Tradecraft - Secrets of the Spies

Detecting Surveillance

"Knowing whether you are being followed or watched is a basic element in any espionage activity. There's no point being a spy if your opposition follows your moves and know what you're up to. You would then become an instrument of the opposition, subject to manipulation."

  • Be observant without staring or rubbernecking.
  • Pay attention to faces and clothes, particularly shirts, coats and shoes.
  • Design a Surveillance Detection Route (SDR) that is both logical and will force the opposition to show themselves.
  • Know in advance what you will do if you confirm surveillance.
  • Remember: 'Once is coincidence, twice is enemy action.'


"Good spies like to go unnoticed, know what the opposition is doing, be able to switch identities, have good commo with agents, and be prepared for all eventualities, including emergencies. What tools or gadgets will help with that?

Let's start with disguises: They run the gamut from wigs and mustaches to full-blown face masks. But also includes glasses and different clothes (try a cleric's collar). In short, whatever it takes for the opposition, which already knows what you look like, not to recognize you.

The number one rule with disguises: Do not choose one that attracts attention. Don't wear that clerical collar to a nude beach! Don't wear sunglasses in the rain! And don't wear a cheap mustache past an Immigration inspector!

The simpler the disguise the better. You'd be surprised how a simple pair of glasses can change your appearance. Or how much just combing your hair a different way creates a new you. Combine both and you've altered your facial appearance quite a bit.

Now for the body: Carry a brief-bag with a jacket and pair of shoes inside. Change in the restroom; anyone watching would probably not recognize you coming out."


"Two principals about signals:

  1. KISS. For "keep it simple, stupid." The simpler and easier a commo plan, the easier to execute it.
  2. Signals must appear natural. A tossed orange peel near a newspaper vending machine is always better than a red flag in your window!

So, your tools: Chalk, bottles caps, orange peels — and tacks for sticking on telephone poles. Have these tools with you before you travel; don't wait to buy them when you need them."

Got all that? Then let's do this!

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Excerpts are from Basic Spy Tradecraft by Edward Lee Howard. Image credits.

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