The Art Of Counter Surveillance: 5 Ways to Shake a Tail
by David Bruce
March 29, 2022
The cat and mouse game is played daily. The mouse moves and surveillance teams, made up of a variety of different criminal organizations or hostile foreign actors follow. With the ever-increasing state of surveillance, you don’t have to be a spy, or a political dissident to find yourself being tailed by a surveillance team.
So What Is Counter Surveillance?
For one US based journalist, all it took was asking questions about a movie director –with a penchant for exposing himself to actresses– to pick up a tail from a shadowy Israeli company. The good news is: conducting mobile surveillance is difficult. The team has to keep their subject in a moving bubble, without becoming detected. Understanding these counter-surveillance techniques can mean the difference between getting home safe or ending up in someone’s trunk.
1. Use Surveillance Detection Routes (SDRs)
The best way to avoid surveillance is by varying your routine and avoiding routes you habitually use. Surveillance teams often set up along a route that you frequently travel, by setting up choke points anywhere a decision has to be made think T intersections. Avoid straight routes to your regular destinations. Also, pay attention at decision points – watch for vehicles scrambling when you take a left where you usually take a right.
2. Drive in the Right Lane
If that fails and you think you picked up a tail, get on a highway. Drive like you’re driving Miss Daisy. Take it nice and slow and stay in the right lane (the exit lane). Cars don’t normally travel in this lane so if you pass three exits and the creepy tinted out minivan is still on your tail; it’s time to get creative. Grab your backpack and ditch the car in a public area.
3. Force the pass
When rounding a corner on foot, stop abruptly, to text, window-shop, or make a call. This forces the operative closest to you, to either stop in their tracks and expose themselves, or walk by you and pass the information to the rest of the team to scramble someone into the mix that hasn’t been burned yet. This will also provide you with valuable information, if the person walks right by you, they are likely trained, if they panic and stop, this follower is likely new to the game and this could just be a crime of opportunity, like a mugger or pickpocket: Street Magicians.
4. The Cover Stop
Move along your path, work your SDRs, avoiding going from point A to Point B in a straight line and use a cover stop. Duck into a shop or a café and watch what’s taking place. With your choke point established, you now have the initiative and have flipped their script on them. Order a coffee, have a seat, and just wait for the close-eye to enter. That’s the team member who’s following you most closely. They’ll likely set up somewhere at your 10:00 or 2:00 O’clock to avoid being in your direct line of sight. While the eye watches and relays information by text or push to talk, the team outside is setting up new choke points on the one you went in. It’s time to find a back door, this’ll buy you some time.
5. Employ Wardrobe Changes
If you can find a hotel, that’s the gold standard for shaking a tail. It provides a lot of uncertainty. Is the person checking in, meeting someone, or going to an established safe room? The hotel offers multiple bathrooms and exits. Find a secluded bathroom and conduct your wardrobe change. Nothing fancy – ditch the jacket, put on a hat, and put your backpack into a sack-pack of a different color. One note of caution, a professional surveillance team will make note of your footwear and be looking for that. If you have the space, I highly recommend bringing a change of shoes.
When it comes to counter surveillance you never confront, that just ups the ante, and you become rolled up by a criminal group, or the goons hired by your crazy ex. This is a situation that requires some planning, some tried and true techniques and Jedi-level situational awareness skills to overcome.