CIA-OSS Manual for Workplace Sabotage

Recently, the CIA declassified a document titled ‘Simple Sabotage Field Manual’. This manual was created by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the World War II–era precursor to the CIA. It is dated 1944, for use by CIA operatives in Europe who were trying to recruit civilians living in countries occupied by the Axis Alliance (Germany, Italy and Japan).

A scanned version of the document is available in the pdf form at the CIA’s website, here.

OSS-CIA Manual Cover

The documents has around 32 pages. The most interesting parts for me were in the last few pages in a section titled ‘General Interference with Organizations and Production.’

One sub-section of this part is reproduced here:

(a) Organizations and Conferences

(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 reopen 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.

The manual continues to other such sub-sections titled (b) Managers and Supervisors, (c) Office Workers, and (d) Employees. You can read all the sections in pages 28-32 of the manual available here.

What is amazing is that I see this behavior in most organizations, displayed by most people, though they may not have been recruited by the CIA (at least, I think CIA has better sense than to spend money when there is no need).

And that is why you have management gurus and management consultancy firms, much in demand, trying to reverse the situation, with maybe negligible effect. We have experts in OD, employee motivation, leadership development. operational efficiency, process management, organizational alignment, Balanced Scorecard, Six-Sigma, Lean, Agile, ISO, and so on…, but nothing seems to change.

The  beauty of the principles in the document are so inherently ‘aligned’ to human nature, that these principles have insidiously and organically crept into all aspects of all organizations, maybe even in the CIA.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions. Read pages 28-32 of the manual available here.

Please feel free to share your views, experiences, and queries, using the “comments” feature.

Author: Rajesh Naik

I'm Rajesh Naik, and this is my personal website If you are interested in contacting me, I am also available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite.

3 thoughts on “CIA-OSS Manual for Workplace Sabotage”

  1. You are absolutely right, Rajesh. These principles of sabotage are commonly observed “unwritten codes of conduct” in several organizations. In government, they use the term “bureaucracy”, which I think is rather polite sounding. What we see now in the Indian Parliament is a session -by-session proof of living this SOP (Standard Operating Procedure). Noisy TV debates at primetime is one more example of how willy-nilly these SOPs have seeped into and become a guiding principle for conducting discourses.

    It sounds strange to think that non-compliance to this SOP may make the CIA an ineffective organization. One can only imagine what the Performance / KRAs of CIA officials may look like.

    I wonder whether the CIA Manual writer drew inspiration from organizations and civic life or is it the other way round?

  2. Here are some more sabotage principles in action. These can be used to update the manual.

    While making leadership speeches:
    * Quote famous people (dead or alive) like Gandhi, Mandela, Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy, Buddha (don’t bother to acknowledge/ attribute to the original author)
    * If possible, quote in the original language like Sanskrit, Russian, Latin, Ye Olde English, etc. Then spend more time on the translation / interpretation
    * Tell stories/ recite poems from religious scriptures like the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagvad Gita, and the Vedas. Stories / poems from Zen, Buddhism, and Taoism are the current flavor
    * Connect ancient wisdom with modern scientific theories like the big bang, black holes, quantum physics, uncertainty principle – and prove how the ancients were scientifically far advanced than we are. Provide funds and encouragement to projects that will investigate this further.

    Arrange company offsite meetings at far-away places (the ones that the boss wants to visit). Make people do rock climbing, white-water rafting, treasure hunts in the name ‘team-building’. You will not only waste time, but also bleed the organization.

    Call celebrities (singers, dancers, sports-persons, politicians, actors) to serious company functions – waste company money and also provide ample distractions.

    Fund CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) projects that will use money and employee time in a truly wasteful manner.

    Invent new acronyms and terminology in every meeting. Get the Corporate Communications group to continuously align people to the new acronyms / terminology.

  3. The opening paragraph of the introduction section of this paper is quite interesting – “The purpose of this paper is to characterize simple sabotages, to outline its possible effects, and to present suggestions for inciting and executing it.” In view of this paper, it perhaps is very natural that cultural interventions in organizations end up having the sabotage effect. The description that follows in the section highlighted in this post so aptly reflects the reality of current day organizations. In some sense, the author(s) of this paper have done a great job in capturing and portraying the fundamental principles driving human psychology and behavior. It is obvious that these have not changed since ages.

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