Many surveillance operators have had the privilege of being trained by resource-rich organizations such as the military, the police or other government agencies.
Then you retire, and reality hits. Suddenly, you’re operating in the commercial world. People talk about training budgets, cost-effectiveness, man-power limits and reducing vehicle fleet costs.
When faced with all these commercial limitations, how do you replicate the standards that you were trained to meet?
That is the the subject of this piece.
I served in the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF). The relevance of an SF background to surveillance work is this: Historically, after the Second World War and as British SF operations moved from jungle environments to urban environments, there was, amongst other things, a shift in emphasis from tracking skills to surveillance skills.
Neither tracking nor surveillance were the raison d’être of the Special Air Service (SAS). Tracking was always a means to an end either to locate the enemy or to be able to survive against a locally-aware enemy on his own ground. The same principle applied to surveillance skills.
Surveillance skills were used to gather intelligence about the target and/or to survive in a hostile urban environment — where failure would not only have been embarrassing and costly, but life threatening.
After leaving the British Army, I was employed as a contract officer in a Gulf state SF unit with the remit of introducing mobile surveillance as a skill.
Limited Training Resources
Although I was working for a wealthy country, I did have limited training resources — for reasons of security.
Although surveillance techniques are not classified, it is a signature skill. The enemy is interested in knowing which units are surveillance trained. Therefore, I wanted to hide the group’s surveillance training from prying, hostile eyes.
To do this, I had to limit the instructor team to one man — myself. At least until I had a sufficiently large group of experienced operators to whom I could hand over the training.
So how do we replace a sophisticated training unit? How can we cut expenditures of capital and manpower while offering superior skills transfer?
1. Give part of the lesson in the classroom.
Ensure that all the points are hoisted on board before you waste time and petrol.
2. Take three students at a time in one vehicle.
The instructor drives. He paints a scenario and talks the students through what he is doing. The experience of the instructor and his imagination are the critical features.
3. Select a random vehicle and follow it.
Explain to the students what you would be doing on your own (and that you would not ordinarily have four people in the car). At this stage there is a caveat to be aware of: Be certain of any local legislation that applies to your activities and ensure that you comply with the law.
4. Let the students take the driver’s seat.
After the instructor has demonstrated the drill of the theoretical lesson to the students, he then sits in the back. Each of the three students is exercised in the surveillance operator’s position, the driver’s role. The instructor poses them problems as he sits in and monitors their reactions. Again, there are three students to a car so that they can learn by each other’s mistakes.
5. Act out a chase scenario among the students.
The next stage is to set up small scale exercises where one of the students, under tight control, acts as the hare. You observe and debrief the team on their performance.
6. Have the students surveil the instructor.
Finally, you become the hare and see how the team conduct themselves.
This system works. I’ve done it, and it even works despite a language barrier. It can be done.
As a manager with a surveillance remit, you have to ask the following questions:
- How much of your budget is spent effectively?
- How much effort is duplicated and wasted because of inadequately trained staff?
- How many of your operations fail because of poor training?
- Is the infamous "On the Job Training" (OTJT) sufficient for today’s well-structured, fast-moving world?
It is a question of the return on your training investment. It is not always economically feasible to establish a training school, but it is a very viable proposition to conduct quality surveillance training with limited resources.
The challenge of conducting surveillance training with limited resources can be overcome. You just need:
About the Author:
Bill Spikes was an ex-UK SF operator for 15 years who trained Middle Eastern surveillance operators. His book, Surveillance Operator’s Aide Memoire, was written for surveillance students and instructors, as a result of these experiences. You can follow him on Twitter @BWSsurveillance.