In 1944 the predecessor to the CIA, known as the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), produced a little pamphlet called Simple Sabotage Field Manual. Apparently it was to be distributed to enemy occupied countries during World War II in an attempt to encourage disruption of their governments’ war effort.
The manual is full of tips on how to disrupt the smooth operation of industry, government and society. They call their suggestions “simple sabotage” because they can be carried out by ordinary folks and don’t require any special tools or expertise.
The most interesting part of the manual addresses what the OSS calls “the human element” and might be described as “social sabotage.” Anyone who has worked for a large corporation or had a government job will recognize many of the techniques listed here as occurring spontaneously on a regular basis in the workplace. Every organization has workers and managers who are obnoxious, incompetent, sloppy, inefficient, unpleasant, disruptive, jealous, overly emotional, incessantly talkative and, quite frankly, not that bright. The goal, according to the OSS, is “to enlarge that margin of error” by increasing the number of screw-ups while remaining below the threshold of detectability by authorities.
Warning: These are not strategies and in some cases not even tactics. They are nonviolent methods. Random acts of obstruction may be fun if you hate your job or employer, but if you are trying to achieve a specific goal through your resistance, careful strategic planning is required. A strategy should make deliberate use of several different methods depending on the changing situation.
So here you go. This is a list of my fifteen favorite bureaucracy disruption techniques from the OSS. The manual lists many others, and an imaginative worker can certainly invent more of their own cleverly disguised obstruction techniques.
15. Apply all regulations to the last letter.
14. Multiply paper work in plausible ways. Start duplicate files.
13. Misfile essential documents.
12. When training new workers, give incomplete or misleading instructions.
11. “Misunderstand” orders. Ask endless questions or engage in long correspondence about such orders. Quibble over them when you can.
10. 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. [Presumably to make decisions difficult or impossible.]
9. Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
8. Snarl up administration in every possible way. Fill out forms illegibly so that they will have to be done over; make mistakes or omit requested information in forms.
7. Be as irritable and quarrelsome as possible without getting yourself into trouble.
6. Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.
5. Give lengthy and incomprehensible explanations when questioned.
4. …be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.
3. Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences.
2. Cry and sob hysterically at every occasion, especially when confronted by government clerks.
- Act stupid.
Text & graphic by James L. VanHise licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.