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Hostile Reconnaissance

post-image 2nd August 2016

What is Hostile Reconnaissance?


Hostile reconnaissance is used to provide information to operational planners on potential targets during the preparatory and operational phases of terrorist operations.

It is widely accepted that prior to a terrorist attack, an instance of direct action or a professional burglary, an activity known as hostile reconnaissance will be carried out. Simply explained, information will be gathered on a target by way of photograph, video or perhaps sketching and other research. Persons conducting this will be predominantly checking on security and law enforcement activity. They will ask themselves questions such as “are passes being checked by security as staff enter the building?” or “are the staff questioning strangers?” They may also check locations and operation of car parks, CCTV and fire exits.

What is the primary role of reconnaissance?

Obtain a profile of the target location.

Determine the best method of attack.

Determine the optimum time to conduct the attack.

A well trained security team or an informed, vigilant member of the public or workforce who has the ability to recognise those engaged in hostile reconnaissance could disrupt an attack and produce important intelligence leads. The below is a non-exhaustive list of actions that may be carried out by individual(s) involved in hostile reconnaissance. The list of actions is quite extensive and only someone with local site or area knowledge will be able to make a decision that an action being observed could be deemed as suspicious.

  • Significant interest being taken in the outside of the building or site including parking areas, delivery gates, doors and entrances.
  • People taking pictures, filming, making notes or sketching of the security measures around events and buildings, tourists should not necessarily be taken as such and should be treated sensitively, but with caution. It is very difficult to gauge what the interests are of a photographer, however, people openly taking photographs of security measures should be challenged and / or reported.
  • Vehicles parked outside buildings of other facilities, with one or more people remaining in the vehicle, for longer than would be considered usual.
  • Individuals asking questions regarding the identity or characteristics of individual visitors, groups of visitors, or the jobs or nationalities of visitors, that attend or may visit the event.
  • Persons asking questions regarding:
    • Security and evacuation measures.
    • Event staff hangouts.
    • VIP visits.
  • Delivery vehicle in front of the event.
  • Vehicles, packages, luggage left unattended.
  • Persons appearing to count pedestrians/vehicles or loitering around an area for a prolonged amount of time.
  • Questions regarding the event or building structure.
  • Noted pattern or series of false alarms indicating possible testing of security systems and observation of response behaviour and procedures, (bomb threats, leaving hoax devices or packages).
  • The same vehicle and different individuals or the same individuals in a different vehicle returning to a location(s).
  • The same or similar individuals returning to carry out the same activity to establish the optimum time to conduct the operation.
  • Non co-operation with police or security personnel.

Those engaged in reconnaissance will often attempt to enter premises to assess the internal layout and in doing so will alter their appearance and provide cover stories.

In the past reconnaissance operatives have drawn attention to themselves by asking peculiar and in depth questions of employees or others more familiar with the environment.

Sightings of suspicious activity should be reported as soon as possible to any security officer or control room and if the circumstances dictate the police should be informed. If there is any indication that there is an immediate threat call the emergency services in the first instance before taking any other form of action i.e. reporting or evacuating.

If in any doubt regarding behaviour that may be deemed as hostile reconnaissance call the anti-terrorist hotline on 0800 789 321 or the police on 101 / 999.