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Simple Sabotage Field Manual (1944) [pdf] (cia.gov)
187 points by Anon84 4 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 89 comments





I assume that this is actually a cynical guide to how your laziness as an employee is harming the war effort and not an actual field manual, right? It has to be.

The section where my mind was changed from "maybe this is actually a strategy" to "this is just a passive-aggressive list of grievances against anonymous subordinates" was all the machine shop sabotage suggestions. Nobody read the employee handbook when it said "sharpen your tools, store them properly, don't press too hard on your drill, and clean out the oil filters regularly", but when you say "the enemy never sharpens their tools, they store them so they'll break, and they're always pressing way too hard on the drill bits costing their employer PENNIES A DAY in replacement parts", suddenly it's your patriotic duty to do what Grandpa demands.

Everything reads like this. "Some idiot let the pilot light go out, lit a candle in the room, and then went home. Our building blew up and my precious stash of rare cigars was lost forever!" "You dumbasses flushed a sponge down the toilet AGAIN!? Are you kidding me!? WHY!?!?"


Nope, this is actually the kind of thing that e.g. the French Resistance would coordinate, under the guidance of the British SOE.

The pennies add up, and in the case of precision parts like drill bits producing endless replacements ate up very limited capacity in certain sectors.

(Hence why paranoia about sabotage is such a persistent feature of dictatorial regimes; the subtle stuff is indistinguishable from extreme incompetence or institutional dysfunction.)


> Hence why paranoia about sabotage is such a persistent feature of dictatorial regimes

Not only that: if simple sabotage increases paranoia, then that paranoia can harm the enemy's war effort more than the sabotage.


Trust is the most effective attack surface.

It sort of reminds me of Schindler's List where the war materials they cranked out were mindfully out-of-spec, yet plausibly just bad quality.

This was exactly my same thought.

One could argue that a lot of the so-called "research" that is conducted at government subsidized laboratories in the United States like MIT Lincoln Laboratory provides a more modern example of this same form of "passive aggressive" workplace resistance.

For example, the former technical director of ballistic missile defense at MIT Lincoln Laboratory (Stephen Wiener) used to build miniature Rube Goldberg-style contraptions and display them in his office just to ridicule the military's stupidity for wasting billions of dollars of taxpayer money on useless R&D programs like "Star Wars," which hearkens of course all the way back to the Reagan era.

Wiener famously once told a Lincoln employee that he instructed his subordinates to bill hours against government programs that they never worked. Unfortunately for the laboratory, however, this particular employee chose not to join Wiener and his colleagues in their "passive aggressive" form of workplace resistance.

Instead, he reported the fraud to the FBI, in connection with this famous investigation:

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/401412/postol-vs-the-pent...


I just wonder if the reverse is true. That is if you are not capable of spotting extreme incompetence or institutional dysfunction, the only way to build up an organization is to make it a dictatorship. Paranoia being the sole method of troubleshooting that new regime.

Makes sense. If you feel you can't trust the people under you because you can't identify the problem people fast enough, then your best choice is to micromanage instead.

"Feel" is the key word here; this line of thinking can be less about the reality, and more about manager's own insecurities. This makes paranoia an even more powerful force amplifier for sabotage. If a tiny act of sabotage makes managers paranoid enough that they resort to corporate dictatorship, the productivity will tank. Which will probably not help with lowering the paranoia. At extreme ends, I imagine paranoid people get routinely triggered by normal variance in systems they oversee, making the whole thing self-perpetuating.


Institutional dysfunction is often a side effect of dictatorial regimes, which can develop paranoia about sabotage as a defense mechanism against actually realizing this.

Drill bits are expensive, and their lifetime can be an hour under good conditions but only seconds when pushed too hard. You can significantly slow down the war machine with stuff like that.

Oh absolutely. I don't think anyone sets out to abuse their tools, but there are always other constraints. I imagine that a lot of these wartime machinists were given a rulebook, then told to make X units per day more than was possible. The rulebook was then ignored to get the job done, at whatever cost. Drill bits were broken. Management was upset at the cost. So a passive-aggressive "guide to sabotage" was written to guilt them into somehow meeting their quotas while hopefully breaking fewer tools.

Have an open mind, bit don't let your brain fall out.

Good HSS drill bits like Wedevåg are cheap by proportion and can last 24h in tough materials like acid-resistant stainless steel under optimal conditions. Once dull you can just touch them up in a sharpener. Carbide bits last longer and do quicker work but are expensive.

Today. I doubt that was the case in 1940 or even in 1980, especially on the Soviet side.

Think that you need to do things subtle enough to ... well, survive. It's the kind of guide that can be applied by anybody, not just people willing to risk their lives for a big gesture. It's probably at least a couple of magnitude difference in numbers.

Most of section 11 is what happens at companies where politics becomes more important than execution, you can only get away with this shit in such an environment and you don't need to actually do it there, it just happens naturally.

Man, I wonder if a couple places I’ve worked were loaded with CIA agents.

I think the same thing every time this pops up on HN. The Quality department is clearly loaded with spooks. XD


In other words a CIA sabotage Field Manual has super-impressive staying power with the subversives here on HN. Got it :D

It's almost as though someone were intentionally slowing down HN by deliberately and repeatedly getting this on the front page.

But I'm sure it's just forgetfulness.

... or is it?


Plaintext version: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Simple_Sabotage_Field_Manual

Quick link to the longest and most interesting and practical section: SPECIFIC SUGGESTIONS FOR SIMPLE SABOTAGE https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Simple_Sabotage_Field_Manual/...


So this one confirms it - social media is a CIA operation -

Spread disturbing rumors that sound like inside dope.

And then this - apparently most of our fellow citizens are operatives: Act Stupid.


Would not be all that surprised if someone were to feel sufficiently inspired by this document to draft a similar pamphlet for disaffected employees of tech companies who spy on their employees and/or abuse their customers' privacy.

What would covert acts of "simple sabotage" look like at a company like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, or Facebook?


An Italian Strike (aka Work-to-Rule) is a version of this aimed at minimizing civil or criminal liability to strikers - pick the most inconvenient and debilitating safety regs that no one follows, and follow every single one of them. This is particularly common in countries or workplaces where law or contract prevents direct strikes.

Unions would have trouble advocating this as a form of strike in a direct dispute, because a union can only exert negotiating leverage if it publicly declares its intentions. However, I've heard anecdotal reports of this kind of sabotage being common in secondary/solidarity strikes - shipments showing up late or damaged or incorrect, external maintenance being done improperly, etc.

EDIT: With a bit of poking around, I found that the Wobblies were big into this (and it's even where they got their name!): https://www.iww.org/history/icons/sabotage


Quite common back in engineering the day in the UK, just before a big delivery it was common to go slow and work to rule - until suddenly some brown envelopes magickly appeared.

As the guy said even the tea boy got £900 and in the 70's that was a lot on money


This was exactly my same thought. One could argue that a lot of the so-called "research" that is conducted at government subsidized laboratories in the United States like MIT Lincoln Laboratory provides a more modern example of this same form of "passive aggressive" workplace resistance.

For example, the former technical director of ballistic missile defense at MIT Lincoln Laboratory (Stephen Wiener) used to build miniature Rube Goldberg-style contraptions and display them in his office just to ridicule the military's stupidity for wasting billions of dollars of taxpayer money on useless R&D programs like "Star Wars," which hearkens of course all the way back to the Reagan era.

Wiener famously once told a Lincoln employee that he instructed his subordinates to bill hours against government programs that they never worked. Unfortunately for the laboratory, however, this particular employee chose not to join Wiener and his colleagues in their "passive aggressive" form of workplace resistance.

Instead, he reported the fraud to the FBI, in connection with this famous investigation:

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/401412/postol-vs-the-pent....


Work to rule is often used by American schoolteachers. It makes a point without resorting to a politically unpopular strike.

Is this similar to “work to rule?”

> (aka Work-to-Rule)

Yup! Same thing, different name. "Italian Strike" is what they call it in European and Middle Eastern labor organizing traditions.

EDIT: With a bit of research: the term seems to have originated with the Biennio Rosso in Italy in 1919-20, when work-to-rule strikes were practiced on a large scale.


FIY, in Italy the Italian strike is called “white strike” (“sciopero bianco”). No idea about the origin of this name.

Not surprised

I'm mostly familiar with it from Israeli discourse.


> What would covert acts of "simple sabotage" look like at a company like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, or Facebook?

Hitting "LGTM" without actually reviewing the change.


The "work to rule" concept can be quite effective in a programmer's hands. Be militantly pedantic about requirements: fulfill them, but nothing that wasn't written in the spec. This can result in a pushback process where managers need to do ever more work specifying the work they want done; developers get smarter about poking holes, and productivity grinds to a halt.

One example, thanks to a recent article by Rachel By the Bay: badly crafted queries can bring an organization to a halt.


I think "work to rule" is a large company's dream. "Things are moving slowly because our rockstar developers have to get their code reviewed!" "Excellent, I guess we'll need to hire a team to manage the code review process more closely." <1 year passes> "Wow Bob, the size of your org tripled. You are doing three times as much work, so please enjoy this new title and a yacht!"

That's if you only make it personnel-expensive. If your code is also blowing up computational requirements, it'll make it hardware-expensive too -- but as you note, even that might be a boon for somebody. If the crap performance impacts customers, or managers doing their jobs, then dissatisfaction will mount.

This is how most startups operate, in the unlikely event that code reviews are required at all. :-)

Can you put it in your vacation autoresponder?

Back in the day, that worked.

> What would covert acts of "simple sabotage" look like at a company

"Middle Management"


Maybe we're already seeing them. Maybe that's why all the front-end React JavaScript nonsense is so terrible, while oases like this are rare.

What would covert acts of "simple sabotage" look like at a company like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, or Facebook?

They'd look like examples from past discussions of how a bad programmer can provide negative value to the company.


Anyone can break up a showing of an enemy propaganda film by putting two or three dozen large moths in a paper bag. Take the bag to the movies with you, put it on the floor in an empty section of the theater as you go in and leave it open. The moths will fly out and climb into the projector beam, so that the film will be obscured by fluttering shadows.

Does this actually work?


anyone with a ceiling mounted projector in their home theater should be able to test this out in comfort, maybe they can report back

Section 11 perfectly describes working in any sufficiently large organization. There are always a handful of people that seem to wield these techniques with great skill.

It would read like satire, if it weren't.

My favorite bit is that on trains (6.a.2):

In trains bound for enemy destinations, attendants should make life as uncomfortable as possible for passengers. See that the food is especially bad, take up tickets after midnight, call the station stops veey loudly during the night, handle baggage as noisily as possible.


Air travel has been sabotaged, but for a few dollars extra, you can get a direct flight, a better seat, get to take some luggage and even have some food.

I once had a project management workshop, where this pdf was disseminated as an example of why projects fail. The basic questions were: Who are the actors that enable this failure, what is their motivation, and what are the tools they wield to enforce failure. I've seen a few projects where one or two of the more subtle sabotage techniques where employed -- probably unwittingly...

> Always be profuse in your apologies. Frequently you can "get away" with such acts under the cover of pretending stupidity, Ignorance...

I've always despised Hanlon's razor for this exact reason. "Hurr durr guess it's ok he's just stupid for that instant" gives so much cover just because there some fuckin "razor". Well this razor in particular is bullshit.


Maybe that is where the "sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice" rejoinder is supposed to come in?

I would think it's the other way around: "sufficiently sophisticated malice is indistinguishable from stupidity".

I am mostly just disappointed in the absolute lack of creativity in their suggestions. Even The Anarchist Cookbook is a better read :(

I dunno. The part about bringing a bag full of moths to a theater showing propaganda films is kind of amusing. I'll admit I would not have thought of that.

Then again, they also tell you to short out your own electrical outlets so that nobody else in the apartment building can listen to the radio. I wouldn't have thought of that, either.


> short out your own electrical outlets so that nobody else in the apartment building can listen to the radio

Keep in mind the vintage of the document. At the time, it's likely that fused electrical circuits would be shared between multiple apartments. At least in North America, it's very very likely that each apartment would have its own panel.


We could adjust that suggestion to modern times and give a guide to create an electric arc that stays just under your fuse's break point - the goal being to create enough broad-spectrum RF interference to jam radio electronics for everyone else in the building.

(IANAEE, but a hardware hacker colleague of old told me a story years ago, about a DIY device you could plug into mains which (AFAIR) dumped high frequencies into the wire, and this would screw with television sets and lots of other sensitive electronics, everywhere in the circuit up to the next large transformer. He also told me the best place to plug it in would be a street light; it could kill all the TVs in a group of apartment buildings.)


> We could adjust that suggestion to modern times and give a guide to create an electric arc that stays just under your fuse's break point

That is delightfully disgusting :). There might be some heat problems, but in the Canadian Winter, having an extra 1750W of electric arc heating wouldn't be too bad!


My great aunt married a Norwegian who was a teenager in WWII... he told us a story once that he and some other kids wanted to know what they could do and they were told to carry laxatives with them and drop them into any open container they saw.

"bag full of moths"

That sounds good, but... how to catch and transport more than a couple and keep them viable? they're really delicate critters.

Shorting your outlets (i assume) to take out the building? What? Breakers and fuses exist to prevent that.


Bed bugs. The modern equivalent would be bedbugs. Breeding them would be comically easy, and distributing them in public places would be extremely hard to detect.

Buses, doctors offices, libraries, offices, You could cause a lot of damage with this.



Sabotage, obviously. Sounds like a cheap way to really screw with morale in an industrial town that's building the parts for the bombs intended to be dropped on your homeland.

You don't have a moth guy?

But in all seriousness, I'm not sure how long it would take, but a quick amazon search showed you could get moth larva as bait.


Yeah, and our modern day pervasive surveillance would quickly reveal who is buying moths like crazy.

Go into a fishing store, pay cash.

People sell weird stuff. I remember a co-worker coming to the office the other day with two bags that... moved. One contained live grasshoppers, the other locusts. Turns out he has a pet spider, and bought food for it on his way to work.


Moths are outside you don't need to buy them. Crikey not everything needs to be bought via Amazon.

Have you no imagination?

Radio broadcast: "And up next,we have a word from our party leaders."

/* Shorts oulet, trips breaker.

/* Management / Maintenance takes 10 minutes to sort through confusion and diagnose and figure out the problem is a tripped breaker.

/* Flip breaker, Radios back on

"...and that's the word from our Glorious leader. Next up, the Beatles"


If only the propaganda broadcasts had been more often followed by Beatles music, maybe we wouldn’t have had to wage the Cold War.

Here's the kicker: we didn't have to have the cold war.

I'll bite - why wasn't the cold war a necessary result of the geopolitical tensions at the time?


You know, internally I said to myself "I'll bet this involves bending over backwards to authoritarian Communists like that was a viable idea."

Yup.

"In May 1954 the Western powers rejected the Soviet proposal to join NATO on grounds that the USSR's membership of the organization would be incompatible with its democratic and defensive aims."

It's 2020, and I still think they made the right call.


Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Perhaps by allowing the Soviets into the Western sphere, the U.S. would have influenced them and nudged them towards democracy. Though perhaps it would have been as much of a disastrous failure as opening markets to China has been, in that respect.

Yeah, and maybe if Britain had played nice and just let Hitler have the Czech border areas, just the one time, and allowed Germany's rearmament, it would have eased political tensions and averted WWII. Errr... Wait.

Actually, the reason for why Chamberlain unfairly gets a bad rap is because Britain needed the time to rearm in response to the growing German threat. Going to war over Sudetenland would not have been the right time. Appeasement was always meant to be a short-term solution, not a permanent plan.

Because Molotov's last big idea for an alliance worked out so well...

The document is from 1944. I believe that breakers were only an innovation in the last 30-40 years. Fuses would have been used instead.

modern breakers are from the 20s, the originals are from the 1879.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circuit_breaker


I tried searching, but couldn’t find details when they became an National Electrical Code requirement. I’ve lived in a 1980s construction building where there was still a fuse box.

(Most of the results I came across were around the recent AFCI requirement for breakers in residential construction.)


Interesting. Living in Poland, I only remember seeing fuses in apartment buildings; circuit breakers started to show up everywhere only around the early 2000s.

Creative methods are not always the most effective.

And unlike the creative parts of the Anarchist's Cookbook, the CIA's suggestions actually work.

I’ve always wanted to try filling a tennis ball with match heads though!

It really does work! Have to use strike anywhere matches though.

Boring but effective.

If you’re interested in a guide from the same era on more... direct forms of resistance, Bert Levy’s 1941 Guerrilla Warfare is a good read: https://epdf.pub/guerrilla-warfare6b67033a7460226f89666685f2...

(And even just Levy’s life story is quite a story all by itself: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yank_Levy)


Reminds me of "The Freedom Fighter's Manual", which the CIA dropped all over Nicaragua to encourage its citizens to sabotage the government:

http://www.nostate.com/docs/The-Freedom-Fighters-Manual.pdf


CIA can't be criticized for this manual. Sabotage is one of the tools required in the statecraft; this was even recognized by Chanakya(Kautilya). Best examples of sabotage: tactics of NIMBYs, anti-housing advocates, and the politicians who are colluded with them.

Not everyone who disagrees with you on a policy question is a saboteur.



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