Corporate sabotage: Lessons from the CIA

Corporate sabotage: Lessons from the CIA

Is your boss working for the CIA?

Thanks to a declassified CIA manual on corporate sabotage, now you can tell.

It’s January 1944, and America is at war. The CIA puts out the ‘Simple Sabotage Field Manual – Strategic Services’, a guide for disgruntled private citizens in enemy nations who want to help out the allied war effort, largely through sabotaging their workplaces. In ‘total war’, every business is involved, and so muddying up the internal operations of private firms is a matter of strategic importance.

If it wasn’t available from the CIA’s official website, I’d be tempted to conclude the manual was satire. It isn’t, but makes for fun reading regardless.

“Simple sabotage requires no destructive tools whatsoever and produces physical damage,” the manual states. “It is based on universal opportunities to make faulty decisions, to adopt a non-cooperative attitude, and to induce others to follow suit.

“Making a faulty decision may simply be a matter of placing tools in one spot instead of another. A non-cooperative attitude may involve nothing more than creating an unpleasant situation among one’s fellow workers, engaging in bicker, or displaying surliness or stupidity.”

The manual covers all sorts of work environments, and how to sabotage each of them.

For leaders in office settings, the CIA has a wealth of suggestions.

  • “Make ‘speeches’. Talk as frequently as possible at great length. Illustrate your ‘points’ by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate ‘patriotic’ comments.”
  • “Insist on doing everything through ‘channels’. Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.”
  • “When possible, refer all matters to committees, for ‘further study and consideration’. Attempt to make committees as large as possible – never less than five.”
  • “Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.”
  • “Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.”
  • “Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to reopen the question of the advisability of that decision.”
  • “Advocate ‘caution’. Be ‘reasonable’ and urge your fellow[s] to be ‘reasonable’ and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.”
  • “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.”

Don’t worry, mid-level managers. You could play your role too by demanding written orders, which you could then misunderstand, and doing everything in your power to delay colleagues. Here are some other ways you could help the war effort:

  • “To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers [and] give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers. Complain unjustly about their work.”
  • “In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that the important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers.”
  • “When training new workers, give incomplete or misleading instructions.”
  • “Multiply paperwork. Start duplicate files.”
  • “Never pass on your skills and experience.”

Of course, you, dear reader, would never do any of these things. But does anyone else in your business? If so, you ought to be careful. It’s not clear why, but CIA operatives appear to be sabotaging your business. 


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