The CIA, NSA and the DIA trained us to develop a vast array of highly specialized skills that required intense, structured training by experienced, success-proven operatives.
But there are essential spy skills that we had to master that you can develop within yourself – without attending a top-secret government training facility.
Moving rapidly through crowds of innocent (or reasonably innocent) civilians while maintaining your clandestinity is very difficult – until you learn how, practice it and eventually master it.
I cannot recall any mission that I conducted during my entire career that did not require the successful implementation of this particular skill at least once during the op and I’ve used it in places ranging from Japan to Denmark.
Imagine that you are in an American mall on a Saturday and you are trying to move along the concourse quickly. Immediately in front of you, there is a group of sweet young moms pushing their infants in their strollers.
And right in front of them is a group of kindly mature adults with tennis shoes. Both “teams” stretch from one side to the other of the walkway and show that they are in no hurry to get anywhere.
Most of us would either exercise our maximum level of patience and social awareness and dutifully stroll slowly behind them. Or, perhaps, find a way to dash across the bridge of the concourse to the other side and then briskly walk on.
But what if you had to stay on the side with the gently progressing and often pausing groups of mall athletes? Suppose that you are tailing someone or perhaps attempting to lose a tail in a non-alerting manner.
Perhaps you are quickly scanning the shops on your side of the mall for your missing child (or wife) but you do not want to raise a panic – yet.
This is where you’ll want to have practiced and honed your skills in selfish, pushy, and assertive surliness.
You need to develop your own manner of pushing through people in an anti-social, ultra-assertive, fashion, while displaying zero consideration or concern for those that are in the path to your breach point.
I understand that most of you are thinking that if you needed to push though a crowd, you don’t need any practice or special skills. Some others will be thinking that you could never behave that way and especially, not in a case where you had to dislodge young moms and the elderly.
Or perhaps, you are under the impression that you will be able to gently and kindly inform them that you need to pass through their ad-hoc gauntlet and they will immediately provide you unfettered passage through their bulwarks. I must inform you that none of those plans are reliable or universally effective (especially, if the path-blockers do not speak English).
Here is the truth: Unless you are practiced, it will be incredibly hard for you (even Alpha males) to get through without causing such a ruckus that someone calls for security or one of the crowd grabs you by the arm and demands to know what you are doing or even having one of them taking a swing at you.
Or, the very worst, getting sucked into a discussion (Read: Argument) with one or more of the folks.
Here is my tip. Begin announcing (loudly) “Excuse me!” several feet before you reach the group. They will probably be chatting and most of them will not hear you, but that is only step one.
Go right between the two people in the middle. Do NOT look in their eyes or even look at them at all. Keep your head up and forward and your gaze focused on the farthest wall.
Twist slightly sideways and put your hand in front of you like a knife cutting a pie, without making any contact with anyone or anything they are carrying or pushing (if they see your hand out, they are less likely to think you are picking their pockets or grabbing their purse.
Continue to ANNOUNCE (with a deep voice of conviction and urgency) the same words and only those words. Excuse Me!
Do not verbally engage with any of them for any reason. Ignore the complaints, questions, and insults. Keep moving briskly and do not look back or make any kind of apology.
This is hard to do for most people. Being this assertive and displaying this much disregard for others feels incredibly uncomfortable. You need to practice developing this skill.
You will need to practice and improve this several times until you are able to establish a pace, voice and fortitude that will help you get to your objective on time. This is going to feel very unnatural and you might think that on-lookers will be shocked and dismayed to witness such brazen disregard.
On an op, you might feel like it is raising your profile and making you stand out. And it will, to some degree, but considering the alternative, it’s going to be your best bet.
I have used this technique to successfully navigate my way down crowded sidewalks, escalators, airport people movers, train cars, in the hallways of hospitals and even in panicked street crowds immediately after an explosive device was detonated.
Try it. You may not like it at first, but keep your mind focused on what might happen if you don’t get “there” in time. And please, do not presume to be able to perform this uncomfortable and disruptive anti-social behavior by just reading an article about it.
Take your spouse or other trusted companion with you to the mall and have them observe your technique and the crowd’s responses from across the concourse.
Keep working on it until it becomes smooth muscle memory. Pushing your way through crowds; who knows, it might just become your next hobby.