A lot of people are fascinated by weapons, tactics, military strategy, and the like. Understanding those things does confer some level of power and control, should a less ordered environment one day become the norm. Lately however, in examining failed states and despotic regimes, I’ve become fascinated with surveillance. It is a common thread in almost every transition from freedom to tyranny. It is also often the first sign of a coming tyranny to be quietly deployed, and it is often the most powerful tool in the aspiring despot’s arsenal. As Americans, we have long known this, and for that reason we assiduously prohibited our foreign intelligence agencies from operating domestically and surveilling our populations. Even the most liberal of rubes can see that in a cursory examination of history, once secret surveillance organizations grow accustomed to operating outside of the law, in the shadows, and with the lax oversight that entails, it is not long before they decide that things will be better if certain individuals just go away.
There are curious data points today indicating that we may be in the midst of a surveillance state surge produced by merely duplicating our foreign intelligence agencies’ capabilities beneath the rubric of domestic law enforcement and homeland security. I believe that monitoring the extent of the surveillance state may serve as an effective proxy-measurement of the extent of a society’s deterioration, and how close it is to the transition to either anarchy or tyranny. If this is correct, we may have a small problem. To that end, knowledge of surveillance now might help the survivors of the collapse predict, prepare, and navigate whatever it is that is coming. Whatever it is, I am quite sure none of us have ever seen it firsthand before.
Surveillance isn’t just relevant to the onset of despotism however. Surveillance is the first stage in attack planning, and thus detecting it offers the first opportunity to thwart a potential attack and turn the tables on the most dangerous of adversaries – namely the thorough professional. Whether someone is robbing a bank, assassinating a CEO, planning a home invasion of your house, taking over a company from a rival, or launching a complex military raid, in-person surveillance is vital for launching a well-planned, professional operation. It provides the most accurate and up to date intelligence. So if someone wants to rob you, kill you, embezzle your company’s assets, or turn you into a spy for them, and do it effectively, surveillance is the first stage in all of those operations. Learn to spot surveillance and perform effective surveillance-detection, and you will be a much more formidable target than you would be with your entire environment infiltrated, and all of your vital intelligence in the hands of your enemies.
So strategy, tactics, and weapons all have their place, but having the best weapons, knowing the best tactics, and mastering military strategy offer little advantage if everyone around you is a surveillance operative, providing your enemy with all the intelligence they need to organize an attack around your strategies and defenses. Even more importantly, from the perspective of a despot in waiting, since it is deployed covertly, surveillance allows the despot to begin their war for control early, long before a populace even thinks that despotic oppression might be a possibility. The most casual study of history indicates that this fact is not lost on those who seek to strip liberty from their citizenry and replace it with oppression.
I have begun an intensive study of the art of surveillance, with the aim of gaining a grasp of it to rival any other field of study I have partaken. Although this intellectual journey is still at its beginning, in my readings on and study of the subject I am coming across interesting things which could prove of use to some in the coming transition. Here, I am going to begin to share the more interesting nuggets. Perhaps someday they will be of use to those who value freedom.
The first thing you need in a surveillance environment is surveillance-awareness. This is different from situational awareness, which is concerned with general threat detection, and best suited to thwarting spur-of-the-moment attacks from common-place thugs. Good surveillance will try to avoid presenting any threat or appearing out of place, because it doesn’t want to be noticed. It doesn’t want to be noticed, because it is part of the preparation phase of an attack which will hopefully gain tactical superiority over the target before the target is even aware that the attack has begun.
For that reason, surveillance will deploy an overweight elderly woman to casually pump gas right next to you, rather than deploy a hardened Marine who looks rough and tumble, to peek at you with binoculars from behind some bushes fifty yards out. Remember professional surveillance has been doing its thing for decades now, and honing its craft against some of the most savvy criminals, spies, and counter-surveillance professionals. If I say surveillance, and you think of it, then real surveillance will be doing exactly the opposite.
The most situationally aware individual, hardened against any attack of opportunity by a random thug, will be powerless to detect a more skilled adversary if they successfully deploy skilled surveillance – unless he is also surveillance aware, and spots the surveillance before it can acquire the intelligence it needs, and before the attack it is preparing has commenced.
To become surveillance aware, you need to begin with a knowledge of what your environment should look like. As a result it will always be easier to detect surveillance in areas with which you are intimately familiar. If you know all the baseline conditions in an area intimately, you will notice the minor deviations in them surveillance produces. Since surveillance strives to blend in, it is these extraordinarily subtle deviations from the norm that may be indicative of surveillance. How much traffic should there be at various times of day? Good surveillance will deploy vehicle units to perform in-person monitoring of any unusual activity. That will add to the normal traffic present in an area, and this will be most noticeable when traffic is normally nonexistent. If you live on an isolated road, but suddenly notice traffic in each direction every time you go to get mail, even late at night, there may be a reason for that, and those cars may not just be driving by. If you drive to a store which always has a completely empty parking lot mid-day, and you suddenly notice that several cars are always parked there when you arrive, and two people always get out just as you park and begin walking in, that change will be noticeable, and it may not be coincidental. If you were expecting surveillance, that may be extremely significant.
What races of people commonly transit through the area? Most surveillance units will try to match the races they deploy with the races common to an area, but surveillance units need all races in them to be able to adapt to any area (and they may deploy more often in black and latino neighborhoods than in white neighborhoods, so they may have a disproportionate number of minorities on staff). As a result they may occasionally, out of necessity, use races which are uncommon in an area. Suddenly noticing a lot of Hispanic or Black individuals in an area which is traditionally all white could be indicative of a surveillance operation in play. If you’ve never seen a head-scarved Muslim woman in your town, and suddenly see two in a couple of days time, that may be indicative. (Surveillance may have more Muslim females than they can use today, due to a surge of hiring post 9/11, and a war on terror that has petered out.
Are you suddenly noticing lots of pedestrian traffic that wasn’t there before? Lots of cars broken down by the side of the road on the routes you are taking that never used to be there? People on highways suddenly talking on cellphones, despite it being illegal? Drivers who slow you down on the highway, only to race as you try to pass them, so they can block you in behind another driver? If you never saw any of these things before, and suddenly begin seeing them all at once, it may be indicative of surveillance.
Do you ever catch anyone paying unusual attention to you? If you are under coverage, it will be tough for every surveillant to avoid getting caught being aware of you, since it is their job to observe you. Many surveillants, even when not actually caught, will exhibit what surveillance experts call the “burn syndrome,” and act unnaturally, or appear very uncomfortable – even ashamed. From this link:
People conducting surveillance frequently suffer from what is called “burn syndrome,” the erroneous belief that the people they are watching have spotted them. Feeling “burned” will cause surveillants to do unnatural things, such as suddenly ducking back into a doorway or turning around abruptly when they unexpectedly come face to face with the target. People inexperienced in the art of surveillance find it difficult to control this natural reaction. Even experienced surveillance operatives occasionally have the feeling of being burned; the difference is they have received a lot of training and they are better able to control their reaction and work through it. They are able to maintain a normal looking demeanor while their insides are screaming that the person they are surveilling has seen them.
If you see this even once, it is cause for concern. If you see it once, and several other strangers strangely lock direct eye contact and nod at you in a friendly manner as if they know you (that is one technique surveillants are taught to thwart an onset of burn syndrome while avoiding looking suspicious by looking away), when this never happened before, that is also a deviation from the norm – obviously only weakly indicative at best, but if you were expecting surveillance, it is one more reason to increase your vigilance and look to see if you notice any other indicators.
Surveillance comes in two forms – mobile and static. Static surveillance can be observation posts set up in residences (apartments, condos, or houses) with good sightlines to areas the target frequents. It can be technical surveillance deployed on a target, ranging from the simple microphone mounted on a telephone pole to a complex camera system designed to look like a high voltage electrical box on the side of a building. It can also be cars parked near the side of the road as if broken down. Some may be manned, while others may contain battery powered video cameras that are jumping onto mobile broadband and transmitting their signal, to allow a central control to monitor specific decision points on a target’s route remotely. Mobile consists of manned vehicle and pedestrian units, and occasionally air units.
Trained mobile surveillance will attempt to avoid detection by being aware of the four elements which most commonly burn surveillance, represented by the acronym TEDD, or Time, Environment, Distance, and Demeanor. As a result, TEDD violations will be most useful in detecting untrained surveillance, though on occasion, operational necessities, or even mistakes in the field, may lead the professional surveillance teams to violate TEDD, with a hope, or assumption that you won’t notice. Because of all that, a basic knowledge of TEDD is important to becoming surveillance aware. If you suspect you may come under surveillance, it should guide what you look for, and are sensitive to while you are out.
The big fear of a surveillance professional is the “spark.” It is the moment that a target looks confused, as they realize they have seen something related to the surveillance that is improbable, and inexplicable within their current paradigm of thought – namely that they are not under surveillance. That may progress to “smoke,” which is the realization that there is likely something afoot, though exactly what remains ambiguous. The culmination of sparks and smoke is the flames of a burned surveillance operation, as the target realizes there is a team of individuals actively seeking to gather intelligence on them. TEDD is the most common means by which that burn is produced.
The first T in TEDD stands for Time. If a target sees the same individual at disparate times, they will realize that person has been in their presence, left their presence, and once again entered their presence. They will naturally wonder what the chances are they just happened to end up at the same point in time as this individual or vehicle twice. If they see them again, after a similar period of time, they may begin to think they are under surveillance, and the person is following them.
The E stands for Environment. Environment is another characteristic which people may pick up on subconsciously, and which can “spark” a target, leading the surveillance to burn. If you go to a mall, and you see a valley-girl with purple hair window shopping for high-heels, and then you travel to a gun store, and see her checking out a Sig-Sauer at the counter next to you, this can provoke suspicion. If you then see her in the fish store asking about fish filters, you will begin to look closer at everyone around you – the worst nightmare of a surveillance team.
The first D stands for Distance. If a target sees an individual in one place, travels a long distance, and then sees the person again, they will realize that the statistical probability of two people traveling the same long distance and ending up at the exact same spot is low. This is particularly apparent with distinguishable vehicles. If a neon yellow Jeep with a lift kit and oversize tires is driving in front of you in one place, and then you travel a hundred miles, and see it parked in a parking lot across the street, you are probably under some sort of surveillance. Real surveillance may not be that obvious, but just general vehicle attributes such as stickers or damage can be useful in this regard.
Demeanor is the last element of the TEDD acronym. This is what surveillants train most to avoid triggering, so you will probably not notice this as much with trained surveillance. However you may still catch a surveillant caught in the midst of a burn syndrome attack. When noticed, they may look shocked or surprised, and then ashamed or even horrified (primarily at the thought that they just burned the entire team’s surveillance op), and turn suddenly to get away from you. With untrained surveillance this burn syndrome can be common. When noticed, however minor it may be, this is a strong indicator of surveillance activity.
TEDD is best utilized in surveillance awareness by paying attention to the details about everyone around you. Notice people, faces, postures, scars, gaits, movements, and anything which is distinguishing. An inherent part of surveillance tradecraft is to change the surveillant’s “silhouette,” by donning different wigs, fat suits, hats, clothing styles, fake tattoos, nose rings, jewelry, gaits, movement styles, and baseline facial expressions. So know if you see one distinguishing aspect, such as a scar, but that other aspects such as hair color or gait are off, the differences may not be as significant as the similarities.
Likewise, vehicles should be examined and registered according to distinguishing characteristics, but those characteristics must be viewed with an understanding that skilled surveillants are trained to change the vehicle’s silhouette. So if government surveillance is your concern, focus most attention upon those facets which cannot be changed easily. If concerned with untrained/low-quality surveillance, vehicle stickers, license plate numbers/states, headlight/taillight out, etc can all be useful. If you later see similar distinguishing marks, this can help identify a TEDD violation.
If dealing with government surveillance, only vehicle color, structural damage, and difficult to change modifications such as lift kits are of use. Government surveillance is trained to routinely change external stickers by keeping stickers on magnetic backings, and change them as necessary. Government surveillance operating in small teams will carry multiple license plates and change them out as needed to avoid a target noting the same plate following them in two different areas, and filing a harassment report with local Law Enforcement. Likewise, government surveillance vehicles have long had the headlights wired to allow one or both to be killed, and even to be dimmed, as if the car has an alternator problem, thereby facilitating an almost immediate silhouette change. Surely the white Lexus that was following you before with one headlight out is different from the one following you now with both headlights on. Indeed, if you suspect you will become a target of government surveillance, and see a car that sparks you with one headlight out, it may be as likely you are under surveillance as it is you spotted a car that just happened to have a headlight blown.
A last letter which can be added to TEDD is I, for Information. Surveillance gathers information on you. When they deal with as much information as they gather, sometimes it can be difficult for them to keep track of what they should know about you, and what they shouldn’t. Some infiltration surveillance may occasionally let go with a detail of information that they would not have, were they not paying close attention to you. Or, information that only they could have acquired may pop up somewhere else, where it shouldn’t have arrived. In one example, during a dispute a neighbor accidentally mentioned something to a third party which could only have been known were they listening carefully to conversations that they would not have been able to hear without some sort of audio device pointed at the neighbor’s house. This revealed that they were monitoring audio, and thus were a part of the stealth team.
In another case, a neighbor tweeted something to a friend which indicated that he had been briefed on a target’s conversations with another known surveillance source, whom he could not have known, except by being associated with the surveillance operation himself. Be aware, and always seek to understand not just what happens around you, but how it came to happen, behind the scenes.
One consistent theme in surveillance detection is that detection is rarely dispositive when dealing with the early covert phase of surveillance. Indeed, a normal person will be conditioned to consciously dismiss those indices which they do see, to avoid exhibiting “paranoia” – a trait we are told is bad to exhibit. If you see someone looking at you and they look away ashamed, it is much more tempting to think that they just noticed you by accident, than that you might have a large group of highly-trained people following you around. Indeed, depending on what you are up to, and given the strange tendency of surveillance units to deploy surveillance over the most minor of causes, dismissing the incident can often be seen as the saner decision.
The key is to accept the uncertainty, or even improbability inherent to such subtle indications, so that you can register these indications and commit them to memory without judging their relevance at that moment. You can’t know what you don’t know, thus all possibilities must be accepted as possible. If you keep your eyes open, and surveillance is operative, you will usually, over time, see several indices pointing in the same direction. It is the accumulation of these subtle indices which will allow you to make a reasoned conclusion as to the likelihood of the presence or absence of surveillance.
In addition to continually reviewing your environment, the only other fairly reliable ways to detect surveillance are by using surveillance detection techniques, and understanding how surveillance operates, so you can understand how what is occurring around you might make sense in the context of a set of standard procedures and decisions made by a surveillance team.
Surveillance detection techniques are behaviors that you engage in, that are designed to make any surveillance on you do something which, if you are looking for it, will be different enough from a normal person’s expected behavior to allow you to recognize that the balance of probability dictates that you are under surveillance.
None of these techniques are absolutely indicative of surveillance, unfortunately. The problem is that good surveillance consists of individuals who are trained to not stand out or reveal that they are surveillance. If you give a surveillance operator the opportunity to totally burn themselves, or break their surveillance and act normal, they will consciously abandon their surveillance to act normal, and avoid revealing themselves. As a result, the farther you push them to clearly reveal themselves, the more likely it is that they will bail and abandon the surveillance so as to appear normal, rather than reveal themselves. But there is a sweet spot where you can make them do something just strange enough to be indicative, if they think you won’t notice. The key is to look as if you won’t notice, but be keenly aware when they burn themselves.
An understanding of how surveillants think and operate can allow you to notice patterns that are inherent to their operations. As an example, surveillance that is following you will often not follow you. Everyone who thinks they are going to be surveilled will watch their rear view mirror. For that reason the primary car following you, or in “command” of you, will often be right in front of you, in what is called a “Cheating Command”. It will hand off command to another car by allowing that car to turn into your lane, in front of it, before turning off itself or allowing you to pass. If you are looking in your rear view mirror, you will miss that the car in front of you is slowing down in an unnatural fashion near an intersection, and allowing another car in front of it, before taking the next turn off.
As another example, to avoid Distance violations of TEDD, larger surveillance operations will sector surveillance, also known as using phased coverage. That is, there will be cars that operate in one area, cars that operate in another, and so on. These cars will hand you off to each other as you move around, so you won’t notice that the same Jeep is following you in disparate places. If you see a car in the same area a few times you’ll think, “well, he must hang out around here.” If you notice the same cars around you in one area, and the same cars around you in another, you may find it makes sense in the context of phased coverage. This is only possible by understanding surveillance procedures, and seeing the world around you through the surveillant’s eyes.
Despite the extent of the surveillance that may be deployed in a collapse scenario, all is not lost. There are simple surveillance detection techniques that will allow anyone who thinks surveillance might be visited upon them to ascertain with a reasonable degree of certainty whether or not they are under surveillance. There are procedures and technologies surveillance teams presently use when they deploy, and with a knowledge of why they use these procedures and technologies, you can reveal their presence. In future installments, we will look at recent events to see how surveillance can be used legally for profit against innocent citizens, and we will examine the darker side – how surveillance might begin to be used should our government one day decide to quietly eliminate anyone who opposes it, and how you might harden yourself against such an attack should the worst happen.
Knowledge is power. Hopefully the economic collapse that approaches will simply herald a peaceful transition to a less fiscally irresponsible federal government. But if it does not, it will probably pay to keep the ideas presented here in the back of your mind. Given the extent of what appears to be coming, no outcome should be deemed impossible, and no preparation too great.