The Stakeout The Pick Up The Follow And The Box

The Stakeout The Pick Up The Follow And The Box

The stakeout, the pick-up, the follow, and the box – sounds like the name of the latest Guy Ritchie Movie doesn’t it? Well this is private investigation jargon especially in the light of surveillance operations. In an earlier post I had touched upon surveillance services for an individual or corporation. Today let me touch upon counter-surveillance which is the exact opposite i.e. to detect whether someone is conducting surveillance on you and to thwart their efforts. As one of the top anti-surveillance operators in India today, we are called upon on many cases where a client suspects that he / she is being spied upon or is being followed. So our job is to detect the circumstances under which the person is being surveilled and provide countermeasures for him / her so that any future surveillance activity by someone is hampered. Surveillance countermeasures are conducted and based directly on the tactics of surveillance they are used to detect or defeat, and thus a keen understanding of the opposition’s tactics is essential to their effective execution. Here in this article I will try and detail how the surveillance threat operates.

This article is by no means a comprehensive tutorial on surveillance; rather, it is designed as an overview to be used as the basis for understanding the way that someone could have put you under surveillance. The countermeasures principles and tactics that our private intelligence agency follows in counter surveillance operations will depend upon our knowledge of surveillance and as such if you value your privacy you must know the various methods of surveillance that an investigation agency follows so that you can be armed with the knowledge of the preventive measures that we will undertake later.

* When I use the word Principle I mean the person who is being followed. 


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Physical surveillance is the systematic, discreet observation of an individual to develop information regarding his activities. It differs from technical surveillance in that our surveillance operators must observe the Principal physically. It is the only means by which a Principal can be observed constantly over an extended period of time. A professional and effective surveillance is orchestrated in a systematic manner. This is accomplished through tactics that will ensure discreet coverage of a Principal.

A surveillance operation can only be effective if it goes undetected by the Principal or anyone else, such as neighbors, associates, employees, passersby, and so on. Surveillance is employed to identify and document significant activities of a Principal that satisfy the objectives of the specific operation. Developing information through surveillance is a progressive and often lengthy process. It is from many pieces of information that an overall picture of the Principal’s behavioral patterns is developed.

A surveillance operation will normally begin with limited information regarding the Principal’s activities. It may begin by developing such information in order to identify those times or activities on which to focus the surveillance effort. As information is developed, target pattern analysis is conducted to determine which patterns the surveillance team can exploit to anticipate the Principal’s actions more effectively. This also enables the surveillance team to determine which times and activities may be significant in satisfying the objectives of the operation, as opposed to those that are routine and insignificant, allowing it to cover a Principal efficiently by concentrating on those with the highest potential payoff. It also serves to limit the amount of time that surveillance operators and vehicles maybe exposed to the Principal.

A surveillance vehicle or operator can use anything that offers concealment to obstruct the Principal’s view. A surveillance vehicle provides a degree of concealment, as do structures such as buildings. Another example of concealment might be the positioning of a surveillance operator inside a building so as to observe the Principal out of the windows. Darkness is another form of concealment. Cover and cover for action are concepts that are extremely critical to the effectiveness and security of any surveillance operation. Cover is a broad term that generally applies to anything a surveillance operator or vehicle uses to appear natural when observation by the Principal, countersurveillance, or any other third parties is possible.

During a foot surveillance operation, cover consists primarily of pedestrians in the area. During a vehicular surveillance operation, cover consists primarily of vehicular traffic on the roads. In both situations, the surrounding traffic enables the surveillance operator or vehicle to blend in and appear as any other pedestrian or vehicle. Cover for action is a more specific term that refers to actions the surveillance operator takes to establish a plausible reason for being in a given location or undertaking a given activity. For example, a surveillance operator can use a telephone booth for cover, but he must actually place money in the phone and make a call to establish a cover for action.

There are two primary types of physical surveillance: fixed and mobile.

Fixed Surveillance

Fixed surveillance consists of observing the Principal’s activities at a specified location from a static position. Such operations will only satisfy specific objectives because they provide limited insight into the Principal’s overall activities. They are normally employed when it is suspected that the Principal will conduct protected activities at a specific location, such as his residence, his workplace, an associate’s residence, or an establishment he frequents. Fixed positions are normally manned by surveillance operators or monitored through remote video equipment. A surveillance team may use any number of fixed positions during a fixed surveillance operation. One common example of a fixed surveillance is when the surveillance team establishes static positions along designated route to confirm the Principal’s direction of travel. Most fixed surveillance operations use an established observation post that enables surveillance operators to maintain constant, discreet observation of the specified location.

Mobile Surveillance

Mobile surveillance is employed to satisfy any objectives of physical surveillance that cannot be accomplished through a fixed operation. In mobile surveillance operations, the surveillance team observes the Principal’s activities while he is traveling. Of course, this requires that surveillance operators and vehicles move with him. Mobile surveillance operations are conducted either on foot, by vehicle, or with a combination of both. Mobile and fixed surveillance may be used concurrently to enhance the effectiveness of an operation. Fixed observation posts are frequently employed to support mobile surveillance operations.

Phases of a Mobile Surveillance Operation

A mobile surveillance operation is a fluid sequence of tactical maneuvers that are dictated primarily by the actions of the Principal. (This is not to say that the Principal has any advantage against a professional surveillance effort.) In order to effectively cover the Principal, the team must maintain synchronization through a phased operation with a unity of tactical discipline and purpose.

A comprehensive surveillance operation is conducted in four phases: the stakeout, the pick-up, the follow, and the box. It will progress through these phases based on the Principal’s actions. Ideally, an operation will move through these four phases and then shift the order in which they are implemented in reaction to the Principal’s activities.

The stakeout involves positioning surveillance vehicles or operators based on how the team intends to establish initial command of the Principal. This consists of the logical coverage of a specified area to ensure that when the Principal appears, the team will be able make a smooth and effective transition from static positions to a mobile surveillance follow. This is accomplished primarily by the use of a boxing method intended to cover all routes of travel into and out of the specified area.The pick-up occurs when the surveillance team establishes initial command of the Principal. It is the result of a successful stakeout or surveillance box. The follow begins immediately after the pick-up.

This phase encompasses all aspects of the surveillance operation that occur while the Principal is under command. The box phase begins as the Principal stops during a surveillance follow. As with the takeout box, a standard surveillance box is a logical positioning of surveillance vehicles or operators to cover all routes of travel out of a specified area. The primary difference between the two types of boxes is that with the standard surveillance box, there is a degree of command over the Principal because the surveillance team is certain he is positioned somewhere within the box.

Methods of Mobile Surveillance

There are four primary methods of mobile physical surveillance: vehicular surveillance, foot surveillance, combined foot and vehicular surveillance, and progressive surveillance.

The first three are purely mobile surveillance; progressive surveillance makes use of mobile surveillance, fixed surveillance, or a combination of the two.

Vehicular Surveillance

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Vehicular surveillance operations are conducted to determine the Principal’s activities while traveling by vehicle. They are normally used to determine general travel patterns rather than to develop specific information. Vehicular surveillance is effective when employed at the outset of an operation to collect data for target pattern analysis while minimizing the initial exposure of operators to the Principal. Vehicular surveillance is an integral aspect of most physical surveillance operations. The Principal will rarely travel exclusively by foot. Even when operating against a Principal who travels primarily by public transportation, the surveillance team must rely on vehicles for control and mobility. Although the surveillance team will rarely observe a Principal conducting protected activity while traveling by vehicle, it is understood that the Principal will travel by vehicle to reach the location where such activity may occur.Vehicular and foot surveillance share many operational tactics.

Vehicular surveillance, however, is a more exact science because routes of travel are generally restricted to, or channelized by, established roadways. This can be used to the advantage of a capable surveillance team, but in the same way, it can be used to the advantage of a resourceful Principal. There is also less maneuverability in vehicular surveillance because a surveillance vehicle has less flexibility to turn around and reposition discreetly. This disadvantage is overcome only by expertise in teamwork and tactical applications.

A vehicular surveillance will begin with the stakeout of a specified location at which the surveillance team expects to establish initial command of the Principal. The location is selected based on assumptions about when and where the Principal is likely to appear. Primary stakeout locations are the Principal’s residence and workplace. The Principal is normally expected to stay the night at his residence, depart sometime during the day, and return to his residence by the end of the day. He can also be expected to appear at his place of work with some degree of regularity. These standard patterns provide the surveillants with locations that promise a high probability of establishing command of the Principal.

The tactics normally used for staking out an area to pick up the Principal for a mobile surveillance follow are referred to as boxing. A stakeout is basically a logical positioning of surveillance vehicles to attain initial command of a Principal as he either travels through a specified area or emerges from it. The stakeout box conists of positioning surveillance vehicles in such a manner as to control routes of travel out of a specified area. These vehicles are positioned for pick-up as the principle drives out of the stakeout box along any of the possible routes of travel. The surveillance team may use an observation post to observe a specific location in support of its stakeout. Observation posts are normally positioned to observe a residence, business, or workplace. Using an observation post saves the team from having to expose a vehicle in order to observe the location. A surveillance team may also employ a mobile observation post, normally a van that can be parked within line of sight of the target location for observation.The pick-up phase of the surveillance begins when the Principal is first observed and ends when the follow phase begins. The follow phase begins after the Principal exits the stakeout box and the surveillance vehicle along his route of travel maneuvers to assume command of him for the mobile surveillance follow.

The follow phase encompasses all surveillance activities conducted while the Principal is mobile. During the follow, the surveillance team must have at least one vehicle (the command vehicle) with visual observation of the Principal, normally following from behind. The following distance of the vehicular surveillance team will be dictated primarily by the terrain, available cover, traffic obstacles, and traffic hazards. Cover will normally consist of surrounding traffic into which the team can blend to appear natural. Traffic obstacles such as dense traffic, traffic signals, and construction zones may deter the surveillance team from maintaining command of the Principal. Therefore, the team will normally need to maintain a closer following distance when confronted by significant traffic obstacles. Traffic hazards such as highway interchanges offer the Principal high-speed or multiple avenues of escape. Since it is important that the surveillants have command of the Principal when entering a traffic hazard, they will normally close their following distance when approaching one. A tactically sound surveillance team will exchange command vehicle positions frequently during the course of the follow to remain discreet and minimize the exposure of any one vehicle.

This may be done at any time but primarily in reaction to a turn by the Principal. Exposure can also be minimized by utilizing the cover and concealment of surrounding traffic.Communications equipment is critical to the vehicular surveillance team. The ability of all of the surveillance vehicles to communicate allows them to rely on the transmissions of the command vehicle to guide their activities. This enables team members to maneuver effectively without having to rely on their visual observations of the Principal or other surveillance vehicles. A surveillance vehicle normally has two operators, a driver and a navigator. The navigator reads a map and directs the driver. When in the command vehicle position, the navigator transmits the Principal’s location and actions to the entire team. Otherwise, the navigator will monitor the radio in order to track the Principal’s location on the map and direct the driver to maneuver in a manner that supports the operation.The mobile surveillance follow will transition directly to the box phase anytime the Principal stops, excluding normal traffic stops. This consists of the surveillance team maneuvering to box positions around the Principal’s stopping point. As with the stakeout box, surveillance vehicles will establish positions along each of the Principal’s possible routes of departure in order to pick him up when he begins to move and leaves the box location.

The surveillance team will normally position a vehicle in a location from which its occupants can physically observe the stationary Principal vehicle and inform the team when it begins to move. As the Principal begins to move, the pick-up phase is again initiated. The follow phase begins again after the Principal exits the box and the surveillance vehicle along his route of travel maneuvers to assume command of him for the mobile surveillance follow.

Night surveillance operations are significantly different from those conducted in daytime. The basic tactics remain the same, but darkness imposes many additional considerations. The very nature of night surveillance dictates that the surveillance team must concentrate on more technically intricate concepts and tactical applications. This may include the use of night vision equipment or specialized controls to prevent the surveillance vehicle’s brake lights from projecting when the brake pedal is engaged. Since the surveillance vehicle’s lights are the most visible signature the team will project to the Principal, the lights must be in proper working order and must not project in an unusual manner that may bring the vehicle to the Principal’s attention.

Due to the darkness, it is difficult for the Principal to recognize a surveillance vehicle by any means other than the lights. This is an advantage in itself, but there are many disadvantages inherent in this aspect of night surveillance as well. These are directly related to the fact that there is generally less traffic cover at night. In crowded urban areas, the lights of surrounding vehicles can make the surveillance team virtually invisible to the Principal. As the hour gets later and the traffic density decreases, the surveillance vehicle’s lights make it virtually impossible for it to remain discreet. In the absence of sufficient cover, vehicle lights are detectable at a significant distance, making it easier for the Principal to detect surveillance vehicles.

I hope the above post has given you an insight about the strategic planning and teamwork that we employ for an anti-surveillance operation. And you though us private investigators have a glamorous job! I will touch upon other methods namely: foot surveillance, combined foot and vehicular surveillance, and progressive surveillance in a future post. Remember it is very easy to follow someone and find out intimate details of a person's private life. If you fear that you are being followed, do not hesitate to give me a call on +91 +91 98206 07875 and we will find out exactly who is following you and put steps in place to prevent them from doing so in the future.

Author Bio

Amit Sen, a commercial pilot by training, has over 15 years experience in the space of corporate investigations, handling Copyright & Trademark infringement cases, Pre – employment verification Industrial Espionage investigations, Asset & Net – Worth assessment assignments and vendor / supplier verification cases, among others. Co-founder of Alliance One – which is the best private investigation agency in India. Amit has also successfully completed assignments in a wide range of sectors, including the machine tools industry, pharmaceutical industry, hospitality sector, specialized equipment (Oil & natural gas sector, aviation industry etc.), telecom industry & the IT & ITes sectors. These cases have all involved both offline and online investigations

Article edited and co-written by Atin Dasgupta who is the co-founder and marketing head of Alliance One. Read more about Atin here.

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