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Business Traveller and Surveillance Recognition

The subject of surveillance is extremely important to anyone conducting business abroad.  Surveillance could be indicative of targeting for reasons other than interest by a foreign intelligence or security service.  Terrorists and criminals also use surveillance for operational preparation prior to committing other terrorist or criminal acts.  It should be noted, however, that the normal business traveler, who only spends a few days in each city and has a low profile, is not really a viable target for terrorists and the risk is very low.

The real terrorist threat to a traveler is that of being at the wrong place at the wrong time and becoming an inadvertent victim of a terrorist act.

Surveillance is an assessment of vulnerabilities in an attempt to determine any information available, from any source, about you or your activities, such as lifestyle or behavior that can be used against you.  If the intended target recognizes the fact that he or she is under surveillance, preventive measures can be taken that will hopefully deter further interest.  As an example, if the surveillant(s) realizes that he or she has been spotted, then the assumption must be that the operation has been compromised and that the police have been notified or other preventive measures have been taken.  On the other hand, if a traveler is being scrutinized by a foreign intelligence or security agency, the surveillance may well continue.

Surveillance takes many forms, from static, such as an observer physically or electronically watching or monitoring your activities in your hotel room or office, to mobile surveillance where the individual being watched is actually followed either on foot or by vehicle.

How do you recognize surveillance?  There is only one way:  be ALERT to your surroundings.  As a traveler, you probably will not be at any one location long enough to know what the norm is in your surroundings, and this puts you at a disadvantage.  You will not realize that the person sitting in the car across the street is a stranger and should not be there, whereas a resident would immediately become suspicious.

Be observant and pay attention to your sixth sense.  If you get the funny feeling that something is not right or that you are being watched, PAY ATTENTION!  That sixth sense is trying to tell you something, and more often than not it will be right.

In any event, report your suspicions or any information to the general manager of the local affiliate or your embassy or consulate just in case something does occur.  If there is any question about what actions should be taken, and guidance is not available from the affiliate, contact your embassy or consulate and they will advise you as to what you should do and whether or not the information should be reported to the local authorities.  But, the most important thing you should do is making sure that your demeanor is professional and everything you do is above board and not subject to compromise. 

If you have reason to believe that you are under surveillance, here is what you should NOT do:

  • DO NOT try to slip away or lose the followers as this will probably alert them and belie the fact that you are just a businessperson or tourist going about your business.
  • In your hotel room, assume that the room and telephone are being monitored.  DO NOT try to play investigator and start looking for electronic listening devices.  This again could send the wrong signals to the surveillant.  Just make sure that you do not say or do anything in your hotel room that you would not want to see printed on the front page of the New York Times.

Response To Targeting

If you have any reason to believe that you are targeted by an intelligence or security service, there is really only one course of action to follow.  Report your suspicions to the affiliate or embassy or consulate and follow their guidance.