matter is that some people simply can’t succeed in a week-long SD course. This isn’t a problem when the course is an internal one where trainees get a dose of harsh realism—no sugar-coating or participation diplomas. Trainees that don’t do well simply don’t make the cut and don’t get to participate in field operations. But when the trainees are paying customer, there’s always going to be the temptation to soften things up and to massage field exercises in order to manufacture success.

In case you’re wondering, I have in fact tried giving paying trainees a harsh dose of field reality. And though they did end up learning quite a bit from it, the course as a training product that needs to satisfy paying customers, was decidedly a bad one.

I spent a few years teaching SD (first, as an assistant to my Israeli instructor and later, on my own). But as my operational SD experience grew, I increasingly lost my stomach for the SD training market.

Speaking engagements and lecture classes are still things I occasionally do (in addition to writing, of course), but apart from very rare cases, the only SD trainings I’ve been providing for the last few years have been internal, for HighCom employees who work with me in SD field operations.

I do realize that this might just the way the training industry works, and that just because I lost my stomach for it, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with it. Fair enough. I’ll let you, dear reader, be the judge of that. If that’s the case, then I wish more power to all the training professionals who’ve managed to figure out what I haven’t.

In any event, I just wanted to come clean and explain to all the good people who’ve been asking me for training why I so rarely offer it.

To get more insights on SD training, on the realities of covert field operations and on what it takes for you to get into this field, please read this article, and this one.

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One thought on “The Difficulties of Teaching Surveillance Detection

  1. Thanks for the honesty, Ami. It makes a let of sense to distinguish between service providers and training providers, and not to look for a one-stop shop. I’ve noticed the same dynamic with CP and general security training.

    You mentioned several US-based SD training providers. Are there any you would suggest that are based in Europe or Israel?

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