False Flag

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Microphones-2-.jpg This article is part of the Propaganda Portal project of Spinwatch.

False Flag refers to when an operation is conducted by one organisation, and is deliberately made to appear as if it has been conducted by another by means of Deception and Disinformation. False Flag is a type of Black Propaganda whereby the Propaganda is initiated by one source, but claims to be from another[1].

In times of outright Psychological Warfare, False Flag operations have often be carried out by Psychological Operations branches of the military[2]. However, it is important to note that False Flag operations can be carried out both in times of war and peace, by covert government agencies, security services and armies[3].

More recently, the term has been used to refer to acts carried out by "military or security force personnel, which are then blamed on terrorists", a new False Flag Terrorism[4].

Whilst there are many reported cases of False Flag operations, the Geneva Convention rules of engagement for naval, air and land warfare all prohibit False Flag attacks. Specifically, the rules of engagement state that a military force can fly the enemy’s flag, imitate their markings, or dress in an enemy’s clothes, but that the ruse has to be discarded before attacking, to avoid false retaliatory declarations of war[5].

Examples of False Flag


Gleiwitz Incident

The Gleiwitz incident in 1939 involved the fabrication of evidence of a Polish attack against Germany to mobilize German public opinion for war and to justify the war with Poland. It led to the deaths of Nazi concentration camp victims who were dressed as German soldiers and then shot by the Gestapo to make it seem that they had been shot by Polish soldiers. 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[6].

The Phoenix Program

As part of the Vietnam War, The United States initiated a campaign called the Phoenix Program, which aimed to 'neutralise' civilians that were sympathetic towards the Viet Cong, using a mixture of kidnap, jailing, interrogation, torture and assassination as part of a Black Propaganda operation. These violent acts were carried out by United States sponsored troops dressed as Viet Cong operatives, and aimed to erode support among civilians for the Viet Cong so that they would no longer help them against United States forces. Common practice was for the US sponsored troops to publicly kidnap and murder key figures in villages, leave their bodies in plain view, with signs attached attributing the deaths to the Viet Cong.[7].

Project TP-AJAX

On 4 April 1953, the CIA was ordered to undermine the government of Iran over a four-month period, as a precursor to overthrowing Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. One tactic used to undermine Mosaddeh was to carry out False Flag attacks "on mosques and key public figures", to be blamed on Iranian communists loyal to the government[8].

The CIA project was code-named TP-AJAX, and the tactic of a "directed campaign of bombings by Iranians posing as members of the Communist party", involved the bombing of "at least" one well known Muslim's house by CIA agents posing as Communists[9].



  1. Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences, Black Propaganda, Dedman College of Humanities & Social Sciences Department of Physics website, accessed 24 March 2015
  2. Truda Gray and Brian Martin (2007), Backfires: white, black and grey, Journal of Information Warfare, Vol. 7, Issue 1, pp. 7-16, accessed 11 March 2015
  3. Rational Wiki, False Flag Operation, Rational Wiki website, accessed 24 March 2015
  4. Geraint Hughes (2011), The Military's Role in Counterterrorism: Examples and Implications for Liberal Democracies, Letort Paper, Strategic Studies Institute website, accessed 24 March 2015, p.105
  5. Washington's Blog, Nations All Over the World CONFESS to Carrying Out False Flag Terrorism, Washington's Blog website, 03 March 2015, accessed 25 March 2015
  6. Bradley Lightbody (2004), "The Second World War: Ambitions to Nemesis", Routledge, p.39
  7. Truda Gray and Brian Martin (2007), Backfires: white, black and grey, Journal of Information Warfare, Vol. 7, Issue 1, pp. 7-16, accessed 11 March 2015
  8. James Callanan (2009), Covert Action in the Cold War: US Policy, intelligence and CIA operations, London: I.B. Tauris. p.115
  9. James Risen (2000), Secrets of History: The C.I.A. in Iran – A Special Report; How a Plot Convulsed Iran in '53 (and '79), The New York Times, 16 April 2000, accessed 25 March 2015