That was then (March 13, 1962)
General Lyman Lemnitzer (August 29, 1899 – November 12, 1988) was appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September 1960, during the final months of President Dwight Eisenhower’s second term. He had had a distinguished military career. During World War II as brigadier general he commanded the 34th Coast Artillery Brigade before being assigned to General Eisenhower’s staff and rising to the rank of major general. During the Korean conflict, he was promoted to lieutenant general and took command of the 7th Infantry Division. After serving in Korea he was promoted to the rank of general. He was named Chief of Staff of the Army in July 1957. He continued to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President John F. Kennedy, where he was involved in the Bay of Pigs crisis and in the early years of the War in Vietnam. After the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion (Spanish: Invasión de Playa Girón), in which a CIA-sponsored paramilitary group invaded Cuba on April 17, 1961 with the intention of overthrowing the government of Fidel Castro but was defeated within three days, the United States government continued to be determined to undermine the Communist government of Cuba.
On March 13, 1962 the Joint Chiefs of Staff proposed a plan called Operation Northwoods, which Chairman Lemnitzer approved. The Operation Northwoods proposal recommended using operatives of the CIA to commit acts of terrorism against American civilians and military targets and to blame the attacks on the Cuban government, using them to justify a war against Cuba. In the words of the proposal:
The desired resultant from the execution of this plan would be to place the United States in the apparent position of suffering defensible grievances from a rash and irresponsible government of Cuba and to develop an international image of a Cuban threat to peace in the Western Hemisphere.
This kind of operation, in which actions are undertaken by agents of one government posing as agents of another government, is called a false flag operation. The term “false flag” stems from a naval tactic whereby a ship would fly the flag of another country to deceive ships from an enemy country before engaging them in battle. The practice was regarded as a permissible ruse so long as the ship flew its authentic battle flag once a sea battle was actually underway. Eventually the practice of similar deceptions were extended to battles on land and in the air. False flag operations had been used by various countries throughout the twentieth century, so the proposal of Operation Northwoods was not without precedent. That nothwitstanding, the Kennedy administration rejected the proposal. In fact, President Kennedy was so displeased with the proposal that he removed General Lemnitzer as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The details of the plan did not become known to the public until 1997, when several documents from the Kennedy administration were finally declassified.
False flag strategies have been used not only in warfare but also in political campaigns. In 1972, a letter came to light that was attributed to a voter who had met with Democratic Senator Edmund Muskie, who had been leading in the polls as the person most likely to be nominated as the Democratic candidate to run against Nixon. The letter claimed that the voter had asked Senator Muskie how he could be sympathetic to issues faced by African-American voters, given that he came from Maine, a state with few African-Americans. According to the letter, Senator Muskie replied that Maine had few black voters, but it had plenty of voters of French-Canadian descent. The so-called Canuck letter was published in The Manchester Union-Leader and had the effect of making Muskie seem to be prejudiced against Americans of French Canadian ancestry. More damaging than the letter itself was Muskie’s reaction to it, in which he broke down crying in a press conference three times in the span of three minutes. This appearance of weakness is credited with being a factor in his loss of the Democratic nomination to South Dakota Senator George McGovern, who suffered one of the most crushing defeats in the history of US presidential elections. An investigation eventually brought to light that the Canuck letter had in fact been sent as part of the dirty tricks campaign used by Nixon’s re-election team after polls had shown that Muskie was favored to beat Nixon in the 1972 elections. It was, in other words, a letter written and sent by Republican political operatives posing as a concerned Democratic voter with the aim of undermining (successfully, it turned out) the campaign of the Republican candidate’s strongest Democratic rival.
This is now
The twenty-first century counterpart of false-flag operations is most commonly encountered in cybernetic warfare. It is common for someone launching a cyber attack on a business or a country to use a spoofed cite, that is, to make it appear as if the attack is originating from somewhere other than where it in fact originates. Cyber attackers often plant in a piece of malware non-functioning code that comes from another source, such as another piece of malware that has been identified in the past, the intention being to mislead investigators in their attempts to identify the actual source of the attack. The use of cybernetic false flags has made it challenging but not impossible for experts to ascertain who actually initiated an attack or carried out a hack. The aim of the attackers who plant misleading markers in their code is not only to avoid detection but to provoke the victim of the attack to launch a counterattack against someone other than the attacker.
In the domestic political arena, Donald Trump more than once suggested that his political opponents had employed false flag tactics in the form of hiring agitators to pose as Trump supporters who were harassing and roughing up people opposed to Trump. Even after being elected and inaugurated, Trump suggested that the attacks on Jewish Community Centers and cemeteries were false-flag operatives, Democrats whose purpose was to make Trump supporters appear to be anti-Semitic. An article about Trump’s suggestion that he was being victimized by false flag operations was featured in a story in the Washington Post. In that story it is reported that at a news conference a reporter asked Trump about Trump-supporters making anti-Semitic comments, to which Trump replied in his characteristically inarticulate manner:
And some of it — can I be honest with you? And this has to do with racism and horrible things that are put up. Some of it written by our opponents. You do know that. Do you understand that? You don’t think anybody would do a thing like that. Some of the signs you’ll see are not put up by the people that love or like Donald Trump, they’re put up by the other side, and you think it’s like playing it straight?
No. But you have some of those signs and some of that anger is caused by the other side. They’ll do signs, and they’ll do drawings that are inappropriate. It won’t be my people. It will be the people on the other side to anger people like you. Okay.
As is the case with many of Donald Trump’s accusations or innuendos, no evidence has come to light in support of his hypothesis that his opponents are carrying out false-flag operations against him. Accusing opponents of false-flag operations could have the same effect as false-flag operations themselves, that is, the effect of deflecting blame from where it is due to an innocent victim.