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False flag (also known as black flag) operations are covert operations designed to deceive 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 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 can be used during peace-time.
This practice was considered acceptable in naval warfare, provided the false flag was lowered and the national flag raised before engaging in battle. Auxiliary cruisers operated in such a fashion in both World Wars, as did Q-ships, while merchant vessels were encouraged to use false flags for protection. The 1914 Battle of Trindade was between the auxiliary cruisers RMS Carmania and SMS Cap Trafalgar, which had previously disguised themselves as each other.
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 warship. The Kormoran was also fatally crippled in that encounter and its crew was captured, but it was a considerable psychological victory for the Germans.
The British used a Kriegsmarine ensign in the St Nazaire Raid and captured a German code book. 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 resemble a German Möwe-class destroyer. The British were able to get within two miles (3 km) of the harbour before the defences responded, where the explosive-rigged Campbeltown and commandos successfully disabled or destroyed the key dock structures of the port.Air warfare
This draft was never adopted as a legally binding treaty, but the ICRC states in its introduction on the draft that "To a great extent, correspond to the customary rules and general principles underlying treaties on the law of war on land and at sea", and as such these two non controversial articles were already part of customary law.Land warfare
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 law at the trial in 1947 of the planner and commander of Operation Greif, Otto Skorzeny, by the military court at the Dachau Trials. 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 war, 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 begins".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 disinformation.
Article 38. – Recognized emblems1. 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 nationality1. 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 operations. 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. As pretexts for war
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In 1788, a head tailor of the Royal Swedish Opera received an order to sew a number of Russian military uniforms that later were used in an exchange of gunfire at Puumala, a Swedish outpost on the Russo-Swedish border, on June 27, 1788. The staged attack, which caused an outrage in Stockholm, was to convince the Riksdag of the Estates and to provide the Swedish king Gustav III with an excuse to declare a "defensive" war on Russia. This was important since the king did not have constitutional right to start offensive war without agreement of the estates who had already made clear that their acceptance would not be forthcoming.
The Mukden incident in 1931 involved Japanese officers fabricating a pretext for annexing Manchuria by blowing up a section of railway. Six years later in 1937 they falsely claimed the kidnapping of one of their soldiers in the Marco Polo Bridge Incident as an excuse to invade China proper.
The Gleiwitz incident in 1939 involved Reinhard Heydrich fabricating evidence of a Polish attack against Germany to mobilize German public opinion for war, to establish casus belli, and to justify the 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.
Also in 1939 the Red Army shelled Mainila, a Russian town close to the Finnish border. Soviet authorities soon blamed Finland for the attack, then used the incident as a pretext to start the Winter War four days later.
The Kassa attack in 1941 involved the city of Kassa, today Košice (Slovakia), which was then part of Hungary, being bombed by three unidentified planes of apparently Soviet origin. This attack became the pretext for the government of Hungary to declare war on the Soviet Union.
The replacement of Iran's Anglo-Persian Oil Company with five American oil companies and the 1953 Iranian coup d'état was the consequence of the U.S. and British-orchestrated false flag operation, Operation Ajax. Operation Ajax used political intrigue, propaganda, and agreements with Qashqai tribal leaders to depose 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.
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 fabricating the hijacking or shooting down of passenger and military planes, sinking a U.S. ship in the vicinity of Cuba, burning crops, sinking a boat filled with Cuban refugees, attacks by alleged Cuban infiltrators inside the United States, and harassment of U.S. aircraft and shipping and the destruction of aerial drones by aircraft disguised as Cuban MiGs. These actions would be blamed on Cuba, and would be a pretext for an invasion of Cuba and the overthrow of Fidel Castro's communist government. It was authored by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but then rejected by President John F. Kennedy. The surprise discovery of the documents relating to Operation Northwoods was a result of the comprehensive search for records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by the Assassination Records Review Board in the mid-1990s. Information about Operation Northwoods was later publicized by James Bamford.Pseudo-operations
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 of 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."Charlemagne Péralte
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 disguised as enemy guerrillas in 1919. The Patrol successfully passed several enemy checkpoints in order to assassinate the guerilla leader Charlemagne Péralte near Grande-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. 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 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 1,284 people in the camp, the camp was 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 that did not host any guerrillas. It was staged for UN approval.
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 operations 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."EspionageSee false flag penetrator.
In espionage the term "false flag" describes the recruiting of agents by operatives posing as representatives of a cause the prospective agents are sympathetic to, or even the agents' own government. For example, during the Cold War, several female West German civil servants were tricked into stealing classified documents by agents of the East German Stasi intelligence service, pretending to be members of West German peace advocacy groups (the Stasi agents were also described as "Romeos," indicating that they also used their sex appeal to manipulate their targets, making this operation a combination of the false flag and "honey trap" techniques).
The technique can also be used to expose enemy agents in one's own service, by having someone approach the suspect and pose as an agent of the enemy. Earl Edwin Pitts, a 13-year veteran of the FBI and an attorney, was caught when he was approached by FBI agents posing as Russian agents.
|“||It was obvious that if the case were to be kept going a faked act of sabotage would have to be committed||”|
— MI5 file on Mutt and Jeff
British 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. The 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 completely deceived."Elections
In 2008 there was a shooting against two minibuses driving along in a volatile area right on the border between Abkhazia and the republic of Georgia. The buses were carrying Georgians who lived in Abkhazia and wanted to cross the border so they could go and vote in the parliamentary election that day.
The country had been experiencing internal political turmoil for the last year, and in an attempt to calm the situation, president Mikheil Saakashvili moved forward both presidential and parliamentary elections. However the presidential election in January that year was strongly contested, with hundreds of thousands attending protest rallies. When the parliamentary election came up in May, the mood was still tense.
On mid day May 21 the two minibuses came under attack with small arms and grenades, and though there were no casualties, three people were taken to a hospital in Zugdidi, where president Saakashvili later arrived and was filmed by TV at the patients's bedside.
In his comments on TV, which dominated the news during election day, Saakashvili indicated that the attack had been an attempt to disrupt the election, implying that it had been Abkhaz or Russian forces who had been behind it. This provided for a favorable opportunity for the president to focus the nation's attention on an external enemy, thereby leading attention away from his domestic critics, as well as making use of his position as leader to rally the Georgians around his candidates in the election.
However a United Nations investigation later found, based on empty cartridges and the position of traces left by grenade launchers on the ground, that the attack had originated from a patch of land under control of Georgians and with weapons used by Georgian forces, indicating that the attack had been staged.
A Georgian investigative TV documentary later found that camera crew from the government-friendly channel Rustavi 2 had been in position with their equipment before the shooting took place.Civilian usage
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.Businesses
In business and marketing, similar operations are being employed in some public relations campaigns (see Astroturfing). Telemarketing firms practice false flag type behavior when they pretend to be a market research firm (referred to as "sugging"). 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
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.
On February 19, 2011, Indiana Deputy Prosecutor Carlos Lam sent a private email to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker suggesting that he run a "'false flag' operation" to counter the protests against Walker's proposed restrictions on public employees' collective bargaining rights.
"If you could employ an associate who pretends to be sympathetic to the unions' cause to physically attack you (or even use a firearm against you), you could discredit the unions," read the email. It went on to say that the effort "would assist in undercutting any support that the media may be creating in favor of the unions." The press had acquired a court order to access all of Walker's emails and Lam's email was exposed. At first, Lam vehemently denied it, but eventually admitted it and resigned.Ideological
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 operatives
In retaliation for writing The Scandal of Scientology, the Church of Scientology stole stationery from author Paulette Cooper's home and then used that stationery to forge bomb threats and have them mailed to a Scientology office. The Guardian's Office also had a plan for further operations to discredit Cooper known as Operation Freakout, but several Scientology operatives were arrested in a separate investigation and the plan failed.Terrorism
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 was reminiscent 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, or DST) whose mission was to carry out terrorist attacks with the aim of quashing any hopes of political compromise."
The Russian apartment bombings in the Russian cities of Buynaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk in September 1999 which killed nearly 300 people, was described by Yury Felshtinsky, Alexander Litvinenko, David Satter, Boris Kagarlitsky, Vladimir Pribylovsky, Anna Politkovskaya, filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov, investigator Mikhail Trepashkin, Russian politician Alexander Lebed as a false flag terrorist attack coordinated by the Federal Security Service, the main domestic security agency of the Russian Federation.
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" suspending key provisions of the German Weimar Constitution. The question of who actually started the Reichstag fire is still often considered unknown and occasionally debated (while Dutch communist Marinus van der Lubbe was convicted of the crime and executed, his conviction is not considered credible by many).Dirty War Main article: Dirty War
During a 1981 interview whose contents were revealed by documents declassified by the CIA in 2000, former CIA and DINA agent Michael Townley explained that Ignacio Novo Sampol, member of CORU, an anti-Castro organization, had agreed to commit the Cuban Nationalist Movement 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 Rojo" (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.