Learn more about False flag
- False colors redirects here. For the imaging technique, see false-color.
False flag operations are covert operations conducted by governments, corporations, or other organizations, which are designed to appear as if 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.
 Laws of war
In naval warfare, this practice was considered acceptable provided one lowered the false flag and raised the national flag before engaging in battle. Auxiliary cruisers operated in such a fashion in both World Wars. In the most notable example, the German commerce raider Kormoran surprised and sank the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney in 1941, causing the greatest recorded loss of life in an Australian warship.
In land warfare, the use of a false flag is similar to that of naval warfare. This was first established under international humanitarian law at the trial in 1947 of the planner and commander of Operation Greif, Otto Skorzeny, by the Dachau Military Tribunal. 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 US military seem to be in agreement on it. In the transcript of the trial,<ref>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 18 August to 9 September, 1947</ref>,it is mentioned that Paragraph 43 of the Field Manual published by the War Department, United States Army, on 1st October, 1940, under the title "Rules of Land Warfare", says:
- "National flags, insignias and uniforms as a ruse-in practice it has been authorised 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".
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
- 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;
- (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 misinformation.
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 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.
 False flag attacks as pretexts for war
In the 1931 Mukden incident, Japanese officers fabricated a pretext for annexing Manchuria by blowing up a section of railway.
The planned, but never executed, 1962 Operation Northwoods plot by the U.S. administration for a war with Cuba involved scenarios such as hijacking a passenger plane and blaming it on Cuba. It was authored by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, nixed by John F. Kennedy, came to light through the Freedom of Information Act and was publicized by James Bamford.
 Spy tradecraft
In 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 friendly government or their own government. 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, 43, a 13-year veteran of the FBI and an attorney was caught when he was approached by FBI agents posing as Russian agents.
 Civilian usage
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"). Regarding its use by private security personnel, see the case of US Surgical Corporation and Fran Trutt (see also Entrapment).
 Political Campaigning
In 2006, individuals practicing false flag behavior were discovered and "outed" in New Hampshire<ref>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).</ref><ref>Saunders, Anne, "Bass aide resigns after posing as opponent's supporter online", The Boston Globe, September 26, 2006 (URL last accessed October 24, 2006).</ref> and New Jersey<ref>Miller, Jonathan, "Blog Thinks Aide to Kean Posted Jabs At Menendez", New York Times, September 21, 2006 (URL last accessed October 24, 2006). </ref> 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 the Canadian general election of 2006 an email circulated to party members and others suggesting that Conservative leader Stephen Harper's moderate electoral platform was merely a ruse to secure electoral victory.<ref> </ref> It was referred to in a televised interview by Conservative defector and then-Liberal cabinet minister Belinda Stronach.<ref> </ref>
 Terrorism and false flag operations
Terrorist attacks may sometimes be in fact false flag operations, as in 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). Elsewhere in Europe, the Mouvement d'Action et Défense Masada, supposedly a Zionist group, was really a neo-fascist terrorist group which hoped to increase tension between Arabs and Jews in France.
East Germany gave covert support to the Red Army Faction (RAF), which was active from 1968 and carried out a succession of terrorist attacks in West Germany during the 1970s and to a lesser extent in the 1980s.<ref>Germany after 1945: The RAF(PDF)</ref> After German reunification in 1990, it was discovered that the RAF had received financial and logistic support from the Stasi, the security and intelligence organization of East Germany.<ref>Germany - E. Germany - Gen - MZ Schmeidel, John. "My Enemy's Enemy: Twenty Years of Co-operation between West Germany's Red Army Faction and the GDR Ministry for State Security." Intelligence and National Security 8, no. 4 (Oct. 1993): 59-72. "East German training and active support of the RAF by the GDR Ministry for State Security [footnote omitted] is now a documented fact."</ref> It had also given several RAF terrorists shelter and new identities.<ref>Espionage in a Divided Germany: The Stasi and the RAF</ref> It had not been in the interests of either the RAF or the East Germans to be seen as co-operating. The apologists for the RAF argued that they were striving for a true socialist (communist) society not the sort that existed in Eastern Europe. The East German government was involved in Ostpolitik, and it was not in its interest to be caught overtly aiding a terrorist organization operating in West Germany, but as a proxy war forming part of the Cold War it was a cost effective stratagy. For more details see the History of Germany since 1945.
 See also
- Black propaganda
- State terrorism
- Covert operation
- Front organization
- Bloed-Bodem-Eer en Trouw (Flemish neo-nazi group preparing false flag attacks)
- Lavon Affair
- Operation Ajax
- Operation Gladio, NATO's secret armies during the Cold War, engaged in false flag operations in Italy during the strategy of tension (for example, the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing and the 1980 Bologna massacre)
- Operation Northwoods
- February 27, 1933 Reichstag Fire, which led to the Reichstag Fire Decree which suspended the Weimar Constitution until the end of the Third Reich
- Special Activities Division
- The Spanish believed that the explosion on the USS Maine was a false-flag operation to provoke the Spanish-American War
- 3/11, 7/7 and 9/11 conspiracy theories