A Day in the Life of a Commercial Surveillance Operation


Part 2 The Follow


Our former blog post A Day in the Life of a Commercial Surveillance Operation Part 1 talks about some of the things that we take in to account before commencing a Surveillance Operation. This post focuses on some of our techniques and dilemmas during the actual follow, things that can go wrong and some of our operating procedures that can attribute to a successful follow.


One of the main principles of covert surveillance is flexibility, even after all of the necessary due diligence, preparation and OSINT has taken place we never presume the subject will do what we are expecting, and we are prepared for anything to happen.


For the purposes of simplifying this blog post I am describing details of a fictitious corporate surveillance operation, the operational objectives are; see who the subject meets when out of his home and office environments and to identify any financial transactions that he makes.


At 0800 hrs the subject exits his home address, he boards a chauffeur driven private vehicle which has been positioned outside his address for the last 30 minutes. The driver takes a logical route to the subject’s office address in Knightsbridge. The subject (S1) enters the office address.  Later at 1240 hrs S1 exits the address on foot, he walks a 5-minute route East to Hyde Park Corner where he boards an eastbound Piccadilly line underground train and exits at Green Park, he then walks for 5 minutes and arrives at a well-known restaurant in Mayfair at 1300 hrs.  He enters alone and joins a male already sat at a table inside. The two men eat a two-course lunch and are in conversation throughout. At the end of the meal S1 and the male exit together and S1 hails a taxi from the street outside the restaurant, the male then walks away to the East. S1 travels directly back to his office where he is seen entering, he remains there until 1800 hrs when he exits he boards the mornings chauffeur driven vehicle and returns directly to his address.


In this instance the operation would begin before the subject is expected to leave home in the morning. Operators would ideally be positioned with a view of the building exits or if that is not possible on the areas around them. What is common is that there will be a period of waiting around followed by a period of intense activity.


When the subject emerges, it may be a dynamic decision whether to follow by car or by foot, depending on what the subject does. Operators will be preparing to move, obtaining imagery, checking radio connectivity, and getting in to positions to allow them the correct time and distance behind the subject.


For the purposes of this fictitious operation we have 3 vehicles and an additional 2 people on foot. One dilemma in the world of commercial surveillance is that generally operators will be in their own vehicles, this means that when they are crewed with another person unless they want to trust that person to drive their vehicle and they have the correct insurance the team is limited with the amount of people free for the foot parts of a follow this is especially relevant in central London where parking is restricted.  Depending on the client’s budget, and for overseas work hire cars may be used which allows a lot more flexibility, team members can rotate between driving and foot work therefore limiting the consecutive period of time on foot directly behind the subject and reducing the chance of exposure.  On smaller operations there may only be 1-2 people who can follow the subject on foot, many operations are at least 12-hour days and changes of appearance are frequently adopted.


Changes of appearance might include use of wigs, hats and even whole outfit changes right down to shoes. Props can be vital, it is important for operators to look like they belong in the area of operation, some of the cover identities that we have used include bringing prams, dogs, acting as homeless people, joggers, workmen, posing as researchers with clipboards. Even something as simple as wearing a fictitious name badge can give an operator validity for sitting on a bench as if they are on a lunchbreak. The important thing is to blend in and not stand out in any way, this includes interacting with the surroundings, for example if an operator is following a subject around a shop they will put things in a basket. They have to act like they normally would as a member of the public.


It is important to remember that it is fine to be seen by the subject of surveillance but not to be noticed. In everyday life whilst walking around a town centre it would not be unusual to see the same person more than once, however when moving from one area to another is when a change in appearance becomes necessary, if an operator is noticed in two totally different locations that is when a compromise could occur.


In this fictitious operation we will assume our subject was driven to work by a regularly used driver, many drivers come from a former police or military background and it is worth considering that they may have good awareness levels and may have even received anti or counter surveillance awareness training.  We would try and gauge how aware the driver is, assessing if they check their mirrors regularly and what are they doing when they are parked up outside the client’s address.


As we would probably know the subjects work location the first part of the follow would not be too difficult, a temporary loss due to traffic would be easily regained if the first vehicle had an idea of what the subject’s logical route would be. If team numbers allow we would generally send one member ahead to the venue that we expect the subject to travel to.


When the subject reaches the work venue the operators would be trying to confirm visual identification of him entering the location, this may be possible from vehicles or some operators may have to transition to foot to establish the subject has entered the expected building. At this stage the team will revert back to their earlier positions and apply them to the new venue.


At lunchtime when the subject re-emerges, the 5-minute walk to the tube station is covered mostly by foot operators but with support from the vehicles when they are able to get ahead to salient points. The vehicle drivers are unlikely to be able to park close enough to join the tube follow it will generally be the foot operators who will follow the subject on the tube and they will hopefully be able to communicate their progress with the vehicles if they can access wifi at stations along their route. A future post will describe how to follow a subject of surveillance on the underground.


In this instance we have a very simple follow and our subject only boards one tube without multiple line changes, he exits at Green Park and walks to a restaurant in Mayfair.


In this scenario we did not have any intelligence to indicate that our subject was going to this particular restaurant and his pattern of life did not show it to be a regular spot therefore we were unable to get any operators inside before his arrival, as our objective is to see whom the subject comes in to contact with sending operators inside is imperative. A common dilemma is whether to send one or two people in to a restaurant, two especially a man and a woman is very natural and unlikely to threaten the subject however one well-placed operator can sit naturally on their own without the need to talk to anyone and therefore is more likely to gain intelligence regarding any conversations that they are close enough to overhear.


In this case we would initially send one operator inside to secure a table, that will give us the flexibility of sending another to join them or if they have been unable to obtain a table close enough it is possible that a second operator or even a small group might manage to acquire a better position. Quite frequently especially if imagery is required operatives will have to orchestrate a way to get a table close to the subject without raising suspicion. If covering a meeting is the main objective it would not be uncommon to send most of the team into the restaurant until someone manages to get located in the spot that they need to be in.


Once inside again it is important to blend in, many corporate cases will result in being in very good and popular restaurants, hotels and locations. If it is not their normal habitat operators need to become comfortable with being in these establishments. If a recce can be carried out beforehand it is always beneficial but quite often operators will walk blindly into a venue and have to look and act like they belong there. When we conduct training exercises, we familiarise ourselves with the best hotels and restaurants which make belonging at a later date much easier.


In this instance our operator is able to identify whom the subject meets and gain imagery of the meeting without any collateral intrusion of other diners. She is able to send a photo to our ops room who then contact the client to gauge the importance of the contact. A question we would be asking the client at this point is if they believe the contact is relevant to the operation, if for example in corporate espionage cases we suspect material may have been handed over the operation could switch to the new subject.  In this instance the new contact is known to the client and we remain with our initial subject.  Our operator feels secure and the subject has not taken any notice of her so she remains for the duration and holds her position until the meeting is over and the subject has left the restaurant. She will be paying attention to things such as who is leading the conversation, who makes the payment and how they pay and the body language between the two men.


There are no set rules when covering meetings, as with Close Protection it is always a good idea to be a course ahead, this means that if necessary operators can linger over coffee or leave ahead if they are part of a particularly small team and will be required to then change their appearance, get back in a vehicle and join the follow away from the meeting venue. This of course has to be weighed up against missing something vital at the end of the meeting or walking out of the restaurant too closely behind the subject and raising suspicion, especially if it is a case where counter surveillance could be in play.  One of the main mitigators of risk here and standard operating procedure is to maintain coverage outside the restaurant/meeting place by another team member who will be communicating with the inside team, they will be positioned to follow the subject immediately away from the venue and will be able to let the inside team know that it is clear to exit. Clear commentary and location information is then required to enable the following operators to catch up with the ensuing foot or vehicle move.


In our scenario the subject hails a cab outside the restaurant, our vehicles now come in to play. As we have successfully fulfilled our main objective and only have 3 vehicles we are not going to take any risks and want to remain with our new vehicle (the taxi) as we do not know where it will go. We do not want a vehicle to delay in following and become unable to catch up, nor do we want to risk our subject seeing our restaurant operator boarding our vehicles so in this instance we would leave our operator to exit from the restaurant once we have cleared the area, she would then catch when possible.


There will always be factors that cause problems during a surveillance follow, a common one especially in central London is traffic, one set of red lights can result in half of the team being completely unable to remain with the follow unless the subject makes a stop, this is where knowing the Pattern of Life (POL) of the subject may help as the team will have an idea of what sort of places are worth searching as a priority.


It is not uncommon to lose a subject especially if operating in a particularly busy area or just down to sheer bad luck, assuming anti surveillance is not being used good methodology when dealing with a loss is to think of how far in a logical route from where you last saw them can your subject possibly have gone. Travel to that point first and work your way backwards. This works particularly well if on foot but can also be used in some mobile instances especially if in a reasonably well contained area.


Communications can cause problems, we would always plan to send a team out with radios using our own frequency but every now and again a fast ball operation will require the team to travel immediately to a job and they will rely on an phone based radio app to communicate until the radios can be delivered. Even the best radios have problems such as black spots, and picking up unwanted frequencies on the underground and busses can cause difficulties. In the commercial world live locations are often used to keep track of where team members are.


Compromises are extremely rare but operators should always have a cover story ready to deploy to explain why they have been in the same area for a sustained period. It is also vital that operators are honest with their other team members if they suspect they have attracted any third-party interest, this might result in the team leader altering the team positions or covering the main egress points in a slightly different way.


For the sake of our blog this has turned out to be a simple day, our subject is picked up by his regular driver and returned to his home address. Generally, the team will be booked for either a set 10 or 12-hour day and our team leader will contact the client to ask if they would like us to remain in position for any evening movement or to cease at the agreed time.


A later blog A day in the life of a Commercial Surveillance Operation Part 3 will cover vital equipment that our operators need, and what considerations operators need to be aware of at the end of an operation.


If you would like any further information regarding corporate surveillance, matrimonial surveillance, protective surveillance, anti and counter surveillance, physical penetration testing or black teaming, TSCM bug sweeps, close protection or staff security awareness training please contact us:


Email - info@sloaneriskgroup.co.uk

Web – www.sloaneriskgroup.co.uk

Phone - 0203 897 22 72












Surveillance Canary Wharf


Part One – The Start


Operating in the commercial world where the subject of surveillance is often related to matters such as civil litigation, problematic business deals, or a corporate investigation is very different from operating as part of a government, police or military team where the aim is likely to be related to counter terrorism or serious crime and the resources and team sizes considerably larger.


Although over the last few years Sloane Risk Group have been involved in some very in-depth and lengthy operations crossing more than one continent, the majority of our corporate investigations last from a matter of days to a few weeks.


Many clients come to us with corporate fraud problems where they are trying to trace a business debtor or someone who has cheated them financially. Sometimes the amount at stake is big enough to justify a large surveillance team however more often than not the client’s budget is a considerable restraint to the hours that can be spent on the surveillance part of an operation and dictates the size of the team.


A Surveillance team in these situations will often be formed of 4-6 operators. We have a duty of care to our operators as well as an aim to achieve results for our clients, we are therefore very unlikely to send out a single operator, firstly for their own health and safety and secondly because it severely limits what can be achieved. If one person is in a car and the subject exits a location and boards the underground the operator has a dilemma of being able to park for the necessary time period and still keep visual contact with the subject, if the operator is on foot it is just as likely that the person will move by car or taxi. If two operators are in one vehicle there is one that can jump out quickly and follow a subject in to shops, restaurants and on public transport therefore reducing the chances of a loss.


Before we agree to undertake an operation, we will determine if we have ground for surveillance, we will complete a data protection impact assessment (DPIA) and ensure that all information we collect complies with GDPR. We will ensure that all, of our operators are up to date with their Information Commissioners Office (ICO) registrations and their necessary insurances and qualifications are in date. We will also only undertake an operation if we are satisfied that the client has a legitimate interest and both parties are happy with the set objectives.


We always try to determine the subjects pattern of life (POL) before an investigation takes place, this will enable us to identify when the subject is active, how they move around, the type of vehicle they drive or are driven in, where it is parked and if their immediate route from their home or office takes them through multiple traffic light controlled junctions.  We can then choose the hours of operation and the composition of our team carefully, for instance deciding how many operators we need to cover the exits that the subject may take, what sort of vehicles we need to use, if we need to use motorbikes, if more men or women on the team will be beneficial, and how they should dress to blend in to the subjects surroundings. Quite often this pre-planning will include in-depth Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) techniques, the most basic searches being related to mapping of the subject’s address, information from their social media interactions, their interests and the people and places that they visit.


On the day that surveillance commences we have to take in to account where we will be positioned to gain visual identification of our subject and then to follow them, we have to consider restrictions such as red routes and areas where traffic will build up causing large vehicles to block the view that we need. Our Operators could be in the same spot for many hours and they need to fit in to that location, to build a cover story, to be aware of attracting any 3rd party interest around them and to rotate the position between the team if necessary. This part of the job is for some the hardest, the operators need to remain alert and not become distracted whilst being ready to respond quickly at a moments notice.


When the subject is sighted the operator needs to remain calm, even the most experienced officers still get an adrenaline spike when a long awaited subject appears, it is vital for operators to control their actions, relay clear and concise information via the radio to the rest of the team, gain imagery of the subject and retain as much detail as possible, in a small team it may also be necessary to take notes for the operational log.


Once the subject starts to move the operators need to maintain excellent judgement and timing. If operating in Central London the team will need to remain very close to the subject as if they are held at one set of red lights they could suffer a loss and that could be the end of the follow. At the same time, they cannot be too close as they will risk compromising themselves especially if the subject is surveillance aware. It is very important that our clients are honest with us if they know the subject has been under surveillance before as this may have an impact on the subject’s awareness levels and may require a larger team and more frequent rotations.


We will consider using tracking devices to support an operation, our lead investigators are members of the Association of British Investigators (ABI) who strive to maintain high standards in an unregulated industry, they approve of tracking devices being used in support of an operation which we agree with as it makes the follow much safer for the operators who will not be tempted to violate traffic regulations or risk themselves to maintain control of the subject. Tracking devices are however only an aid, operators still need to have an excellent knowledge of the area in which they are operating, if the tracking device is slow to relay the location which is common the operators need to be able to respond to commentary from a callsign who will gain control of the subject, this commentary will state information such as where exactly where the subject is, what they are doing, how far from traffic lights, what lane they are in, what general direction they are heading in and any other information that will help the rest of the team maintain suitable timing and distance from the subject. If an operator knows the road names and the area, they are far more likely to be able to take alternative routes, get ahead if required and maintain the correct place in the follow.  In an ideal world operators would be two up in a vehicle, this enables the passenger to direct the driver and someone is always ready for the foot moves however with a small team this is not always possible and it is quite normal for operators to have to navigate themselves, know where the subject is, give commentary and drive safely. This sort of ability takes years of training and experience and knowing the area of operations is a massive advantage. We frequently run training exercises to enable our operators to keep their skills up to date, test new equipment and to help integrate newer team members.


Further blogs will cover part 2 of a Surveillance operation “The follow” and part 3 “The end of the operation”


If you would like any further information regarding corporate surveillance, matrimonial surveillance, protective surveillance, anti and counter surveillance, physical penetration testing or black teaming, TSCM bug sweeps, close protection or staff security awareness training please contact us:


Email - info@sloaneriskgroup.co.uk

Web – www.sloaneriskgroup.co.uk

Phone - 0203 897 22 72