The internet has become so rife with misinformation and conspiracy speculation that I thought it was time to at least get some terminology straight – if nothing else. First off the term “false flag” did not originate in the intelligence community or during the Cold War. It originated during the days of sailing ship warfare when navies identified themselves literally with flags. War being war, and piracy being piracy, it was not long before the practice of individual ships flying false flags for deception began – primarily used by individual vessels. Flying a “friendly flag” allowed the attacking vessel to approach as close as possible before hosting proper colors and carrying out the final attack honorably under the right flag. For pirates it added a shock factor, creating panic on final approach for attack.
As adopted by intelligence agencies, the use of “false flags” was primarily one of identification and intelligence collection. Individuals would represent themselves as part a group which matched the sympathies and interests of the threat being targeted and in more complex operations, actual false parties and groups would be built from scratch. The idea was to flush out targeted individuals – communists, terrorists etc, The individuals would then be placed under surveillance to identify others or manipulated to see who else could be drown into the fake group.
All this was obviously low key and largely word of mouth – now it’s done on the internet. The basic premise is simply, wave a false flag and see who comes running to join. Basically not an “operational practice”, but rather an intelligence one. The U.S. did do false flag operations, but mostly on a modest scale. There is some reason to believe that in the early 1960’s the CIA may have helped create the Fair Play for Cuba as a false flag entity. In contemporary times as far as I can tell its primary an FBI practice (a type of sting), on a pretty targeted level and intended to smoke out jihadi or other would be terrorists.
In contrast, the Russians have always been extremely false flag oriented, with much more complex, longer term and very subtle practices. Beginning before World War II they helped support the formation of a host of international peace, student, labor, academic, and media groups – all with lofty goals and all with international membership. However Russian political officers worked the groups very aggressively to identify sympathetic individuals (referred to within the very pragmatic Russian intelligence services as “useful idiots”). Ultimately the tactic worked extremely well for generating academic and scientific contacts – which were turned into espionage assets who almost totally compromised the war time Manhattan atomic weapons project.
Recently Russian political operatives have used the internet in a great many creative ways for information warfare but some of their activities may also include efforts intended to flush out radicalized individuals that could be manipulated under the false flag concept. A recent example relates to Facebook groups could have been used to collect some very specifically targeted contacts – the individuals responding would have thought they were joining in a movement that had goals ranging from anti-Sharia law to actual Texas succession:
Radical individuals of that sort could well be manipulated into some tragic acts of violence.
Obviously intelligence related false flag activities can be dangerous but it’s important to distinguish them from “provocations”. Provocations (carried out by your own forces with all the evidence pointing towards the targeted group) are normally part of a much larger operation. Hitler used border provocations (violent acts by his own agents) to create a demand for German military intervention on his borders – and immediately responded with troops. Almost everyone reading this is probably familiar with the Northwoods contingency plans that were developed possible actions (with Cuba as the ostensible perpetrator) to provoke an American attack on Cuba. That planning never came to anything nor did an earlier request in December 1960 by President Eisenhower for the CIA to come up with an immediate provocation so that he could send in the Cuban Brigade and the Navy immediately. In that instance they didn’t even manage to come up with any options for him.
The bottom line seems to be that if something is developed as a true operational provocation it needs to be designed with an immediate response in mind, and that response should be executed virtually automatically with no much time for people to ponder what’s going on. Otherwise it’s a waste of effort and highly dangerous in terms of possible blow back. So if you see some sort of major, mindless violence followed by – nothing – either it was really poorly planned or perhaps it is only mindless violence. Interestingly virtually all terror attacks are in the mindless violence category since they have little other that psychological impact – which makes them psychological warfare, but that’s another story entirely.