Surveillance Secrets (for Authors)

Ever wondered how your character should shadow someone? On Saturday at 2:30PM, Writers Track speaker John Robinson offered some answers in a program called “Hide in Plain Sight—Secrets of Effective Surveillance.” Emphasizing that surveillance is much harder than it looks on television, he focused on sidewalk surveillance and discussed teamwork, gear, and street sense.

Individual surveillance is fast and cheap, but it can lead to fatigue and the risk of recognition. For a surveillance team, he recommends at least three members. Robinson emphasized that anyone doing surveillance should dress and behave as though they belong in their surroundings, avoiding clothing, tattoos, or accessories that stand out in the setting.

Team members should be familiar with each other and anticipate gear they might need. Basic research on the target begins online and then moves to location surveillance to become familiar with area’s security measures. He offered a detailed discussion of team surveillance and position tradeoffs. One important factor to all types of surveillance is staying outside the target’s field of vision, which he said roughly corresponds with the “10 and 2” hand positions for driving. Putting one’s hands at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions from the body gives outlines the main field of vision, and those following someone should stay out of that area. Passing through it three times is a mistake and should lead to a handoff by the surveillance team.

On the other hand, those being followed should look behind them a lot, turn corners, or change directions frequently.

At the end of the program, Robinson recommended several resources, including Surveillance Tradecraft by Peter Jenkins and Surveillance Detection by Laura Clark and William Algaier.

Author of the article

Nancy Northcott is the Comics Track Director for ConTinual. She's also a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction, fantasy, and history. Her published works include the Boar King's Honor historical fantasy trilogy and the Arachnid Files romantic suspense series. Collaborating with Jeanne Adams, she also writes the Outcast Station science fiction mystery series.