On the night of the 31st of August 1939, several covert Nazi operatives dressed as Polish soldiers stormed the Gleiwitz radio tower on the Germany-Poland border. They broadcast a short anti-German message in Polish before leaving. The soldiers left behind the bodies of a pro-Polish German farmer and several unidentifiable Dachau concentration camp prisoners. The farmer and the prisoners had been murdered and dressed up in German uniforms. The attack was part of a series of covert actions along the Polish border that the Nazis would use to justify Germany’s attack on Poland the following day. Gleiwitz was a classic ‘false flag’ operation.
So, what is meant by the term ‘false flag’? Originally, the phrase was coined for the practice of pirate ships flying the colours of other nations to deceive merchant ships into thinking they were dealing with a friendly vessel. While the pirates would usually unfurl their true colours just before attacking, the wrong flag would sometimes continue to be flown throughout an attack, hence the term ‘attacking under a false flag’. Over time, the term ‘false flag’ came to be applied to any covert operation that sought to shift the responsibility on to a different party from the one carrying it out, as was the case with the Nazis at Gleiwitz.
One of the most famous incidents considered by many to be a false flag operation is the Reichstag fire, which took place on the night of the 27th of February 1933. A lone communist sympathizer called Marinus van de Lubbe was arrested and charged with setting fire to the German parliament building. This gave Hitler and his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, the excuse they needed to purge Germany of opposition, especially the communists. The sweeping emergency powers Hitler and the Nazi Party grabbed for themselves after the fire are the reason many people think the Reichstag was burned not by a lone communist protesting Germany’s treatment of the working classes (as van de Lubbe himself claimed while in custody), but by the Nazis themselves.
The United States and Great Britain jointly organized false flag operations during the 1953 Iranian Coup
Of course, it isn’t just the Nazis who stand accused of carrying out false flag operations prior to invasions during the 1930s. In November 1939, the Russian village of Mainila was shelled by an unknown party. The village was close to the border with Finland, and the attack was used as an excuse to break the Soviet Union’s non-aggression pact with the country and launch an invasion into Finland that would later become known as the ‘Winter War’. It was eventually concluded by both British and Russian historians that the shelling of the village was a false flag operation carried out by members of the NKVD – the predecessors to the KGB. As a result of the war between the Soviets and the Finns, Finland sided with Nazi Germany in World War II.
False flag operations carried on throughout the war, but most can be considered to be in the old sense of the word. One of the most famous false flag operations of World War II was the raid on the French drydock of St. Nazaire. There, British commandoes managed to float an explosives-laden old Royal Navy destroyer fitted out to look like a German torpedo boat close enough to the harbour to destroy all key structures in the port upon the destroyer’s detonation.
After the war, the United States and Great Britain jointly organized false flag operations during the 1953 Iranian Coup. The aim of the operations carried out in the country was to deliberately undermine the government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. Mosaddegh had made the mistake of nationalizing Iran’s oil companies. This angered the US and the UK, who jointly decided to launch a series of bombing campaigns against mosques and prominent people that they then blamed on communists sympathetic to the government. Protests grew against Mossadegh, egged on by the CIA and MI6, and Mossadegh was eventually fired from his post by the Shah of Iran and placed under house arrest. He would stay there until his death in 1967. The US refused to admit any involvement in the overthrow of Mosaddegh until 2013.
While questions still hang over the Reichstag fire, one planned operation from the early 1960s would definitely have been a false flag had it not been stopped in its tracks. ‘Operation Northwoods’ was the name given to a proposed covert campaign by the CIA that would have seen acts of terrorism committed against targets and civilians in the United States that could then be blamed on Cuban operatives as a precursor to an invasion of Cuba and the removal of Fidel Castro. Northwoods was proposed to the then US president, John F. Kennedy, but he ultimately rejected the idea.
While Northwoods may have been shelved, one American false flag operation definitely did take place in the ‘60s. On August the 2nd 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox was torpedoed and fired upon by three Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin in the South China Sea. The US’s National Security Agency then fabricated a second false flag attack two days later and the US subsequently passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution through Congress which led to the deployment of ground troops in what would become the calamitous debacle that was the Vietnam War.
To many online conspiracy theorists, the biggest false flag operation of all time was the 9/11 attacks
Of course, it isn’t just the Americans and the Europeans who have been accused of participating in false flag operations over the years. Between 1979 and 1983, the Israeli secret services stand accused of instigating a series of car bomb attacks in Lebanon that killed hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinians. Though the bombings were claimed by the terrorist organisation, the Front for the Liberation of Lebanon from Foreigners, many believe the bombs were set off by the Israelis to sew dissent throughout the region and justify an Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Though an Israeli general has admitted the attacks were carried out by his country, the official line is still that Israel was not involved.
In the modern era, things become a little murkier. Whether a modern-day false flag operation is real or not is now a matter to be bitterly fought over on the Internet. To many online conspiracy theorists, the biggest false flag operation of all time was the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Many believe that these attacks were deliberately carried out by the US government as a way to justify the subsequent attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, which they believe were carried out to install a gas pipeline across Afghanistan and to seize the oil wealth of Iraq.
Many ‘9/11 Truthers’ point out discrepancies in the official report into the destruction of the World Trade Center, focusing primarily on the collapse of the Twin Towers and 7 World Trade Center. They argue that the towers could not have been brought down by plane strike and fire alone, be must instead have been brought down by another means, such as by controlled demolition. The claims that 9/11 was an inside job have been vigorously disputed both by the US government and various experts many times, but it is highly unlikely the myriad of conspiracy theories swirling around 9/11 will ever go away.
Accusations of false flag operations have continued right up to the present day. One of the most widely-disputed and discussed is the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings of 2012, which has been laid at the door of the US Government. People who refuse to believe the shootings were the act of a lone gunman allege twenty students and six staff were deliberately murdered so stricter gun controls could be imposed on the US population. Sceptics point to the attack coinciding with President Barack Obama’s announcement that he would sign restrictive small arms legislation. The convenient timing of the attack could then be used by the president as the excuse he needed to impose new restrictions, hence why it must have been a false flag operation. Again, like 9/11, it is highly unlikely that the theories surrounding the tragic attack will ever die down.
We now live in an age where, to some at least, nothing is as it seems, everything can be labelled a conspiracy and no amount of evidence to the contrary will change people’s minds. There have been several documented false flag operations throughout history, and the existence of them goes some way to explaining why thousands upon thousands of people all around the world believe many more covert operations have been carried out regardless of government claims to the contrary. One thing’s for sure – the false flag operation has come a long way since the days of pirate ships flying false colours to get their hands on lots of lovely booty.