Counter Surveillance is a complex subject and is frequently neglected on CP courses and often misunderstood. Therefore, in the space available here, I’m going to point out the key principles to a counter surveillance operation.
Counter Surveillance is defined as the actions that a person (or team) carries out, in order to detect that a person (Principal) is under surveillance and to identify the composition and makeup of a hostile surveillance team.
Bodyguards that are responsible for their Principal’s safety, will carry out counter-surveillance especially when there is a high threat level. Anyone who is a serious threat and intends to carry out an attack or kidnap will most probably do his homework and carry out some reconnaissance and surveillance beforehand.
Surveillance Detection Route (SDR)
Your principal wants to get from A to B. Before arriving at B, he has to make sure that he is not under surveillance. He has to be run through a counter-surveillance detection route (or SDR).
This route should be as natural as possible without deviating from the most logical route otherwise it could be identified by the surveillance. It will require four separate choke points that can be monitored by the CS team when the principal passes through. Four because we are trying to create a situation that is beyond coincidence.
CS can either be carried out by a full team (one person manning each chokepoint) or by a single person (who can cover each chokepoint by leapfrogging ahead). Single-handed can prove to be hard work and is likely to mean that the principal may have to stop on one or two occasions for the CS to get ahead if not taking a slower route or the CS uses a motorbike. The CS should be armed with a camera or video recorder to film activity and scrutinise it for unnatural behaviour and repetitive sightings.
Each choke point should be observed for routine activity and you should get a feel for the environment. Should a surveillance team arrive, you should be able to notice the difference in tempo and activity from certain individuals or vehicles.
The first choke point should not be too close to the start (or departure location) as any surveillance team may be disjointed.
Human error also comes into consideration and losses may occur. Either way, you want the first choke point to be far enough away to allow a surveillance team to ‘settle down’ and be together somewhat to catch all the cars.
Simple Mobile CS Route Without Stops
Let’s say that we have a courier who departs from a secure unit at an airport and delivers high-value products to his company on a weekly basis, his company premises are unmarked and the location secret. He uses a plain vehicle so that he does not attract attention. The courier wants to go straight from the airport to the company without having to stop en-route.
The CS team (comprising of three operators) should look at the route and choose four ‘choke points’ that the Principal has to pass through. They have to be easily monitored with one operator observing each chokepoint. This can be carried out by examining a map of the route prior to actually going out on the ground for a more detailed recce.
If you have four choke points but only three operators, the one manning Choke Point 1, should ‘leapfrog’ ahead to Choke Point 4 after the Principal has passed through his location.
Ideally, the route should not be one continuous road over a long distance as there is a fair chance that other ‘innocent’ road users using the same route will be also be caught. Therefore, put in at least two changes of direction to minimise third parties and to draw in any surveillance team.
A chokepoint does not necessarily mean a narrow channel (such as a bridge) but needs to be somewhere that you can monitor securely which gives you the maximum possibility for identifying any surveillance vehicles. Mobile chokepoints can be:
- Road junctions
- One way streets
- Long straight roads
- Retail Parks
- Quiet roads
- Entry onto a motorway or service stations
Try to avoid choke points at very busy roundabouts, busy junctions or on fast roads as it will be difficult to note vehicle details.
SAMPLE THREE CHOKE POINT CS ROUTE
If the Principal were to be subjected to surveillance from the airport, it is likely that any team would be plotted up close with a callsign covering the only roundabout on the exit. It may not be beneficial to put a chokepoint here as you may not ‘trap’ all of the team (who should be spread out). The team leader will decide how the information is to be collated so that a pattern of multiple sightings is identified. Each choke point will report his findings to the controller.
CHOKE POINT 1
CP1 is in a layby just after a crossroads junction controlled by lights where the principal’s route takes a left turn. This point is chosen because:
- It is likely that the team have settled down and are looking for a handover by this stage. It is doubtful they will a team will hand over at the lights at the risk of getting held, therefore they should all get through this change of direction.
- Identify the cars that make the left turn in the same direction as the principal.
- Remember, someone may have been held at the lights turning left and so a second wave of traffic should also be noted.
- They may hand over at the layby you are in.
- They should be going relatively slow as they travel away from the junction. This assists in obtaining vehicle details. Identify the details of at least 8 to 10 cars that are behind the principal (colour, make, registration).
- Log and record all sightings, transmit the list on WhatsApp.
CHOKE POINT 2
The route has travelled through the town of Otley, crosses the River Wharf and then takes a right turn. CP2 is the right turn after the bridge, this point is chosen because:
- All surveillance will have to cross the bridge, there is nowhere to parallel and go around, so should be a ‘catch all’.
- When turning right, he has to wait for any oncoming traffic to clear, which means there is a chance he will be held at the junction, and any traffic behind stacks up. This gives you the opportunity to identify and record potential surveillance vehicles.
- A surveillance team may carry out a handover here, so watch for someone continuing straight on and then carrying out a U-turn to get back into the follow.
- This CS callsign is also in a good position to ‘leapfrog’ ahead if it decided to throw in a fourth chokepoint.
- Log and record all sightings.
CHOKE POINT 3
This is a junction where the principal turns left. Immediately before the junction is a narrow bridge where oncoming traffic has a right of way. This point is chosen because:
- Traffic will be forced to close up if the principal is held at the bridge waiting for traffic to clear.
- If the principal gets over and then turns left, it is possible that part of the surveillance team will be held at the bridge. As a consequence, you may see some aggressive driving in order for them to make ground.
- Log and record all sightings.
Collating & Reporting
All sightings and details of vehicles from each chokepoint are now collated. The controller will cross-refer the sightings at CP1, CP2 and CP3 to identify if any of the cars sighted are the same. An assessment will then be made to decide whether the principal is under surveillance or is clear to carry on with his journey unimpeded.
The Emergency RV
Somewhere along the route, you have to identify a location as an ERV where each person from each chokepoint can move to until the operation has finished in the event hostile surveillance is detected.
Detected or Not Detected
If no surveillance is detected, you can call your Principal and tell him that he is clear to run and that is the end of the job.
If surveillance is detected you now have several options open to you. The priority may be to go overt to protect and escort your principal to safety. The other option, (which could be risky) is to run the principal through another choke point (that you have either planned or improvised) in order to further establish the makeup of the surveillance team. It may be that you want to run them into a trap to effect an arrest or approach them to cause a compromise.
If the hostile element is followed, you will either take them back to their base (hotel or office) or it is likely that they will lift off and RV at a suitable spot, quite often a café or fast food outlet where they will carry out a quick debrief over coffee. At this stage, they will probably drop their guard as they switch off and therefore you can use this to your advantage to obtain closer identities of the team. When this happens, it’s great!
A successful CS route takes planning but don’t forget to search your Principals car for trackers!
By: Peter Jenkins, ISS Training LTD
Peter Jenkins has worked internationally with CP Teams in a CS role and this article is an extract from the chapter on surveillance detection in his forthcoming book The Theory of Covert Surveillance.