False flag operations are covert operations conducted by governments, corporations, or other organizations, which are designed to appear as though they are being carried out by other entities. The name is derived from the military concept of flying false colors; 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.
The outcome of the trial has been codified in the 1977 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 (Protocol I):
Article 37.-Prohibition of perfidy
In the 1931 Mukden incident, Japanese officers fabricated a pretext for annexing Manchuria by blowing 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.
In the Gleiwitz 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. This, 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 Europe.
On November 26, 1939 the Soviet Union shelled the Russian village of Mainila near the Finnish border. The Soviet Union attacked Finland four days after the Shelling of Mainila. Some Russian historians have claimed that the Finns shelled themselves with the intent of later attacking the Soviet Union. This theory is not shared by most historians, and Russia has agreed that the attack was initiated by the Soviets. Also, the nearest Finnish artillery pieces were well outside the range needed to shell Mainila. In 1994, the President of Russia Boris Yeltsin denounced the Winter War, agreeing that it was a war of aggression.
In 1953, the U.S. and British-orchestrated Operation Ajax used "false-flag" and propaganda operations against the democratically elected leader of Iran, Mohammed Mosaddeq. Information regarding the CIA-sponsored coup d'etat has been largely declassified and is available in the CIA archives.
In 1954, Israel sponsored bombings against US and UK interests in Cairo aiming to cause trouble between Egypt and the West. This operation, latter dubbed the Lavon Affair cost Israeli defense minister Pinhas Lavon his job. Israel (where it is known as "The Unfortunate Affair") finally admitted responsibility in 2005.
The planned, but never executed, 1962 Operation Northwoods plot by the U.S. Department 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. It was authored by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, nix by John F. Kennedy, came to light through the Freedom of Information Act and was publicized by James Bamford.
Former 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 then, recanted these accusations which he had asserted when a prisoner of Chechen rebels.
Pseudo operations are those in which forces of one power disguised themselves as enemy forces and, more specifically, when the power is a state, and the other power an insurgency, then as insurgents, often with the aid of defectors, to operate as teams to infiltrate insurgent areas. The aim of such pseudo-operations may either be to gather short, or long-term intelligence, to discredit the enemy, to reduce the civilian support of the enemy, or to engage in active operations, in particular assassinations of important enemies. However, they usually involve both, as the risks of exposure highly increase with time, and thus lead to violent confrontation. Pseudo-operations may be directed by police forces, military, 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 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."
The State Political 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 supporters and extended them, creating the pseudo-"Monarchist Union of Central Russia" (MUCR) in order to help the OGPU identify real monarchists and anti-Bolsheviks.
An example of a successful assassination was United States Marine Sergeant Herman H. Hanneken leading a patrol of his Haitian Gendarmerie disgused as enemy guerillas in 1919. The Patrol successfully passed several enemy checkpoints in order to assassinate the guerilla leader Charlemagne Péralte near Grand-Rivière du Nord. Hanneken was awarded the Medal of Honor and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant for his deed.
During the Mau Mau uprising in the 1950s, captured Mau Mau members who switched sides and specially trained British troops initiated the pseudo-gang concept to successfully counter Mau Mau terrorists. In 1960 Frank Kitson, (who was later involved in the Northern Irish conflict and is now a retired British General), published his account of his experiences with the technique in Kenya Gangs and Counter-gangs about how to counter gangs and measures of deception, including the use of defectors, which brought the issue a wider audience.
Another 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. This mission was finally aborted by the Selous Scouts, and attempted again, unsuccessfully, by the Rhodesian Special Air Service.
Some 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 Josiah Tongogara. Using Rhodesian trucks and armored cars disguised as Mozambique military vehicles, 84 scouts killed 1,000 alleged guerrillas in the camp, registered as a refugee camp 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 guerrillas.
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 or during a belligerent military occupation then those who participate in such actions would not be privileged belligerents. The principle of plausible deniability is usually applied for pseudo-teams. (see the above section Laws of war).
Some false flag operation are have been described by Lawrence E. Cline, a retired US Army intelligence officer, as pseudo-operations, or "the use of organized teams which are disguised as guerrilla groups for long- or short-term penetration of insurgent-controlled areas."
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 campaigns."
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.
In 2006, 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 candidate's opponent.
In late 2007, a rash of Swastikas and other anti-semitic vandalism appeared on a Jewish student's door at George Washington University. Police subsequently placed a hidden camera, and discovered that the vandalism was perpetrated by the victim herself. The student claimed that the first incident of vandalism was real (committed by an unknown person), but she perpetrated the remaining incidents to draw attention to the university's inaction.
False flag tactics were also employed during the Algerian civil war, starting in the mid-1994. Death squads composed of DRS (Département 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 Feb. 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.” After 74 years, the question of who actually started the Reichstag fire is still unknown and occasionally debated.