Spy Busters – losing a tail by car
I started this series with the intention of seeing if you could actually do some of the spy tradecraft that you see in all the spy TV & movies as a regular plain human. I started with burner phones and this week I’m looking at losing a tail.
You’ve seen this scene played out a million times. The protagonist suspects that they are being followed, while driving their car, and they pull a trick that loses the carload of their pursuers, who are trying to play it cool and not reveal that they are following their target. This is not a car chase where both cars know who their enemy is. This is a game of chess where both cars are playing like they don’t know what is going on, but are keenly aware of their opponent, but they aren’t about to let them know that.
From the start, I knew I’d need some help, so I enlisted the help of a buddy of mine (thanks Eric!). I first laid out the rules of our little experiment, which were:
#1. Both cars have to follow all driving laws while the lead car tries to shake the follow car.
#2. The follow car can’t overtly follow the lead (they don’t want to be “spotted”) which also means they shouldn’t draw attention to themselves by swerving through traffic, etc.
#3. The follow car can’t use any other means to track the lead car other than by sight. Tracking apps on the phone are out.
We agreed we would switch off being lead and follow cars, and I started first.
I had thought a little bit about how I would try to lose someone and even had a trick I wanted to try from Beverly Hills Cop, but after I started driving, the thrill of the game took hold and I just started going with whatever I thought might work as the ideas came to me. I tried putting a big truck between me & my pursuer, but I didn’t lose him. I then tried to duck into a parking lot and I thought I lost him, but in reality, he didn’t follow me, just to be sneaky… and then his mom called him and he wasn’t paying attention. He followed another car that looked like mine. So I got lucky. Next it was his turn!
He started off driving down the street changing lanes, which I didn’t find very challenging. He then made a u-turn at the next break in the road and I was following a bit too close to make the turn without cutting off cars and attracting his attention (remember, I’m trying not to reveal I’m “following”) I went one more block to the next light and prepared to make the u-turn myself. I was watching my rearview mirror the entire time but the light was so long, by the time I actually got to go, I had lost sight of him. I tried to make a few guesses about where he might have gone, but it was quickly apparent I had lost him. Now it was 1 to 1! Next round I would totally own him!
My next lead car turn, my plan was to try losing him in a parking garage. I drove into a nearby mall garage that has lots of crazy ramps & exits in hopes of losing him in the bustle, and even though there weren’t a lot of cars, I pretty much lost him immediately. I was thrilled! It worked! I quickly took off down the road that rings the mall to get out of sight and when I was certain that I had lost him, I pulled into a restaurant parking lot to call him & gloat. And as I pressed SEND on my phone, my pursuer came roaring into the parking lot to cut off my escape! Turns out he lost me but then saw me driving away and he took a different route to “cut me off at the pass”. This was not going the way I had imagined! He graciously gave me a second try and I immediately got on the highway with him right on my tail. I sped up and immediately exited after going around a truck and he was so close he couldn’t follow. Pay attention and don’t talk to your mother while driving.I got him! OK I was ready for his last attempt to lose me. I found him going slow on the highway waiting for me and we started his turn. I tried to make sure I wasn’t following him so close that he could pull the same thing I pulled on him. So I kept an eye on him as he floored it and pulled away. He got off a few exits ahead and I just easily followed him knowing he couldn’t escape. When I made it to the top of the exit ramp, there was a light, which was now red and I stopped and watched as he made the light & turned right one block ahead. Dangit! I was too far back! I waited impatiently for the light to turn green and I searched for him, but it was no use. He was gone. End score, 2 to 2.We headed to our favorite Scottish diner and debriefed. Here’s the takeaways.
If you want to lose a tail that doesn’t want you to know they are following you:
1. Turn left just before traffic prevents you from turning left. Basically anyone behind you won’t get a chance to make the same turn.
2. Driving through a confusing parking garage can help; just make sure to get out of there after you think you lost them.
3. If your chaser is following close enough, you can suddenly turn to get them off your tail. They will risk revealing themselves to follow.
If you want to follow someone and you don’t have backup vehicles or tracking technology:
1. Pay attention and don’t talk to your mother while you’re driving.
2. Choose to follow at a distance a couple of cars back. Not too far back & not too close. Too far back only works if they don’t know or don’t suspect you’re there. Too close will only help if they are making sudden turns, but you blow your cover.
That’s it for losing a tail. Next time I’m going to try making a micro dot!