Sunday, April 10, 2016

From Bad to Worse: A Surveillance Tale

We've all had those days, Dear Reader, where nothing goes quite right and you would have been better off just not getting out of bed that morning.

This was another one of mine.

It started out innocuously enough: go to the airport and film a person exiting the international arrivals later that evening.

No worries.

However, I was supplied a number of photographs with which to identify the subject and was told that they had no idea of what he currently looked like. One photograph showed the subject with close-cropped spiky hair, the next with a full beard. Could be either, or neither.

Other intel was that the subject was traveling with his father. That was something, at least.

I made my preparations by finding my trusty Lawmate covert camera, getting the battery up to a full charge, and doing a test recording to ensure everything is working as expected.

All set to go!  

So I'm at the international arrivals area well before the flight arrival time and the board indicates they will arrive some 30 minutes early.

So far, so good.   

I have an overpriced and somewhat over-extracted coffee from the nearby airport cafe while killing time. At half-past the hour, and some three minutes to expected arrival, I power up the Lawmate and start the video recording.

The cafe is right next to the arrivals exit so I have a good view of the gates. I figure that disembarking and collecting luggage before exiting customs will take at least 20 minutes if not longer.

My estimate is pretty much on par, the first few people start streaming through the gate around 10 minutes to the hour.

I've moved to a position where my covert camera should be getting a good field of view of everyone passing through the gate, yet I would not be in a direct line of sight of the subject as he comes through. All I have to do now is correctly identify him...

Amongst the first arrivals is a likely contender. An older and younger man together in what could be a father/son configuration. The younger man is of a similar age-group, height and build of the subject. However, unlike the person depicted in any of the photographs, this person has a shaved head.

Is it him? I don't know. I'd give it around a 70% possibility.

I keep my eyes on the pair and observe them walk towards the toilets. The younger throws the older his bag and walks into the toilet area. When he comes out a few minutes later, the pair exit the airport. I have faced them while observing so this should all be recorded anyway.

At this point I have made a judgement call. As I have not conclusively identified the subject, and the bulk of the flight's passengers have yet to exit, it wouldn't be prudent to follow this pair out. Instead, I phone a colleague and dispatch him to the address where the subject is expected to return to.

Just in case.

I then spend the next hour waiting for the subject to exit. There are several possibles, although judging from their lack of receding hairlines (as evidenced in the subject's passport photo), and lack of traveling companion, these are ruled out.

Just as things are looking somewhat grim and the stream of arrivals has virtually reduced to a mere trickle - and the next arrival flight due momentarily - I receive a call from my colleague. The subject has arrived at the address and is in fact the shaved head individual I had initially observed.

Oh well, not a total loss. I've got footage of him and his father arriving, plus some of them walking around in the terminal. That should hopefully be sufficient.

I power down the camera and return to base to look at the surveillance footage.


At first I'm like "what the fuck?", I know I pressed the record button because I noted it in my log. Well, it took me a while to figure out what happened. Turns out the camera jack had somehow managed to pull slightly out of the DVR resulting in no signal to the unit and therefore no recording was initiated.

Shit happens, I guess.

Still have to explain this to the client on Monday. We'll see how they take it.

Philosophically, I hope.


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