Operating in the shadowy world of covert operations is sometimes stressful because you must always stay five steps ahead of not only the bad guys, but also sometimes the good guys.
Let me explain: Fingerprints are like snowflakes in that no two sets are identical. This in and of itself makes each of us quite unique. And it makes it easier to identify and find people who have been in places they should not have been. However, it also makes us easier to find.
Fingerprints are not normally the first method someone will use to try and find you. For example, it is a lot easier to hire a private investigator. The P.I. will attempt to put together a timeline and to get a baseline reading on where you may have gone. To do this, the investigator will search all records, talk to credit card companies, and interview your family and friends.
However, if you are worried about the authorities or if you are on the run, or even in fear of your life, from a cartel, syndicate, arms dealer, dangerous spouse or a foreign intelligence agency, fingerprints are a primary method of finding out where you are or were.
For me, in the very beginning, I would train myself and self-monitor constantly to use certain protective measures in public places and sanitize anywhere I was perched or had touched with my fingertips.
I know this sounds a bit bizarre and almost Jason Bourne-like to most folks, but to live in that world on a 24-hour basis, you had to live by a set of standard operating procedures that moved way beyond the normal precautions that even the most discerning operators utilize.
Just recently while out of town training a law enforcement special operations team, I had the pleasure of having dinner with a friend of mine who also happens to be the commanding officer of the special ops team.
While I felt perfectly comfortable with both the setting and the man, and while we enjoyed great conversation and discussed upcoming training, every time I picked up my water glass, I did so without forethought in a manner that I had used for many decades – by never allowing my fingertips to contact with the glass. Instead I used only the palmar surface of my left hand.
|If you really want to stay off the radar of government agencies — or major criminal organizations – then you cannot leave fingerprints behind.|
At the end of the meal while we awaited the check, old habits kicked in and I picked up the cloth napkin from the table and sanitized the glass, knife and fork, carefully placing each of them back down on the table, using only the napkin, never allowing any part of my hand to contact them.
No words were spoken about this. And whether or not my friend paid heed to what I did was not revealed until later on in the evening, when the topic came up as he dropped me off at my hotel.
I have many times had to use some basic social engineering skills when queried about such “oddball” behavior in front of others. And my normal response is something like this: “The silverware was quite dirty and I want to give it back to them shiny so they might take notice and set a better standard for the establishment.” I suggest that if you need to develop such habits that you also consider in advance what your response will be to the casual onlooker or table guests.
What other ways can you “remove” fingerprints both permanently or temporarily?”
In the past, criminals have “burned” their fingerprints off by employing all sorts of nasty caustic chemicals. While this can work, it is not only permanent and painful but also offers a very specific “look” to anyone observing. And that look, in and of itself, exposes them as “different,” which can make them vulnerable and exposed. After all, how many people actually have their fingerprints removed?
Employing an abrasive such as a light sandpaper or pumice stone is a decent temporary option, though it does take a little repeated effort.
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Another temporary method to alleviate fingerprints is to build callous by performing certain activities such as rock climbing or repeated re-gripping of a rough-surfaced object.
These are somewhat lengthy processes for a covert operator or someone who needs a very “quick fix” to the challenge of removing fingerprints. Someone on a mission may not have enough mission prep time to accomplish this objective and so scheduling is a factor with this methodology.
One quick method that works well is to apply superglue to the fingertips. This does not sound too embracing, but it does do the trick rapidly if you need it.
Another method that I have employed in the past is silicone. In some industrial chemical factories, caustic materials have done such damage to workers in the past that they now literally dip their hands in silicone baths to coat them with a protective layer of the inert, synthetic compound. They dip their hands whether they’re going to wear gloves or go barehanded to perform the finer manipulations required for certain tasks. And so, silicone is another covert method you can employ to temporarily delete or sanitize fingerprints.
Why can’t I just wear surgical gloves like they do on TV?
While surgical gloves are good for some uses, the oily residue that is left inside the standard gloves can be used to derive a “latent fingerprint.” So, you must make sure the gloves aren’t found, preferably by burning them.
|Many people know they can be tracked by their credit card purchases, but they forget about the trail they leave behind with their fingerprints.|
For those of you who don’t know, a “latent print” is a fingerprint that is deposited on the surface of an object or other element like a sink or wall that is invisible to the naked eye.
If you are able to wear gloves for whatever your mission is, then wear white cotton gloves, which do not leave prints. You may also want to consider having a couple pair of these in your escape kit.
Remember that though these gloves may help sanitize your fingerprints, they can transfer certain identifiable substances, fibers or hairs from one place such as your “safehouse” to another place and thus expose a trail that could lead directly back to you.
The takeaway here is that you must correctly dispose of gloves when worn in one environment. And if you need gloves for another situation, use a new pair. Burning them is always the optimal choice but even with that, make sure you do this in a covert manner that does not reveal your secrets.
Obviously, gloves will not go over very well if you’re going into a restaurant or if you’re sitting outside a café performing surveillance on a target, because they would draw serious attention to you. So be intelligent about when and where you use your white cotton gloves.
For most people, these concepts of temporarily sanitizing fingerprints is nothing more than an eye-opener. However, if you ever find yourself in a situation in which you are trying to escape or to evade, the efficacy makes perfect sense.
The key to sanitizing and covering your hands and fingertips is to have a repeatable procedure that you employ every day so that it is ingrained as habit. And that will include sanitizing anything and everything you normally or “abnormally” come into contact with, such as utensils, tools, weapons, toilets, walls and other items.
Just as important is the fact that you must apply these procedures and tactics before the operation begins until after it is over. That means you must cover and sanitize any vehicle you commandeered, borrowed or took a ride in, any hotel or motel room, or any other place you stayed, any tools or weapons you employed, any surface you touched during your mission. Your survival depends heavily on your ability to thoroughly sanitize everything at every stage from beginning to end.
What about the palms of my hands, can they track me that way?
Fingerprints are not the only things you have to be concerned with depending where you are in the world. In some places around the world, they are starting to collect data on people’s palm prints, making the process and operation of sanitizing a bit more arduous.
Don’t get too concerned yet, though. We have taken decades to institute a classification system for fingerprints with worldwide databases. Databases for palm prints and the systems to classify the same are only in their infant stages.
For an entity to employ such measures to find you, it would need a significant imprint, such as from a wine glass that you held full-handed, or its identification procedures would not reveal your identity.
For normal movements and activities with your hands, it would be less likely to capture enough detail for identification – even if they had the technology in place to identify and compare palm prints.
Thankfully, thus far, palm print data is not as widely collected on a global basis as are fingerprints. So taking the precautions that I have set forth here will, for now, significantly help you avoid those who are looking for you.
Such extreme measures may not seem realistic for you. But it is better to have this knowledge now in the event you need it, than when you need it and don’t have it!
Until next time, stay alert, check your six, put your back against the wall and stay safe!