Sunday, January 3, 2016

Simple Sabotage (h/t CIA)

In the 1940's the Office of Strategic Services was the US precursor to the CIA, collecting information and taking covert action in support of US interests overseas.

Well, now you, too, can enjoy the secrets of subterfuge by perusing the 1944 OSS classic, Simple Sabotage Field Manual. I am not making this up. Last year the CIA de-classified the manual, and you can now give it a read. It's actually a brief thirty-four pamphlet-sized pages, and while I've read it, you may well want to take a look. Does it have applications in the education world? Oh, my. Yes.

First, what audience was such a manual designed for?

Sabotage varies from highly technical coup de main acts that require detailed planning and the use of specially-trained operatives, to innumerable simple acts which the ordinary individual citizen-saboteur can perform. This paper is primarily concerned with the latter type.

No special equipment is involved; no high risk is faced. Just simple things you can do to screw up an enterprise with ordinary tools you'll find lying around the house.

The manual contains some words about motivating the civilian saboteur-- making him feel he's part of a larger cause, fighting destructive foes. But then we get to the fun-- the specific techniques.

The most simple principle is reversing thinking-- you can screw up an enterprise just by being lazy and careless. Let your tools get dull. Make dumb mistakes at work.  "Frequently you can 'get away' with such acts under the cover of pretending stupidity, ignorance, over-caution, fear of being suspected of sabotage, or weakness and dullness due to undernourishment."

But the manual has more specifics as well. There are many pages about how to mess up buildings, engines, water supplies, radio, even movies. But it's when we get to more office and managerial concerns that some of this sabotage will start to sound familiar.

The really choice stuff comes under the heading of How To Screw Up Organizations and Conferences. To make a mess out of these, you can do some of the following:

* Insist on always working through channels; oppose efficiency
* 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.

Does this seem like some of the committee meetings at your school, or on the legislative level? Shall I remind you that these are the CIA's instructions on how to make committees NOT work.

If you are a manager or supervisor, you can screw up your area with the following (to list a few)

* always demand written instructions, then misunderstand them
* insist on high quality materials that are hard to get
* insist on perfect work on relatively unimportant products
* assign the worst people to the most important jobs
* destroy morale by being pleasant to lousy workers and unpleasant to good ones
* call meetings when work needs to be done
* multiply paperwork

If you are an employee, you can screw things up with these techniques

* work slowly; contrive many interruptions
* never pass on your skill or experience to new workers
* mix good parts with scrap

Of course, if you wanted to screw up a system, you could force workers to do these things.

Finally, techniques to just generally ruin morale and create confusion

* Give lengthy and incomprehensible explanations
* Act stupid

Some of the manual deals very specifically with Nazi occupiers, but there's plenty in the manual that applies in more general ways, ways that may seem very familiar to some folks. The next time you are watching the actions of local, state or federal folks in education and thinking, "Man, they couldn't screw things up worse if they were doing it on purpose"-- well, now you have some support for the truth of that statement.

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