Characteristics of Terrorist's Surveillance

The recent increase in reported cases of individuals conducting surveillance in the United States indicates possible targeting by terrorists. A persistent stream of reported suspicious incidents requires an understanding of the purpose of terrorist surveillance, to know what terrorists look for, and how they conduct surveillance operations. Prompt reporting of suspicious activities may prevent a terrorist attack.

Terrorists conduct surveillance to determine a target’s suitability for attack by assessing the capabilities of existing security and discerning weaknesses in the facility. After identifying weaknesses, they plan their attack at the point of greatest vulnerability. Because terrorists must conduct surveillance-often over a period of weeks, months, or years-detection of their activities is possible. Regardless of their level of expertise, terrorists invariably make mistakes. The emphasis of surveillance detection is to key in on indicators of terrorist surveillance activities. Knowing what to look for and being able to distinguish the ordinary from the extraordinary are the key elements to successful surveillance detection.

Successful surveillance detection efforts require immediate reporting of incidents similar to the following:

  • Multiple sightings of the same suspicious person, vehicle, or activity, separated by time, distance, or direction
  • Individuals who stay at bus or train stops for extended periods while buses and trains come and go
  • Individuals who carry on long conversations on pay or cellular telephones
  • Individuals who order food at a restaurant and leave before the food arrives or who order without eating
  • Joggers who stand and stretch for an inordinate amount of time
  • Individuals sitting in a parked car for an extended period of time
  • Individuals who don’t fit into the surrounding environment because they are wearing improper attire for the location or season
  • Individuals drawing pictures or taking notes in an area not normally of interest to a tourist or showing unusual interest in or photographing security cameras, guard locations, or watching security reaction drills and procedures
  • Individuals who exhibit suspicious behavior, such as staring or quickly looking away from individuals or vehicles as they enter or leave facilities or parking areas

Terrorists may also employ aggressive surveillance techniques, such as making false phone threats, approaching security checkpoints to ask for directions, or “innocently” attempting to smuggle nonlethal contraband through checkpoints. The terrorists intend to determine firsthand the effectiveness of search procedures and to gauge the alertness and reaction of security personnel.

Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Any Information should be forwarded to LAPD Terrorist Threat Assessment Center at 1-877-A-THREAT (1-877-284-7328).