Hardening the Target with Surveillance Detection


          “Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is an enemy action.”                          Ian Fleming, Goldfinger (1959)

 Gavin De Becker’s rigorous study of assassination and the strenuous work of protective details in his book Just 2 Seconds illustrates that even with trained attack recognition and skilled response there are often only seconds to counter a violent assault once launched. We must remember that in the moment of truth a sophisticated adversary will have already conducted detailed planning, pre-operational surveillance, and developed the element of surprise.


Defense is further complicated by having little time to rapidly identify the number of adversaries, their location, and weapons employed. This means that the onus is placed upon interdicting violent assault and criminal or terrorist actions earlier than later in the cycle of attack. It means that our advance work and effort to detect  pre-operational surveillance must be emphasized in order to stay one step ahead of the adversary.


The purpose of Surveillance Detection (SD) training is to develop principles, tools, and skills for the detection of pre-operational or pre-attack surveillance. To do this, we must study and comprehend the elements and variations of the surveillance enterprise, organized and disorganized, close and discrete, long-term and short, and by individuals or groups. This aids us in recognizing hostile surveillance conducted by criminals and terrorists to collect target information to facilitate future crimes and support potential attacks.

While criminals may only briefly watch you prior to acting, a terrorist may employ surveillance methods over weeks or months to establish a ‘pattern of life’ and thereby enable detailed planning before attack; by determining vulnerabilities, possible weaknesses and  identifying and selecting potential methods of attack. Whether long or short in duration, it is imperative that you recognize it when it occurs. Whether motivated by criminal opportunity or violent extremism, we must remember that all attacks are preceded by hasty or planned surveillance.

Detecting hostile surveillance purchases both time and space for response and increases your chance of  survival by staying ‘left of bang.’ What are the needles in the surveillance haystack and how do we connect the dots in order to avoid chasing ghosts? How do we effectively and positively identify surveillance where and when it occurs?


This process begins with self-assessment and an acute and thorough understanding of the patterns of life in your surroundings and area of operation; to intuitively know what is normal and what is out-of-ordinary. Secondly, to explore trends, features and profiles of the adversary; their tactics, methods of deception and cover for surveillance activity; and to closely assess those junctures and times most opportune for surveillance. Raising your situational awareness in knowing the big picture and the details is essential to overall safety and security.

Note that everyone is a potential source of compromise to your safety, unwitting or witting. Third party awareness and operational security is another important factor to consider when searching for indicators of hostile surveillance. Both electronic and human sources may be exploited to collect information.


Returning to the process of self-evaluation, we must continually revise and analyze our own pattern-of-life. Take time to note and record vehicle travel, pre-travel routines, routes, and parking; work schedule and departure times; trash and mail collection; employment and use of security measures/counter-measures; and security reporting to support and authorities of suspicious persons and things. Maintain your communications or you may find yourself fighting alone; PACE –  Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency.

Are you a hard target? If you do not employ physical security measures/counter-measures and introduce a certain randomization into your pattern of life, then you are a soft target. Soft targets are defined by complacency, little or no use of physical security measures and counter-measures, fixed daily routines and habits, a lack of security habits and trained quick reaction, unconfident body language, and poor situational awareness.

Hardening requires that you maintain a low profile and reduced signature, take note of and report who and what is in your area, vary travel patterns, destinations and movements, and watch for repeating sightings or people and vehicles (which are out of place or context). We must continually prepare for unexpected contact, maintain vigilance in assuming the possibility of hostile surveillance (HS), and remain ready to abort an activity and respond where HS is positively detected.

Building these motivational and operational capacities through training, planning, and preparation is setting the conditions for success and playing to win. Your mindset and confidence level is essential to preventing assault; know that poor mindset and motivation can actually precipitate attack. Effective action flows from a positive mindset. Your mindset alone will often serve to deter and prevent violent assault and change hostile behavior by forming a de facto security posture. Mindset will keep you safe. Training will keep you safe.

Anti-Surveillance is your personal effort to discreetly observe indicators of hostile surveillance activity which may be directed against you. Herein you will create opportunity structures and situations to see and detect the presence of surveillance, create various surveillance problems for the adversary (which in turn produces responsive changes to detect), and to make use of cover for status and action during a surveillance detection effort. This last point is important to prevent escalations for which you may be unprepared.

In simple terms, a great deal of surveillance activity will be ambient and attempt to dwell in blind-spots and peripheral areas. Therefore, we will need to create natural opportunities to look backwards into blind areas and vantage points: We make use of stops, pauses, corners, buildings and storefronts, the use of reflection. Sometimes retracing steps after stopping, and moving back and forth between areas of greater and lesser traffic and density.


Utilize the principles contained in TEDD. TEDD is an acronym for a set of fundamental principles used to detect hostile surveillance. When you observed someone over elapsed Time, in different Environments or locations, across a significant Distance, and who displays an unexplainable Demeanor – you have likely observed someone conducting surveillance due to multiple sightings of the same person or vehicle. TEDD is an acid test utilizing pointed questions about these elements.

Surveillance Detection (SD)  tempered by the TEDD principles helps us to recognize our current surveillance status and positively identify when we are under. It must be an unforgettable everyday routine. Exceptional SD will not alert the adversary but will enable you to purchase time and space, to pick and decide a location for interdiction and arrest. Aristotle notes that, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

About the Author: Aaron Cunningham is the acting President of the International Tactical Training Association (ITTA).

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