The CIA's Guide to Sabotage Tells You What NOT to Do at Work

Dropping wrenches, promoting lazy people and long meetings are key to destroying companies.


December 9, 2015

Want to sabotage your enemies (or your company) but not sure how to go about it? The CIA’s declassified 1940s field guide has some great action points. And reading it made me wonder if any of my ex-colleagues were enemy operatives, secretly trying to sabotage my company from the inside. Or maybe they were just high-functioning idiots.

The history of the sabotage guide

When the U.S. and its allies were trying to defeat the Nazis during WWII, the precursor agency to the CIA, The Office of Strategic Services, published a “Simple Sabotage Field Manual” to help ordinary people contribute to the war effort.

It reads like a sabotage 101 lesson from a 1940s MacGyver.

“Acts of simple sabotage are occurring throughout Europe … (and) multiplied by thousands of citizen saboteurs can be an effective weapon against the enemy,” they write.

I found the section that introduced the tools of sabotage in the pre-internet age downright adorable.

… (T)he weapons of the citizen-saboteur are salt, nails, candles, pebbles, thread or any other materials he might normally be expected to possess as a householder or as a worker in his particular occupation.

That’s a long way from the ricin and AK-47s of today. But before you get any ideas, pay attention to this next part. The guide recommends that saboteurs start small.

Slashing tires, draining fuel tanks, starting fires, starting arguments, acting stupidly, short-circuiting electric systems, unbraiding machine parts will waste materials, manpower and time. Occurring on a wide scale, simple sabotage will be a consistent and tangible drag on the war effort of the enemy.

Just remember, if you start a fire, don’t hang around until people start pointing fingers.

5. (B)(1)(a) Fires can be started wherever there is an accumulation of flammable material … whenever possible, arrange to have the fire start after you have gone away.

For sabotage at work, the field guide recommends that people get hired at an enemy organization and work to weaken it from the inside.

Where he formerly thought of keeping his tools sharp, he should now let them grow dull … a state of mind should be encouraged that anything can be sabotaged.

The guide advises people to go ahead and act out obvious acts of sabotage. As long as you apologize and act dumb, it advises, you probably won’t get into trouble.

Do not be afraid to commit acts for which you might be blamed directly, so long as you do so rarely, and as long as you have a plausible excuse … Always be profuse in your apologies. Frequently you can ‘get away’ with such acts under the cover of pretending stupidity, ignorance, over-caution, fear of being suspected of sabotage, or weakness and dullness due to undernourishment.

The field guide advises that being a blowhard is great.

5 (11) (a) (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.

Putting off decisions is great, too.

5 (11) (a) (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.
5 (11) (a) (6). Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.

If you get promoted, make sure and give some love to the most inefficient worker.

5 (11) (b) (10). To lower morale and with it, productivity, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient worker; complain unjustly about their work.

Have meetings, meetings, and more meetings.

5 (11) (b) (11). Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.

I really recommend reading the entire field guide if you’re interested in sabotage. But you didn’t hear it from me…

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