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Harry Cassin
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Eric Carlson
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How to wreck an organization from the inside

During World War Two, the Office of Strategic Services or OSS (which later became the Central Intelligence Agency) published a secret document called the Simple Sabotage Field Manual.

It came with a warning that its contents “should be carefully controlled” but was later declassified and finally posted online by Project Gutenberg.

It’s a handbook for all sorts of mayhem — slashing tires, draining fuel tanks, starting fires, and short-circuiting electric systems — and includes a Machiavellian section headed “General Interference with Organizations and Production.”

The organizational sabotage section begins with eight steps any insider can take to help cripple their organization’s ability to function effectively:

(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 personal 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 jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.

There’s a section specially for managers and supervisors and what they can do to bring their organization to its knees. Here’s part of it:

(1) Demand written orders.

(2) “Misunderstand” orders. Ask endless questions or engage in long correspondence about such orders. Quibble over them when you can.

(3) Don’t order new working materials until your current stocks have been virtually exhausted, so that the slightest delay in filling your order will mean a shutdown.

(4) Order high-quality materials which are hard to get. If you don’t get them argue about it. Warn that inferior materials will mean inferior work.

(5) Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw.

(6) When training new workers, give incomplete or misleading instructions.

(7) To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.

(8) Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.

(9) See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.

(10) Apply all regulations to the last letter.

The final sections (set out in part below) are for any organizational insider and offer a devil’s catalogue of harmful behavior:

(1) Confuse similar names. Use wrong addresses.

(2) Prolong correspondence with government bureaus.

(3) Misfile essential documents.

(4) Tell important callers the boss is busy or talking on another telephone.

(5) Spread disturbing rumors that sound like inside dope.

(6) Work slowly. Think out ways to increase the number of movements necessary on your job.

(7) Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can . . . When you go to the lavatory, spend a longer time there than is necessary.

(8) Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.

As the Economist said recently, the OSS’ organizational sabotage suggestions are “alarmingly familiar to anyone who works in an office today.” At some point after the war, the publication “appears to have been mistaken for a serious guide on how to run the modern workplace.”

No wonder the Simple Sabotage Field Manual carried a warning that it should “not be allowed to come into unauthorized hands.”

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