Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a series of analyses on surveillance and countersurveillance.
Victims of planned hostile actions — such as kidnappings or killings — almost always are closely monitored by their attackers in advance of the operation. Such pre-operational surveillance enables the plotters to determine the best method of attack, as well as the best time and place to carry it out. Savvy countersurveillance, however, can go a long way toward thwarting a hostile act.
The cardinal rule for personal safety is for people to be aware of their surroundings at all times and to observe the behavior of others in the area. However, detecting surveillance — especially when it is performed well — often requires that one take extra precautions. One of the best ways for a person to determine whether he or she is being tailed is to use a surveillance detection route (SDR). By altering their behavior, those under surveillance can manipulate the situation, causing members of the surveillance team to act in ways that betray their presence and intentions. In fact, understanding that a potential victim can manipulate a surveillance situation is one of the most important lessons to be gleaned from this series.
Although hiring professional surveillance detection and countersurveillance teams — or drivers trained to provide more than a smooth ride — are obvious choices, not everyone who is at risk has the resources to do so. Individuals, however, can take a number of steps to determine whether they are under hostile surveillance. Techniques for manipulating surveillance teams include stair-stepping, varying routes and departure times, using intrusion points, and timing stops.
The most common and effective SDR tool is the channel — a long, straight corridor that has several exits or routes at the far end. A person who wants to ensure he is not being tailed can use the channel to force the surveillant to follow closely behind. This is because the operative cannot parallel the subject's route and cannot know which way the subject will go at the end of the channel. Natural channels are long narrow bridges and sections of highway that have no exits or overpasses, but that branch out in a number of routes on the far side. The subway is also a type of channel. Most people likely use such channels in their daily routes but are unaware of them.
Stair-stepping involves making turns — in a vehicle or on foot — that deviate slightly from the most direct route to the destination. During a stair-stepping sequence, a surveillant is likely to reveal his presence by staying with his subject during the series of turns — a common mistake among amateur surveillance operatives who fear losing sight of the target. The subject, however, should not make sudden, unnatural movements, or the surveillance team will break off without revealing its presence.
By varying routes and departure times, the subject can cause surveillants to go into action abruptly in order to compensate for the change in plans. Unless it has a wide area covered, the team could be forced to break off surveillance or act more overtly to prevent losing its target. Varying departure times from fixed locations such as the home or office also can be quite effective because it can force the surveillants to remain in one place longer than anticipated — and thus attract attention.
An intrusion point is a place along a person's route, preferably with a secondary exit such as a back door, where a surveillance target can stop and see whether anyone is following. If the intrusion point has a secondary exit, the subject can give the surveillance team the slip by heading out the back door. If the surveillance team knows the place, however, it could very well have another surveillant waiting by the secondary exit. This kind of coverage generally requires the kind of resources that only a government can lavish on a surveillance operation. Intrusion points — like all parts of the SDR — cannot be random. They should be planned in advance and worked into a daily routine.
Finally, conducting timing stops is one more way to spot hostile surveillance. A timing stop is a place where a person stops and looks back before reaching the final destination to ensure he is not being tailed. It doesn't have to be long — especially in a vehicle.
Physical threats to individuals from terrorists, assassins, kidnappers or even stalkers are site-dependant. The assailants choose the location and timing of their attack based on criteria that gives them the best chance of successfully carrying out the attack and — unless the attacker is mentally disturbed or on a suicide mission — of escaping. These criteria include restricting or controlling the target's ability to maneuver or escape, and providing optimal cover for any surveillance or attack team.
Another way to safeguard against potential hazards is by conducting an analysis of one's normal route to identify points of vulnerability such as overpasses, bridges and tunnels, to minimize hazards and deny potential attackers any advantage. Route analysis can also identify potential attack sites — points along the route that restrict the target's movement, and provide cover and an escape route for the attackers. Once a potential attack site is identified, possible vantage points — or perches — for hostile surveillance or attack teams should be watched.
High-profile individuals or anyone who resides in a high-crime or -terrorism area such as Mexico City or Baghdad should take the initiative and identify surveillants before they have the opportunity to strike. Once hostile surveillance has been identified, immediate action should be taken and assistance called in.