5 Gray Man Secrets I Learned As A Surveillance Operative


This article has been generously contributed by Graywolf, a former federal agent and military veteran who has deployed to combat theaters in Africa, Iraq, and Afghanistan and have almost three decades of military and military contracting experience.

One of the questions I get fairly often is “what is the gray man,” and rightly so. It’s a concept that most people have a vague idea about, if any idea at all, since pretty much all they’ve been exposed to is maybe reading The US Army’s book on Human Intelligence Collector Operations – or what they’ve seen in movies (which is pretty terrible).

Luckily, this just happens to be something I’m very familiar with, having both been involved in real-world operations on source operations and surveillance teams as well as teaching agents in both classroom and field exercises (not to mention the crap ton of training I did, compliments of the government), so I’ll break down the basics for you as far as I understand the concept. If you really want to dig deeper into it, here’s a list of books that you might want to consider.

What is the Gray Man concept?

The gray man concept is the theory behind the tactics, techniques, and procedures of reducing an adversary’s awareness of your presence or actions, allowing you to operate in a semi-permissive environment.

Related article: How to Escape Disaster in an Urban Scenario

In simpler terms, it means doing things in a way that any others either don’t pay attention to you or dismisses you from being a target while you go about your business. Essentially, it comes down to how to hide in plain sight.

It’s not just trying to be invisible or avoiding detection because it’s usually impossible to operate within those constraints. The gray man concept is basically an extension of OPSEC (Operational Security). It can be as simple as trying to not be picked to answer a question in class or as complicated as safely and effectively meeting a source to clandestinely collect intelligence without giving away your relationship or purpose for the meeting.

What the Gray Man concept is not

Due to the fact that most people’s idea of operating in a clandestine or covert (they’re different and require different mission preparations but that’s entirely out of the scope of an unclassified discussion) is what they see in movies, most people – and even way too many trained agents – have the wrong idea of what the gray man idea is all about.

The gray man concept isn’t necessarily about just hiding and not being noticed – doing that is quite easy in comparison. These guys were obviously noticed with how they used orange vests to leverage people’s expectations of where they were allowed to go but one could argue that they used elements of being gray men because they were allowed to proceed into areas without anyone paying undue attention to them – and they were certainly not dressed to not be noticed in the general sense, but were dressed in a way that they were dismissed.

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1 – The gray man concept is psychology-driven

In a true disaster situation, your primary objective will be to move yourself and your loved ones as quickly as possible to a safe place – be that your home or bug-out location.

Everyone around you will have the same goal – get somewhere safe – but the majority will not have a sound plan in place, leading to frantic behavior and desperate attempts for survival.

In this situation, disappearing into the crowd and not drawing attention to yourself or your state of preparedness can greatly increase your chances of survival.

As most around you will be unprepared for disaster, you will no doubt feel the urge to help those in need. However, your number one priority needs to be your own survival and you should only help others if you can do so without endangering yourself.

What you wear can certainly have an effect on how gray you are but you have to go a bit deeper than that. Regardless of what you’re trying to do and how you’re able to do it, it all comes down to psychology – in particular, the psychology of your adversary.

It’s not always good to just walk around with a gray hoodie (although they do have their place and I have one I’ve used on surveillance) or to not carry something or act in a way that draws attention to yourself. It’s the attention that we’re trying to avoid.

The Reticular Activating System (RAS)

The RAS is a part of your nervous system at the base of your brain at the top of your spinal column and filters all your sensory input (except smell) so your mind isn’t overloaded with everything. Here’s a quick video to explain:

Also read: Post SHTF: What Will You Do When They Come? How Much Can You Give Away Before Putting Your Own Family In Danger?

It’s a pretty powerful little piece of your brain that can apparently also be leveraged to make some conscious changes in your life, but that’s another story (if you have any experience with this, please comment below).

What we want to do is use our knowledge of how the RAS works in order to make us essentially invisible if possible, and not considered a threat or a target if not. Don’t worry about exactly how it really works – I don’t know either. I just know some of the things that work and some things I’ve seen that have gotten people noticed.

I grew up a good deal of my life on Air Force bases. If you’ve ever been on one, you know that jets constantly take off throughout the day and they’re pretty damn loud. Once you’ve lived there for a while, you stop hearing them unless someone comes to visit and makes a remark asking how we could stand to live with all that noise. That’s your RAS working there. You still hear the jets but you don’t take any notice.

2 – There’s a science behind how people see you

When someone glances your way, they make a subconscious scan of what you look like and quickly file it away. They notice the broad strokes of how you look and not necessarily the details. It’s these broad strokes that you want to either manipulate or diminish. To illustrate the point, take a look at a quick video on what’s called change blindness.

As you can see, you can change sometimes someone’s details quite a bit and people won’t notice it even if you’re in the middle of a discussion with you. That’s again, your RAS working. You may not be able to help that you’re a blond or have freckles but if you do it right, you won’t have to. By manipulating the major things that people notice, you can manipulate how much they pay attention to you.

How can we use this knowledge to keep someone from paying too much attention? Well, if someone is in a crowd of people who are all wearing casual clothes and you wear something drastically different such as a business suit when people do a quick scan of everyone as they walk through, your identity will be distinguished from the rest. Instead of a sea of subtle changes that blend in with everyone else, their RAS will pay particular attention to you and may even bring it to the point of conscious thought where it could lead to them actively watching you.

If you’re going to try to blend into an area, you need to not just think about not wearing colors that may stand out, look at the general look of what everyone’s wearing and try to come up with the average look. If you’re at a beach and everyone’s wearing bright tropical colors, wearing something bland may actually get you noticed. In the same regard, if the majority of people are wearing blues and greens and you have the same style but it’s red, you may also stand out and garner some unwanted attention.

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3 – Your actions are part of your persona

3a – Follow the crowd

If you’re wearing the right clothes in the right area with the right crowd but are the only one standing when everyone else is seated at a table, you’re gonna get noticed. If you’re at a library where everyone’s studying and you’re eating a sandwich, you’re gonna get noticed. Just like your clothing, try to take a quick inventory of what the typical person is doing and do that.

3b – Act like you’re supposed to be there

This is pretty much the opposite of the last paragraph but is something to consider.

In the Army, we were constantly told to walk with a purpose. Now, this was typical because some sergeant didn’t want us to be leisurely strolling through the area but I found that it came in handy in trying to get into an area for penetration testing.

If you’re trying to maneuver through an area, sometimes people pay less attention to you if it looks like you’re focused on being somewhere or getting something done. I’ve also found that if you have something to support that look, such as walking around with a clipboard or a notebook, their brains assume you’re supposed to be there. This is pretty much what the guys above did with their orange vests and isn’t typically what you might do but there are certain situations that it works.


4 – How you do something is as important as what you’re doing

Once you’ve decided on something to wear that will allow you to be in an area and not have someone take notice, you have to work on your demeanor. This part here is HUGELY important and usually how I used to pick out surveillance operators when I was on a counter-surveillance mission.

Your demeanor is basically not just what you’re doing but how you’re doing it. If you’re walking around with your head on a swivel looking for a threat, you look suspicious. It may work as part of a defensive posture so you don’t look like a victim but it could also draw some attention. Hollywood is really bad with this, especially when the actor is supposedly supposed to be some highly-trained operative and he’s skulking around like he’s about to steal someone’s cookies.

Ever heard that someone smells like a cop? That smell is typically due to their demeanor reminding them of how they envision cops act (when it’s not due to some combination of their pseudo-military outfit, hairstyle, and build). The same thing goes for people who’ve spent a long time in the military. They have a certain air about them, stemming from their stature, how they walk, a different level of confidence or awareness, or one of several other traits that military people have in common. If you notice these things you can take advantage of them to help you either blend in with others in the area or lead someone astray about your background.

It’s the same thing as when you travel. If you walk around looking like a tourist, you may draw attention by criminals. They can tell by not just where you go and what you do but how long you stare at something or how you’re continually scanning the area because you don’t know exactly where you’re at.

Basically, it comes down to acting natural. People have expectations about how someone stands/sits/walks/performs certain actions/etc and if you do those things differently than their expectations, their RAS will kick in and now you’re on their RADAR.

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5 – People-watching is a great teacher

Once you get an idea of what to look for, go out and start looking. Watch how people normally act in different settings. I used to take agents out on field trips to malls and bookstores to people-watch just for this purpose.

Try to ascertain what they’re doing or what their background is just from what they look like, what they’re doing, and how they act.

  • If two people are talking to each other, what’s their relationship?
  • Who has military experience?
  • Any off-duty or undercover cops?
  • Why did they come to this particular place today?
  • What do you think they do for a living?
  • What are their hobbies?

Pay close attention the next time you watch a movie. Can you now see where the character ends and the actor begins? Do you see anything incongruent with how they move or what they’re doing that doesn’t fit with the character or scene? Can you tell who has had training and who hasn’t? Are the supposed Delta operators walking around with their fingers in the trigger, flagging their buddies with their weapons?

If you want to see a good example of this, check out the movie John Wick, starring Keanu Reeves. In my opinion, this movie is the best example of how close quarters combat is supposed to be done and you can tell that Keanu Reeves did a LOT of training for the part. Just check out this video of him shooting for further proof.

The more you observe others, the more you’ll know about what looks ‘normal’ in different situations and the easier it’ll be to blend in, or at least not stick out as much.

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Our grandfathers had more knowledge than any of us today and thrived even when modern conveniences were not available. They were able to produce and store their food for long periods of time. All the knowledge our grandfathers had, in one place.Here’s just a glimpse of what you’ll find in the book:

The Lost Ways is a far-reaching book with chapters ranging from simple things like making tasty bark-bread-like people did when there was no food to building a traditional backyard smokehouse… and much, much, much more!


Discover how to survive: Most complete survival tactics, tips, skills and ideas like how to make pemmican, snowshoes, knives, soap, beer, smokehouses, bullets, survival bread, water wheels, herbal poultices, Indian roundhouses, root cellars, primitive navigation, and much more at The Lost Ways


Here’s just a glimpse of what you’ll find in The Lost Ways:

From Ruff Simons, an old west history expert, and former deputy, you’ll learn the techniques and methods used by the wise sheriffs from the frontiers to defend an entire village despite being outnumbered and outgunned by gangs of robbers and bandits, and how you can use their wisdom to defend your home against looters when you’ll be surrounded.

Native American ERIK BAINBRIDGE – who took part in the reconstruction of the native village of Kule Loklo in California, will show you how Native Americans build the subterranean roundhouse, an underground house that today will serve you as a storm shelter, a perfectly camouflaged hideout, or a bunker. It can easily shelter three to four families, so how will you feel if, when all hell breaks loose, you’ll be able to call all your loved ones and offer them guidance and shelter? Besides that, the subterranean roundhouse makes an awesome root cellar where you can keep all your food and water reserves year-round.

From Shannon Azares you’ll learn how sailors from the XVII century preserved water in their ships for months on end, even years and how you can use this method to preserve clean water for your family cost-free.

Mike Searson – who is a Firearm and Old West history expert – will show you what to do when there is no more ammo to be had, how people who wandered the West managed to hunt eight deer with six bullets, and why their supply of ammo never ran out. Remember the panic buying in the first half of 2013? That was nothing compared to what’s going to precede the collapse.

From Susan Morrow, an ex-science teacher and chemist, you’ll master “The Art of Poultice.” She says, “If you really explore the ingredients from which our forefathers made poultices, you’ll be totally surprised by the similarities with modern medicines.” Well…how would you feel in a crisis to be the only one from the group knowing about this lost skill? When there are no more antibiotics, people will turn to you to save their ill children’s lives.

If you liked our video tutorial on how to make Pemmican, then you’ll love this: I will show you how to make another superfood that our troops were using in the Independence war, and even George Washington ate on several occasions. This food never goes bad. And I’m not talking about honey or vinegar. I’m talking about real food! The awesome part is that you can make this food in just 10 minutes and I’m pretty sure that you already have the ingredients in your house right now.

Really, this is all just a peek.

The Lost Ways is a far-reaching book with chapters ranging from simple things like making tasty bark-bread-like people did when there was no food to building a traditional backyard smokehouse… and much, much, much more!


And believe it or not, this is not all…

Table Of Contents:

The Most Important Thing
Making Your Own Beverages: Beer to Stronger Stuff
Ginger Beer: Making Soda the Old Fashioned Way
How North American Indians and Early Pioneers Made Pemmican
Spycraft: Military Correspondence During The 1700’s to 1900’s
Wild West Guns for SHTF and a Guide to Rolling Your Own Ammo
How Our Forefathers Built Their Sawmills, Grain Mills, and Stamping Mills
How Our Ancestors Made Herbal Poultice to Heal Their Wounds
What Our Ancestors Were Foraging For? or How to Wildcraft Your Table
How Our Ancestors Navigated Without Using a GPS System
How Our Forefathers Made Knives
How Our Forefathers Made Snowshoes for Survival
How North California Native Americans Built Their Semi-subterranean Roundhouses
Our Ancestors’Guide to Root Cellars
Good Old Fashioned Cooking on an Open Flame
Learning from Our Ancestors How to Preserve Water
Learning from Our Ancestors How to Take Care of Our Hygiene When There Isn’t Anything to Buy
How and Why I Prefer to Make Soap with Modern Ingredients
Temporarily Installing a Wood-Burning Stove during Emergencies
Making Traditional and Survival Bark Bread…….
Trapping in Winter for Beaver and Muskrat Just like Our Forefathers Did
How to Make a Smokehouse and Smoke Fish
Survival Lessons From The Donner Party

Click here to get your paperback copy of The Lost Ways and The Lost Ways II