The Olmert Verdict: Unpleasant, but Not Criminal

The district court showed its approval of Olmert’s method. Act stupid. It’s unpleasant, but ‏(in part‏) not criminal.

The CIA last week revealed the existence of a secret World War II manual telling the people in occupied Europe how to disrupt the war efforts of the Nazis and their collaborators without arousing suspicion. They weren’t to engage in guerrilla operations, blow anything up or assassinate anyone. They were merely to conduct “simple sabotage” − everyday actions disguised as accidents, mishaps, wear and tear, and that mysterious factor, human error.

Anyone, in theory and apparently also in practice, could become a saboteur in the blink of an eye. There was no need for equipment or preparation. Salt, nails and twine; people were advised that their armory was on their kitchen shelf and in their garbage dump. Thus were engines silenced, tires slashed and pipes punctured. These were tangible acts of sabotage.

But there was another kind as well, more furtive: mistaken actions and failed decisions. In 1944, Gen. William Donovan, chief of the Office of Strategic Services that preceded the CIA, signed his name to a guide for smart people masquerading as stupid ones. The manual was written in complete seriousness, but the reader may be forgiven for wondering if it wasn’t a gag or brilliant satire on Western society, government, organizations or labor unions.

For example, the advice to workers at the lathe or on the assembly line includes work slowly, double the number of necessary movements for each action, and use a light hammer instead of a heavy one. Train conductors are advised to issue two tickets for every reserved seat, so as to spark fights between enemy soldiers.

Telephone operators are told to cut people off suddenly, or forget to disconnect them at the end of the conversation so the line will remain busy. Telegraph operators should mistype key words. For example, when the sender writes the word “minimum,” he should replace one “n” with an “x,” rendering the word “miximum” so the recipient doesn’t know if the intent is “minimum” or “maximum.”

Under “organizations and conferences,” the recommendation is to bring every issue up for additional discussions in larger and more cumbersome committees. Instead of carrying out essential work, hold conferences. To demoralize staff, directors are advised to “be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.” ‏(The workers would be told the truth after the war.‏)

The problem, Donovan conceded, is that simple sabotage goes against human nature ‏(among certain nations, one should note‏). It’s hard to make a diligent person lazy or a precise person careless. Donovan proposed a solution: One can insist that every component ordered be perfect, and delay shipment until the precise product is produced, but late.

In conclusion, among the manual’s 11 commandments to demoralize and confound the enemy are the following: “Act stupid,” “misunderstand all sorts of regulations,” “cry and sob hysterically on every occasion, especially when confronted by government clerks.”

After Germany was vanquished by these tricks, with the help of the invading Allies, the important tradition of acting stupid was forgotten until it returned in Jerusalem just as the CIA was revealing the existence of the policy. Finally a select audience has been found for the pretexts whose credibility is clear to all, while the argument that they’re baseless “does not reach the necessary level of certainty required by criminal law.”

In their childhood in Binyamina, the Olmert brothers, and Yossi more than the others, stood out because of their cleverness and erudition. If Ehud told his teachers Yocheved or Yitzkak that the dog ate his homework, or he missed an exam because aliens landed in his backyard at Shuni, reasonable doubt would be cited by the teacher, as by the judge in Olmert’s corruption case.

And that’s before asking dozens more questions, some of which one of Olmert’s friends used to ask ‏(“where is the money?”‏) and some of which cry out to be asked: How dare he shirk his governmental responsibilities to travel abroad on missions from organizations that spoiled him? Isn’t that breach of trust with the public that elected him?

The district court showed its approval of Olmert’s method. Act stupid. It’s unpleasant, but ‏(in part‏) not criminal. The trouble is that it’s not clear here who’s the stupid one.