You’ve planned and prepared. Every detail has been considered and worked out to the Nth degree. The life you know and lived is about to change, but you are ready. You take one last look behind you, then step through the door into the bustling city life. In that instant, you vanish. While it goes by many terms like “going off grid” or “going gray,” it’s all the same idea.
You exist in a life in which you do not register on anyone’s radar. From local law enforcement to the federal government, you become a shadow that once was. The reasons for such a bold change are many, but the steps are essentially the same. Are you ready to shake off the digital leash and live off the radar? Then let’s take a look at the basics of going gray and making it happen.
While we all yearn for at least some sense of anonymity, that has become virtually impossible in a digital world. You search for an item online and the next thing you know, ads for that product seem to pop up on every website you visit. Stories in the media regarding the NSA’s ongoing collection of data along with what seems to be endless hacking of computers is a reminder that everything you touch digitally can be tracked.
This tracking goes beyond just your computer and mobile phone. Currently, there are more than 30 million surveillance cameras in the U.S., or one for every 10 Americans. There are also endless databases that can be researched to find information on you. The average American is in more than 200 different databases ranging from retail habits to FBI profiles.
Some people want out. Going gray, however, is not something that can occur overnight. In fact, it can take months of planning if you want to truly vanish. And before you make the jump, you have to be sure that it’s actually what you want. Restarting your life after being gone can be challenging if you have really covered your tracks.
The question you need to ask is, “Can I walk away from it all?” Another way of thinking about it comes from Robert De Niro in the movie Heat: “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.”
This is a creed that you will need to live by. But, with that being said, there are different levels of going gray. While we will explore completely disappearing in detail, there are also things you can do to shrink into the shadows a bit.
Living Off-Grid and Going Gray
If we just want to go mildly gray, then we need to unplug from the digital network in which we currently exist. Our connection to the digital world is astounding at times, as people wander the streets with their faces washed in the lights from the screens they are staring down at. It will be harder than you think, but by no means is it impossible.
For this level of going gray, we will need to forgo the use of any devices that can be connected to the Web in any way; this means computers and smartphones. You will be a cash-only person, with only absolutely essential connections to databases. For a telephone, you will need to buy a burner phone at a cash location and use it only when necessary. Even then, you will want to discard it and get a new one every few weeks or so depending on how much you use it.
You will need to change your look and avoid large public areas, such as malls and entertainment venues. When you eat, do your best not to frequent the same restaurants and avoid chain locations because of the cameras. To a degree, this is the same fieldcraft used by covert agents. The difference, however, is that those agents are usually supported in their efforts by an entire team. You will be on your own.
Some will snicker at the idea of going to such extremes, calling such efforts tinfoil-hat folly. But many that choose this lifestyle are highly educated and successful people who simply choose not to have every moment of their life cataloged in some database without their permission.
Getting Darker and Going Gray
At the other end of the spectrum is dark gray. This is the total vanishing act. You are obviously interested, so let’s make a plan to get you started.
You will need to start about three to four months ahead of the date you plan to leave. In that time, you will have plenty to do.
First up when going gray is deciding where you want to go. It is best if you pull up roots and leave the town or city that you currently live in. Even in major metropolitan areas there is a chance that you could run across someone you know.
I also suggest you choose a medium-sized city to move to. Small towns are quick to notice new residents, and questions will abound. Try to choose a location that goes against your personality. If you have railed against cold weather and snow to friends and coworkers in the past, then you head north.
Cash and Personal Items
Remember that you are doing more than just hiding. You are completely changing your lifestyle. If you have savings or investments, you will need to gradually withdraw them. Do not take out large amounts—do it slowly so as to avoid suspicion.
During the preparation period, it’s best if you methodically go through all of your personal items, such as photos, and shred them. Once shredded, either burn them or distribute them in dumpsters around town.
As you get closer to the day of departure, you will need to get rid of your digital devices, such as tablets. Hold onto your smartphone, though—we will have a special plan for it.
Next up is your computer hard drive. Remove it from the computer and take it apart. Once the cover and body are off, you need to get a hammer and go medieval on it. The part we are most concerned about is the circular mirror-looking component called the platter. Turn it into rubble. Pull all of the broken parts out and take them and the remaining hard drive for a little trip. The best place for these now is at the bottom of a lake or the ocean. Do the same thing with any flash dives or external drives you have as well. It all must go.
New Identity and Cutting Ties
With the majority of our house cleaning now done, it is about time to launch.
At this point you need to start building a new life. You will need to assume a new identity, so a name and backstory are essential. If you base the backstory on a few truths and practice, it will be easier to remember and ultimately more believable.
In the few weeks before you leave, you will need to break away from friends and work. Take vacation time and make up some story for friends and family. During this time, you will be changing your appearance—growing a beard, shaving your head, coloring your hair or any number of things. It is also time to close all of your accounts—your banks, credit cards, etc.
Pack a single bag that is easy to carry.
Now we’re back to the smartphone. Take a few minutes and wipe all of the personal information from it. Then make sure you disable the locking feature and take a trip to a bus or train station. Blend into the crowd and have a seat. After a few minutes, slip your phone onto a table or stand, then get up and walk away from it.
Barring intervention from a good Samaritan, you will be able to leave your phone behind. Odds are extremely high that your phone will soon end up in someone’s pocket and then they would in turn hop on the bus or train to destinations unknown. Smartphones are the epitome of tracking devices, and essentially planting it on someone can be a great act of misdirection.
Hitting the Road and Going Gray
Now it’s time to leave. The way you leave depends on where you are going. The most invisible way is to simply hitch rides. If you retain your car for the trip, then make sure you avoid major interstates because of the high number of cameras. If you have a toll pass device in your car, remove it before you go. The same holds true for services such as OnStar or other mobile assistance devices. They will all need to be completely powered off with no way for them to be restarted.
However, I do recommend that you ditch or sell your car for cash before you get to your final destination.
Only use non-chain restaurants and always pay in cash. Also, even with your new “look,” it’s advisable to try to wear a hat and sunglasses as an additional layer of camouflage. At this point, you are on your way to a new life.
This article could go on for another 40 pages, but the fundamentals of going gray have been laid out. The idea of going off-grid is absolutely foreign to some, yet many people are making at least a light-gray life a reality.
Trust in the government’s ability to protect our personal information is generally met with laughter, and people are tired of their data being a commodity. Many FBI, CIA and NSA agents openly share the fact that they put tape over the cameras on their laptops to avoid spying.
So before you dismiss it, I encourage you to do some research to find out just how little anonymity and privacy you are really enjoying. Only after you explore for yourself can you decide what is too much and what is acceptable.
This article is from the winter 2018 issue of Ballistic Magazine. Subscribe at OutdoorGroupStore.com.