Basic surveillance skills are essential within the close protection industry. Ultimately, if someone wishes to cause physical and or reputational harm to a Principal, it will most likely stem from a period of surveillance either electronically or physically.
Any client that has hired close protection services has the potential to be surveilled. A threat and risk assessment can ascertain the level of hostile surveillance expected towards a Principal.
Weaknesses and opportunities are identified by watching, listening, learning and understanding the movements of a Principal, their close protection team or other subjects of interest. Undesirables conducting hostile surveillance will then be able to exploit opportunities to attack, disrupt, harm or steal successfully.
CPOs are at risk of being surveilled because adversaries wishing to target a Principal can leverage information gathered by learning their habits and routines. For example, an attack planned using knowledge of a CPO’s favourite route to and from the Principal’s residence.
So, understanding surveillance, why and how it could be used against a close protection operative, and a Principal, is vital in safely protecting the Principal. Knowing that the Principal or CPO could be or are being surveilled is the only way to avoid being surveilled or countering the surveillance and mitigating any risk posed.
Without a CPO having a basic working knowledge of surveillance, opportunities for an attack and exploitation are opened up.
In the Close Protection context, surveillance is gathering information for a planned or ad hoc operation on a person, a place or an object by monitoring or closely watching. Effective surveillance is usually unseen or undetected, i.e. covert.
Basic surveillance techniques rely on identifying patterns in behaviour. In this context, it’s useful to think of the ‘four sames’. These are:
Surveillance may be covert or overt, depending on the operational plan.
Depending on the target, operatives conducting surveillance may be mobile or static, often a combination of both. When mobile, a CPO could be on foot, in a vehicle or using any other form of transport as appropriate.
The demands and surveillance techniques used may differ according to the operational environment. For example, conducting covert surveillance in an urban environment will require a bigger team with more assets. It will involve static monitoring using covert cameras and others being mobile on foot or ‘Foxtrot’. In contrast, a rural setting may require a smaller team to remain covert and involve using appropriate vehicles, tracking devices, drones, night vision capability and a good pair of binoculars!
Once a CPO has an understanding of physical surveillance, they can then employ the art of anti-surveillance.
The purpose of anti-surveillance is to detect if surveillance is being carried out on the Principal, yourself or operation. Understanding anti-surveillance tactics and techniques will enable a CPO to avoid being surveilled or lose any suspected hostile surveillance.
Anti-surveillance identifies sources of unwanted attention such as known criminals: media, followers, stalkers, fixated persons, groups (e.g. protest groups) or forms of hostile reconnaissance.
Close protection operatives should always be surveillance aware, with or without their Principal, as they may be the target themselves. A proficient close protection operative will have excellent situational awareness and observation skills. Always remember ‘presence of the abnormal, absence of the normal’ is a clear combat indicator.
Anti-surveillance reduces opportunities to be surveilled. Spotting hostile surveillance disrupts the gathering of intelligence and information on the CPO or Principal.
Anti-surveillance drills enable operatives to lose any surveillance or ‘tails’ successfully. For example, vehicle mobile drills include:
Other reconnaissance techniques are used by advanced driver trained security chauffeurs or a security advance party (SAP) to identify and mitigate hostile surveillance.
There are subtle differences between anti-surveillance and counter-surveillance.
Counter-surveillance is “watching those that are watching you”. Principals often employ a counter-surveillance operative or team to follow them. This team could be a third party team. The counter-surveillance role is to ensure that any unknown potential threats are not watching the Principal. If the counter-surveillance confirms and locates the surveillance against the Principal, the counter-surveillance team will continue to surveil the ‘hostile’ surveillance to gather as much information as possible. The appropriate resources can then be deployed to react to the surveillance.
Counter-surveillance covers drills used by individuals or a team to evade surveillance. These are measures taken to surveil if you are being surveilled. These usually covert techniques are an entirely other skill-set again. Passive or active detection methods may be used.
Sources of Unwanted Attention
Electronic surveillance is a fine art with a much higher success rate if appropriately conducted by trained and experienced specialists.
Electronic surveillance can be as simple as placing a tracker on a vehicle or purchasing a cheap listening device from the Internet and placing it in a room that the target of the surveillance will visit. At the other end of the spectrum comes high-level government surveillance with unlimited resources and agents using devices that are not publically available.
Surveillance equipment available to CPOs includes radios, mobile phones, static CCTV, covert mobile surveillance platforms (vehicles), SLR cameras, covert optical gadgets, drones, listening devices and tracking devices.
All surveillance equipment has potential drawbacks. Most countries have legislative restrictions on the surveillance use of some or all of the devices mentioned. Even if use is legal, a special licence or permission may be required. Then there are practical considerations such as:
Ultimately, the best “equipment” is the eyes and ears of an intelligent, well-trained and experienced CPO. As part of ongoing CPD, all CPOs should attend a highly-regarded surveillance course.
Unfortunately, surveillance is not yet a licensed sector or activity in the UK. As a result, many rogue operators and companies are working in breach of GDPR, RIPA and the newer Investigatory Powers Act 2016.
CPOs with only basic training may be able to handle some surveillance tasks. However, the most crucial point is knowing when to hire specialist surveillance professionals. Like all things in life, you must have the correct knowledge and equipment to complete the task efficiently and effectively.
Westminster Security provides professional close protection security services in London, the UK, and worldwide.