Sabotage manual from 1944 advises acting like an average 2008 manager

David "Everything is Miscellaneous" Weinberger sez, "Here's a PDF of a 1944 'Simple Sabotage Field Manual' from the US Strategic Services, explaining how to train people to sabotage their workplace. Full of useful suggestions, from the practical to the, um, less so (e.g., bring a bag of mo[n]ths into a theater showing propaganda films). It also recommends doing things through channels, making speeches, and referring matters to committee as techniques of sabotage (cf. page 28). I got this link from a presentation by two CIA folks at the Enterprise 2.0 conference."
(1) Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
(2) Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of per­ sonal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate “patriotic” comments.
(3) When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and considera­tion.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible – never less than five.
(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
(5) Haggle over precise wordings of com­munications, minutes, resolutions.
(6) Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
(7) Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reason­able” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
(8) Be worried about the propriety of any decision – raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the juris­ diction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.
PDF Link (Thanks, David!)


  1. Page 35: “Be as irritable and quarrelsome as possible without getting yourself into trouble.”

    I think I just found my new mantra!

    Actually, there’s some neat stuff here. Occupying armies beware: your machinery’s electrical contact points are easily fouled!

  2. Erie, this is exactly our policies to the letter. Sad how far we have fallen, imagine the days where behaving like this was considered sabotage rather than typical office behavior?

  3. When someone disagrees with you, table the issue until a sit down meeting can be held between the two of you and your immediate superiors weeks later to discuss it. Works every time.

  4. I had no idea that the CIA had infiltrated my organization. I’m adding section 11 to the start of all my presentations going forward, to root out the suckers.

  5. “bring a bag of months into a theater showing propaganda films”

    Moths fly towards the brightest light source. In a cinema, that’s the projector lens ;)

    I’ve heard of extremist Christian activists doing it to mess with movies they don’t like…

  6. Full of useful suggestions, from the practical to the, um, less so (e.g., bring a bag of months into a theater showing propaganda films)

    Yeah, converting units of time into things you can put into a bag is rather impractical…

  7. A bag of moths a bag of months, its all a passing illusion. Containers, like words, can’t hold much “meaning” because they are an evolving solution.

  8. Damn, and here I was thinking I was sabotaging my employer and clients by not doing my job!

  9. The section on Transportation: Railways sounds just like the UK. :)

    In trains bound for enemy destinations, attendants should make life as uncomfortable as possible for passengers.

    See that the food is especially bad, take up tickets after midnight, call all station stops very loudly during the night, handle baggage as noisily as possible during the night, and so on.

    Engineers should see that trains run slow or make unscheduled stops for plausible reasons.

    They actually missed a couple of good ones, though:

    Instigate a ticketing system so complex and unfathomable that no-one understands whether they are allowed to travel on a particular train with their ticket. For example, you could only issue a certain number of tickets at a certain price. You could also insist that these tickets are only available a fixed number of weeks in advance and are only valid on particular times and routes (perhaps excluding common destinations, such as London).

    At peak times, make sure the train only has half the carriages it actually needs to ensure that at least half of the passengers spend their entire journeys crammed into the vestibules at the end of the carriages.

  10. This is great ! Every trick in this book is very Little Brother-ish. Sabotage ftw.

    My favourite quote :
    “In trains bound for enemy destinations,
    attendants should make life as uncomfortable as possible for passengers. See that the food is especially bad, take up tickets after midnight, call all station stops very loudly during the night, handle baggage as noisily as possible during the night, and so on.”

    So THAT’s where the French tradition of train service comes from :D

  11. Good Lord. Seems as though corporations got a hold of this after someone stripped any reference to “sabotage” from the book, and distributed it to companies and major holdings across the United States as a “how to be successful in business” handbook. This is dead-on how film studios run. Eerily, frighteningly dead-on.

  12. “bring a bag of months into a theater showing propaganda films”

    Moths fly towards the brightest light source. In a cinema, that’s the projector lens ;)

    I’ve heard of extremist Christian activists doing it to mess with movies they don’t like…

    Take off you hoser…

  13. Aha! a checklist to bring to the next “Communications Committee” meeting.

    I doubt we even get throught the minutes from last meeting before everything is checked off.

    Come for attendance, but stay for the donuts!

  14. You have to marvel that they ever got Europe back on track after all that. (And wonder to what extent modern managerial practice really has been influenced by it.)

  15. I’ve found that when I’m attempting to sabotage a movie screening, a single fiery July or ultra-chilly January is all that’s necesary. A whole bagful just gets cumbersome.

  16. Also impressive — the OSS wrote the TSA’s airport security screening manual!

    Page 35:

    (12) General Devices for Lowering Morale and Creating Confusion

       (a) Give lengthy and incomprehensible explanations when questioned.

       (b) Report imaginaries spies or danger to the Gestapo or police.

       (c) Act stupid.

       (d) Be irritable and quarrelsome as possible without getting yourself into trouble.

       (e) Misunderstand all sorts of regulations concerning such matters as rationing, transportation, traffic regulations.

  17. Maybe I’m just too skeptical, but is this legit? It sure looks legit, but that can be manufactured.

    It’s too damn funny/sad to be true, especially the DHS howto in the last section.

  18. I think they adopted these methods of “Sabotage” based on experiences with commonplace bureaucratic groupthink, not vice versa… I’ll add academia to the obvious breeding ground for most of these examples, unfortunately.

  19. This, from page 33, caught my eye:

    “To lower morale, and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unustly about their work.”

    And that is why I just retired from the Postal Service.

  20. Aaaaand this is why I am having so much trouble fitting into academia.

    This is also the management style at everywhere I’ve ever worked, down to that quote from page 33 about complaining and discriminating against efficient workers. Never have gotten the hang of promiscuous inefficiency. I do not understand slack.

    Definitely not management material.

  21. How to screw up document production:

    1. Waste time at general meetings talking up the virtues (greener, more economical, saves on filing space) of making double-sided copies of documents. Push for a resolution in favor of double-sided copies. When everyone agrees to pass the resolution so they won’t have to hear about it any more, volunteer to head the implementation committee. Hold dull, unproductive meetings at inconvenient and changeable times. Forgive committee dropouts. Continue until you’re the only one attending meetings. Then, and only then, make the rules.

    2. Acknowledge that some documents and some circumstances warrant single-sided copying. Make a long, inclusive, discursive list of these exceptions.

    3. Require double-sided copying for (a.) documents over a certain number of pages; (b.) jobs in excess of a certain number of copies; or (c.) jobs in which the total number of pages times total number of copies is in excess of a certain number. Make (c) 10% – 20% less than (a) x (b).

    4. Do not work out how these rules interact.

    5. Require all clerical workers to put their initials on the back side of the last page of any document they copy (whether single- or double-sided), so that management can monitor compliance.

    6. Convert all these rules into a single badly-written one-page document. Post it prominently on the wall above every copier.

    7. Put an anonymous, lidded paper recycling bin next to every copier.

  22. So THAT’s where the French tradition of train service comes from

    …The Amtrak tradition as well.

  23. Hide vital equipment and scornfully produce it after everyone else has already searched for it. It’s great for creating feelings of despondency and inferiority.

  24. There are repercussions.

    Once again, Marketing & Membership is in a four-hour meeting and I am doing their grunt work for them.

  25. @#14 Eerily, frighteningly dead-on.

    Same at my company. And almost everyplace I know of runs that way…

  26. Hey, don’t bash the French train service. It’s fairly good. Now try boarding a train out of LONDON to the rural sticks. Ha! Ha! Ha. Ha. ha…
    Just a question from a Spaniard soon to be moving to the UK (oh dear), why does the UK prate on so about carbon credits or whatever, and does shit else about its public transport? One would think if you were trying to discourage people from using cars, you would encourage them to use public transport to give them an alternative….

    The US train system doesn’t bear thinking about. Never tried it and don’t dare. I once took Greyhound. NEVER AGAIN! I still get nightmares. West Virginia to Florida on Greyhound. I’ve had malaria before with hallucinations. I’m not sure which was worse.

  27. @Klenow: I think you’re right; it’s too good to be true. I don’t wanna be the guy in that College Humor video going “Photoshopped! This chart is Photoshopped”, but…

    – Funny how the cover page is in Futura but the rest of the copy is set in Baskerville

    – Nice ligatures you got there on words like “leaflets”

    – Nice hyphenation and full justification you got there, throughout

    – Awfully clean scan you got there; not a single speck of dust other than the front two pages

    – A whole lot of terms and spellings not commonly seen in America: Centimeters, W.C., “motor-cycles” (we don’t hyphenate it), “tins” instead of cans, “emery paper” instead of sandpaper, kilogram,. (Of course, it could have been written by a Brit back then, too.)

    Remember that this stuff was being typeset by hand in hot metal. Hyphenation and justification was a BEAR. We were rationing steel; were we really spending time lining up text for wartime documents?

    Arguing against myself: The PDF was created by ABBYY FineReader, which is a scanning program.

  28. Wow. My former boss must have read, studied and gotten a degree based on this manual.

    We once had a one-hour(!) meeting about a new flow-chart the boss’ secretary had created (with errors!).

    Of course the flow-chart showed him at the top. Is there a term for when the literary plays out almost verbatim in real life?

    Life imitates art?

  29. Takuan’s right; same document. Which doesn’t mean it’s real, but Occam’s razor argues that it is. Weird.

  30. Jay Levitt, there weren’t many ways to duplicate text in 1944. This document wasn’t run off using a hektograph or mimeograph, so odds are it was set in hot metal on a linotype. The linotype operator and everyone else in the production process would have been used to setting justified type. They would also expect to use proper hyphenation and ligatured letterforms wherever appropriate. Not using ligatures is characteristic of this degenerate modern age, when any novice with access to a keyboard can set type.

    The older word choices and spellings would again not be unusual. If this booklet was produced by the Government Printing Office, you could check it against the Government stylebook for that period. IIRC, the GPO had distinctive preferences. Remember also that an old copyeditor in 1944 could have learned his trade at the turn of the century.

    Setting the cover in Futura but the text in Baskerville would not be an unusual design choice at the time.

    The repro is very clean, which is possible though unusual. That oddity bothers me less than the absence of additional letterspacing in loose lines, though that could also be a legitimate production choice at the time.

    There’s a format error on p. 17 of the PDF (p. 13 of the booklet) that could be a slugging error, which would be characteristic of hot type.

    That’s all I can say. It’s hard to be certain of anything when I’m looking at a scan rather than a printed copy, and I can’t see the earlier stages of production.

  31. A few other problems:

    1) It refers to both the Gestapo and the United Nations. These organizations did not exist at the same time.

    2) It refers to passenger train travel to enemy countries. There was no train service across the lines in WW2, and little if any during the Cold War.

    3) It refers to activating the automatic sprinklers as a way to ruin the contents of warehouses. I don’t think these were commonly used at that time.

    4) The “DECLASSIFIED” stamp’s imperfections are *too* random, too static-filled, and the pattern of ink heaviness does not match with the expected steady degradation (as ink is used up) followed by a return to heavy black ink (as it is reloaded from a pad). There should be a noticable pattern to that course, as slightly higher and lower spots from wear affect the spread of ink. And there are spots that look like small notches, but they are never in the same place (for example, the first page has very heavy stamps but the hole in the “A” is imperfect, this pattern is not continued).

  32. It bothered me a bit that the text refers to the difficulty of finding old bits of natural rubber, and having to accumulate sugar.

    While it’s true that sources of virgin natural rubber were cut off during the war, old pencil erasers, old rubber bands, and old rubber tires would have still been around. Sugar was rationed, but it wouldn’t have been a challenge to get hold of enough sugar to mess up an engine.

    Both passages have the air of someone trying to work in period details they know about but weren’t there to experience. Like a speaker of Modern English trying to speak Middle English, both passages overemphasize the obvious points of difference.

  33. the scrounging rubber/sugar may be aimed at POWs,this is a general purpose summary for many different situations – maybe why it reeks of chimera. Was “United Nations” a usage in 1944 for Allies?

  34. “Although the story of the invention and development of the Automatic Sprinkler as a fire-fighting device has so often been told, more particularly on the other side of the Atlantic, few people realise that it was, after all, a British invention. It was an Englishman – John Carey – who in 1806 conceived the idea of a heat-operated devise by means of which water was distributed through a system of perforated pipes to extinguish a fire. In 1864 Major Stewart Harrison of the 1st Engineer (London) Volunteers, gave to the world the first Automatic Sprinkler Head, his design being as a matter of fact superior to many that followed it. But, as so often happens, it was not to the country of its birth that this epoch-making invention owed its practical development, and it is to Henry Parmelee, of Newhaven, Conn., and Frederick Grinnell, of Providence, R.I., that the credit must be awarded for giving to the Automatic Sprinkler its practical application and laying the foundation of what is now a worldwide industry.”

  35. It’s legit … UNLESS the copy that is available through the Combined Arms Research Library is actually an incredibly well-done hoax.

    The first link cited above is to the same item that Takuan@39 cites … and the provenance is stamped all over the cover. If it’s a hoax, it’s an official one being hosted by the US Army in Ft. Leavenworth, KS … possible, of course. Probable? Well, how paranoid are you feeling today.

    The scan of the document is VERY clean, but I’ve seen older documents than this that were just as clean, and if they did a bi-tonal 2-bit scan on the body of the item, then a lot of the “schmutz” from the accretions of time wouldn’t be there. Standard procedure in my circles to do a full 24-bit color scan of the appropriate portions (in this case, the covers) and the rest as 2-bit. This is also appropriate for preparing materials to go into an on-line doc management system such as the one that the CGSC Library is using, CONTENTdm …

    Let’s hear it for the free flow of information and the FOIA!

  36. @Teresa: Thanks for chiming in; I know just enough about typesetting to be dangerous. You’re right, of course; in a day when only typesetters could set type, any type that was set was going to be set RIGHT, ligatures and all, just like any clothing was well-sown, any building was well-built, etc.

    My thoughts about Futura vs. Baskerville were more along the lines of “Hey, couldn’t they have taken the cover from a real document (with its many stamps and signatures), and made up the text?” Alfonso,

    The lack of letterspacing did bother me – or rather, failed to bother me. I tend to hate the look of old-style letterspacing, and this just seems too… pleasant. I tried to see if this was the spacing you’d get from, say, Microsoft Word, but I can’t get my Mac copy of Baskerville to import into Windows. And all my vintage Hardy Boys and Tom Swift novels are in storage…

    “Both passages have the air of someone trying to work in period details they know about but weren’t there to experience.” That’s kinda what I was feeling; like scenes from “Back to the Future” or “Pleasantville” where they intentionally play up the old-fashionedness.

    That said, there are a bunch of other manuals from the same collection in CARL, and they all look the same. So either this is legit, or it’s a very, VERY clever counter-hyper-counter-psyops maneuver by the *modern* CIA to make us distrust the *WWII-era* CIA, perhaps in advance of some sort of time-travel attack scenario! Bastards.

  37. I think the takeaway here is that all the people who are proposing these new management techniques in our Web 2.0 startups are CIA infiltrators acting under orders from the RIAA.

    Peter: wow, you guys have a “communications committee” too? I thought it was just us. Aaaaagghhhhh!!!

  38. Don’t forget this one: object to everything as harming the ”environment”. Since the ”environment” covers every conceivable thing, and since every action changes the environment, you can shut down any business this way. If someone proposes doing something which protects the environment, then point out the ways in which it hurts the environment. E.g. wind power kills birds, water power dams stop fish migration, and even nuclear power contributes to global warming by emitting heat.

  39. Russ Nelson, that has the additional benefit of blocking real environmental cleanup.

    Here’s one thing I’m sure of about that booklet: its author(s) enjoyed writing it.

  40. Awesomely, I emailed this to our HR Director who emailed his partner and found out that her grandfather wrote it. As well as a book about killing people. Eccelente.

Comments are closed.