Counter-surveillance and anti-surveillance

Our H.E.A.T. courses are designed to teach attendees the ability to survive and operate effectively in Hostile Environments.  Although Hostile Environments are typically characterised by emerging markets and emerging countries, Hostile Environments exist anywhere there is a risk of loss of liberty, life and limb.  Whilst the most obvious Hostile Environments include Outer Space,Antarctica and areas with erupting volcanoes, your own home country could become a Hostile Environment.

In South Africa, the acquisition or use of certain information could be construed as a “threat to national security” and could get the holder of such information arrested and imprisoned.  Imagine you are a journalist in South Africa and have access to information that a senior political figure used bribe money, from the controversial 1990s Arms’ Deal, to furnish their home.  The information you have confirms that contractors were paid generously from an account into which commercial agents working for the arms’ suppliers had paid substantial “commissions”.

Before publishing such information, the senior political figure could utilise the state’s resources and place you under surveillance.

What is Surveillance?

Surveillance includes various methods to obtain information, to make connections, and to establish a person’s location.  Surveillance implies the monitoring of the activities of an individual or persons, a place or an object.  Depending on the item to be placed under surveillance, the surveillance team can use one or a combination of methods including: static surveillance, foot surveillance, mobile surveillance or technical surveillance.  Typically, technical surveillance involves the use of GPS-based tracking devices, telephone taps, email interception, mobile phone monitoring and reviewing of your SMS stream, Whatsapp application or BBM communications on your mobile phones.  Technical surveillance can also include optics such as binoculars, spotting scopes, night vision equipment, infrared cameras and wireless and remote images transmission technology.

Let’s now highlight the differences between counter-surveillance and anti-surveillance.

Counter- surveillance is used to help you recognise that you are under surveillance and to develop suitable countermeasures.  As such, counter-surveillance is different from anti-surveillance which includes techniques to enable you to do what you need to do, despite knowing that you are under surveillance.  For example: a counter-surveillance technique might be to drive erratically in order to prevent a mobile surveillance team from following you.  In an anti-surveillance move, you might drive normally to lull the opposition regarding your intentions and then drive along an unexpected route to provide you with the opportunity to do what you need to do, before returning to the attention of the surveillance team.

Whilst human surveillance can be detected by physical means, specialist equipment is needed to uncover technical surveillance.  The range of technical surveillance devices includes miniature cameras and tracking units to more substantial remote image transmission cameras that can send signals over substantial distances.  Likewise, listening devices range from transmitters hidden in a building or in a vehicle to the more exotic microwave or laser-beam devices that are aimed at a window.  For any of these devices to work effectively, the transmitters need to be near the target (you) in order to hear what you are saying or record what you are doing.  Owing to the easy availability and cost effectiveness of purchasing clandestine listening devices and other covert technology, it is recommended that you keep a hand held radio spectrum analyser in your travel kit.  You can use this device to scan electronically for transmitting devices or mobile phones in various environments including an office, your hotel room or neutral meeting places.

The more professional scanners will silently vibrate to alert you that a transmitting device (including a mobile phone) is present.  You can also use another hand-held device to scan an area for covert cameras as the unit uses light to refract off camera lenses, however small.  A GPS interrupter is a small unit that interferes with the GPS signal sent from a tracking unit.  Whilst such a device will effectively neutralise the tracking devices’ capabilities, it will also prevent you from using a GPS navigational aid in the car.

So, when deploying counter-measures techniques to prevent technical surveillance, consider what will work, know what equipment you must use and in what environment in order to counter the technical threat perceived.

During our H.E.A.T.  course, we dedicate an entire section to counter-surveillance.  You will learn easy and clever techniques to detect if you are under surveillance and, consequently, how to react.