False flag or false-flag operation is a covert operation designed to deceive; the deception creates the appearance of a particular party, group, or nation being responsible for some activity, disguising the actual source of responsibility. It can led merely to defamatory damage, but in severe cases also to terrorism and war.
The term "false flag" originally referred to pirate ships that flew flags of countries as a disguise to prevent their victims from fleeing or preparing for battle. Sometimes the flag would remain and the blame for the attack laid incorrectly on another country. The term today extends beyond naval encounters to include countries that organize attacks on themselves and make the attacks appear to be by enemy nations or terrorists, thus giving the nation that was supposedly attacked a pretext for domestic repression and foreign military aggression.
Operations carried out during peace-time by civilian organizations, as well as covert government agencies, can (by extension) also be called false flag operations if they seek to hide the real organization behind an operation.
Identifying a false flag operation without the intelligence available to states can be difficult, but it’s important to keep in mind that many false flag operations conducted by states in the past have not been advanced. By investigating deeply into acts of hostility or incriminating actions and keeping in mind the possible missing links, spotting a false flag can be easier than expected, as they do not necessarily have to be foolproof to be successful.
In the spring of 1940, Stalin's NKVD executed 22,000 Polish officers, ensigns and state officials near the Russian village of Katyn and other places. When Wehrmacht soldiers discovered some of the graves three years later, the Soviets succeeded in convincing US President Roosevelt of the German perpetration. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had no clear picture of the crime, and therefore made no public comments. Using thousands of recently released US documents, this book refutes the popular thesis that the Western Allies deliberately lied about the Katyn case in order not to endanger the alliance with Stalin. As well as consulting Polish and Russian documentation on this war crime, for the first time, the diaries of the Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, who wrote a great deal about Katyn, have been examined. Completely new for research is the role that Hitler's opponents in the Wehrmacht played in solving the crime: at the Nuremberg Trial they convinced the US delegation that the executors were not from the SS, but from the NKVD. Nevertheless, it took until 1990 for Kremlin chief Gorbachev to admit Soviet responsibility. Today in Putin's Russia, however, there is a tendency once more to keep quiet about the crime or even to blame the Germans.
One examples is the Lavon affair, a failed Israeli covert operation, codenamed Operation Susannah, conducted in Egypt in the summer of 1954. As part of the false flag operation, a group of Egyptian Jews were recruited by Israeli military intelligence to plant bombs inside Egyptian-, American-, and British-owned civilian targets: cinemas, libraries, and American educational centers. The bombs were timed to detonate several hours after closing time. The attacks were to be blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian Communists, "unspecified malcontents" or "local nationalists" with the aim of creating a climate of sufficient violence and instability to induce the British government to retain its occupying troops in Egypt's Suez Canal zone. Israel publicly denied any involvement in the incident for 51 years; however, the surviving agents were officially honored in 2005, being awarded certificates of appreciation by Israeli President Moshe Katsav.
- The Soviet Union also used a false-flag operation to initiate hostilities in the Russo-Finnish War. On November 26, 1939, Red Army forces shelled the village of Mainila. The seven rounds landed just eight hundred meters inside Soviet territory, but Soviet authorities claimed Finnish forces had fired the shots, supposedly causing several casualties in the village. The Finnish government offered to submit to a neutral investigation of the incident, but Stalin rejected the offer. Four days later Red Army forces rolled into Finland, beginning a war that would not end until mid-March with a negotiated settlement that ceded roughly 10 percent of Finnish territory to the Soviet Union. Vladimir Putin has used the same playbook. Putin trumped up allegations of Ukrainian shelling and ethnic cleansing—amounting to genocide—in the eastern breakaway territory of Donbas to justify an attack by upwards of 190,000 Russian Army troops in western Russia and Belarus into Ukraine. President Joe Biden got ahead of the curve, warning of Russia’s intended use of a false-flag operation to justify a military assault.
- Agent provocateur
- Front organization
- Hate crime: Fake hate crimes and fake anti-Semitism
- Swastika vandalism
- A Guide to False Flag Operation (Archive)
- How Russia conducts false flag operations, U.S. Embassy in Georgia, 24 January 2022
- Thomas Urban: The Katyn Massacre 1940 – History of a Crime, Pen & Sword Military, 2021
- False-Flag Operations