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The CIA and cycling - WillCycle
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The CIA and cycling

You may wonder what the CIA (and its predecessor, the OSS) could possibly have to do with cycling, and especially cycling activism. The answer will surprise you: they literally pretty much wrote the book on campaigning against cycling infrastructure!

Don’t believe me? Read on!


The OSS (Office for Strategic Services) later pretty much became the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). While a USA governmental department, its actions reverberate throughout the world.

The OSS was started to provide the USA with intelligence services during WW2, and at the time it’s primary (but not only!) focus was on Nazi Germany. The OSS engaged in recruiting of spies, but also more than just that.

In January 1944, it published the Simple Sabotage Field Manual – a document that remained classified until very recently. Do click the link and go read it.

What does that have to do with cycling?

If you speak to anyone who campaigns for better cycling infrastructure, and ask them what their biggest obstacles are, you will encounter some points like what follows:

  • Local councillors and council workers make speeches about cycling provision, but nothing ever gets done.
  • All suggested changes need to be consulted upon, and discussed by committees (the larger, the better, and they’ll claim it’s for better insight).
  • They will try and divert to irrelevant issues.
  • They will try and revisit previously-agreed points.
  • They will tell you to “be reasonable” in your expectations.
  • They will delay, claiming that mistakes will be made if things progressed any faster.
  • They will claim it falls outside their jurisdiction.
  • They will insist everything must be done through the correct channels, even when a shortcut is clear as day.

The list above certainly isn’t exhaustive, but I’m sure you will have personally encountered several of these strategies above, when doing cycling campaigning.

The Simple Sabotage Field Manual

The Simple Sabotage Field Manual was created as a means to teach people in occupied lands how to frustrate, delay and harm the cause of the occupiers. Below are extracts from that manual – tell me if the tactics it advocates seem familiar?

(11) General Interference with Organizations and Production
(a) Organizations and Conferences (1) Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
(2) 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.
(3) 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.
(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
(5) Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
(6) Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
(7) Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
(8) Be worried about the propriety of any decision — raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.

As you can clearly see, acts of sabotage have become the standard way for local authorities to deal with any attempts at cycle campaigning.

And for that, folks, we have the CIA to thank!

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