Posted on: March 11, 2008 Posted by: Alan Judd Comments: 4

So, you think you’re being followed. Two questions: first, who do you think you are? Are you really so secret and important that someone is prepared to spend time and money watching where you’re going?

During the 1980s miners’ strikes the press reported that an associate of Arthur Scargill fled the United Kingdom, convinced that the British “secret police” were following him. Why should they? It would have been perfectly obvious where he was and what he was doing: organizing strikes is hardly clandestine. (He took refuge in East Germany, of all places.)

Second question: is there someone out there who very badly wants to know what you’re doing, who believes that surveillance is the only way to find out, and who is able to follow you themselves or pay someone else to? Unless such a person or organisation exists, forget it.

But if all that does apply to you, how might you tell you’re being followed?

How to tell you’re being followed

Don’t bother looking for men with turned-up collars, who peer round corners or keep tying their shoelaces. Real surveillants will never be seen doing anything odd; they are chameleons who strive to look ordinary, matching whatever environment they’re in. They’ll dress as poorly or well as is appropriate. They won’t dawdle or stare, but will move purposefully as if hurrying about their business.

Anyone who draws attention to himself is almost certainly innocent. It’s ordinary people who do strange things. Take 15 minutes to watch a street and you’ll see people go in and out of the same shop three times, pausing at an empty road then crossing when it’s busy, retracing their steps, catching buses at the last second, dropping things, listening to War and Peace on their MP3 players, staring about as if they’ve just fallen off the moon and gazing for ever at a hairbrush in a shop window.

If you must check for surveillance, don’t keep glancing over your shoulder. Appearing to suspect you’re being followed suggests you’re doing something to merit it.

Anyway, if you’re being tailed by a serious outfit they won’t only be behind you, but ahead and to the side as well; there won’t just be one or two people on your case, but a whole team, with others in reserve. Maybe the whole street is following you. And your followers will keep changing their appearances in ways you won’t notice — women particularly can use a scarf, a shopping bag or a coat to alter themselves in seconds.

If you want to identify a tail, look at their shoes: they are hard to change. Move frequently between crowded and empty places: this forces them to keep closing for fear of losing you, drawing back, then closing again. This makes them conspicuous. But don’t jump on or off trains just before the doors close — that’s for the movies; and anyway, a good surveillance team will already have someone on the train, as well as on the platform. Remember they’re not trying to catch or chase you, just to “house” you — to see where you live, where you’re going, or whom you’re meeting.

The same principles apply on the road. That solitary black Mondeo following you doggedly (assuming you’re moving at all) is not a tail; instead, your followers will be in many different cars, some near you, some ahead, some behind and out of sight — and some not on the road at all.

Don’t try to shake them off by speeding — they’re better drivers than you. In fact, you cause them more problems by going slowly because anyone else proceeding at your snail’s pace will be conspicuous.

The exception

The exception to all this is the stalker.

He’ll be a loner, and he’ll almost certainly stay behind you. If you suspect you’re being stalked, use the crowd-space-crowd trick until you find a place (a shop with more than one exit, say) where you can observe if he tries to close in. Note everything — shoes again — and tell the police.

Or, if you’re confident, become the hunter: follow him and house him. You might find you enjoy it.

The one that got away

Even professionals are fallible. After the second world war, new recruits to MI5 were trained by a martinet who took justified pride in his invisibility. When the martinet died, his followers decided to attend his funeral — secretly, of course.

One of them told me how their cars joined the procession at a distance– not easy because slow vehicles, like slow people, are hard to follow discreetly. Sometimes they had to overtake, at others drop back or take a parallel road.

They performed these manoeuvres with a professionalism they were sure he’d have been proud of. But they lost the cortège, missing the funeral entirely and leaving — they imagined — the old boy raging in his coffin.

P.S. Are you using Brave yet? Delay the skynet by using the browser that automatically strips all tracking and ads. Brendan Eich (of JavaScript fame) is its CEO.

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Visitor

The article starts with how you probably aren’t being followed because following people is such a hassle, and you probably aren’t worth it. Then it completely contradicts itself, and says that if you are being followed, you will be followed by a professional team of people. Utter bullpoopy. The price someone is willing to pay to get something accomplished is directly proportional to the value of the accomplishment, and the price of failure. If you are a suspected terrorist/spy, perhaps you will have a team. If you are cheating on your girlfriend, it will probably just be 1 or two people. Usually (about 90%), when someone is being followed, they are being followed by one person who is not a professional. Perhaps this article is a good one for learning how to handle being followed by a team. However the surrounding, “if you are important than you must be so important that you warrant a team” suggests otherwise.

Nathan
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Nathan

I love it when people throw random stats around to make themselves sound confident and credible. About 90%, indeed! What study are you citing? When did you count up and tabulate this data? Or could it be that you’re just making things up out of the whole cloth? Oh, and by the way, learn the definition of “contradiction.”

Elize
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Elize

After living in Johannesburg most of my adult life, i got used to glancing in the windows, just to see who walks behind me. Very funny article 😀

Marco
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Marco

The article is not much practical use to me (or maybe it is and I don’t know it?) But it sure is entertaining. Thanks so much, I enjoyed it thoroughly.