Applying Covert Field-craft in Your Daily Life

Many people might find it surprising but much of the field-craft that goes into such things as surveillance detection and special protective operations—even some of the sexier stuff—can be applied in your own life as well.

For example, the three-part article series about Circles of Security (part 1, part 2, part 3) I wrote a while back can be applied to your own home. As can the principles of Surveillance Mapping I explained and my recommendations on security camera placements.

The surveillance detection and surveillance evasion principles I’ve written about can be applied to you and your loved ones. The Inductive Observation skills I often talk about can be applied anytime and anywhere. It’s all a question of which assets (people, property, information, reputations and valuables) you care about and how you can better protect them. In essence, this is what all protective strategies are based on—so why not take some of that wisdom and apply it to the assets you yourself hold most dear?

The lessons shared in these articles, and in my book, Surveillance Zone, are meant to raise your awareness and help you improve your own security. With that said, I’m not suggesting you start living your life in some paranoid security bubble. I certainly don’t live my life that way. Knowing about the tactics used in covert operations doesn’t mean you have to automatically implement them. But expanding your knowledge and raising your consciousness can help you make more informed decisions about your security.

For example, there’s a reason why homes with burglar alarm stickers on their doors tend to have lower break-in rates. It’s because hostile surveillants tend to scratch them off their potential target lists in favor of houses that seem easier (good idea to put some stickers on your doors). There’s also a reason why you tend to find more vehicle break-ins where cars are parked in front of walls or large bushes rather than in front of private homes. These are areas where a hostile surveillant can operate with a lower risk of being detected (good idea to avoid parking your car overnight in front of a wall, bush, or empty lot).

Likewise, there’s a reason why two personal friends of mine—on two separate occasions—had the trunks of their cars broken into, each losing a very valuable item. It appeared to them as a complete mystery. They didn’t leave their cars parked for long, no other vehicles around had been broken into, and there was no way for the criminals to look into the trunks of their cars and see that a valuable item was hidden there. So how could the thieves have known which trunks to break into? The answer, of course, is that both of my friends had been covertly surveilled while they placed the expensive items in the trunks of their cars, since they both hid these items after arriving in the area. It wasn’t luck—it was hostile surveillance that lead the thieves to those specific vehicles. Incidentally, if you must store something in the trunk of your car, put it in there before you leave your initial location, not after you’ve already parked at your destination.

There’s also a reason why stalkers usually start by following their victims on social media, then close in on their victim’s residence and workplace, and then begin following them to see where they go from there. This is a classic hostile planning process in which the hostile planner, or stalker, initially pulls their intel from readily available open sources before transitioning to static surveillance and then moving on to mobile surveillance.

I could keep going with lots more examples like these but the underlying messages would be the same: Learn how to look at the world from different perspectives. Understand how places and people—including yourself—can appear to potential hostile observers, and then change how you do things in order to shift the risk/benefit balance that a hostile planner uses to assess you. I know this might sound like highly technical, cloak-and-dagger kind of stuff, but the majority of defensive maneuvers and tactics are almost laughably simple.

And yet, just because they’re simple doesn’t mean everyone is born with innate knowledge about how to stay safe. Common sense is not always that common, at least not to those who never really stop to think about it.

Speaking of common, it’s at this point that I often get one of the more predictable objections to educating people about surveillance, surveillance detection, and protective operations. Aren’t I helping the ‘bad guys’ by teaching them how to surveil? Aren’t I also informing them of how security works, and therefore, on how to bypass our protective efforts?

Well, the answer to the first question is that the ‘bad guys’ don’t usually need much help when it comes to surveillance. They’re the ones who already know how it works. In my experience, it’s the ‘good guys’ who are mostly in the dark about it (since they’ve never had any reason to think about it or experience it). Not to denigrate my professional field, but it’s not exactly rocket science. Acquiring the skills is mostly a matter of raising your consciousness and sensitivity and gaining some experience in it—things that most ‘bad guys’ have already done. Now it’s your turn to catch up.

As for the second question, the answer is also no. Equipping a hostile planner with general knowledge about protective operations doesn’t really help them bypass or evade security measures (as long as the information isn’t too specific). This is because general knowledge about a target doesn’t eliminate the need for the hostile planner to eventually show up in the area of the target (in order to collect more detailed information). It’s at this point that we, as security professionals, can deter, detect, acknowledge, or investigate the potential hostile observer.

One of the most empowering things to learn about crime and criminals is how relatively vulnerable they are during their planning and surveillance stages, and how relatively simple it is to detect and deter them once you understand how things work. These vulnerabilities are inherent in the nature of crime and cannot simply be overcome or bypassed by knowing a bit more about security.

Again, the ‘bad guys’ already know this since they’re the ones who are experienced in balancing high-risk situations. The ‘good guys’ are the ones who need to catch up on what’s going on around them.

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