(en) Counter-surveillance techniques (Maßnahmen gegen Observation)

Maßnahmen gegen Observation (Counter-surveillance techniques) is a booklet published in german in june 2011. It describes some surveillance techniques used by the States to surveil individuals and groups (espacially in the context of Germany), and ways to oppose this surveillance.

This booklet can be downloaded here (in german) :

Among the chapters linked with our subject, which is the study of physical surveillance devices hidden by cops in the spaces we live in, we can point out :

  • Peilsender (Trackers) page 30. This chapter describes two existing localisation techniques for surveillance devices placed on vehicles (using radio waves or GPS), as well as two type of trackers (the Quick-Pack placed outside the vehicles and the devices hidden inside).
  • Wanzensuche (Looking for surveillance devices) page 51. About possible hiding places for surveillance devices inside houses and ways to find them.
  • GPS-Peiler (GPS tracker) page 52. About ways of finding surveillance devices placed on vehicles.
  • Peilsender finden (Find the trackers) page 60. This chapters describes again, more precisely, ways of locating surveillance devices placed on vehicles.

Within those chapters, we selected a few extracts that we found interesting. You will find below english translations of those extracts.

About trackers on vehicles that perform localisation using radio waves :

For the transmission of data by radio, a small transmitter is fixed on the target-car. The signal range is weak, about 2 km only in urban areas. And to be able to use it, the shadowing vehicles need the corresponding device on board, including two receiving antennas. The signals indicate by their presence the distance from the target car and at the same time its position relative to the cardinal points.

About Quick-Pack trackers placed outside vehicles :

The size of a tracker depends on the size of the battery used, which is usually as large as a big pocket book. It is fixed with big magnets, somewhere around the rear of the car, in the most discreet and protected place, but also in a place that can be accessed quickly without triggering the alarm. The most appropriate places are, depending on models, the lower body frame around the wheels, the bumper, as well as empty spaces around the mudguard or the fuel tank. The engine is a place where we look too often to be suitable, and around the tailpipe isn’t appropriate either because of the heat. The car body metal has a jamming effect, but it is so weak that it’s not a problem as long as the metal doesn’t completely surround the device. The tracker usually ships with a high-end battery that can last several months and a tremor sensor which activates it as soon as the engine starts or the car moves. The tracker then progressively locates the movement ; the transmission unit transmits the data to the central. This way, the movements of the target-car can be followed with a one-meter precision from an office, 24 hours a day. On most devices, the data is also recorded so that, even in the case of a failure of the transmission unit, the data can be read later after the physical retrieval of the tracker.

Another option is to plug the tracker into one of the vehicle electricity sources that can be accessed from outside, for example electrically adjustable rear-view mirrors or the on board clock. This option is less discreet than placing a « Quick Pack » under a car and requires a bit more time. But it also avoids requiring a large battery. The transmitting and receiving units can fit in a small pack of cigarettes, and thus can easily fit in the exterior rear-view mirrors of modern vehicles.

About trackers hidden inside vehicles :

To set up a combined device allowing the recording of movements and speech, which not only locates the target-car but with which the speech inside the vehicles can also be listened to, a secure access to the target-car is necessary, and the best is to be able to do it in a workshop. Most of the time, it is required to « remove » the vehicle for a few hours. This implies considerable expenditures and the risk of being spotted. When removing the device, the same problems arise. The authorities can be very inventive to obtain a discreet access to the target-vehicle. In Germany, during the investigation against presumed members of the « Militante Gruppen » (MG), cops went as far as sabotaging a parking gate, so that the target-vehicle wouldn’t be protected from theft anymore, and placing a similar car in place of the « removed » one on the parking spot.

The installed device is by far harder to detect than the other trackers we discussed, even if precise searches are carried out. Modern cars have a lot of nooks and little identifiable components. Also the complexity of the electronic system makes it hard to identify bugs connected to an electrical system, even with professional measurement devices. Nonetheless, problems such as the battery discharging too quickly  or any electrical dysfunction should be taken seriously as a hint of a potential tracker. The difficulty for the cops is in the choice of the location of the bugs, because there is a lot of noise inside the car. In practice, only pieces of conversations can be understood.

About surveillance devices hidden in houses and ways to find them :

There are a lot of hiding places in a house, especially for bugs that have their own source of energy. For « classical » bugs that need to be connected to a source of electricity, switches, outlets, phones are ideal hiding places. These are spotted more quickly, but it might be hard to distinguish the bugs from pieces related to unknown electronical installations. It is even harder with autonomous chips. It often happened that people found small electronic pieces at home that they mistook for bugs, and that in the end were completely harmless.

The bugs that can be spotted with sensors or derived devices that can be found on the internet are usually based on a model from the 1980s, so may come from a malicious neighbor, but not from a state security agency. In big cities, there is constantly a vast field of low-intensity electromagnetic signals that can’t be detected so easily and which content are almost impossible to analyse ; most use codes or are encrypted.

Only the detection gear that costs thousand of euros ir really reliable, and it requires, to be used correctly, a knowledge owned by services and companies specialised in security.

A note concerning the extract above : we think that the conclusion of the extract should be put into perspective, and that it is possible to build collective knowledge, including about detection tools, to oppose the State surveillance devices. We want to try to contribute to building this knowledge.

About surveillance devices placed on vehicles and ways to find them :

We can also directly search for a GPS tracker. It will be placed, as described earlier, in two ways. Either with an autonomous battery, located in a nook of the target-car. Or fixed inside with a source of electricity taken from the car system. The tracker is mounted so that it cannot move, which requires a place with borders rigid enough, maybe under the car. You need to search from below the car by putting your arm in hollow spots. After an advanced search under a mechanical bridge, there are great odds of finding potential trackers. Some can be recognized immediatly as foreign bodies as they are for example wrapped up in black tape, but other are harder to spot as they can be inserted in car pieces, colored or inside black and matte cases.

The device that allows the recording of sound and movements, installed in a permanent way, should also be searched for. It requires mechanic tools and some time. Time that the cops also had to take to install it. In order to put in place the surveillance device, the car must be taken to a place such as a garage to proceed to the mechanical operations. This means that the car is borrowed by the cops for a while. And this is not always easy to do and involves big risks of being spotted. So they often need imagination and they have precise protocols about that. Therefore, it is only done in a context with high stakes. The manipulation can be made harder if an alarm is present, or by parking one’s vehicle in surveilled parking lots, or directly in front of the house. All of this doesn’t exclude that professionals could try to not borrow the car and work on site, although that requires more skills and efforts so that they probably do it as a last resort. Also, it is possible to leave marks that will show if the vehicle was moved or not.

You also need to search all areas that include electronic devices and that can easily be opened and closed with suitable tools. For example, interior lights, the dashboard, the doors, the rear-view mirrors, the ceiling and the pieces fixed high up. The seats however are hard to open without leaving traces. For this reason, they are not good hiding places. It isn’t rare to be able to spot an intervention by looking at the state of screws and bolts and other lockings. If the pieces were rusty, dirty, or dusty before, for example. Another weak point of the set up of these devices, are the noises that can give hints because the microphones should be put next to the presumed seat of the target-individual. For example, in the ventilation openings or on the ceiling with junction cables placed along the window. We were told about a case of a modified car radio.

P.S. : if you have other interesting documentation pieces concerning our subject of interest, you can contact us and we will publish them.

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