Tradecraft: The Counter-Surveillance Route

Surveillance Image Source: Global Panorama, Flickr, Creative Commons

Image Source: Global Panorama, Flickr, Creative Commons

Washington DC, (TFC) – Counter-surveillance is the practice of attempting to determine if you are under surveillance and eluding that surveillance when necessary. More advanced tactics aid you in determining who is pulling surveillance on you. The Counter-Surveillance Route is a preplanned path that aids you in determining whether or not you are currently under surveillance.

These tactics are important for everyone to understand and to be able to apply in emergencies. Stalkers pull surveillance. Kidnappers pull surveillance. Terrorists pull surveillance. Tyrannical governments pull surveillance, although today most of that is electronic in nature unless you are a really high priority. Being able to spot surveillance could protect your freedom or save your life.

The myths:

There are some immediate myths that need to be dispelled. Most of these myths came into our collective consciousness via Hollywood. Like most things coming out of Hollywood, the movie depiction of surveillance is well… wrong.

“I’m being followed.” Surveillance is not always behind you. If you have an established pattern of driving, you could be “lead” to your destination. If you live in a major city, surveillance could be conducted by taking parallel routes.

“We lost him.” Surveillance is not always conducted by a man, and it is almost never conducted by one person or a single car.

“We’re going to lose them.” If you are able to identify surveillance, the best course of action may not be to evade the surveillance. It is probably better to waste their time and complete innocent activities. Hopefully, in the process of doing this you can engage in some counter-intelligence and find out who is following you, why, and make those people believe you are not a worthwhile target. It is almost never appropriate to speed off and swerve through traffic while squealing tires. This simply lets the surveillance team know that you are worth following. They will back off, and a new team will appear later. You might not be able to identify them.

General Rules of the Route:

Surveillance relies on being able to blend in with traffic so the person under surveillance does not remember the vehicles being used by the surveillance team. So how do you force surveillance teams to reveal themselves? Drive like a senile grandmother. Speed up and slow down at random intervals. Don’t use your blinkers prior to a turn. Use your blinkers, but don’t turn. Change lanes constantly for no apparent reason. It is important to make all of these behaviors seem natural. If the team begins to see you as being “tail conscious,” they will back off and regroup with new vehicles. That makes detecting them more difficult. It is better to appear to be an idiot than to appear to be James Bond.

Elements to incorporate into your routes:

A series of turns that incorporates four left hand turns or four right hand turns. If vehicles make multiple turns in the same direction, they have effectively driven in a circle. It is an unusual driving pattern and usually indicates someone is following you.

An immediate turn after an off ramp. This is especially effective if you can exit an off ramp and cross multiple lanes of traffic before turning. Any vehicles that follows should be considered suspect.

Long stretches of rural roads with multiple places to turn off. On rural roads, it becomes impossible to conduct parallel surveillance because there are no parallel roads that allow the surveillance team to maintain visual contact. Leading the target becomes troublesome because speed limits are higher, allowing the target to turn off down a side road and disappear before the surveillance team can adapt. It forces the surveillance team to remain behind you. Varying your speed will help identify the surveillance team. Rural roads are also sparsely populated, making it easier to identify surveillance vehicles.

Failure to drive when the light turns green. After coming to a red light, begin to daydream or text and intentionally fail to notice that the light has turned green. Most drivers will honk or pull around you or both. Those that do not, should be considered suspect.

Enter and exit. Pull into a parking lot, exit the vehicle, check your phone, and rush back to your vehicle before leaving the parking lot. When conducting surveillance, the team will position themselves to wait for you to exit the building or park to follow you on foot inside. Disrupting this will cause the surveillance team to react and possibly make themselves known. Any vehicles that begin moving when you start making your way back to your vehicle should be considered suspect. Any people that return to their vehicles when you do are following you.

Psychology-related tips:

The psychological fear of being detected: People conducting surveillance are trying to remain hidden, and therefore they have a fear of being caught. While walking, if the target of surveillance suddenly stops and turns around, the faces of the those pulling surveillance will reveal the physical signs of fear. Look for widening eyes, flared nostrils, raised eyebrows, and dilated pupils. Most importantly, watch for those that suddenly avert their gaze.

Etheric sense: Call it what you will. Modern psychology has termed it “gaze detection.” Basically you can “feel” people staring at you. The modern psychological explanation falls short because it fails to address the phenomena occurring when the watcher is completely outside of the vision of the target. My explanation sounds like something out of the Jedi handbook and deals with unidentified senses that were developed when humans were still prey for other animals, so we’ll skip it. Just remember, if you suddenly feel that you are being watched, you probably are.

Electronic considerations:

Bird dogs,” or electronic tracking equipment, is relatively inexpensive and publicly available. Without removing the transmitter from the vehicle, it becomes impossible to defeat the device. Removing the device tips surveillance teams off to the fact that you know you are under surveillance. It would be better to wait until you need to lose the team for some reason to remove the device.

Like all high-tech devices, it can be defeated by defeating the human element. Every multi-million dollar security system in the world has a guy making nine bucks an hour monitoring it. Bird dogs are no different. The surveillance team using a bird dog isn’t worried about the parking lot trick mentioned above because they’ll know if you start to move. By parking the vehicle at any building with multiple entrances, you can enter one side of the building and emerge from another to meet a friend who can then drive you wherever you are headed. Just remember to have your friend drop you off at a distant entrance so you can walk back through the building before returning to your vehicle. The surveillance team will probably never know you left the building.


Countering intrusive physical surveillance isn’t as difficult as it sounds. With practice, the above tactics become second nature. The key thing to remember is to remain calm and to make certain all of the actions appear natural. Being mildly erratic and unpredictable is the key to success. While it may irritate the people riding with you when you wait five or six seconds after the light turns green to step on the gas, it may save you a lot of trouble later.