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How to Operate Like a Spy: CIA Declassifies OSS Field Manual

A World War II guide to sabotage - that might be helpful today.

OSS declassified manual. Photo Courtesy of SOFREP.

Commentary by 14Charliea junior active duty officer working ground intel and supporting an airborne-capable unit. Due to his placement and access, he writes under the pseudonym seen here. Nothing here is written in an official capacity or represents the positions of the United States government; all work is his personal opinion alone. This was originally published on SOFREP on Feb. 17, 2014. 


The CIA isn’t known for sharing its secrets with anyone, let alone the public. As such, the contents of an old Office of Strategic Services field manual aren’t something to be missed.

As SOFREP has covered previously, the days of the OSS were the glory days where espionage, sabotage, and war-fighting all converged under the banner of “Wild Bill” Donovan and the Allied fight against the Nazis during World War II, with resounding success.

OSS declassified manual. Photo Courtesy of SOFREP. OSS declassified manual. Photo Courtesy of SOFREP. 

The OSS, predecessor to the CIA, is often seen as the golden child of U.S. intelligence operations, where innovative and unconventional, organic solutions far outweighed the massive bureaucracy that plagues the U.S. intelligence community today.

Enter the OSS’s timeless field manual for successful sabotage, which lists out various ways the OSS, Jedburghs, and Allies defeated their enemies: the Simple Sabotage Field Manual.

Timeless Tips for Simple Sabotage

As the CIA writes in their release of this field manual, “many of the sabotage instructions guide ordinary citizens, who may not have agreed with their country’s wartime policies towards the U.S., to destabilize their governments by taking disruptive actions. Some of the instructions seem outdated; others remain surprisingly relevant. Together they are a reminder of how easily productivity and order can be undermined.”

The Simple Sabotage Field Manual covers a number of topics, namely tips and tools for motivating saboteurs, the tools, timing, and targets of sabotage, how to encourage destructiveness, and specific suggestions for success in your operational pursuits of sabotage.

Here is a list of five surprisingly “timeless tips," as written by the CIA, that still apply to any enterprising saboteur today:

[sharequote align="center"]Here is a list of five surprisingly “timeless tips" that still apply to saboteurs today[/sharequote]

  1. Managers and Supervisors: To lower morale and production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.
  2. Employees: Work slowly. Think of ways to increase the number of movements needed to do your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one; try to make a small wrench do instead of a big one.
  3. Organizations and Conferences: When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large and bureaucratic as possible. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
  4. Telephone: At office, hotel and local telephone switchboards, delay putting calls through, give out wrong numbers, cut people off “accidentally,” or forget to disconnect them so that the line cannot be used again.
  5. Transportation: Make train travel as inconvenient as possible for enemy personnel. Issue two tickets for the same seat on a train in order to set up an “interesting” argument.

OSS parajumpers. Courtesy of SOFREP. OSS parajumpers. Courtesy of SOFREP. 

While the Agency notes that this document presents some outdated instructions, there are a surprising number of instructions that remain relevant to this day. Read through the field manual in order to glean an insider’s look at the guidelines and mindset that shaped the outcome of one of the world’s most divisive conflicts—straight from the group that fought at the forefront of Allied operations.

Read the full declassified manual straight from the CIA here.

For more military intelligence stories check out SOFREP.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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