The Art of Dismounted Surveillance


The Art of Dismounted Surveillance

Dismounted surveillance or foot surveillance is considered by many to require the most innovation and creativeness amongst the various types of surveillance methods. It is by far the most thought provoking in preparation and will demand a level of critical thinking that will test your resolve.

Just as in any surveillance operation, the first priority is to educate yourself and team thoroughly on the subject or subjects, their routines, habits, family friends and associates. Make notes on everything and learn to commit as much to memory as possible. Again it will help you to recall certain facts and data if you assign “nicknames” to the subject, his associates, family and friends.

Planning for this type of operation includes physical conditioning as you may find yourself walking for hours at a time while “shadowing” the subject. It will be important for you to understand and prepare for any turn of events while out and about.

The subject may be walking toward a train, bus or vehicle and thus you must prepare in advance for this type of contingency. Equally possible, they may get on a plane or boat as part of their plan. In any of these cases your operational planning should have included solutions and decisions for these types of actions.

Depending on the situation, it may be best to stop the surveillance at that point while gathering information on the targets destination. On the other hand, if the circumstances dictate, you may have to follow them onto the plane, train, bus, etc. and preparations include having enough cash, credit cards, passport, cell phone and the like with you at any given time so that you can act in a moment’s notice.

This type of surveillance can be executed with one operative, multiple operatives or teams. Usually the benefits outweigh the risk in employing a surveillance team or multiple operatives.

If you have to follow the subject for any length of time, it can get quite tiring and when you tire you get sloppy endangering the operation as well as your life.

By utilizing a team or other operatives you can rotate out people and be better prepared for situations where the subject advances to another type of transportation.

Having teams or multiple operatives is also good in the event the subject has a meet with a contact and you have to “burst” or split the operatives up so that you can now follow the secondary subject or “contact” as well as the primary.

There is security in numbers as they say and having more than one operative in the field on an operation can be a lifeline in that you have back-up in the event you are compromised or ambushed.


The first type of foot surveillance is called a “loose tail”. This is setup so that the operatives can observe the subject from a distance. The operative here is interested in following the subject to a particular destination perhaps to confirm or I.D. something or someone such as a “contact” but really needs to stay undetected.

The “loose tail” or “shadow” is also advantageous for observing and recording data such as photographic or video, which can be used further down the line in a court of law or as a “negotiating tool” to get the subject to “flip” on their contacts.

For whatever reason you employ this method, the “Loose shadow” will allow you to keep eyes on the target while remaining undetected.

A second type of foot surveillance that may be utilized is known as a “Close tail or shadow” AKA Close Surveillance. This is more risky insofar as detection for the operative and is used when you must maintain “close” observation on the subject or when you cannot afford to lose site or track of them.

Here the objective may be more critical than the surveillance itself.

An example of this would be following a subject whom is an arms dealer because you have good Intelligence that they have acquired a “radiological dispersion device” or “dirty bomb”. The primary objective would be to find and acquire the device. Secondary objective may be to observe record and or terminate the subject(s) and the contact.

“Discreet Surveillance” is similar in aim as close surveillance in that you are following the subject closely because you must have eyes on the target and cannot afford to lose them.

Discreet Surveillance, from experience is a more evolved art form in that it requires the operative to not only be highly skilled, but to seamlessly blend into whatever environment they are operating in allowing them to go undetected even by the most discerning eyes.

The operation may require a “Forced” shadow or tail AKA Forced Surveillance. This is a situation in which you do not care if the subject knows of your presence or you purposefully want them to be cognizant of the surveillance.

An example of a situation where you may want them to know they are being watched is when the subject(s) is a white collar individual or group that you know has nervous tendencies or habits which you can exploit to get them to crack, “flip” on their contacts or even confess.

Another situation in which you would employ forced surveillance is when you have intelligence that the target is planning something that they may postpone or cancel in the event they become aware they are being watched and or followed.

Lastly, if your operation involves working with someone you have already “flipped” and you are using them to get to one of their contacts then they will obviously know you are following them in order to record a meeting, exchange, buy or sell with the associate.


The very nature of surveillance requires that you study the subject and the environment, which you will be operating in. Every operative involved in the operation should have a working knowledge of the subject’s habits, routines, family, friends, associates, hang-outs / places they frequent, addresses, vehicles they own, tag numbers, other transportation owned such as boats, planes and the corresponding tail numbers, licenses, make, models of all of it-before initiating the operation.

You should be intimately familiar with the subject’s face so that if they try to alter it by using props or disguises you will still have instant recognition. This information can provide you with potential whereabouts when and if the subject evades surveillance or you need to find them at any given time.

As mentioned earlier, knowing the immediate and surrounding lay of the land is critical to the operation and your safety. Get to know the Area of Operation (AO), and thus streets by physically walking them, driving them and when feasible, by taking mass transit such as trains and buses. Be sure to acquire bus and train schedules and know exact locations of major airports as well as executive type airports.

Car rental places are also another venue, which you must explore. Learn about the companies and how they operate insofar as how they do their rental agreements and what they consist of, what is required upon renting a vehicle, etc.

Learn every street, ally and rooftop and while out doing your geographic reconnaissance, make mental notes of locations and places that you feel could be “choke points”, places in which you and your team could be ambushed or “taken out”.

Always remember, you and your team are playing in the target’s sandbox. They have intimate knowledge of people, places and things that can and will be used to hide, escape or get to you. Remain vigilant at all times and keep an eye out for bigger buildings, stores, restaurants and the like that may have multiple points of egress that could be used by the target to slip away.

Look for vantage points where you could overtake the subject and any associates if needed, and places or areas that could lend well to concealment in the event you need to hide in plain sight to avoid detection, these places are called cover stops.

Make sure as you do your “recon” that you do not cause unwanted attention to yourself. You must blend into the environment. Utilize the local stores and shops to help make you “invisible”. This means dressing as someone would dress in that environment. Eating the food that is native to that culture or area, carrying credit cards from banks specific to that area and cash in small denominations from local currency is all part of your cloak of invisibility.

Communication is crucial to any surveillance operation. When the subject is on the move, you must be able to communicate updates and whereabouts to other operatives on the team. It is also sound practice to check in regularly so that the team leader or command post knows your present condition. Cell phones are essential; always carry the charger and any other communication device needed with you.

All team members should be briefed on “impersonal communication”. This is your ability to convey a thought or idea non-verbally. Impersonal communication is especially useful when your proximity to the subject precludes you from employing a cell phone or a walkie-talkie.

You can use hand signals or items of clothing or accessories to make a statement. For example if you wear your ball cap with the “bill” forward it might tell the others on the team to maintain the surveillance as previously planned whereas if you turn the bill to the rear, it may imply that the operation has been compromised.

Whatever signals you use, they will indicate a change in condition of the subject or operation and since it will be a “visual” form of communication, the operatives must maintain a status of full alert.. In other words stay frosty!

When planning the operation it will be important to designate the various impersonal communications and what they stand for. Then all members of the team must commit it to memory.


In planning for your surveillance operation consider the type of clothing that you will need. This should be dictated by the local customs as well as the climate and local weather conditions.

Always have changes of clothing with you either in a satchel type over the shoulder bag or layer your clothing so that you can shed some of it to alter your appearance.

Additionally, you will want to have props and disguises handy either in your bag or pockets so that you can make alterations to your look at various intervals. This is especially helpful for the lone operative tailing a subject for extended periods of time or when the surveillance involves a team that rotates.


  1. A good part of your ability to blend in to the environment and evade detection from the subject will depend on your appearance. That is the clothing you wear, how you hold yourself, gait, physical stature, eye and hair color, hairstyle and any other physical attributes that may be indigenous to the area.
  2. Your mental state and how you carry yourself psychologically are critical elements to any operation. If you are having a bad day, get over it. The ability to remain calm cool and collective are normal qualities of any operative. If you find yourself in a situation where you lose the subject do not call unwanted attention to yourself by throwing a fit, cursing or displaying any emotion or behavior the subject may be watching thus confirming the surveillance. If you get burned and you are suddenly thrust into an ambush situation, your ability to think critically is paramount to your survival. If you let your emotions get the best of you, you will be unable to make immediate decisions and you will “freeze” thereby powerless to react or take appropriate actions to thwart the attack.
  3. Having a thorough understanding of physical and psychological alterations during “cannibal stress” is not enough. Your actions will depend on the behavioral chains that are set. If you want to attain the highest level of competency, which is when you are “unconsciously competent” you will need to train appropriately, regularly and seriously.
  4. Do not make eye contact with the subject. If they see you staring at them or your eyes meet even in a casual glance they will very likely know of your presence and will change whatever plans they had (which may have been the objective of your surveillance).
  5. When a subject enters a building, store or café you will have to decide if you should continue following them in or wait until they exit. If you are working alone (and depending if this is a loose or close surveillance operation) you may choose to find a suitable location outside the structure to wait them out. It is also possible that the subject is using the establishment to take an alternate point of egress to evade surveillance.
  6. Having a team or multiple operators positioned at strategic spots outside the establishment on different streets with different viewpoints would serve to maintain a visual on the subject and their whereabouts in the event they attempt an evasive tactic.
  7. Still, if you are working as a lone operative, you can consider finding some adjacent store, café or other business that can serve as temporary cover while you wait to “pick up” the subject again outside. If you find yourself waiting in a restaurant or café, order coffee or tea and have cash readily available to pay as you may be leaving quickly.
  8. Working any surveillance operation places a lot of demands on the operatives. You may start to feel weary, weakened and tired by lack of sleep or food. It is important to maintain a steady energy level while engaged. It is strongly recommended that you bring with you some type of simple food (make sure it is relative to the environment and culture) such as peanuts, almonds, energy bars or the like so that you will maintain your ability to concentrate on the operation.
  9. Many times while working alone you will be following the subject unaware of where they are going. In the event they lead you to a meeting with one of their contacts or associates you will want to continue to follow your primary and gather whatever intelligence you can to pass along.
  10. Now if the situation is one in which you are working under the guise of an intelligence agency, a military or law enforcement Op and you happen upon an arms deal or a terrorist cell, you will likely want to alter the focus of the surveillance in order to follow the new contact. It is also possible, depending on the circumstances, that you will have to act on the spot to thwart the deal and transfer of materials (as would be the case with arms, nuclear materials, explosives or other NBC concerns) this will usually mean engaging the subjects with surprise, speed and overwhelming violence-if you are prepared.
  11. If your odds of failure are high, then you should do whatever you can to make mental notes of faces and items, materials present, force, etc. and continue following while calling in for help. It is absolutely vital here you move without detection as your life and the lives of potentially many depend on it.
  12. Alter how you follow the subject if you are a single operative. Try following on the opposite side of the street where you can still maintain a watchful eye but are not trying to maintain a presence behind them.
  13. People that are adept in surveillance techniques will alternate their step by speeding up and slowing down randomly in an attempt to see if anyone is trying to keep pace with them. If you attempt to stay with the subject while they are “testing” you will get “burned”.
  14. If you are merely there for the purposes of gathering intelligence and observation, then you may want to loosen the tail a bit to avoid detection. If you are working with a team, the point man or woman should then either walk across the street or walk into a shop or store or pretend to be window shopping. Operative “C” or #3 can fall in step behind the subject while Operative “B” or #2 is keeping pace on the opposite street.

Dr. Jeffrey Cantor – Kidnap & ransom response specialist, global security expert and high-risk environment tactical and security instructor, professional educator, corporate trainer, published author and noted speaker, Cantor has spent his life in the service of saving lives and protecting people, governments, corporations and organizations from dangerous situations and high-risk threats. With over three decades of real world operational experience in hostage rescue, counter- terrorism, high risk protection and setting up safe houses for asset transport and relocation, he is a subject matter expert (SME) advisor that has trained S.W.A.T. teams, elite members of the military, undercover operatives from federal agencies, foreign presidential protection detail personnel, contractors, law enforcement instructors, NRA instructors, state troopers, prison CERT teams and self-defense instructors. He is the author of more than two dozen books, manuals, apps and papers in the field of kidnap & ransom, covert surveillance, covert reconnaissance, black ops escape & evasion, edged weapons, active shooter defense, travel security, 360-degree situational awareness, tactical pen defense and more.

Copyright 2017 Dr. Jeffrey Cantor. All Rights Reserved. email: Phone: +1.786.309.7037

(Photo courtesy Miryana Georgieva Zaharieva)

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