The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was an intelligence-gathering and paramilitary organization created during World War Two, one that was so successful that it led to the creation of both the CIA and Special Forces after the war. To this day, many intelligence professionals look back at the OSS in admiration and with nostalgia for William Donovan‘s men and women, the so-called glorious amateurs.

The “simple sabotage manual” was printed in 1944 as an instructional guide for OSS operatives and their agents. Most of the sabotage described is a breakdown of how various industries can be undermined from within. These sabotage operations are not about daring commando raids, but rather about the ways that employees can passively wreak havoc at the workplace.

During World War II, Major General William “Wild Bill” Donovan was the head of the Office of Strategic Services, an intelligence and espionage organization that was the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. Ca. 1940s. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

The manual is detailed to the point that it talks about how saws should be stored with a bend in them so they break when used; short, rapid strokes with a file will wear it down more quickly than usual; the rheostat can be set high in electric motors so they catch fire; pins can be shoved into locking mechanisms; and crops can be harvested a bit too early or too late so that they are fouled.

Perhaps the most intriguing and humorous aspect of the simple sabotage manual are the portions about social engineering: basically, how to screw with both customers and employees in order to slow down production and frustrate everyone.

For example, those working on rail lines can:

Make train travel as inconvenient as possible for enemy personnel. Make mistakes in issuing train tickets, leaving portions of’ the journey uncovered by the ticket book; issue two tickets for the same seat in the train, so that an interesting argument will result; near train time, instead of issuing printed tickets write them out slowly by hand, prolonging the process until the train is nearly ready to leave or has left the station. On station bulletin boards announcing train arrivals and departures, see that false and misleading information is given about trains bound, for enemy destinations.

Regarding the general sabotaging of organizations and conferences, the manual lays out some key points such as:

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  • Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit shortcuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible. Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, and 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 unreasonable and urge your fellow conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste, which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.

Some of these bullet points will likely make those working for large organizations, be it in the military or a corporation, wonder if they are not the target of an ongoing OSS operation. Likewise, one has to wonder about the state of our transportation systems and whether willful incompetence is at play. But this is the genius of the simple sabotage manual: The enemy never really knows for sure if they are being deliberately sabotaged or if people are just incompetent. The manual itself has since been declassified by the CIA and can be read on their website.

Another source for declassified OSS manuals is Colonel Mark Boyatt‘s book, “Special Forces: A Unique National Asset.” While working in the Pentagon, Boyatt discovered a number of old OSS manuals that were scheduled for destruction. The Special Forces officer and OSS fan saved the manuals and brought them home, later republishing them in his book. These include the Simple Sabotage Manual discussed above, as well as the Special Operations Field Manual, the Operational Groups Field Manual, and the Maritime Unit Field Manual.