Doubtless you are wondering what this title has to do with my usual political and environmental issues. The answer is nothing.
It is merely an observation on the surveillance capabilities of our police and intelligence services. And it is worrying.
One day about two weeks ago I observed this large black SUV parked across the street from our house. It was NOT inconspicuous, it was very large, very black, had very darkly tinted windows and the engine was running.
So I went out to investigate. The windows were very heavily tinted, the engine was running, I peered in through the drivers side and then the passenger side and the windshield, but it was impossible to see anything. I looked up and down the street for the driver. Nothing. Perhaps he had walked down to the water. I walked down there but found no one. Back to the car, surely if someone was in there they would have identified themselves? Why was the engine running? It was 70 degrees, no need for heating, or cooling. It was a mystery, I decided to call the police, but first I checked the back of the car looking for a hose going from the tailpipe to inside the car, but there was nothing.
As I started to walk back to my house another large gray SUV pulled in very close to the first car, the window on the first car slid down. I was pretty upset and headed over to find out what was happening. The man from the second car intercepted me and to my inquiry as to what was happening, simply said "I am a policeman." Meanwhile the window on the first car had gone up without my being able catch a glimpse of the inside. Then another vehicle pulled in, a mini-van with a woman in. She stayed inside. The man from car number two then said they were watching our neighbors house and had I ever seen this man there - producing a thick sheaf of papers with a mans photo on the top sheet. I had not, and told him so.
But perhaps my wife had seen him. So we headed over to my house where my wife and another neighbor were watching from the doorway. (Not the neighbor from the house that they were interested in.)
The mystery man remained incognito, inside of his Big Black SUV. The woman in the mini-van that I had at first assumed was just stranger turned out to be police as well. She also stayed in her car.
Over at our house the picture was again produced and both Julia and Christine - the neighbor - were unable to identify him.
At this time I realized that we actually had no idea who these people were, apart from saying police at first meeting him, I really didn't know. So I asked him for I.D. which he promptly produced and it showed him to be a Howard County policeman. We asked what the problem was with the man and he replied that he was wanted for assault. Our question, "What kind of assault." received the reply, "With a knife."
I asked who was in the mysterious black SUV and was told "A Federal Marshall."
It was at this point that Julia suddenly asked to see the picture again and said she thought that it was the man she had seen walking up and down the road several weeks earlier. Our neighbor Mike had seen him as he left to drive down to his health club and had called Julia to "Warn" her about him. Julia saw him out on the road walking up and down and said that he did indeed look a bit suspicious, but thought no more of it.
The detective seemed to get excited and we all discussed what to do. The lady who lived next door in the house being watched had been widowed when her husband died the previous year and now lived alone. Unless the wanted man was there! We had none of us seen her for weeks or even months. But we had seen both her son, from Pennsylvania, and her daughter, from no-one-knew-where, visit her from time to time. But no one knew how to contact them. Then I wondered about the man who mowed her lawn once a week, he was the most likely to have seen a stranger there because he saw her every week. Christine knew where he lived and was going to take the detective there to meet him, but just as they were about to leave they saw the man, who also happened to be a Baltimore City policeman, mowing a nearby lawn.
Having talked to him and he reporting not having seen the "Person of interest." The detective went and knocked on the door. By this time I had left to go to work.
When I got home I was informed that the wanted man was our neighbors brother who lived in South, or North, Carolina, I can't remember which.
Presumably they obtained his address, and maybe they have "Apprehended" him, we really don't know.
Anyway, that is our story of an "Unobtrusive Surveillance." Pretty scary isn't it?
Scary because they were trying to observe the house without being noticed! It turned out that there was yet another car up at the next corner! Four cars in all. Certainly not a traffic ticket problem! And not even an assault with a knife. I would be surprised at such an effort even for a murderer! Very mysterious.
If I had to give some advice for a surveillance operation - first I would say turn off your engine, that would have made the car much less noticeable. I probably would not have investigated except for maybe a casual glance. And of course a "Normal" car would also have drawn much less interest. A Big Black car with Impenetrable Black Windows might as well have had a red flag flying over it. Even a knock at a neighbors door near the subject might have given the required information or a place to put their car where it would be less obvious.
Bur maybe they would be afraid of the neighbor calling to warn them. Who knows.
If that is an example of our unobtrusive observance, I despair, it is a wonder that we ever catch anyone.