Neighborhood Surveillance


Neighborhood Surveillance


I suppose everybody has their own peculiar routines. An innocent label for mine would be “just looking around.” Given my background, I prefer “neighborhood surveillance.” Not the creepy kind, though it might have a superficial similarity to something that would make you queasy. But, hey, somebody who spent an entire career on the Inside, in the shadows, is likely to seem odd to someone who’s only lived on the Outside, among the innocents. Let me describe my mission before you make your assessment.

My routines for starting and ending the day are pretty bland. There are always multiple pills, eye drops, tooth brushing, checking the weather. The interesting part is the daily surveillance, which targets the western view, toward the back yard, from the vantage point of a second-floor window. Tactical wisdom prefers the high ground.

There are two key targets visible from my perch. Left to right, they are the Professor’s House and the Foreigner’s House. The remainder of the target area is designated The Back Lawn.

My SOP varies with time of day. Before 1200 Zulu, the houses do not emit sufficiently in the visual range to provide much intel. Therefore, the mission becomes anomaly detection in support of intrusion defense of The Back Lawn. Collection focuses on a variety of signals: signs of animal activity, vegetation out of place, disorder in the wood piles, pooled water in the swales, etc. Recognized anomalies would include bears in the yard or even bear tracks, downed tree branches, downed power or cable lines, signs of prowlers, dead animals, dead prowlers, and any trace of counter-surveillance, such as Cuban, Nicaraguan, Iranian, Russian, Taliban or ChiCom pocket litter. Night ops are different because the targets begin to radiate after dark. With their lights on, I can collect data in the visual range.

The Professor’s House has recently become a more active target. He’s even older than I am, so proof of life is always in doubt and must be confirmed daily. Lately, he’s changed his pattern of life and is visible walking around in the back rooms of his house. This allows me to collect on his mobility status (which makes me sympathize with the OG Kremlinologists counting how many times Brezhnev coughed, etc.) Oddly, after more than 30 years of propinquity, I have no HUMINT on this target. There is RUMINT that he was a professor. This seems plausible, as he has “that look”, which so many know so well: smarter than thou, holier than thou, and above all meaner than thou. We all know the MICE acronym for the biggest reasons for treason:  Money, Ideology, Compromise, and Ego. With professors, it’s Ego in spades. They obviously don’t care for Money or they’d do something else. They are usually atheists with no Ideology beyond Godlessness. As for Compromise, they look like they’ve never had sex in any of its many forms and don’t even care. So it’s down to Ego with professors. A big ego implicates a big target. I keep watch.

The Foreigners’ House is the higher priority target for obvious reasons.  Why would anyone move a restaurant from Kabul, where everyone has to eat that stuff, to the Albany area, where nobody has to eat that stuff? The house is inhabited by the one I call the Warlord, his shadowy wife, and five fighting-age males, each equipped with a personal vehicle that they use in ways I cannot monitor but must surely be suspicious. The Warlord himself has rarely triggered surveillance, suggesting extensive counter-surveillance training. We had a brief personal contact last summer, in which he asserted that I seemed to be preparing my home for sale. I assess with high confidence that he has conducted active reconnaissance of my location. To detect that massive dumpster that was in my driveway, he would have had to deliberately drive past my front yard. He asserted that his sister iwass looking for a five-bedroom home in town and aggressively interrogated me about number of bedrooms (not coincidentally five), sethe lling date, asking price. All this made it obvious that this is a penetration aimed at establishing a large, permanent Taliban compound and listening station within our very borders.  It is well known that refugees' status serves as a cover for sleeper agents. My urgent report on this situation has so far received no reply from Washington other than a brief “Didn’t we tell you to go away years ago?” I sense another 9/11 in the making. Nobody listened to Ali Soufan either, and look what it got us.

Perhaps this report makes my surveillance activities seem a bit… futile. I admit that I would have a hard time gainsaying the point. But there comes a time when one has no more Ayatollahs, Ruskies, ChiComs, Talibs or ISIL crazies to intercept, monitor, geolocate, or otherwise attend to. One’s world shrinks, and one’s tradecraft finds more pedestrian applications. The tradecraft doesn’t fade away; it simply fades to irrelevance. There is an acute risk that one could become nothing more useful to the Great Game than an old guy with a toothbrush in his mouth looking out his bathroom window.

Thomas Reed Willemain


Dr. Thomas Reed Willemain is a former academic, software entrepreneur and intelligence officer. His flash fiction has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in Ariel ChartGranfalloon, Hobart, Burningword Literary Journal, The Medley, and elsewhere. He holds degrees from Princeton University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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