Several years ago, we made a blog on becoming the gray man–how to blend in and go unnoticed in public. Since then, we have talked to more experts in undercover, observational, and investigative work and learned even more about how people are discovered when trying to go unnoticed. So, we thought this would be an excellent time to expand upon that first blog and discuss four new keys to becoming a Gray Man.
There may come a time when you or your family need to move unnoticed through a crowd, potentially during a time of civil unrest, to get to a bug out location or get home. Would you know how to blend in to not draw attention to yourself? Could you be invisible? Could you be the Gray Man?
1- Know the Baseline
In the first blog, we discussed the baseline in the context of what is typical for a given environment. We recommended observing the environment and choosing clothes and actions that fit into that environment. Imagine the baseline as the smooth surface of a lake. What’s below is hidden. What is above is ordinary. If there is a disruption in the water, our attention is drawn toward the interruption. Our minds automatically begin to question the origin and intent of the disruption. Was it a fish, a bird, a rock falling, or a person? Genuinely knowing the baseline comes down to answering a few questions for yourself about whatever environment you are passing through before you find yourself there or while you are in it.
First, what are the everyday activities of the location and the time of the day’s activities? Are you passing through a business district? Do you look like everyone else– coming from or going to work or out on their lunch break? Every area has a regularly scheduled pattern. Residential areas have people walking in the early mornings and early evenings, but not usually during midday. Cities have a flurry of activity before and after work and during lunch hours.
Regarding clothing, if you’re in your military-style jacket because that’s part of your bugout gear, you will look very out of place. Consider what people carry their items in when they move through the area. Placing the military-style jacket and other items in a large retail store shopping bag, for instance, would make you look just like every other shopper in the area. Second, what is the economic and ethnic background of the region you are passing through at the moment? The more prosperous or more impoverished a neighborhood, the more likely you are to stand out. You will always want to choose the blandest and average clothing. Hiking boots in a business district will stand out. Move quickly and purposefully through any environment when you are dressed far from the baseline. Lingering in these environments begs people to question what you are doing. Walk at a determined but not too fast pace.
Recognize the baseline of behavior for the area. Do you remember that person you saw that one time singing or shouting in the grocery store? Do you remember that beggar you saw that made you feel uncomfortable? Chances are you do many months later. We have a natural desire to avoid people whose behavior we believe to be less than sane or dangerous. At the same time, those people stand out to us because our brain puts us on alert to behavior outside of the baseline. If we were in the peaceful wilderness and suddenly heard branches breaking, it’s the same thing. However, in the cityscape, there is usually a cacophony that our minds interpret as a single drone. There is a kaleidoscope of imagery and color that our mind blends together to allow us to focus on precise details. So, we take in the sounds and imagery. Still, we don’t process the individual information unless our subconscious mind alerts us to incongruities, sounds, or images that rise above our personal, unconscious baselines and require further scrutiny from us.
The majority of people go through their lives without really observing anything too unusual, and that is the key right there. If there isn’t someone screaming or singing on your subway train, the chances are you will remember very little about the ride later on in your day. If there isn’t someone running when everyone else in the area is walking, you likely won’t notice anything odd in the area. You probably won’t be able to recall any detail about anyone in particular. If everyone else is moving in one direction, say returning from a food area to work, you may look out of place moving against the grain of traffic. It would be better to maybe sit or stand in place, bury your head in a book or phone, and not risk appearing to have contrary behavior to the surroundings around you.
2- Avoid the Observer and Be the Observer
It is a woman, especially a mother, who will first see the lost child in a crowd. Most men, realistically, would walk by and not notice the child. Men who are fathers themselves are more likely to notice. The security guard whose job is to protect an area is most likely to see the out of place abandoned backpack or sketchy, nervous individual. Most people are below the observational baseline. It is natural for most individuals to drone out the sounds and images in every environment. Know that in every environment, there are people who are observing, and the Gray Man’s goal is to remain unobserved.
Suppose you go to an area where people commonly meet up to go for lunch, like a statue or a significant street corner. People will be scanning the crowd for people with similar features to their friends, which means they are more apt to notice anything or anyone out of the ordinary. You will want to avoid these areas by skirting around them.
Guards, door attendants, hostesses, retail kiosk staff, and, of course, police are conditioned to scan the crowds for familiar features. Guards may be looking for threats or just be checking people out in general. Door attendants are looking for features similar to the occupants of the buildings with which they are associated. Retail kiosk staff are looking for customers or individuals who can use their services or products. And, police officers have been trained to alert on suspicious individuals. A federal agent once told me that they always had to remind rookies to look at their shoes. Shoes are a significant identifier of socioeconomics and position. The undercover agent making a drug buy is likely out of place if wearing loafers. If you’re wearing a bulky jacket on a warm day, the police officer will be the first to notice. In one police manual, I have read that to determine if a suspect has an unholstered weapon, you only need to keenly observe the manner they walk and how they shift their weight. Identifying suspicious individuals just outside the baseline is part of their observational training.
Assess the environment you are about to move through. Avoid making eye contact but look at where others are looking. Where are others observing the crowd? Who are the people actively looking, or where are those people most likely to be? Don’t be afraid to stop, look at your smartphone, for instance, and then move in another direction away from these observation points. Even to the trained and astute observer, it will just look like you forgot something or had a message which caused you to alter your pre-set plans.
3- Go With The Flow and Have a Plan
Almost everyone you see has a plan. It’s the person who does not have a plan that we naturally question what they are doing. The tourist is sightseeing. A person may be going to the store, to work, on a date, out to eat, or with other specific purposes. The common element is that almost all the people functioning below the acceptable baseline are moving with purpose and according to a particular pattern and flow. The tourist and the couple on the date are not likely to be in any particular hurry. The person returning to work is typically moving to the business district and is moving more rapidly. The tourist may be stopping for a selfie. Almost everywhere these days, though, you can find people just standing and looking at their phones, and you can use that to your advantage. Stopping out of the flow of pedestrian traffic and looking down at your phone or a newspaper or book provides you the opportunity to assess the flow, look for would-be observers, and plan your route.
People moving with the flow only observe you long enough to move past you. You are more an obstacle to avoid because you would impede their progress in their plan. So long as your stopping is not jarring to them, you will likely remain unnoticed. Ask yourself, what is your plan and purpose for moving through or standing still in an environment? Make sure that plan aligns with others in the area and falls below the observational baseline. Ask yourself what the flow patterns of the site are. Where are the highest concentrations of people? Where are they moving to, and how fast or slow are they moving there? How does the flow pattern change just one block over from where you are? What might someone in that environment be doing? The key to not being observed, here, is to become the observer. To blend in, you will want to understand the intents, movements, and types of people in your environment and then mimic those behaviors.
When you are the observer, you will more easily pick up on others in the environment outside that baseline. The undercover police officer looking for someone in the crowd; the person staring at you because they were scanning the public for their friend and something about you alerted them; the person just watching for some unknown reason; any of these people will immediately pop to your attention when you are the observer of the baseline. You may see them before they see you. Pretend not to notice them if you note that they are directly observing you. Nonchalantly move from their line of vision and leave the area. Chances are their attention will re-focus away from you if you’ve only slightly risen above the baseline.
4- Facial Recognition
There are two real types of facial recognition. There is the kind we do with our eyes, and there is the kind that computers do. Here we will briefly look at both. It is natural for people to study faces, yet we view direct eye contact, just like animals, as a threat. If you want to test this theory, make and hold a stranger’s gaze. Within seconds of their recognition of it, the stranger will be questioning your intent. That long survivalist beard you have been growing might not stand out in your small town, but it will in the business district of a city. The dark sunglasses you wear as part of your disguise and concealment are out of place on a cloudy day, just as they are out of place at night. A cowboy hat in a city setting would look out of place, but a baseball cap of the local sports team falls under the baseline because people in the area are accustomed to seeing that. A hoodie may be out of place in one environment but perfectly natural in another. Subtly concealing your eyes, face, and head will keep you from being scrutinized by casual observers. Even if it is too dark for sunglasses, clear lens glasses can conceal the pupils and most of the eyes.
Concealing your face is essential when you consider passive observational methods like electronic surveillance. Facial recognition software identifies key points on a face: the distance between pupils, the outer point of the eye or outer canthus, the inner point of the eyes or inner canthus, the center point between eyes or glabella, the tip of the nose, the philtrum, the nares, the chin, the points around the lips, and many more spots. The more points the software can identify and measure, the more accurate its identification will be. The uniqueness of our faces is as precise an identifier as our fingerprints. Our brains do the same measurements and identification, but we just don’t realize that they are doing it. And, just like our brains, the software has a baseline. It is either comparing those points to a set of matching parameters that it has to look for or recording the information for further comparisons.
The next time you have a moment, as part of your exercises to become the Gray Man, pause and add up all of the active cameras in an area. How many CCTV domes do you see around banks, ATMs, parking structures, public parks, in front of doorways, and so forth? Imagine that they are all linked together. Does it provide a comprehensive view of an entire area? Likely, they are not all linked together at any given moment, but it only takes one of those cameras connected to software programmed to notice features or behavior outside of the typical baseline for bells and whistles to be triggered. Even irregular movements can trigger alerts in some software. Voice recognition software and drug dogs work in the same manner. Voice recognition software filters all noise and listens for the right voice or the correct phrases that trigger above the baseline. Drug dogs are not trained to alert on the perfumes someone uses to try and conceal their drugs. They are trained to alert on the drugs they are going to smell underneath that odor. All active and passive surveillance has a baseline. Understand where that is and what the likely triggers might be, then act accordingly.
Looking down slightly is your best defense from both observer gazes and cameras. A hat then conceals many facial features. Sunglasses or glasses add some additional protection for your identifiable facial points. Right now, masks worn during what many consider an active pandemic are the Gray Man’s best friend. They conceal critical points on the nose, mouth, and chin. A few years back, wearing a mask would make you a focal point. Now, not wearing a mask is more likely to draw the observer’s gaze. Protect your face’s identification points like you protect your driver’s license if you hope to remain unseen.
Your ability to go unnoticed in both calm and chaotic environments depends on your ability to observe and emulate the baselines of appearance, behavior, and flow. Be the observer instead of the observed. Act as if you have a specific intent and direction, and move accordingly through the area. Be aware of your face and the identifiers it has. Do your best to conceal yourself within the natural parameters of the dress in the environment. Remember, the baseline is like the calm surface of the water. You will want to avoid anything that could disturb that calm surface and register with either people or software.
As always, please stay safe out there.