Sabotage from a faulty time machine

12 June 2008

There was something oddly convenient about the passage extracted from a 1944 manual on sabotage supposedly written in 1994 by the US OSS about disrupting corporate activity. You read through the list of things a saboteur should do, as quoted by people such as David Weinberger, and think: "Yeah, I've been in those meetings."

Take, for example, point one on page 28:

Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.

It was at that point that my internal hoaxmeter started edging into the red.

Download the document. Take a look at it. Doesn't it look just a little too clean for a publication that was printed more than 60 years ago and, presumably, scanned only days or weeks ago? The front page has been disfigured by stamps to make it look a little distressed but there's barely a dog ear – in fact there are no dog ears - on the subsequent pages.

Maybe it's the little things that give it away. There is the lack of hyphenation in 'cooperate', the use of phrases such as "inside dope" and the reference to fluorescent lighting. Yes, dope was slang for information a century ago. But in a document supposedly for distribution to agents whose first language probably wasn't English? Fluorescent lighting? It existed but hardly anybody had seen it in the 1940s.

And then maybe it's the reference to "the United Nations war effort": an organisation that was not formed until after the Second World War.

When you consider the provenance of the 'manual' - it's an exhibit being used by a couple of Web 2.0 evangelists from the OSS's successor the CIA - it shows that spooks have a sense of humour too. The OSS and CIA did have sabotage leaflets (they probably still do). Just not, in all likelihood, this one.

Update: Darn it. A commenter at David Weinberger's blog points out that the term United Nations was used before 1945. The commenter points to the Declaration of United Nations in 1941 as the point at which the name started to be used. I wasn't totally convinced but then spotted some speeches given by Roosevelt where he used the terms United Nations liberally. So, maybe that bit was culled from a real OSS document. But the whole thing still screams fake to me.