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How Military Surveillance Techniques and Civilian Surveillance Correlate

I suppose I should begin by introducing myself; for the purposes of this blog, I’ll just go by JJH. I’m a currently serving, nine-year, Army combat vet. For the entirety of those nine years, I have been a Forward Observer. A Forward Observer is one of the harder jobs in the military to explain. Suffice to say, we’re essentially a combat surveillance team that carries enough radio equipment to talk to anyone (everyone) on the planet. The reason we burden ourselves with hundred-pound radio packs, is a consequence of our two primary purposes, which are to 1: provide real-time battlefield intelligence to the commander of the ground forces and 2: our primary (primary) task is to provide targeting coordinates and specific instructions to… basically anything from a mortar system to thermo-nuclear warheads… and blow things up. All this to qualify that while I’m certainly not the best at what I do, surveillance, of any form, isn’t new to me.

What I’d like to share today will probably wind up being a three-ish part… blog? About the decision-making process that I’ve developed/been trained in over the years. It is by no means the end all to a personal decision-making process, but it has served me in the reconnaissance/surveillance/observation field well for the better part of a decade.

So, I guess let’s get this party started with some acronyms.

The purpose of remembering acronyms, is to re-enforce a mental checklist of stuff you need to do whenever you attempt to accomplish a task. By no means does everyone remember every acronym, but I’ve found that the people who are really good at their job have a few acronyms that they use as touch-stones. The two acronyms I’m going to focus on are (in my opinion) the two best acronyms for surveillance-based operations that the military has to offer. They are both pretty similar, but unique in their application. The first (SLCTOP) is used for combat-based procurement of an observation post. The second (OCOKA) is primarily used for defensive based operations i.e. you take an area and then figure out the best way to hold it. If you ask anyone who’s ever ran recon, they’ll know, or hopefully heard of, these two acronyms.

SLCTOP (Pronounced “Slock-Top”)

Stands for: Security – Location – Communications – Targets – Observation – Position Improvement.


So, you can probably already start to connect the dots why this acronym crosses the military/civilian surveillance barrier so well.

Security” is kind of a stretch, I agree, but as far as a checklist goes, it’s probably not a bad way to go in any circumstance. In the military, the first thing you do in any and every situation, is obtain 360degree security of your location. Anyone who’s ever worked a case in Detroit can probably appreciate the applicability of the first letter here. The takeaway is that if you’re not secure in your observation post, you can’t effectively complete your assigned task.

Location” has to do with the place you’re in for the job you’re doing e.g If you’re trying to observe a large area, the higher the ground, the better. If you’re trying to observe a singular point, then the opposite policy can apply. “Location” is extremely broad here and I could write a dissertation on the methodology of determining the best observation locations. Suffice to say, location is the first thing you should be thinking about in every context that is applicable to the surveillance you’re conducting.

Communications” is also primarily a military aspect of this acronym, but it can be very important in this case too. If you’ve ever worked an IME or a Deposition and had absolutely no idea when, or if, the subject was going to arrive, then the importance of communications comes into focus a little better. For instance, if you park in a parking garage with no cell signal, it can really put a damper on your effectiveness as an investigator.

Targets” has to do primarily with the disposition of the… well, target. We obviously don’t like to use the word “target” in civilian surveillance, but the point remains. Disposition of your subject is a crucial aspect of any case, military or civilian. Are they mobile? Do they have vehicles present? Are they aware of their potential observation? Are they violent, do they have family, are they physically ambulatory? All these questions (and more) can and should shape the way you operate.

Observation” is self-explanatory and can be rolled into location most of the time, but again: the reason we utilize these acronyms is to remember the priorities of work (what you need to do to setup) and actions upon an objective (your purpose for being there) when conducting surveillance.

Position Improvement” is at the end of this acronym for a reason. When you get everything else done, you figure out ways to improve your security, location, communications, or observation. If your communications are trash, once you situate yourself to the location, improve it. If your observation presents a problem with possible egress routes, then improve it. The tricky part about this is that “improvement” is usually synonymous with “moving” and moving is always the last thing you want to do.

I’m going to save OCOKA (Pronounced “Oh-Coke-Uh”) for the next blog entry because I’m at a thousand-ish words already and OCOKA is an extremely useful (maybe more-so than SLCTOP) acronym for surveillance-based ops. It will also segue nicely into the over-arching decision making process that I’ve grown over the last decade to use daily, if not hourly: The OODA Loop.


Thanks – JJH