Physical surveillance: Covert


Covert physical surveillance is the direct observation of people or activities when the surveillance operators do not want to be detected by their targets.


A mobile physical surveillance effort is typically conducted by a surveillance team of five to twenty operators using multiple vehicles, and typically begins with a static phase: staking out the location where the target is believed to be, such as their home or place of employment. When the target leaves the stakeout location, the surveillance team begins following them and the surveillance effort transitions into a mobile phase. The surveillance effort then alternates between static phases (when the target stops) and mobile phases (when the target starts moving again).

Examples of mobile physical surveillance techniques include:

Mobile physical surveillance may be facilitated by:


Static physical surveillance is the observation of a target when the target cannot move, or the surveillance operators do not intend to follow them if they move. A static physical surveillance effort is typically conducted by a surveillance team using one or more vehicles.

An example of a static physical surveillance effort is parking a surveillance vehicle in front of a target's home, with surveillance operators inside the vehicle watching the entrance to the home.


Generally, a surveillance team will not attempt to arrest its target during a covert physical surveillance effort. On rare occasions, however, this may happen if the surveillance team has gathered enough information about the target's activities to incriminate them and deems it necessary to arrest the target immediately (e.g. to prevent a crime).

See also

Used in tactics: Incrimination



You can conduct anti-surveillance to evade a covert physical surveillance effort.

Surveillance detection

You can conduct surveillance detection to detect a covert physical surveillance effort.

Transportation by bike

You can use a bike instead of any other type of vehicle: compared to other vehicles or people on foot, a bike is harder to follow by a covert physical surveillance effort, especially without the effort being detected.

Used in repressive operations

Case against Peppy and Krystal

A week before the protest, investigators conducted covert physical surveillance at a local bookstore where they knew people planning the protest were organizing[1]. They observed Peppy enter the bookstore and leave an hour and a half later.

A few days after the protest, investigators conducted covert physical surveillance at the home of Peppy and Krystal. They observed Peppy and Krystal riding the same motorcycle they used to arrive at and leave the protest site.

Repression of the first Jane's Revenge arson

In March 2023, cops secretely observed the person who was later arrested from a distance of about 30 meters[2]. The cops watched the person discard a paper bag, retrieved it, and collected DNA evidence linking the person to the action site.

Case against Boris

For several weeks, investigators regularly staked out Boris's home and tailed him as he moved on foot, on bicycles, and in vehicles[3].

The three from the park bench

During the evening leading up to the arrests, two of the people rode their bikes through the city and were followed by cops on bikes (and presumably also cops in cars) until they were arrested in the park[4]. The cops decided to follow the people specifically that evening because it was exactly two years since the G20 summit in Hamburg and they were suspected of planning an action for the anniversary of the summit.

Nea Filadelphia case

On the day of the arrests, when one person visited a cybercafé that was probably under police surveillance, cops recognized him and started following him[5]. He then moved through the streets of Athens for a few hours, gradually joining the other people — some of whom were wanted by police[6] — and all of them were arrested.

Case against Jeff Luers

On the night of the June arson, the arsonists were being tailed by a surveillance team — police officers in one or more unmarked cars — as they drove to the arson site[7]. They parked their car close to the arson site, watched by the surveillance team. They got out of their car to continue on foot, at which point the surveillance team lost sight of them. They ran back to their car 10 minutes later, at which point the surveillance team regained sight of them. They drove away from the arson site. More than an hour later, the surveillance team — still tailing the arsonists — heard on the police radio system about a fire at the arson site and asked local police officers to stop the arsonists' car, suspecting that they were involved in the fire. Half an hour later, when fire investigators at the arson site reported that they believed the fire had been set intentionally, the arsonists were arrested.