Many people tend to think that in order to detect physical surveillance, one should look for individuals who seem suspicious, out of place, or otherwise engaged in nervous observations. Though these characteristics might be observed in many situations, the very first thing that a well trained surveillance operative will learn is how to not exhibit these traits.
As had been discussed in an earlier article, some of the more subtle indicators that a person might be conducting surveillance can include (but are not limited to): observing and/or photographing the target, movements along/behind a mobile target, and communicating or even simply gesturing in conjunction with a target’s movements or actions. To get an idea of just how subtle such indicators can be, try to imagine a targeted individual, say, a CEO, walking into a crowded restaurant for a scheduled lunch meeting with an important client. As the CEO sits down at the table, a person from the back of the crowded restaurant picks up his cellphone and types a few things into it before putting it back down. Forty five minutes later, when the CEO and his client get up and leave the restaurant, the man at the back table, who was already holding his phone, types a few things into it again. He then pays for his meal and leaves the restaurant a few minutes later. Considering the fact that most of us have our phones in our hands much of the time, one out of any number of individuals holding their phones in a busy restaurant should not seem the least bit suspicious. And yet, for a well trained observer, the timing of such a thing (at the arrival and departure of the target), in addition to the location from which this was done (a table that provides a logical vantage point), might indicate a very subtle yet real correlation to the target. Even the most casual of actions could be all it takes to communicate, take note, or even photograph, when such a target arrives, who he meets, and when he departs.
Another type of correlation that had been previously discussed is a correlation over time and distance. This correlation could be either harder or easier to detect (unfortunately, it’s usually harder), since no correlative action is necessarily detected. The correlation in this case is the mere presence of the same individual (or possibly a number of individuals) in the vicinity of the target. No direct observation, communication, photographing, movement, or even subtle correlative gestures are detected, and yet, there the the person is – over and over again in different times and places where the target just so happens to be.
The reasons why no correlative actions are being detected might be a result of the surveillance operative’s skillfulness, his/her use of covert devices, the relatively lower skill-set or operational abilities of the SD operative, or all of the above. This isn’t a matter of failure or blame (even experienced SD operatives are only human after all), but simply a question of being open to more available options when it comes to potential surveillance indicators.
One of the things that makes detecting correlation over time and distance so difficult, however, is that it’s not so much a matter of detecting the person him/herself, as it is the ability to remember or recognize that one individual out of a roomful of people, also happens to be the same individual from an earlier roomful of people a few hours ago; who was also the same individual from an even earlier street full of people yesterday. This means that an additional dimension of difficulty is added to the detection of surveillance. Real time detection of correlative actions might not be enough. There might be a need to memorize or list all the individuals who have occupied tables, benches or any other potential vantage point around the target during the day (regardless of whether or not they correlated in action), and later on, to compare those individuals to future individuals in different times and/or locations around the target. If any individuals come up as common denominators, this might indicate that a correlation over time and/or distance is happening.
There will be, I can tell you, an abundance of false positives when it comes to detecting surveillance indicators of this sort. Keep in mind that people – all people – tend to be creatures of habit. The same individual, looking out of a coffee shop window at a secured facility every morning, is worth noting to be sure, but this has to be balanced out somehow with the simple realization that every coffee shop has its regulars, who often like to sit at the same tables. And though experience, and a number of very good tools, might help clear out some of the white noise, there are no silver bullet formulas that can absolutely guarantee no false positives. One way to think about it is that you should always have more potential positives than actual ones – as long as you don’t go overboard with it. It’s true that anyone could potentially conduct surveillance, but if you end up with fifty potential surveillance operatives at any given location, then even if one of them happens to be real, you are unlikely to find the surveillance needle in the potential haystack you’ve piled up. One useful tip, at least when it comes to correlations over distance, is that if you see the same person once again, it’s a coincidence, twice again elevates it to suspicious, three times – you have a correlation. This is imperfect, to be sure, but it at least gives you something to start with.
A useful exercise that might help grasp the concept of correlation over time and distance is something I like to call Where’s Waldo? (or Where’s Wally, if you’re more familiar with the original UK version). The general idea behind the Where’s Waldo game pretty much corresponds to the gist of detecting correlations over time and distance. Spot the individual who keeps appearing over and over again in different places and times. The added difficulty when it comes to surveillance detection however, is that you don’t usually know who this person is and what they look like, so before you can start “playing” Where’s Waldo, you’re going to have to figure out Who’s Waldo.
Go ahead and test yourself with the following series of photos (you can click on them to slightly enlarge them). The size and quality of these photos is purposely low, since you should not expect any kind of royal treatment when it comes to what might amount to very brief glimpses in real life public locations.
These photos were all taken in the same downtown area within the span of two hours. Try to detect if there are any individuals who keep appearing in different photos, and leave a comment below with your conclusions.
As always – no article, book, or seminar can be said to actually teach people how to perform 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.