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Counterintelligence Series #1: The art of Blending In

The goal, here, is not to make you into a secret agent.  It may, however, be the one thing that saves your life some day.  What would you do if you get caught in a short-term natural disaster?  How do you act if you are traveling through a high kidnapping country? Want to increase your chances of survival if some worst-case event happens, and you find yourself living in a collapsed society like we’ve seen happen around the world?  This Counterintelligence Series of posts is a great place to start building the skills and mindset.  

1) Your demeanor will be the key to your success or failure. 

Walk with a purpose.  Walk with confidence.  Of you served in the military, this was beaten into your head.  There is almost no door that can't be opened with this type of demeanor.  Projecting purpose makes you look like you are supposed to be here.  That's what blending is.  I've gotten into countless professional sporting events, college sporting events, trade shows, concerts, private parties, secure government a d private buildings, etc. based only on my demeanor. 

If you are passing through, it helps to look like you are up to something important.  If you can impress this assumption, nobody will dare to stop you.  You'll walk right by. 

If you aren't passing through, and must spend a little time, try not to stand out.  Do what everyone else is doing.  If they are standing in a line, get in line.  If they are studying, take out a book and find a seat. Find the least threatening person, and start a conversation.  You might get lucky and find an old couple.  Nobody is more inconspicuous than an old couple.  

If you are in an area of risk, or you are a potential/high risk target for kidnapping, you will be on the other side.  This is where you are the one looking for the demeanor of others. Your adversary is going to watch you for a while to get what’s called your “pattern of life.” They’ll watch where you go, when you go there, what route you take, and what you do along the way. They are trying to identify where you are most vulnerable, and where you are an easy target. Look for someone who doesn’t fit in. Look for the only guy in the park outside a college who isn’t studying or hitting on a young lady. Look for the one guy sitting by himself trying to look deeply involved in something that he’s not actually involved in. Look for what you see in movies and TV.  Even the most skilled observers fall into this trap. When they get stressed or hyper focused on their job, they spend a lot of mental energy. That energy is put into watching the person instead of watching what they’re doing or how they’re acting. Maintaining body language that isn’t congruent with your intentions is taxing.  This creates what is called tunnel vision.  I’ve seen people standing in the middle of a sidewalk, so transfixed on making sure they don’t lose their target that they don’t realize that they’re the only one not moving.  Everyone is staring at them as they walk past.  

2) PERSEC (personal security) attire does not mean wearing a fake nose and glasses disguise, or a hat and trench coat.

The point is to not be remembered by anyone.  You would want to be like the extra guys in the police lineup.  Nobody will pick you out. Some think that this means dressing like everyone else.  It doesn't. It means dressing to not be noticed, at all.  Deeper than taking your watch and. Jewelry off, you dont want them to even notice you to see if you have a watch or jewelry. 

This is closely tied to your demeanor. In most cases, you’ll want to dress like others there. If everyone is dressed in board shorts and t-shirts, you don’t want to be in a long-sleeved button down shirt and khakis. If you’re in a very affluent part of town, you don’t want to be dressed in holey Jean's and a dirty white t shirt.  Gray is your color.  Nobody notices the grat hoodie or jacket with no logo or embroidery.   

3)  Stay vigilant at home.

Nobody is going to stay in condition orange, or even yellow, at home.  Everyone let's their guard down, to some degree.  When I'm at home, im not thinking about threats.  I'm trying to read a book, get a little work done, write a blog about counterintelligence, play with my dog, make out with the misses, etc.  Staying vigilant at home is more about preparation than it is about your actual activities inside your home, hotel room, hut, or tent. You want to your home to go as unnoticed as you did. 

If your neighbors park in the garage, so do you.  If your neighbors have nice landscaping, cut your grass and plant some flowers. If you live in Pittsburgh, dont have a Ravens flag in your window.  If you live in a foriegn country, display a banner of the local soccer team.  Maybe even display the flag of that country.  

Don’t let bushes grow by the house, that would allow someone to hide in them and peek in your windows.  Don’t forget that people can see in windows, at night, when the lights are on and you cant see out. Don’t keep your garage door opener in your car, if you park it outside.  Remove any identifiable information about who you are and where you work. That could give your adversary a means to target you in the future. 

4) Dont display your abilities and capabilities.  

If you find yourself in a disaster scenario, like Katrina or during a blackout you’ll face in a third-world country, you may not want to crank up that Generac Generator.  It sounds like a dinner bell for thieves. If someone hears it going on at night, they’ll know your home is prepared for emergencies and will assume you have food and money as they sneak in and steal your generator after the lights go out.  A Honda or Yamaha quiet generator would be a much safer choice.  You'll barely know that it's running.  

If you’re going to use electricity at night, in an area that doesn’t have it, you should black out your windows so the light doesn’t go out.   Another good idea is to hang a blanket in the doorway so that an abversary can’t see light when you open the door. If an area’s been without power for a while, they’ll definitely see a light flash in the dark.  

Nobody needs to know what your gun room/safe contains.  Nothing will make you a bigger target, even though you would expect the opposite.  In a disaster or survival scenario, I'm coming to take those guns.  

Be thoughtful of what goes in the trash.  You can be putting some awfully strong info on the street at night.  Personal info, receipts from expensive purchases, valuable business paperwork, and personal connections are easily found in your trash  can. Again, this sets you up for being a target in the future.  Also, it can add vulnerabilities to you and others, whose names and info may appear in your trash. Get a shredder or burn box.  

5)  Look like a hard target.  Don't display vulnerabilities.

Whether you’re concerned about being the target of criminal activity or of some enemy force, you have to consider that sometimes you won’t be able to completely blend in.  You can still try not to stand out. There is no scenario where I could have blended in, in the jungles of Panama. The obvious example is not wearing expensive jewelry or that nice watch that I mentioned above, but there is so much more.  Certain things you wear can make you a target of opportunity. If you wear the hood up ok n that gray hoodie, it will block your peripheral vision.  Not only can you not see around you, it LOOKS like you can’t see around you. Subconsciously, you look more vulnerable. The same is true for headphones. When people are wearing headphones, they can't be aware of their situation. People catch onto that and will assume that you’re not paying attention.

Texting is one of the biggest flags,  that will make you stand out as a target for those looking for a victim. Just as with headphones, people who are staring into their cell phones, texting away, are not paying attention to the world around them.  This is especially true if they are walking.  Unless it is unavoidable, lay off the texting while you are trying to blend in. There are 2 partial solutions, though neither is great.  First; stop walking and put your back to a wall.  Scan your area while texting, put the phone up, and get back underway.  Second; walk with someone else, who will be vigilant, while you are working that phone screen.  

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