place at the wrong time...
threat involves being inadvertently and innocently swept up in an investigation.
You're simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when the police are looking
for someone else. When you're this close to them, arouse their interest and
Situations can develop around
you unexpectedly. They can get out of control even quicker. They include mundane
events like random vehicle stops by police. More serious situations include
muggings, holdups, shoplifting, drunk-driver road checks, prowlers, burglaries,
retail video cameras, and others. All of these situations will bring the police
Here's an example.
Case Study #1. October 1998 I was
scheduled to meet a clandestine contact. The location was the entrance to a city
park just after dark. I arrived ten minutes early in order to give myself time
to check for surveillance.
The park is laid
out as a linear trail. It meanders through various neighborhoods in the city.
Unknownst to me, just moments earlier a punk had held up a nearby convenience
store. He used the trail for his getaway.
parked my car, walked to the meeting location, and checked for surveillance.
Satisfied that the area was clean, I was walking back to my car. Suddenly, out
of nowhere, a large dark sedan pulled out of the shadows. A male got out of the
car and crept along the dark side of a building adjacent to the park. He hadn't
seen me. I was thinking perhaps it was a prowler, burglar, or drug-related
A challenge in the dark.
As I approached my car, the suspicious male shone a flashlight on me. He
was about 25 yards away. Using a firm voice, I challenged him, "Can I
help you with something?"
I called back. "I didn't recognize you."
started walking towards him in a nonthreatening way as if I had nothing to hide.
I had a number of things going for me. I was well-dressed. I was wearing a
sports coat and tie somewhat overdressed for the park. And I had just
reacted in a manner that suggested I was not going to accept being challenged by
a stranger in the dark. All these factors may have reduced the cop's suspicions
a bit. As he and I approached each other in the dark, he came right out and told
me that he was checking the park as a possible getaway route of the robbery
I played my cover and began acting
worried. "Gee, thanks for the warning. I was just in there."
Picture it in your mind. It's just him and me. On a deserted street. In an
industrial area. After dark. He's all pumped up looking for an armed
robbery suspect. It wouldn't take much for things to get out of hand.
next move. Following standard police procedure, he now needed to rule
me out as a suspect and find out what I was doing. After all, here I am
hanging around a park after dark.
He asked for
identification. I showed him my driver's license. Then he asked what I was
"I'm going down to [name of
bar] to sing some Karaoke," I replied, looking at my watch. It was
twenty to nine.
"It doesn't start
'til nine," I continued. "So I'm just killing a little time."
smiled. Then he handed back my ID and he said, "Well, you're not 24.
Have a good night."
We can safely assume the robbery suspect was described by the convenience
store clerk as a 24-year old male.
The lesson? You simply
never know when circumstances are going to overtake you. You cannot predict when
you're going to be challenged by the authorities.
denial is the best way to ensure that a routine challenge doesn't escalate into
a major confrontation. As an underground activist, you must have an
innocent explanation for everything you do. In my case, I also had a
backstop, which is spy-talk for an actual event that backs up a cover
Tell the cops what they want to hear.
Help simplify their job for them. Play your cover for all it's worth. Be a
stereotype. Make it easy for them to label you, to pigeon-hole you, to typecast
you and they'll rule you out as a suspect.
was just some naiive dandy on his way downtown to sing Karaoke on a
them what they want. An important component in your plausible denial
and your cover is to give the authorities something to "find".
Let them discover a personal character weakness or a minor transgression.
They'll seldom look further. Intelligence agencies like Britain's MI.6,
Germany's BND, France's DGSE, and Russia's KGB (now SVR) have been doing this
for decades. It's called layered security.
damage? None. I simply rescheduled my rendezvous with my contact, a
whistleblower in an alphabet agency.
Threat Unexpected police
Defense Plausible denial. Good cover. Layered
security. A backstop.
Implementation Dress well. Be clean and
neat. Be polite. Play out your cover. Become a stereotype. Act nonthreatening.