The idea of our own government spying on American citizens is a bit disturbing, and SOFREP has covered this in the past. While we can acknowledge this concern, as a society we can also learn to appreciate all of the ways our government tries to keep us safe.

After spending a few years as a technical surveillance expert and over two decades as an overprotective father I’ve realized two things. First was that the repurposing of regular, readily available technology for clandestine surveillance is the way to go. Second was that technical surveillance is a must when it comes to protecting your family in these modern times.

So whether you’re a gear geek, want to protect your house, need to make sure your kids are safe or all of the above, there’s a little James Bond in you and it’s time to let him out. My goal is to give the SOFREP readers some practical advice on trade-craft that you guys can use in your everyday life.

Spy kit for the average citizen

After the attacks of 9/11 the United States found themselves in a unique situation. They faced an exceptionally dynamic adversary with the ability to hide and conduct terrorist operations from locations that were denied to the U.S and her allies.

To overcome this problem the nation invested an unprecedented amount of training and resources into elite units of special operatives. These small (1-4 person), impeccably trained, and well equipped teams were able to penetrate these problem areas, get “Eyes On” the enemy, and prevent future attacks.

I happened to be an individual on one of those teams.The training we received worked well in enemy territory. However, it also proved to be amazingly effective at home when I began using it to protect what was most near and dear to me: my children. I want to pass these lessons learned to the SOFREP community.

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The surfing and action sports industry has pioneered amazing equipment that can be repurposed quickly.

Gear that would make James Bond jealous

Unmanned drones, concealed cameras, tracking devices, night vision: we’ve been in love with this stuff since Bond used his watch as a TV monitor in the movie Octopussy.

When I first entered this cloak and dagger world of technical surveillance I assumed someone was going to hand me over a beautiful silver case, full of super cool super secret spy gear. Actually this did happen; but the gear turned out to be clunky and pretty useless. Because it was made specifically for the government, the development budgets of the equipment manufactures were small due to their inability to sell in bulk.

Since we worked in denied areas we couldn’t exactly pack our suitcases full of GPS trackers and hidden cameras. We became really good at repurposing and modifying what the government referred to as “Commercial Off The Shelf” (C.O.T.S) equipment. Translated into human speak, C.O.T.S just means you can go to the store and buy it today.

Designing, modifying and redeploying common technology to protect my team and catch the bad guys became the name of the game. Since we were using quality commercial gear and just modifying the small bits, to adapt commercial to covert, we were able to quickly produce amazing results at minimal cost.

The GOOD news is that anyone with interest can leverage common technology and repurpose it, for the protection of those we love.

The BAD news is that anyone with any interest can do exactly the same. Realizing that over 43% of registered sex offenders (with magnified interest) re-offend, we know there are plenty of other people with an “interest” so it’s up to us as citizens, parents, leaders and protectors to stay on top of all of this stuff.

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There are freaks everywhere and they’ll spend the time to counter average protection!

What you can do right now

There are plenty of “Commercial Off The Shelf” (C.O.T.S) solutions out there. Like any technology, it was all built for mass consumption; but with a little instruction and tenacity, anyone can repurpose this stuff for their own personal security.  As an added perk, it’s fun, at least for me!

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Mini Alert GPS Units

These “Off the shelf” GPS trackers and transmitters are barely larger than a Chapstick. They will send their location every 5 minutes, alert you if a determined “Virtual Fence” is broken and even allow two way communication. We got one for our 9 year old in place of a cell phone. It will even allow us to call and just listen in to see if she’s okay.

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Ruggedized Action Sports Cameras

There are plenty of ready made “Surveillance” cameras available; but I’ve found that their single use is extremely limiting. This sounds a bit nutty; but having too many power cords, cases and connection cables for too many cameras is a nightmare to keep up with. I like using action sports cameras because they fit in anywhere and the accessories are available everywhere.

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900 MHz ATV AM Video Transmitter

Most people don’t realize how small and how cheap these things are. It’s cool and scary at the same time. Makes you wonder how many of these are floating around. With a minor modification to the cable of an action sports Camera and a small power source. This little transmitter will keep you in the know.

Wifi Smartphone App-enabled Video Transmission

Note: There are plenty of free apps that turns your smart phone into a decent remote surveillance unit 

This will not give you the same capabilities as our GoPro project; but you can use it right now with your iOS, Android and Windows phones. It takes a little setup; but it’s free and works pretty well for immediate video surveillance.

For myself this stuff started out as part of my job and then it became a bit of a hobby. Once I got good at it and realized how effective it was on a personal level it became part of my responsibility.  There are too many dirtbags out there with nothing better to do than find new ways of invading our privacy, steeling are stuff or harming those we love.

In today’s world, technical surveillance and counter surveillance is as fundamental as putting a dead-bolt lock on your front door. Let me know what you guys think, and if there’s anything else you’d like me to cover!


This article previously published on SOFREP 08.22.13