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Suspicion of surveillance

The following information is a brief outline of what to look for - and what to do if you think your group is the subject of an investigation. This is meant to suggest possible actions, and is not intended to provide legal advice.

Look for:

Visits by police or federal agents to politically involved individuals, landlords, employers, family members, or business associates. These visits may be to ask for information, to encourage or create the possibility of eviction or termination of employment, or to create pressure for the person to stop his or her political involvement.

Uniformed or plainclothes officers taking pictures of people entering your office or participating in your activities. Just before and during demonstrations and other public events, check the area including windows and rooftops for photographers. (Credentialing press can help to separate the media from the spies.)

People who seem out of place. If they come to your office or attend your events, greet them as potential members. Try to determine if they are really interested in your issues - or just your members.

People writing down licence plate numbers of cars and other vehicles in the vicinity of your meetings and rallies.

Telephone problems:

Electronic surveillance equipment is now so sophisticated that you should not be able to tell if your telephone conversations are being monitored. Clicks, whirrs, and other noises probably indicate a problem in the telephone line or other equipment.

For example, the United States National Security Agency has the technology to monitor microwave communications traffic, and to isolate all calls to or from a particular line, or to listen for key words that activate a tape recording device. Laser beams and "spike" microphones can detect sound waves hitting walls and windowpanes, and then transmit those waves for recording. In these cases, there is little chance that the subject would be able to find out about the surveillance.

Among the possible signs you may find are:

  • Hearing a tape recording of a conversation you, or someone else in your home or office, have recently held
  • Hearing people talking about your activities when you try to use the telephone
  • Losing service several days before major events