Targeting Recognition

Any person travelling abroad on business should be aware of the fact that they could be targeted by an intelligence agency, security service or a competitor if they are knowledgeable of, or carrying, sensitive or proprietary information. In the course of doing business abroad, there are certain indicators that may occur which should be recognised as potential hazards and indicative of unwarranted interest in your activities. These situations should be closely scrutinised and avoided if at all possible. A few of the most common scenarios that have been utilised by intelligence/security services and have led to successful targeting and acquisition of information are listed below:

Repeated contacts with a local or third country national who is not involved in your business interests or the purpose of your visit, but as a result of invitations to social or business functions, appears at each function. This individual’s demeanour may indicate more than just a passing interest in you and your business activities.

A close personal social relationship with a foreign national of a hostile host government is often unavoidable for business reasons. In these instances, be cautious and do not allow the relationship to develop any further than the strictly business level.

Be suspicious of the accidental encounter with an unknown local national who strikes up a conversation and wants to:

  • Practice English or other language.
  • Talk about your country of origin or your employment.
  • Buy you a drink because they have taken a liking to you.
  • Talk to you about politics.
  • Use a myriad of other excuses to begin a “friendly” relationship.

If any of the above or anything else occurs which just does not ring true, BE SUSPICIOUS! It may be innocent but, exercise prudence and good judgment.

Surveillance Recognition

The subject of surveillance is extremely important to anyone conducting business abroad. Surveillance could be indicative of targeting for reasons other than interest by a foreign intelligence or security service. Terrorists and criminals also use surveillance for operational preparation prior to committing other terrorist or criminal acts. It should be noted, however, that the normal business traveller, who only spends a few days in each city and has a low profile, is not really a viable target for terrorists and the risk is very low.

The real terrorist threat to a traveller is that of being at the wrong place at the wrong time and becoming an inadvertent victim of a terrorist act.

Surveillance is an assessment of vulnerabilities in an attempt to determine any information available, from any source, about you or your activities, such as lifestyle or behaviour that can be used against you. If the intended target recognises the fact that he or she is under surveillance, preventive measures can be taken that will hopefully deter further interest. As an example, if the surveillant(s) realises that he or she has been spotted, then the assumption must be that the operation has been compromised and that the police have been notified or other preventive measures have been taken. On the other hand, if a traveller is being scrutinized by a foreign intelligence or security agency, the surveillance may well continue.

Surveillance takes many forms, from static, such as an observer physically or electronically watching or monitoring your activities in your hotel room or office, to mobile surveillance where the individual being watched is actually followed either on foot or by vehicle.

How do you recognise surveillance? There is only one way: be ALERT to your surroundings. As a traveller, you probably will not be at any one location long enough to know what the norm is in your surroundings, and this puts you at a disadvantage. You will not realise that the person sitting in the car across the street is a stranger and should not be there, whereas a resident would immediately become suspicious.

Be observant and pay attention to your sixth sense. If you get the funny feeling that something is not right or that you are being watched, PAY ATTENTION! That sixth sense is trying to tell you something, and more often than not it will be right.

In any event, report your suspicions or any information to the general manager of the local affiliate or your embassy or consulate just in case something does occur. If there is any question about what actions should be taken, and guidance is not available from the affiliate, contact your embassy or consulate and they will advise you as to what you should do and whether or not the information should be reported to the local authorities. But, the most important thing you should do is make sure that your demeanour is professional and everything you do is above board and not subject to compromise.

If you have reason to believe that you are under surveillance, here is what you should NOT do:

  • DO NOT try to slip away or lose the followers as this will probably alert them and believe the fact that you are just a business person or tourist going about your business.
  • In your hotel room, assume that the room and telephone are being monitored. DO NOT try to play investigator and start looking for electronic listening devices. This again could send the wrong signals to the surveillant. Just make sure that you do not say or do anything in your hotel room that you would not want to see printed on the front page of the New York Times.


If you have any reason to believe that you are targeted by an intelligence or security service, there is really only one course of action to follow. Report your suspicions to your company affiliate or embassy or consulate and follow their guidance.

This post was originally published on the ‘Direct Travel Insurance‘ website and is being re-published here as an effort to disseminate this good information with more viewers.