Sabotage! Or How “Dilbert” Won The War

A friend of mine who works in the intelligence community brought this jewel to my attention.  In January 1944, the Office of Strategic Services created a secret document entitled “Simple Sabotage Field Manual” (available here as a free audio book) to assist operatives in disrupting the Axis war effort.  It contains the expected stuff about starting fires and shorting electrical systems.  But the most enlightening stuff comes at pages 28-31, in a section entitled “General Interference with Organizations and Production.”  There, we learn that our secret weapon against the Nazi war machine was . . . bureaucracy.  Note these ingenious plots:

(a) Organizations and Conferences
(1) Insist on doing everything through “channels.”  Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
* * *
(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.

More nuggets after the jump.

In other words, the war would have ended a year earlier if we could have just parachuted the Executive Secretariat of some executive agencies behind enemy lines in 1942.  But probably the paperwork wasn’t in order.

I don’t want to oversell the point that the Manual basically recommended being bureaucratic; there are parts of the Manual that advocate conduct that bureaucracies do not actually encourage, such as “Work slowly,” “Act stupid,” “Cry and sob hysterically at every occasion,” and my personal favorite, “Be as irritable and quarrelsome as possible without getting yourself into trouble.”  But it is at least mildly amusing that such readily identifiable bureaucratic behavior as “insist[ing] on doing everything through ‘channels’” used to be regarded as destructive behavior.

This apparently has been the source of mirth among CIA types for two years. Now you can share the comedy secrets of our intelligence services.


Some other good tidbits:

(b) Managers and Supervisors
(1) Demand written orders.
* * *
(7) Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw. . . .
* * *
(10) 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.
(11) Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
(12) Multiply paper work in plausible ways. Start duplicate files.
(13) 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.
(14) Apply all regulations to the last letter.

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