Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Anatomy of a (Mostly Successful) Follow

I had a big day recently, Dear Reader, on a surveillance case following a subject from the only location we knew where she would be at within a particular timeframe.

The mission was to obtain a visual ID on her and commence with the follow to determine where she was staying and whether or not she was meeting anyone else. 

The Client prepared a detailed brief along with supplying photographs of the Subject and possible Third Party.

And this was my very first client-set value-based billing case.

So how did it go?

Firstly, there were a number of issues we had to contend with. The Subject, let's call her Carol (not her real name) was holidaying out of town with her two young daughters. She was taking the daughters to the airport to fly unaccompanied back to their home city while Carol was staying a few extra days.

The only piece of concrete information we had in regards to Carol's whereabouts was the flight details of the daughters - departure time and gate number - and so planned to stake out the airport to ID Carol as she arrived and commence the surveillance from that point.

We decided that, given the multiple points of entry to and exit from the airport, this was a four-man job, in two vehicles.

I was deployed on foot in front of the domestic departures terminal while my backup, in his vehicle, was stationed at a lay-by on the approaching road to the pickup/drop off area.

The other vehicle was stationed further down that same road, facing the other direction. Once I had eyeballed Carol and followed her back to where she parked her rental (getting a description and plate details), they would take up the initial follow while I would be picked up and join the merry chase.    

We were in position a couple of hours prior to the scheduled flight, just in case they arrived early to have lunch.

Sure enough Carol and her daughters arrived a good hour early and I was able to easily ID her from the photograph supplied. They had come from the general direction of the short- and medium-term car park and I surreptitiously trailed them as they entered the terminal and made their way to the unaccompanied minors station to check in, then proceed upstairs to the departures gate and food court.

I was relaying updates via RT to the others outside including a description of Carol's clothing.

So far all was textbook.

They lunched in the food court while I had a coffee at a nearby leaner. (Always carry some cash with you while on surveillance - faster than having to mess around paying by debit card and less of a distraction).

Then they decided to go have a look at some shops and at this point I had to make a tactical decision. For me to continue to follow on foot would pose a risk of being burned as the shops were sparsely populated by foot traffic and there were no convenient points at which to loiter legitimately such as benches etc.

I decided that given that we knew where Carol had most likely parked her rental, and knowing what time the girls were flying out, I would reposition outside to catch Carol as she departed. The risk being that perhaps she had returned her rental vehicle and was intending to fly to another city or otherwise do something else we had not anticipated.

However, the gambit worked out in our favour. Shortly after the girls' flight had departed, Carol exited the terminal and looked around and started walking towards me.


She then approached two Airport Security officers.


And they pointed back towards the car park area.


Turns out Carol has a crap sense of direction as we were also later to confirm.

I followed Carol as she walked into the car park and waited while she paid her parking fee at a station. However, at this point, I lost sight of her as she made her way to her vehicle.

Fuck fuck fuck!!!

Calling in 'temporarily unsighted', I tried to regain eyeball while not looking like a surveillance guy who just lost his target...

..and there she was in a bright red Honda making for the exit.

Calling for my backup to uplift me, I gave the details of Carol's rental to Team 2 and waited for the pick up. Team 2 confirmed they had commenced the follow and provided updates on direction of travel etc.   

We continued towards Bad City with Team 2 in control and only a few kilometres down the road Carol turned off into a strip mall. We positioned ourselves accordingly so as to have direct sight of her vehicle and be able to commence the follow on either direction on exit. Luckily there was only the one exit from the car park.

Carol made her way into the supermarket and spent some time shopping. I sent in Hugh (not his real name either) and he confirmed that she was doing a 'large shop' - several days worth of items.

Carol returned to her vehicle and I gave the standby, standby call but the vehicle just sat there and didn't move.

Ten minutes... fifteen minutes...twenty minutes... the damn car was still just sitting there.

Now while we could see her vehicle, we couldn't see into it so I called for Sven (you guessed it, not his real name), one of the guys in Team 2, to do a walk-past and get an eyeball on what was happening in the car.

A couple of minutes later he reported that not only was Carol in the vehicle but so was the Third Party, Tom (nup, that's not his real name either). Obviously this came as a surprise to all of us as no-one had seen him arrive or get into the vehicle. 

A few minutes after this revelation, Carol and Tom were on the move, the Honda nosed into traffic and headed back towards the airport. This time we, Team 1, had control with Team 2 coming up behind.

At a major intersection, Carol turned onto a ring road that headed towards the north of Bad City. Also it was in the direction of the alpine resort town she had been staying in.


Once we arrived at the main highway junction, Carol turned towards the motorway heading out of town and it became evident that she was not planning to stay in Bad City. No worries, we were in position several cars behind her with clear line of sight.

135km later, with several position changes with Team 2, it was obvious where Carol was going: Happy Springs - a popular destination for lovebirds seeking someplace to snuggle amid the splendour of snow-capped peaks.

The first sign something was wrong was when Carol suddenly turned right onto a minor road and then abruptly did a u-turn and resumed her previous direction of travel.

Was that a counter-surveillance move, Carol?

The next sign was a few kilometres further when Carol abruptly pulled off to another minor road to the left.

Were we burnt?

Happy Springs was only a couple of kilometers further up so we decided to regroup and contact the client and also check up on our backup plan.

You see, Carol had a business iPhone on her and her husband, the business owner, had provided us access to the 'find my iphone' feature. We had already determined that the phone was on earlier.

And there she was. Strangely, the map showed her in a clearing in a small pine plantation just off the road a few kilometres from the turn-off.  

The Client also had accessed the phone finder and thought that perhaps she had caught on we were following and was lying in wait.

However, we updated the map and saw that the clearing wasn't empty at all but contained three buildings. Checking Google Maps we learned that the site was that of a 'couple's retreat' - featuring two cabins with a single king-sized bedroom.

Well, that certainly clarified a few things.

We decided to have dinner and wait for full dark before conducting a recce of the property.

I had Hugh drop me off some 500 metres from the target address and made my way on foot. Like a ninja.

A sneaky ninja.

I carefully made my way onto the property, creeping through the pine plantation. One of the cabins was dark, the other I could tell had lights on inside but the curtains were all drawn shut. Lights were also on in the main house and I could see people inside as all curtains were open.

Behind the second cabin was Carol's vehicle.

At this point, the only thing I could feasibly do was take a photograph of the vehicle, then exited the property and took a photograph of the retreat's street sign.

Hugh picked me up and we rendezvoused with Team 2 back on the highway and called the Client with the bad news.

Further surveillance was impractical given the isolation of the area as well as issues regarding private property (so no building a hide in the plantation) and the Client understood and accepted this.

We left Happy Springs and returned to Bad City - all up a 12 hour day.

Despite being unable to get a photograph or video of Carol and Tom together, the Client decided that we met his expectations and that this was worth $3000 to him.

If I were to have invoiced this out normally, I probably would have arrived at a similar sum anyway, but in any case I was happy enough at the way things turned out given the number of unknowns we faced.

And it was great being able to operate in a team! 

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