How to Determine When You Are Under Physical Surveillance

Spread the love

How to Determine When You Are Under Physical Surveillance

Predator: Jim. P., Special Forces Operations Operative

Discussion: Are you setting yourself up for an attack?

Bad guys watch your every move to identify the times you travel and the routes you take to determine their attack points. Jim P. shares his first-hand insights on how to know when you’re under physical surveillance and what to do about it.

Most people zone out and don’t pick up obvious signs of someone watching them. They have their noses in their phones. Now they’re trying to catch Pokémon. What they’re not catching are the less-than-imaginary creatures who may lurk right in front of them.

Think it can’t happen? What about the thief who’s been staking out your house? The rapist who knows your daily routine?

The most important thing – don’t want to let the bad guy know you’re on to him (or her). Your role isn’t to confront or alert the surveillance team, but to increase your awareness, escape the bad guy, or wolf, and seek help from the appropriate authorities.

Phase One of Surveillance

The first phase of any criminal or other type of attack is information collection. One or more bad guys will follow, observe and track every movement of the target, aka YOU.

That means they want to know where you are staying, where you work, your modes of transportation, the routes you walk and drive, where you dine, and who you dine with. They want to know everything about you.

All of this information is used to create a “pattern of life,” of your daily, weekly and monthly activities.

Most people form habits and go about their daily lives in predictable ways.

Once your “pattern of life” is analyzed, the crook or terrorist determines the vulnerabilities that set you up for attack, exploitation and kidnapping scenarios. Timelines, routes and destinations can be collected by both technical and physical surveillance.

walking the dog under surveillance

It’s Your Routine, Stupid!

The first weapon in their arsenal is your routine, and your first line of defense is varying or shifting that routine.

Instead of following a regular, predictable routine, always change it up. You’ll keep potential threats off balance and make it difficult to target you.

Break down your routines into three dimensions — time, routes and destinations. These must all be altered on a regular basis. Constant changes make targeting difficult.

Physical surveillance is an art, and it takes a considerable amount of training for a team to be effective. Criminals or terrorist are often sloppy and easy to spot.

Knowing the several types of surveillance can help to identify when you are under surveillance.

Active Surveillance

This type of surveillance is often short-term and is used by a trained team for pre-attack, pre-capture or pre-arrest.

An untrained team may employ this technique and compromise themselves early due to overly aggressive tactics.

Active surveillance consists of constant foot and mobile shadowing of the target by single or multiple surveillant(s) with hourly activity.

Passive Surveillance

Passive surveillance is longer-term and has limited exposure to the target.

A trained or untrained surveillance team may use passive surveillance during an initial pattern of life analysis, or when discretion is paramount.

Passive surveillance consists of static surveillance by single or multiple surveillant(s) staged at particular points of interest (e.g., home or work). Typically, no actual following of the target takes place.

Surveillance can also be categorized as static (fixed) or mobile (the follow).

In static surveillance, the bad guys observe the target from a specific, fixed location around the target person’s residence, office or hotel.

In mobile surveillance, the bad guys follow the target whenever the person moves. This can be done either on foot or by car.

surveillance of man on subway

Confirming Physical Surveillance

One way to confirm surveillance is to use the TEDD approach: Time, Environment, Distance and Demeanor.

Assume you’re under surveillance if you see someone repeatedly over time, in different environments and over distance.

For good measure, a conspicuous display of poor demeanor, or the person acting unnaturally, is another sign that you might be under surveillance. With poor demeanor, trust your “spidey” sense. When it begins to tingle, pay attention!

Signs of poor demeanor:

  • a person being somewhere he has no purpose being or for doing something he has no reason to be doing (blatant poor demeanor) or something more subtle
  • moving when the target moves
  • communicating when the target moves
  • avoiding eye contact with the target
  • making sudden turns or stops
  • using hand signals to communicate with other members of a surveillance team

For terrorists, poor demeanor can also include:

  • wearing unseasonably warm clothing, such as trench coats in the summer
  • displaying odd bulges under clothing or wires protruding from clothing
  • unnaturally sweating, mumbling or fidgeting
  • attempting to avoid security personnel
  • (potentially) an intense stare for suicide bombers at the final stage of their mission

There’s no single technique to confirm or deny surveillance

It’s important to know your environment, understand the threats within the environment, and employ an approach of Total Awareness (Personal, Cultural, Third Party and Situational Awareness). That way, you’ll have a good chance of detecting surveillance and avoiding its potential outcomes.


In addition to garden variety criminals, if traveling abroad for business, you could be targeted by an intelligence agency, a security service, or for that matter, a competitor, if you have knowledge of or are carrying sensitive or proprietary information.

Be suspicious of anyone who approaches you, especially if the interaction just doesn’t seem right.

Trust Your Judgment

This includes repeated contact with a local or third-country national at social or business functions who is not connected with your business interests or the purpose of your visit.

You also need to be careful about forming a closer relationship than necessary with a foreign national of a hostile host government that goes beyond necessary business purposes.

Be wary of accidental encounters with unknown locals who strike up conversations for seemingly innocent reasons, like learning English, or other reasons to begin a “friendly” relationship.

If you have any reason to believe that you are being targeted by a criminal, intelligence or security service, or terrorist group, there is only one course of action to follow: report your suspicions to the local authorities (when in the United States).

When traveling abroad, report it to your company, affiliate, embassy or consulate, then follow their guidance.

Spread the love