operations are covert operations
conducted by governments
, corporations, or other organizations
which are designed to deceive the public in such a way that the
operations appear as though they are being carried out by other
entities. The name is derived from the military concept of flying
; that is, flying the flag of a
country other than one's own. False flag operations are not limited to
war and counter-insurgency operations, and have
been used in peace-time; for example, during Italy's strategy of tension.
This practice was considered acceptable in naval warfare
, provided the false flag was
lowered and the national flag raised before engaging in battle.
such a fashion in both World Wars.
British Q-boat were notorious for
this behaviour during World War I, which
Germany used as a reason for its own use of unrestricted submarine
One of the
most notable examples was in World War
II when the German commerce raider Kormoran,
disguised as a Dutch merchant
ship, surprised and sank the Australian light
cruiser HMAS Sydney in
1941, causing the greatest recorded loss of life on an Australian
was also fatally crippled in
that encounter and its crew was captured, but it was a considerable
psychological victory for the Germans.
British used a Kriegsmarine Ensign in the St Nazaire Raid and a captured German Morse
The old destroyer Campbeltown
, which the
British planned to sacrifice in the operation, was provided with
cosmetic modifications, cutting the ship's funnels and chamfering
the edges to create a more German destroyer look, so she would
resemble a Möwe class destroyer. The British were able to get
within a mile of the harbour before the defences responded, where
and commandos successfully disabled or destroyed the
key dock structures of the port.
December 1922-February 1923, Rules concerning the Control of
Wireless Telegraphy in Time of War and Air Warfare, drafted by a
commission of jurists at the Hague regulates:
Art. 3. A military aircraft must carry an exterior mark indicating
its nationality and its military character.
Art. 19. The use of false exterior marks is forbidden.
intelligence officials in World War II allowed double agents to
fire-bomb a power station and a food dump in the UK to protect their cover, according to declassified documents.
documents stated the agents took precautions to ensure they did not
cause serious damage. One of the documents released also stated:
"It should be recognised that friends as well as enemies must be
In land warfare, the use of a false flag is similar to that of
naval warfare. The most widespread assumption is that this practice
was first established under international humanitarian
at the trial in 1947 of the planner and commander of
, Otto Skorzeny
, by the military court at the
. In this trial, the
court did not find Skorzeny guilty of a crime by ordering his men
into action in American uniforms. He had passed on to his men the
warning of German legal experts, that if they fought in American
uniforms, they would be breaking the laws of
, but they probably were not doing so just by wearing the
uniform. During the trial, a number of arguments were advanced to
substantiate this position and the German and U.S. military seem to
have been in agreement on it. In the transcript of the trial it is
mentioned that Paragraph 43 of the Field Manual published by the
War Department, United States Army, on October 1, 1940, under the
title "Rules of Land Warfare", says:
- :"National flags, insignias and uniforms as a ruse - in
practice it has been authorized to make use of these as a ruse. The
foregoing rule (Article 23 of the Annex of the IVth
Hague Convention), does not prohibit such use, but does
prohibit their improper use. It is certainly forbidden to make use
of them during a combat. Before opening fire upon the enemy, they
must be discarded".
- Also The American Soldiers' Handbook, was quoted by Defense
Counsel and says:
- :"The use of the enemy flag, insignia, and uniform is permitted
under some circumstances. They are not to be used during actual
fighting, and if used in order to approach the enemy without
drawing fire, should be thrown away or removed as soon as fighting
The outcome of the trial has been codified in the 1977 Protocol
Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949
Article 37.-Prohibition of perfidy
- 1. It is prohibited to kill, injure, or capture an adversary by
resort to perfidy. Acts inviting the confidence of an adversary to
lead him to believe that he is entitled to, or is obliged to
accord, protection under the rules of international law applicable in armed
conflict, with intent to betray that confidence, shall constitute
perfidy. The following acts are examples of perfidy:
- (a) The feigning of an intent to negotiate under a flag of truce or of a surrender;
- (b) The feigning of an incapacitation by wounds or
- (c) The feigning of civilian, non-combatant status; and
- (d) The feigning of protected status by the use of signs,
emblems or uniforms of the United Nations or of neutral or other
States not Parties to the conflict.
- 2. Ruses of war are not prohibited. Such ruses are acts which
are intended to mislead an adversary or to induce him to act
recklessly but which infringe no rule of international law
applicable in armed conflict and which are not perfidious because
they do not invite the confidence of an adversary with respect to
protection under that law. The following are examples of such
ruses: the use of camouflage, decoys, mock operations and
Article 38.-Recognized emblems
- 1. It is prohibited to make improper use of the distinctive
emblem of the red cross, red crescent or red lion and sun or of
other emblems, signs or signals provided for by the Conventions or
by this Protocol. It is also prohibited to misuse deliberately in
an armed conflict other internationally recognized protective
emblems, signs or signals, including the flag of truce, and the
protective emblem of cultural property.
- 2. It is prohibited to make use of the distinctive emblem of
the United Nations, except as
authorized by that Organization.
Article 39.-Emblems of nationality
- 1. It is prohibited to make use in an armed conflict of the
flags or military emblems, insignia or uniforms of neutral or other
States not Parties to the conflict.
- 2. It is prohibited to make use of the flags or military
emblems, insignia or uniforms of adverse Parties while engaging in
attacks or in order to shield, favour, protect or impede military
- 3. Nothing in this Article or in Article 37, paragraph 1 ( d ),
shall affect the existing generally recognized rules of
international law applicable to espionage or to the use of flags in
the conduct of armed conflict at sea.
Examples of false flag attacks as pretexts for war
In the 1931 Mukden incident
officers fabricated a
pretext for annexing Manchuria
up a section of railway. Six years later they falsely claimed the
kidnapping of one of their soldiers in the Marco Polo
Bridge Incident as an excuse to invade China proper.
incident in August 1939, Reinhard Heydrich made use of fabricated
evidence of a Polish attack
against Germany to mobilize German public opinion and to fabricate
a false justification for a war with Poland.
along with other false flag operations in Operation Himmler
, would be used to
mobilize support from the German population for the start of
World War II in
November 26, 1939 the Soviet Union shelled the Russian village of
Mainila near the Finnish
The Soviet Union attacked Finland four days after
the Shelling of Mainila
has agreed that the attack was initiated by the Soviets. Also, the
nearest Finnish artillery pieces were well out of range of
the U.S. and British-orchestrated Operation Ajax used "false-flag" and propaganda operations against the formerly
democratically elected leader of Iran, Mohammed Mosaddeq.
regarding the CIA
-sponsored coup d'etat
has been largely declassified and is
available in the CIA archives.
bombings against US and UK interests in Cairo aiming to
cause trouble between Egypt and the
This operation, later dubbed the Lavon Affair
, cost Israeli defense minister
his job. The state of
Israel (where it is known as "The Unfortunate Affair") finally
admitted responsibility in 2005.
planned, but never executed, 1962 Operation Northwoods plot by the
of Defense for a war with Cuba involved
scenarios such as hijacking a passenger plane, sinking a U.S. ship,
burning crops and blaming such actions on Cuba.
authored by the Joint Chiefs of
by John F. Kennedy
, came to light through the
Freedom of Information
and was publicized by James
GRU officer Aleksey
Galkin, former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko and other
whistleblowers from the Russian government and security services
have asserted that the 1999 Russian apartment bombings that
precipitated the Second Chechen
War were false flag operations perpetrated by the FSB, the
successor organization to the KGB.
Galkin has since recanted his accusations, which were made while he
was a prisoner of Chechen rebels. However, there are other theories
that the FSB engineered this incident.
Pseudo-operations are those in which forces of one power disguise
themselves as enemy forces. For example, a state power may disguise
teams of operatives as insurgents and, with the aid of defectors,
infiltrate insurgent areas. The aim of such pseudo-operations may
be to gather short or long-term intelligence
or to engage in active operations,
in particular assassinations
important enemies. However, they usually involve both, as the risks
of exposure rapidly increase with time and intelligence gathering
eventually leads to violent confrontation. Pseudo-operations may be
directed by military or police forces, or both. Police forces are
usually best suited to intelligence tasks; however, military
provide the structure needed to back up such pseudo-ops with
military response forces. According to US military expert Lawrence
Cline (2005), "the teams typically have been controlled by police
services, but this largely was due to the weaknesses in the
respective military intelligence systems."
Directorate (OGPU) of the Soviet Union set up such an operation from 1921 to 1926.
During Operation Trust
, they used
loose networks of White Army
and extended them, creating the pseudo-"Monarchist Union of Central
Russia" (MUCR) in order to help the OGPU identify real monarchists
An example of a successful assassination was United States Marine Sergeant Herman
leading a patrol of his Haitian Gendarmerie disguised as
enemy guerrillas in 1919.
Patrol successfully passed several enemy checkpoints in order to
assassinate the guerilla leader Charlemagne Péralte
near Grand-Rivière du Nord
was awarded the Medal of Honor
was commissioned a Second Lieutenant for his deed.
During the Mau Mau uprising
1950s, captured Mau Mau members who switched sides and specially
trained British troops initiated the pseudo-gang
concept to successfully counter Mau
. In 1960 Frank Kitson, (who was later involved in the
Northern Irish conflict and is now a
retired British General), published Gangs and
Counter-gangs, an account of his experiences with the
technique in Kenya; information
included how to counter gangs and measures of deception, including
the use of defectors, which brought the issue a wider
example of combined police and military oversight of
pseudo-operations include the Selous
Scouts in former country Rhodesia
(current Zimbabwe), governed by white
minority rule until 1980. The Selous Scouts
were formed at the beginning of Operation Hurricane, in November 1973, by Major (later Lieutenant
Colonel) Ronald Reid-Daly.
As all Special Forces in Rhodesia, by 1977 they were controlled by
COMOPS (Commander, Combined Operations) Commander Lieutenant
General Peter Walls
. The Selous Scouts
were originally composed of 120 members, with all officers being
white and the highest rank initially available for Africans
being colour sergeant
. They succeeded in turning
approximately 800 insurgents who were then paid by Special Branch,
ultimately reaching the number of 1,500 members. Engaging mainly in
long-range reconnaissance and surveillance missions, they
increasingly turned to offensive actions, including the attempted
assassination of ZIPRA leader Joshua Nkomo in Zambia.
mission was finally aborted by the Selous Scouts, and attempted
again, unsuccessfully, by the Rhodesian Special Air
offensive operations attracted international condemnation, in
particular the Selous Scouts' raid on a ZANLA
(Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army) camp at Nyadzonya Pungwe, Mozambique in August 1976.
ZANLA was then led by
. Using Rhodesian
trucks and armored cars disguised as Mozambique military vehicles,
84 scouts killed 1,000 refugees in the camp, registered as a
by the United Nations
(UN). Even according to
Reid-Daly, most of those killed were unarmed guerrillas standing in
formation for a parade. The camp hospital was also set ablaze by
the rounds fired by the Scouts, killing all patients. According to
David Martin and Phyllis Johnson, who visited the camp shortly
before the raid, it was only a refugee camp which did not host any
According to a 1978 study by the Directorate of Military
Intelligence, 68% of all insurgent deaths inside Rhodesia
could be attributed to the Selous Scouts,
who were disbanded in 1980.
If the action is a police action, then these tactics would fall
within the laws of the state initiating the pseudo, but if such
actions are taken in a civil war
a belligerent military
then those who participate in such actions would not
be privileged belligerents
The principle of plausible
is usually applied for pseudo-teams. (See the above
section Laws of war
Some false flag operations have been described by Lawrence E.
Cline, a retired US Army
officer, as pseudo-operations, or "the use of
organized teams which are disguised as guerrilla
groups for long- or short-term
penetration of insurgent
Pseudo Operations should be distinguished, notes Cline, from the
more common police
or intelligence infiltration
of guerrilla or criminal
organizations. In the latter case, infiltration is normally done by
individuals. Pseudo teams, on the other hand, are formed as needed
from organized units, usually military or paramilitary
. The use of pseudo teams has been
a hallmark of a number of foreign counterinsurgency
espionage the false flag technique is used
to recruit people into spying or stealing critical documents, by
convincing them that they are working for a cause they are
sympathetic with or even their own government, for example the
recruitment of female West German civil servants by Stasi
Romeo agents, who were led to believe that they were
collecting information for peace advocacy groups.
The technique can also be used to catch a spy by having a loyal
agent pose as a spy from the other side and approach someone
suspected of spying. Earl Edwin
Pitts, a 13-year veteran of the FBI and an
attorney, was caught when he was approached by FBI agents posing as
See false flag
While false flag operations originate in warfare and government,
they also can occur in civilian settings among certain factions,
such as businesses, special interest groups, religions, political
ideologies and campaigns for office.
In business and marketing, similar operations are being employed in
some public relations
firms practice false flag type
behavior when they pretend to be a market research
firm (referred to as
"). In some rare cases, members of
an unsuccessful business will destroy some of their own property to
conceal an unrelated crime (e.g. safety violations, embezzlement
, etc.) but make it appear as
though the destruction was done by a rival company.
Political campaigning has a long history of this tactic in various
forms, including in person, print media and electronically in
recent years. This can involve when supporters of one candidate
pose as supporters of another, or act as “straw men
” for their preferred candidate to debate
against. This can happen with or without the candidate's knowledge.
The Canuck letter
is an example of one
candidate creating a false document and attributing it as coming
from another candidate in order to discredit that candidate.
individuals practicing false flag behavior were discovered and
"outed" in New
Hampshire and New Jersey after blog comments claiming to
be from supporters of a political candidate were traced to the
IP address of paid staffers for that
In another incident in 2008, Ashley Todd
, a College Republican
worker reported to police that she had been
robbed at an ATM
unknown African-American man. She alleged her attacker, on seeing
she was a supporter of US presidential candidate John McCain
, struck her in the face and carved a
letter "B" (for the Democratic
candidate Barack Obama
) into her right
cheek with a knife. Surveillance footage later showed there had
been no robbery, and she confessed that the letter-shaped wound
(which was backwards) was self-inflicted.
Political or religious ideologies will sometimes use false flag
tactics. This can be done to discredit or implicate rival groups,
create the appearance of enemies when none exist, or create the
illusion of organized and directed opposition when in truth, the
ideology is simply unpopular with society.
A bomb threat forged by Scientology
The Church of Scientology
stationery from an author's home and then used that stationery to
forge bomb threats and have them mailed to a Scientology office.
Scientology also had a plan for further operations known as
, but several
Scientology operatives were arrested in a separate investigation
and the plan failed.
Terrorism and false flag operations
the Italian strategy of tension
in which several bombings in the 1970s, attributed to far-left
organizations, were in fact carried out by far-right organizations
cooperating with the Italian secret services (see Operation Gladio, 1969 Piazza
Fontana bombing, 1972 Peteano attack by Vincenzo Vinciguerra, 1973
assassination attempt of former Interior Minister Mariano Rumor, 1980 Bologna
massacre, etc. and various investigations, for example by
Guido Salvini). In France, the
Masada Action and
Defense Movement, supposedly a Zionist
group, was really a neo-fascist terrorist group which hoped to increase tension
between Arabs and Jews in
False flag tactics were also employed during the Algerian civil war
, starting in the
mid-1994. Death squads
composed of DRS
du Renseignement et de la Sécurité
) security forces disguised
themselves as Islamist terrorists and committed false flag terror
attacks. Such groups included the OJAL (Organisation of
Young Free Algerians) or the OSSRA (Secret Organisation for the
safeguard of the Algerian Republic) According to Roger Faligot and Pascal Kropp (1999), the
OJAL reminded of "the Organization of
the French Algerian Resistance (ORAF), a group of
counter-terrorists created in December 1956 by the Direction de la surveillance du
territoire (Territorial Surveillance Directorate) whose
mission was to carry out terrorist attacks with the aim of quashing
any hopes of political compromise."
On the night of February 27, 1933, the Reichstag building was set on fire
. At the
urging of Hitler, Hindenburg responded the next day by issuing an
emergency decree "for the Protection of the people and the State,"
which stated: "Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of
free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the
rights of assembly and association; and violations of the privacy
of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications and warrants
for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as
restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal
limits otherwise prescribed."The question of who actually started
the Reichstag fire is still unknown and occasionally debated.
During a 1981 interview whose contents were revealed by documents
declassified by the CIA
in 2000, former CIA and
explained that Ignacio Novo Sampol, member of CORU
, an anti-Castro organization, had agreed to commit
the Cuban Nationalist
in the kidnapping, in Buenos Aires, of a president of
a Dutch bank. The abduction, organized by civilian
SIDE agents, the Argentine intelligence agency, was to
obtain a ransom.
Townley said that Novo Sampol had provided
six thousand dollars from the Cuban Nationalist Movement, forwarded
to the civilian SIDE agents to pay for the preparation expenses of
the kidnapping. After returning to the US, Novo Sampol sent Townley
a stock of paper, used to print pamphlets in the name of "Grupo
" (Red Group), an imaginary Argentine Marxist terrorist
organization, which was to claim credit for the kidnapping of the
Dutch banker. Townley declared that the pamphlets were
distributed in Mendoza and Córdoba in relation with false flag bombings perpetrated by
SIDE agents, which had as their aim to accredit the existence of
the fake Grupo Rojo.
However, the SIDE agents procrastinated
too much, and the kidnapping ultimately was not carried out.
- Bologna massacre
- Canuck letter
- Celle Hole
- Gleiwitz incident - 3rd Reich Nazis Operation Himmler in order to get pretext
for 'justified' War of aggression
against Poland with
USSR day after that - named Fall Weiß
- Bloed, Bodem, Eer en
Trouw (Flemish neo-Nazi group preparing false flag
- February 27, 1933 Reichstag Fire,
which led to the Reichstag Fire
Decree which suspended the Weimar Constitution until the end of the
- CIA Operation Ajax (USA
overthrowing of Mohammed Mossadeq, Prime Minister of Iran, in
- CIA Project Cherry (USA non-stop
assassination project to kill Norodom
Sihanouk, Prince, and later King of Cambodia)
- SIS (MI6) Operation Boot (UK Operation
for overthrowing of Mohammed Mossadeq, Prime Minister of Iran, in
1953 with Americans) 
- CIA Operation Northwoods was a Plan to
blame Cuba for a
Terrorist attack in order to get a pretext for 'justified' War of aggression after USA funded and
organized failed Terrorist attack known as CIA
- Special Activities
Bombings in the Philippines, which led to Ferdinand
Marcos's suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
- Shelling of
Mainila by Joseph Stalin and
USSR in order to get pretext for 'justified' War of aggression named Winter War
- Marxist-Leninist Party
of the Netherlands (fake party set up by the Dutch security
- Gulf of Tonkin Incident
in order to get pretext for 'justified' War of aggression against North Vietnam
- Squires, Nick. " HMAS Sydney found off Australia's west coast",
- Source: Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals. United Nations
War Crimes Commission. Vol.
IX, 1949: Trial of Otto Skorzeny and others General Military
Government Court of the U.S. zone of Germany August 18 to September
- In 1994 the President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, denounced the
agreeing that it was a war of aggression In a joint press
conference with President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari at
the Kremlin on May 18,
- Leskinen, Jari - Juutilainen, Antti (edit.): Talvisodan
pikkujättiläinen, ISBN 9789510235362, WSOY, 2006
- Israel used "false flag" operations.
In 1954 sympathetic Jews in Egypt used bombs and arson against
US installations. The objective was for local Arab ... Global
Terrorism - Page 46, James M Lutz, Brenda J Lutz - 2004. Verified
Oct 9, 2007.
- "After half a century of reticence and
recrimination, Israel ... honored ... agents-provocateur.
Reuters, March 30, 2005. Accessed July 2, 2007.
- Cline, Lawrence E. (2005) Pseudo Operations and
Counterinsurgency: Lessons from other countries, Strategic Studies Institute,
- Cline (2005), p. 11.
- Cline (2005), quoting Reid-Daly, Pamwe Chete: The Legend of
the Selous Scouts, Weltevreden Park, South Africa:
1999, p. 10 (republished by Covos Day, 2001, ISBN
- Cline (2005), who quotes David Martin and Phyllis Johnson,
The Struggle for Zimbabwe: the Chimurenga War, New York: Monthly
Review Press, 1981, pp. 241-242.
- Cline (2005), p. 8-13. For 1978 study, quotes J. K. Cilliers,
Counter-insurgency in Rhodesia, London: Croom Helm, 1985, pp. 60-77.
Cline also quotes Ian F. W. Beckett, The Rhodesian Army:
Counter-Insurgency 1972-1979 at selousscouts
- Steele, Allison, "Bass staffer in D.C. poses as blogger: Bogus
posts aimed at his political opponent", Concord Monitor,
September 26, 2006 (URL last accessed October 24, 2006).
- Saunders, Anne, "Bass aide resigns after posing as opponent's
supporter online", The Boston Globe, September 26, 2006 (URL
last accessed October 24, 2006).
- Miller, Jonathan, "Blog Thinks Aide to Kean Posted Jabs At
Menendez", New York Times, September 21, 2006 (URL last
accessed October 24, 2006).
- Associated Press, McCain
volunteer charged in attack hoax, MSNBC, October 24, 2008 (URL last accessed October 25,
United States of America v. Jane Kember, Morris Budlong, Sentencing
Memorandum; pp. 23-25.
- Lounis Aggoun and Jean-Baptiste Rivoire (2004).
Françalgérie, crimes et mensonges d’Etats,
(Franco-Algeria, Crimes and Lies of the States). Editions La Découverte. ISBN
2-7071-4747-8. Extract in English with mention of the OJAL available here.
- Luonis Aggoun and Jean-Baptiste Rivoire, ibid.,
Faligot and Pascal KROP, DST, Police Secrète,
- Visit by Guillermo Novo Sampol to Chile in 1976, 1 and
2, on the National Security Archive