Rural Surveillance: Specialised

Techniques for Superior Results

By Robert Lancaster

By Robert Lancaster - Robert Lancaster served in the British Army for 12 years in an infantry unit and the elite Special Air Service Regiment (SAS). He conducted numerous rural and urban surveillance tasks against terrorist targets in Northern Ireland and also served in the Middle East, Africa, South East Asia and Europe.  He arrived in Australia in 1989 and served in the Australian Reserve Special Forces Unit 1 Commando Company before forming Lancaster & Associates in 1991. He is a specialist in surveillance, security and covert operations.

Rural Surveillance

Many insurance companies and government authorities use investigation companies to conduct surveillance to ascertain the extent of disablement in liability and other types of compensation claims.

Video and photographic evidence obtained during the surveillance period is used to assist claims managers, their legal advisers and corporate counsel to make commercial decisions and defend exaggerated or fraudulent claims.

There are two distinct forms of surveillance techniques. These are urban and rural surveillance.

Urban Surveillance

Urban surveillance techniques are used in any area where there is urban development. Rural surveillance techniques are used when an individual resides or works at a remote rural location.

Very little planning, preparation and equipment are required for urban surveillance tasks. A 'surveillance' vehicle such as a sedan with tinted windows, a camcorder with spare tapes and batteries, tripod, 2 x teleconverter lens, a miniature covert 'body' camera a SLR camera with zoom lens, a pair of binoculars are standard equipment.

Surveillance is usually carried out using one agent in a vehicle that does not stand out in the area of operations.  The vehicle is used as a static and reactive Observation Post (OP). The surveillance vehicle is parked in a position where any movement by the subject under surveillance can be detected and filmed. In the event that the subject moves from the area under observation in a vehicle, the surveillance vehicle then becomes a reactive OP and the subject's vehicle is followed by the surveillance vehicle to its destination, where film can be taken of any activity at the new location.

In the event that the subject departs the area of observation on foot, a foot follow is conducted and the agent obtains film by either a miniature covert body camera or from a standard camcorder from discreet locations.

Rural Surveillance

The surveillance techniques used in rural surveillance are far more specialized and require a lot of planning and preparation before surveillance is even attempted. Surveillance is conducted by two specially trained agents using sophisticated equipment.

In rural locations the use of one agent in a surveillance vehicle usually means the surveillance task obtains minimum results or is very quickly compromised. The reason for this is that in rural locations most people know every person and every vehicle in the local area. Any strange vehicle immediately arouses interest and in the case of the subject sighting the vehicle, suspicion.

An agent in a vehicle cannot get close to the subject's property, therefore missing any activity the subject may conduct in or around the property. In the event that the agent does move into a position close to the property the vehicle has a high risk of compromise and any film obtained may not give a true indication of the subject's actual physical capabilities. The vehicle is useless for attempting to follow the subject if the subject departs the property, as the subject would be 'aware' of the vehicle. Any video obtained after a follow may also not give a true indication of the subject's capabilities.

If the agent is out of the vehicle and in an OP observing the property and the subject departs in a vehicle, the subject's activity away from the property is lost. There is also the problem of a strange vehicle being left unattended in the local area. Therefore it is very important to use two agents in rural areas.

When instructions are received from a client, the planning and preparation phase is implemented and background information on the subject is obtained before surveillance commences. The first part of the investigation is to locate and confirm the subject's residence. Checks are carried out and these may include Land Title Office searches to confirm the subject's property holdings and 1-in-5000 topographical maps of the property. Once the property has been located confirmation of the location of the residence can usually be obtained by speaking with the local area mail delivery driver under a pretext, and also by speaking with neighboring properties via the telephone under a suitable pretext.  A DTMS system is used to locate all telephone numbers in the relevant area.

A thorough map reconnaissance ('recce') is conducted to locate possible O.P's by 'reading' the contour lines on the map and assessing the lay of the land. A warning order is then issued to agents detailed for the task with a basic outline of the task. The task is then discussed with the client and any further information is obtained, such as recent medical reports and any other background information where a 'profile' and description of the subject can be provided to the agents conducting the task.

After discussing the matter with the client a set of orders are drawn up. The orders are then given to the two agents assigned to the task, using maps and diagrams and any other information that is available on the subject.

The orders are very detailed and consist of the following information:

  • Ground - in general: this gives an overview of the whole area.
  • Ground - in detail: this gives the full detail available on the subject's residence and property.
  • Situation - this covers all the information about the subject, such as description (if known, usually gained from medical reports), vehicles, injuries (if relevant), family, work details, and any other relevant information to build a 'profile'.
  • Mission - this clearly defines what the surveillance is for.
  • Execution - general outline: this outlines how the operation will take place on the ground and is broken down into phases including:
    • preparation to move - including vehicle movement, air tickets (if relevant), hire vehicle, agent and vehicle pickup location, accommodation details and bookings
    • move to target - details of the travel to the target area, the move to accommodation and preparation of the surveillance operation
    • action on target - this includes what is to be done during the drive past reconnaissance
  • Close Target Recce ('CTR') - this details the reconnaissance of the target area that is conducted by both agents where O.P's are confirmed on the ground. This is usually carried out at night using night vision devices, but can also be conducted in daylight if there is plenty of 'dead ground', that is, cover from view.
  • O.P set up and routine - this includes the move to the static and reactive O.P, the routine in the O.P, radio checks, and administration such as food and water.
  • Withdrawal from O.P's - this includes when the O.P's cease functioning, where the static O.P agent is to be picked up from, the method of pick up, the move back to accommodation and other administrative details.
  • Route back - this indicates the travel arrangements for both agents. On many occasions, one or both agents may be assigned to another task immediately after the rural task has been completed.
  • Actions on - this indicates what is to be carried out when the subject departs the property, if he or she is seen during the drive past recce, if anyone takes any interest in the surveillance vehicle and overall covers any likely occurrence and the actions to be carried out by both agents.

Summary - the whole operation is then summarized so that each agent clearly understands what is to be done throughout the whole operation.

Coordinating instructions - this includes timings for all parts of the operation, dress, that is, clothing to be worn at each stage of the operation, equipment for each agent, rations/food and water, medical, the location of the nearest hospital and any other details in case there is a medical or any other type of emergency during the task, and transport/accommodation details.

Signals - this area covers the two-way radios to be used, mobile telephone coverage, frequencies, code words and radio checks.

The operation is then carried out on the assigned date. If it is likely that the subject may be away from the property, a pretext telephone call to a neighbor may be made the day before the agent's travel to the area to confirm that the subject will actually be at the property.

On arrival at the subject's property, a drive past reconnaissance is carried out. This is to confirm if there is any activity on the property, details of any vehicles, and to check all exits from the property. Possible O.P's are also checked if they are near the road/track.

The vehicle is then parked some distance from the property out of sight and a daylight CRT (Close Target Recce) is conducted if possible. However, this is usually delayed until nighttime. The CTR checks the O.P sites that were assessed from checking the map and any other areas of interest that was observed during the drive past Recce.  In the event that activity is observed on the property, the CTR would immediately revert to the actual surveillance operation and static O.P would be mounted covering the activity. The second agent would move back to the vehicle and move the vehicle well away from the area.

Both agents then move away from the area after the CTR and both agents discuss the task and confirm any details of the surveillance operation. This is known as confirmatory orders.

The next day before first light, the surveillance vehicle transports the second agent to a drop-off location, some distance from the subject's property. The second agent then moves into the O.P, observing the part of the property likely to produce the most activity, and also covering any departure route for any vehicle on the property. This OP is known as the 'static OP'. The agent would be in camouflage clothing and have a full range of equipment that can obtain clear coverage of the subject's activities from a kilometer away and a (covert voice-activated) two-way radio to brief the second agent on any movement.

The second agent in the surveillance vehicle then moves well away from the property under surveillance, usually a distance of about five kilometers. The agent in the vehicle has a cover story in place and magnetic stickers on the vehicle such as surveyors' stickers, road maintenance crew, etc. This enables the vehicle to remain in place for a period of time without arousing the suspicion of locals. The vehicle is known as the 'Reactive O.P'.

In the event that the subject conducts any activity on the rural property, the static O.P is able to obtain video coverage using long range optics. If the subject departs in a vehicle the static O.P provides the vehicle's details to the reactive O.P via radio and the surveillance vehicle moves to a position covering the route of the vehicle.  The vehicle is then followed to its destination and video coverage of any activity is obtained.

Both agents are in communication with each other by the use of two-way radios and each uses code words and veiled speech, so that if any of the transmission were to be picked up by a scanner the other person would not know what was being discussed.

At the end of the period of surveillance, at a prearranged time or on receipt of a code word, the agent in the static O.P departs the O.P and goes to a pick up point. Once at the pick up point the agent 'calls in' the surveillance vehicle to be picked up as long as there is no activity in the local area. The surveillance vehicle makes its way to the pick up point and also checks out the area, and then calls in the agent who remains hidden until the last minute.  The agent (plus backpack containing all his surveillance equipment) enters the vehicle as quickly as possible and the vehicle moves away from the area. The agents then make their way back to their accommodation usually located in the nearest main town. They do not stay at a local village hotel/motel in the vicinity of the targeted property as this would arouse suspicion and would quickly become local knowledge.

The agents download their video, write reports and attend to any administration such as recharging batteries, filling water bottles and preparing food for the next day's surveillance.

At the end of the task and when the agents return to the office, both agents are debriefed, photographic films developed or digital stills downloaded, and copies of videos and or DVD's made. A report on both agents' observations is made and copies of the video/s/ DVD's and photographs are forwarded to the client.


A liability claimant who had a huge compensation claim before the courts, who had been involved in a major accident several years ago and sustained multiple fractures to his lower limbs, pelvis and lower spine and who claimed to be totally incapacitated resided with his wife on a remote rural property. He had previously attended an initial court hearing in a wheelchair. The property was placed under surveillance over a period of three days.

On the first day a daylight Recce was conducted, then a Close Target Recce was conducted at night and suitable Observation Post located.

Before first light on the second day, a covert O.P was placed in a rundown sheep shed some 700 meters from the rear of the residence. The surveillance vehicle was placed about five kilometers away with coverage of the dirt track leading to the claimant's and neighboring properties.

Later that day, a hire truck driven by the claimant's son arrived and parked at the rear of the property near a large shed, the area being observed by the agent in the static O.P. The claimant left his residence on foot, walking unrestricted, and spoke with the son.

Over the next two hours the claimant and the son loaded 62 items of antique furniture, including large wooden chairs, a chest, lounge and sideboard from the shed into the back of the truck. On each occasion the claimant had to step up into the truck and bend over under the truck's rear roller door.

When the truck was full, the claimant and his son departed the area in the truck. The surveillance vehicle was alerted and followed the truck from a distance to a town 86 kilometer from the claimant's property. The truck was parked outside a house and was placed under surveillance by the agent in the surveillance vehicle.

With the assistance from a third male, the claimant and son unloaded the furniture from the truck into a house. After ninety minutes, the claimant and son departed the area in the truck. They were followed back to the claimant's residence where the agent in the static O.P obtained further video of the claimant and his son loading another truckload of antique furniture.

After loading the truck the claimant and his son were observed having sandwiches and drinks before they again departed the property in the truck. They were followed to the house where they again unloaded other large pieces of furniture that included tables, chairs, desks and display cabinets.

If only one agent had been used on the task there would not have been a result as the surveillance vehicle would not have been able to get close enough to the property without being compromised. No video would have been obtained of the claimant loading the truck because the activity was at the rear of the property and was obtained by the second agent. It would have been unlikely that the surveillance vehicle would have followed the truck as the claimant was only a passenger and was obscured while inside the cab of the truck.

By using two agents, more than seven hours of video and 120 photographs were obtained of the claimant conducting very strenuous activities. Factual investigations conducted after the surveillance revealed that the claimant operated an antique restoration business at his property.

The costs of conducting rural surveillance with two agents are cheaper than conducting two periods of surveillance as only one vehicle is used, with only one charge for kilometers. The results achieved are far superior to using one agent as activity on and off the property is recorded, with minimal risk of compromise. Overall, if the correct rural surveillance techniques are used, surveillance costs are reduced because less surveillance periods are required.

Equipment used in the static OP

  • Auscam camouflage clothing, boots, gloves, shemag, camouflage cream, or face veil to cover exposed areas of skin.
  • Camouflaged backpack or day sack to carry equipment.
  • Camouflaged poncho: only put up in the event of heavy rain (used only on long range O.P's).
  • Camouflaged nets for O.P and equipment coverings.
  • Wire mesh and Hessian (in the event of a hide).
  • Sleeping liner (used in long term surveillance operations where agents have to remain in place for a number of days).
  • Camcorder with long range optics fitted; spare batteries and large long life batteries, videocassette film, spare films, fluid head tripods.
  • Spare Camcorder with spare batteries.
  • 35mm camera or Digital camera with long range mirror lens attached, up-rated ASA film and spare film.
  • Night vision device for camera.
  • Night vision device for agent.
  • Binoculars or 'spotting scope'.
  • Voice-activated tape recorder.
  • Notebook and pencils.
  • Torch and head mount.
  • Two-way radio with voice-activated microphone, headpiece and spare batteries as well as backup radio and/or mobile telephone.
  • Secateurs (to hollow out bushes, cut foliage to cover OP).
  • Water bottles.
  • Food in plastic bags.
  • Plastic containers (to take out urine).
  • Plastic bags (to take out excreta).
  • Aeroguard.
  • Spare (warm) clothing in winter months.

Equipment for reactive OP

  • Surveillance vehicle (4-wheel drive) with tinted windows, magnetic stickers and any other item to make the vehicle 'blend in'.
  • Camcorder, with spare batteries and spare film.
  • Spare Camcorder with spare batteries.
  • Two-way radio, spare batteries. Backup radio.
  • DSLR camera with autofocus 300mm lens, spare memory.
  • Binoculars.
  • Miniature covert 'body' camera, spare charger, batteries.
  • Relevant clothing for task and cover story.
  • Relevant equipment for cover story (surveyors' equipment, road signs, etc).
  • Mobile telephone.

Copyright Robert Lancaster - Robert is the Managing Director of Lancaster Global Risk and Lancasters Investigations Pty Limited, investigations and security consultancies based in Sydney, Australia. Robert can be contacted at


We support

We support

Donate to Amnesty International