In a recent intelligence paper, I read that it is common for terrorists to stake out and study a target before committing to action. And if such surveillance is not detected, their plans continue unabated. So in the hope of keeping you more alert, and safer, lets look at this topic to detect and then evade the surveillance team. There are two parts to this discussion. One is identifying a tail, the second is eluding them.
A big part of this is daily preparation to make yourself difficult to track and to facilitate eluding any tracker. Now look, if you are Joe Stockbroker, or Phil Physicalthreapist, taking the same precautions as an active Intelligence Agent in a foreign and unfriendly nation is excessive. So keep it all in proper perspective for your current position in life.
First consider equipping yourself in a way that you do not excessively stand out in a crowd. There is a great scene in the movie "The Thomas Crown Affair" where every "suspect" is dressed the same way, facilitating Pierce Brosnan's character to elude the police. Obviously you can't cause 1000 guys to dress just like you, but you can dress in a way that you look like everyone else.
Your vehicle would be fairly common if this is a concern. Keeping track of the red Corvette is far easier than the black Camaro. If you are really concerned, change modes of transportation often and randomly. Taxi, bus, tram, on foot, etc. Again, keep it real.
If you have real concern over being followed, your clothing should be layers and of varying shades and colors. Earth tones are far better than basic colors. Watchers keep track of colors and types of clothing. Those descriptors are easy to follow in a crowd. For example, if you are wearing a black hoodie with a logo on it, ducking into a store and shedding the black hoodie to reveal the blue t-shirt underneath may give followers several moments of confusion. Same for hats....blue baseball hat, black beanie, grey hoodie, no hat, changing will make it difficult to pinpoint you visually.
Consider your footwear and pants. These are difficult to change compared to shirts, jackets and hats. So the answer is the next best thing....wear what everyone wears. Can't go wrong with jeans, and darker colored shoes anywhere in the western world. In a crowd what you tend to see are shirts and heads, so if you can disguise those, you will have most of it done. If there are 500 people in the area all wearing jeans and dark shaded shoes, that may not be such an identifier.
Faces are another matter. You will look differently with sunglasses on than without them. Putting on a hat will change your profile from what it was without the hat. One man I worked with cultivated long hair and a scraggly beard. His reasoning was that if he needed to disappear, all around him would be fixed on his current look (which he sported for a year). Ten minutes in a public restroom and he would be clean shaven with greased back hair. Natures' Mask so to speak. You would be hard pressed to outwit facial recognition technology, but deceiving human eyes is easy.
Consider as well that technical surveillance is far more accessible to everyone. But so is counter surveillance. If you have reason to believe that you are truly being "tailed", you might want to use burn phones rather than a legitimate good guy smart phone. You might also want to use transportation other than your own vehicle. Avoiding technical surveillance is easier than detecting it. But you can use it to your benefit by videoing those around you without them realizing, as well as setting up covert monitoring in areas that your watchers would need to traverse.
Next is a series of actions that will identify anyone that might be tailing or watching you. We used to do tail checks if we were working UC and wanted to know if the bad guys were now conducting surveillance on us. Some call this a "cleaning run" as well. We would often see the bad guys do this as well when they suspected they were being followed. The more thorough their cleaning run, the harder it was to follow them discreetly.
Driving requires taking some risks, and violating some traffic laws. We have all seen the scatter-brained driver that makes an unexpected turn, or changes lanes, or seems to be reading a map. They are infuriating as they disrupt the entire flow of traffic. Take a page from their chaotic book and do likewise.
Get off the freeway suddenly, cutting across three lanes, and then go right to the nearest gas station as if you suddenly realized your tank was near empty. Then watch who arrives after you. Make a mental note of the cars in the event you see them again. A car that is seen several times throughout the day that happens to be at all the places you go might need a closer look.
Drive to a heavily trafficked public place, park and get out on foot. Go have a coffee or a drink, and watch those around you. Then suddenly get up and get on a bus. Do something totally random and unexpected. Any surveillance team will now have to divide to have some watchers stay with your car while others follow the bus. Who is following the bus.
A really good way to handle this was to get off the bus and walk into another public area where a second car was parked. There will be a time when any team will lose sight of you with the amount of chaos. This is when you change the clothing, hat, and appearance, get into the new vehicle and drive off.
To hard shake a tail, wait until a light is red, then blow through it. You may get a traffic ticket, but then again, probably not. Who also runs that light?
While on foot, notice who seems to be there repeatedly. Once may be a coincidence, three or four times? While "professionals" will likely be men or women between 21 and 65, "amateur watchers" may be children as well. Watch for anything that seems unusual, unusually repetitive, or stands out. A guy in a suit may fit in downtown, but would stand out in a rural area. Oftentimes surveillance is not good at hiding in plain sight.
The purpose of the tail check is to identify and/or lose surveillance. When you've finished a tail check you should feel confident that no one is watching or following. The tail check can be done in various ways or combinations, or by traveling a confusing or unpredictable route. A thorough tail check could take several hours, could cover a large area and involve various means of transportation. Some tail check methods include:
Go to the mall. Those surveilling you will invariably follow. Go into a large store, like Sears, and bounce from one department to the next...buy a couple of shirts...a few socks. And watch. Who are the possibles that you thought were tailing you, that happen to also now be shopping for the same things as you?
Shop like a woman. If you have ever shopped with a female shopper you know they are in one spot of the store and then for no apparent reason they get up and go shop somewhere else...and then back to where they started. So here is what you do.
In a public place, walk in one direction casually and then pick up your phone. Then start talking as if you were having a conversation. You've seen people do this. They seem to wander and talk seemingly paying no attention to anything but their conversation. Do the same thing as it allows you to create chaos in movement and travel, which if emulated by others, is again indicative.
Make a very obvious drop of something inconsequential...a manila envelope with nothing in it, a folded piece of paper, or a gum pack. Leave it on the table at the coffee shop, discreetly place it in someone's briefcase, etc. Or simply strike up a conversation with a total stranger and the abruptly leave. All of these will diminish the "tail team's" ability to stay up with you as they redeploy assets to retrieve things and follow inconsequential leads.
If you have a possible, one way to identify them is to make a discreet call to the police reporting the suspicious armed man "casing the store" across from your coffee shop. This is another possible use for a burn phone. Watch the police contact the "tail". Does he show ID? Do they arrest him? Do they act as if he is a colleague? How do they interact with him? This will give you a great deal of information on your "tail". This can also be used to elude the tail.
If you identify a "tail", it is always best to never acknowledge it. I understand the "something in us" that wants to confront the tail, probably while bouncing his face off a Coke Machine.
I recall one time I was "made" and the guy, a big wrestler type walked and shoved me. My initial instinct was of course to want to break his knee, but mission takes precedence. I was watching him and knew he had made me and knew he was coming so as soon as he shoved me, I yelled fearfully, "Hey man...don't hurt me...someone call the police!". He left and the beer was on me for having been made. So resist the temptation to confront the tail, as it leads nowhere. He can simply deny everything and that is that. Use the tail check to observe and if you realize someone is in fact following you, there are plenty of things that can be done to identify them, and/or elude them.
What did I give the big thug in the story? Nothing. He was still followed and we eventually got what we wanted. I did not say, "Well Mr. Bruiser, You got me...I am working for the LA Task Force and we have had you on our radar now for several weeks due to your possible involvement with the Red Door gang members". Instead, I acted like a scared little girl.
So don't get angry, be smart and stay cool. Once you are certain of the surveillance on you, and have identified key players, consider how you profit from it. What do you want to gain?
Options - call your team mates, or friends and have them get into position to do a counter surveillance on them. Advise them of the party's clothing, description, etc. Then when they have him, shake the tail in some form that appears to be so random its almost stupid coincidence. Make it seem as if they lost you, not that you lost them. But then have your guys tail them and report back. In today's techno-climate photos should be super easy as well.
Options - Have your guys watch them as you make a passing contact with a non involved party. Drop something in their bag, and then leave. Have your guys see if that "contact" is left alone or stopped.
Options - If you are good, once you lose the tail, you can begin tailing them. Here is one way. Like I mentioned, wear layers if you can. Surveillers will be focusing on the guy in the black jacket. Pop into the head, ditch the black jacket and wear the "sport's team" hoodie underneath. You can even change the way you walk from an athletic youth to an older man with a cane.
Grab that red hat, and those reading glasses and you are in effect a different person. They will not have done that, as they are still in "hunter mode" and don't know they have become prey. You, however know who they are and what they look like. If in doubt, they will be the guys that look like they have lost someone. Watch them and see what they do, who they talk with, etc.
All of that will give you bits of information that you can work into workable intelligence of what, why, who, etc. That will be far more valuable than showing the guy that you are a bad dude.
If you are a middle school math teacher you probably don't have to concern yourself too much about this, but if you are involved in activities where the opposition might want to know more about your movements, these points will help you identify them if they are there and deal with them once identified.