Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Under Surveillance

I had a fun time yesterday being tailed around the streets of Bangkok by a surveillance team. And it taught me a lot about following people!

An old pal of mine used to run surveillance teams for the Met and for the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Now he trains surveillance teams in Bangkok.

Usually they pick a member of public at random and follow them for practice, but yesterday my mate decided to have some fun with his team and get them to follow me instead. Usually the target has no idea he's being followed, but by briefing me we were able to set up a few surprises for the team.

He had also tasked one of his more experienced guys to tail the team that were tailing me so see how clued they were up on counter surveillance. My pal in turn would hang back, watching to see how well the team tailed me. He communicated with me - and them - through text messages.

I was picked up at a Starbucks in the city, drinking coffee. My pal had sent them a photograph of me in the cafe and once they were up and running I was given the go signal.

I walked to a nearby Skytrain station and got onto the Skytrain to another part of the city. I was sure that I'd spotted one of my tails within a few minutes, a middle-aged guy in an orange t-shirt. I was also suspicious of a guy with a hearing aid and a rucksack.

I got off and walked to a shop, on the way doing a U-turn to go to an ATM. I didn't see anybody and  I spent fifteen minutes in the shop and the only person I spotted was my pal walking by.

Out of the shop I used a footbridge to cross the main Sukhumvit Road and that was when I had a definite spot of a tail, a young guy in front of me who had looked over his shoulder. Just once, but it seemed an odd thing to do and it put him on my radar At that point I remembered that (maybe) he had been outside the Starbucks, but I wasn't sure.

Down off the footbridge I pulled another U-turn to talk to a couple of time-share touts, and I saw the young guy hesitate so I was sure I had made him. I then pulled the big surprise, I hopped on a motorcycle taxi to a local park. I was fairly sure that would lose any tail.  I got to the park and waited for the exercise to end before heading off to meet the team.

The guy on the footbridge was indeed one of the team, but to be fair I only spotted him because I was looking. The two guys I had made on the Skytrain - Orange Shirt and Hearing Aid - were nothing to do with the surveillance team, they were just civilians.

It turns out that they had been with me every step of the way. There had been two of them on the Skytrain, and one of them was close enough to get a photograph of me in Starbucks!

Another guy managed to get next to me on the Skytrain. I didn't see him either!

They had no problems tailing me along the street, and often they were ahead of me or on the other side of the road. They managed to get a picture of me from an overhead bridge.

One of my U-turns did almost bring me on top of one of them, apparently, but he had turned and bought a lottery ticket from a pavement vendor and I missed him completely.

The big surprise was that one of the tails had managed to get himself on a motorcycle taxi and follow me to the park. He'd even managed to get a photograph of me on the bike.

Here's the scary thing. I knew I was being followed. I had counter-survellance measures in place. But I still only spotted one guy. And to be fair, I only spotted him because I was looking for tails. I was actually more certain that Orange Shirt and Hearing Aid were tails, and I was totally wrong.

The guys who where on my tail are still being trained but they were ace. They didn't spot the guy who was tailing them, though. And neither did I. But he was with us every step of the way.

The big lesson I took away from this is that if you are being followed by experts, no matter how prepared you are, you almost certainly won't know it.


Unknown said...

I was approached by our local surveillance team to be followed I was given a brief and had to set off from my own home to Leeds and at one point had to pretend to make a specific phone call with details. Like you I was conscience I was being followed and like you identified one, but did manage to loose them at one point, and had to be rung up to ask where I was. I must say I enjoyed my day, and even though I was looking round when I made the phone call they pick up details of my conversation. So it nice to know they are spot on in the UK as well

Unknown said...

Stephen, I would have thought that with all the skills of Dan Shepherd you wouldn't have been followed for so long and would easily have lost them.

Stephen Leather said...

ha ha! Actually I was under orders not to try to lose them. I could have given them the slip on the Skytrain fairly easily or taken a motorcycle taxi at a point where they couldn't and it would all have been over and not much of an exercise. The plan was to behave normally but to do a couple of things which would make it difficult for them!

Unknown said...

Stephen, as a massive fan of your Dan Shepherd works, how can I go about obtaining your autograph before the surveillance teams out there apprehend you ?

Stephen Leather said...

Easily arranged, Paul. You can contact me through my Facebook page.... https://www.facebook.com/stephenleatherofficial