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What is a False Flag Operation?

By G. Melanson
Updated May 23, 2024
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A false flag operation is any procedure which is carried out by an organization and deceitfully designed to seem as though it has been orchestrated by another entity. The false flag operation gets its name from the military practice of flying another country’s flag for the purpose of deceiving one’s enemies. False flag operations often precede war, and are sometimes carried out for the express purpose of creating the illusion of an outside attack which warrants retaliation. Although the term false flag operation is most often used in the context of war and terrorism, false flag operations also frequently occur in politics, the corporate world, and religious ideology.

In 1953, Britain and the U.S. purportedly utilized false flag tactics and propaganda to encourage a coup d'état of Iran’s then-elected leader, Mohammed Mosaddeq. This incident, known as “Operation Ajax,” resulted in a pro-Western dictator taking Mosaddeq’s place as Prime Minister. In the years following the coup d'état, Operation Ajax was largely perceived by the U.S. as a triumph of proactive measures; however, in 2000, then-U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, denounced the false flag operation as a "setback for [Iran’s] democratic government.”

An organization known as The 9/11 Truth Movement (or individually as “Truthers”) purport that the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon, which are officially attributed to al-Qaeda terrorists led by Osama bin Laden, were actually part of a false flag operation carried out by the U.S. government. Some of the evidence cited by Truthers to support this theory include The Bush administration’s apparent reluctance to organize an official investigation, the fact that steel-framed skyscrapers have never completely collapsed under any other previous circumstances except controlled demolition, and NORAD’s failure to protect the Pentagon and World Trade Center, which are both known terrorist targets. Some Truthers claim that the government had knowledge of the attacks in advance, but allowed them to be carried out in order to justify invading parts of the Middle East. In 2004, author, David Ray Griffin wrote the book, The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9-11, which compares the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11 to another alleged false flag operation, Pearl Harbor.

The Freedom of Information Act has also brought to light false flag operations which were planned for the purpose of starting a war with Cuba during John F. Kennedy’s presidency, but ultimately never executed by the U.S. Such planned operations included sinking of U.S. ships, burning of U.S. crops, and hijacking a U.S. passenger plane.

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Discussion Comments

By anon351801 — On Oct 16, 2013

False flag operations also refer to warfare, as well. False flag in warfare is when a group of combatants disguised themselves in the uniforms of the opposing army in order to deceive the enemy. It can also refer to naval warships disguising themselves as one of the enemy's warships in order to approach the enemy and is considered a legitimate ruse of war. However, before opening fire, they must lower their false flag and raise their true colors in order to make the operation legal.

Operation Grief was the most famous example of false flag. At the start of the Battle of the Bulge, SS commando Otto Skorzeny ordered his troops to wear American uniforms, armed with American weapons, and equipped with American vehicles and sneak in behind the American lines for espionage and sabotage.

Pursuant to the 1907 Hague Convention on Land Warfare, Skorzeny told his troops that fighting in American uniforms was illegal and that would be breaking the laws of war. He also commented that while espionage was a legitimate ruse of war, his troops would be executed as spies if caught behind Americans lines in American uniforms while carrying out military operations. Their mission was to capture one of the bridges of the Meuse River and hold it so that German forces would walk through them in order to attack the Americans.

In the end, when the mission was carried out, it degenerated into a total failure. The lack of American equipment, uniforms and weapons limited the operation and most of them never achieved their military objectives. Most of Skorzeny's men who were captured in American uniforms behind American lines were indeed executed as spies.

By SteamLouis — On May 26, 2011

It's really interesting how a concept that started among warships has now evolved into something much more complex. The main idea is still the same though. It's an attack on one's own country to give itself the justification to attack an enemy.

But if you look at history, it is heavily used by totalitarian and cruel governments like the Nazi government and Stalin.

It was probably used by the U.S. during the Cold War to prevent some key nations from choosing communism. But even then, Americans were never targeted. U.S. had more of a supporting role to those governments' false flag operations.

By burcinc — On May 25, 2011

I can't believe that some people believe the 9-11 attacks was a false flag operation. I have also heard the anthrax attacks being labeled as a false flag operation.

Of course, false flag operations do happen. But I think some of us are rushing to call every attack as one. Aren't there some kind of rules as to when and how a false flag operation may be carried out? There must be, even though we can't know about them.

We also have all of the technological and scientific means to track down criminal and terrorist activity. I personally think that neither 9-11, nor the anthrax attacks were false flag operations. If they were, it would have been proven already and these claims wouldn't remain as allegations.

What do you think?

By serenesurface — On May 24, 2011

I think false flag operations are carried out in politics and war also to gain public support.

I have read a lot about ethnic and religious unrest. There were many allegations in different examples about the party or group that claimed to be attacked to be the actual attacker. Unfortunately, sometimes political leaders in different parts of the world don't mind harming their own peoples and followers to create outrage and build support among the population.

It's really scary when these actions are directed at a religious or ethnic group. Because the public can be so affected that they may start acting against that group, leading to widespread discrimination and violence that can even lead to civil war.

It might be a good political and military tactic but it can have terrible consequences.

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