Surveillance: Finding a Needle in a Stack of Needles

Surveillance: Finding a Needle in a Stack of Needles

To be clear, I was tasked with finding one (1) specific cowboy among thousands of cowboys attending the year's premier national cowboy event. I was to find one of them with nothing but his name and picture.

Finding a Needle in a Stack of Needles

How I Learned to Love Facebook

By

David Cook

I was finishing up an unremarkable surveillance case in Las Vegas when my case manager called with the unwelcome news my road trip had been extended for a few more days for a high-priority file. This case involved a certain individual participating in the National Finals Rodeo despite being on disability that would preclude his participation in any way.

To be clear, I was tasked with finding one (1) specific cowboy among thousands of cowboys attending the year's premier national cowboy event. I was to find one of them with nothing but his name and picture.

I entered the rodeo with my only lead; the subject’s association with a kid’s rodeo business where children were seated onto angry, powerful beasts that would attempt to murder or maim them for a set amount of time. (Apparently, this is fun.)

I took a seat in the stands and scanned the rider prep area, hoping to spot the subject. I decided to search social media, and it didn’t take long to find the Facebook page of the rodeo business. There I spotted a comment that led to the target’s open and unsecured personal Facebook page. He had just posted a check-in status to where he would be staying at some condo complex nowhere near any of the hotels on the Strip. A quick check of Google Maps told me it would be no trick at all to set up surveillance there. (In my head, angels sang the Hallelujah Chorus.)

The subject’s page refreshed again, and I saw a picture he had just posted of these same kids that, judging by the angle, had been taken from the same seat of bleachers I was sitting in.

Bingo! He was sitting near the bottom left side of the bleachers, probably 20 feet from me.

I got some video of him watching the event, but nothing useful to my client. I lost him in the crush of flannel-clad humanity that filled the event space, but I knew where he was staying and beat him there by 30 minutes. I got some video of his arrival, but nothing useful.

I set surveillance on him early the next morning and tailed him back to the expo center for the second day of the event. He went straight to the same arena, but instead of taking a seat with the spectators, he went into the rider prep arena. There I captured hours of video showing the target working with the participants with their gear and doing everything he wasn’t supposed to be able to.

As with most of my assignments, I never learned of the final disposition. I know my employer was happy with my work, and the client was ecstatic. I’ve had cases that were just as successful before and since, but the fact that it was the subject himself who provided the key information at the critical moment makes this one stand out. If this subject had set his Facebook to private, this case would likely have been a complete bust.

It’s becoming increasingly rare to find a subject’s social media open and unsecured. Still, it should be the standard operating procedure to check on every case. You never know what clues you’ll find.