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Lesson 2-7 Detecting Surveillance

Terrorist operations are normally meticulously planned, allowing for the greatest chance of success and safe escape for the terrorists. Reducing vulnerability with security enhancements is vital to your efforts to deter terrorist attacks. Equally important is surveillance detection. In most cases, the target that terrorists select to attack is based on lengthy surveillance. Through surveillance, they hope to learn about your habits and assess where you are vulnerable. By practicing good individual protective measures, you not only disrupt their intelligence gathering efforts, but you also make yourself a “hard target.” Terrorists want to hit “soft” targets, which minimizes their risk of failure. In cases of targets of opportunity, however, the surveillance may last only for a few minutes to hours to confirm the ease of the target. However, terrorists will usually abandon “hard targets” and move on to another “soft target.”

Upon arrival in a new area, begin determining what is normal and routine. Once you’ve determined what is normal and routine, it is easier to determine what is unusual. This makes the problem of identifying surveillance simpler.

Often initial surveillance efforts are conducted by less experienced personnel who may often make mistakes. For example, terrorists will often show up at a surveillance location immediately prior to their target’s arrival and depart immediately after the target leaves. A surveillance program involving family members, neighbors, and domestic employees can often detect this surveillance.

Look for people who are in the wrong place or dressed inappropriately. Eliminate stereotypes about terrorist surveillance personnel; they are often women and children. Be particularly observant when traveling to and from your home or office. Look up and down the streets for suspicious vehicles, motorcycles, mopeds, etc. Note people near your home or place of work who appear to be repair personnel, utility crews, or even peddlers. Ask yourself if they appear genuine or is something unusual?

Types of Surveillance

  • Stationary At home, along route or at work.
  • Following On foot or by vehicle.
  • Monitoring Telephone, mail, computers.
  • Searching Luggage, personal effects, trash.
  • Eavesdropping Electronic and personnel.

Terrorists sometimes employ an elaborate system involving several people and vehicles. Typical surveillance vehicles are motorcycles and cars with multiple personnel. Become familiar with local vehicle makes and models. Memorize and write down license plate numbers. Determine if a surveillance pattern is developing.

Surveillance Indicators

  • Illegally parked or occupied parked vehicles.
  • Cars with large mirrors.
  • Cars that suddenly pull out of parking places or side streets when you pass, cars that move with you when you move, or cars that pass you and immediately park.
  • Cars slowly maneuvering through turns and intersections or vehicles signalling for turns but do not turn.
  • Flashing lights for signaling between cars.
  • Unusual speeding up, slowing down or running red lights to stay up with you.

Conduct a route analysis of your principal routes that you make on routine trips. Identify chokepoints where your vehicle must slow down. Typically these chokepoints are: traffic circles, oneway streets, bridges, and major intersections. Search out safehavens that you can pull into along the route in the event of emergency. If you think you’re being followed, go directly to a safehaven, not your home. Safehavens are generally well lit, public facilities where persons will respond to your request for help. (Examples of a safehaven might be a police station, fire station, large shopping mall, busy restaurant.)

If you are aware of surveillance, never let those watching you know you have figured out what they are doing. Never confront them. Terrorists and criminal elements are typically armed, don’t want to be identified, and may react violently in a confrontation.

Reaction (if in a Vehicle)

  • Circle the block for confirmation of surveillance.
  • Do not stop or take other actions that could lead to confrontation
  • If possible, get a description of the car and its occupants.
  • Go to the nearest safehaven. Report incident to the nearest security or law enforcement organization.

Reaction (if on Foot)

  • Move rapidly towards a safehaven avoiding any route you routinely use.
  • If a safehaven is not immediately available, move into a crowded area.
  • Immediately report suspicions to nearest security element or local law enforcement.


David L. Heiserman, Editor

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All Rights Reserved

Revised: June 06, 2015