Throughout history, false flag operations have been used to provide casus belli—a justification for war. In 1788 a squad of Swedish soldiers dressed in Russian uniforms attacked a Swedish military outpost, giving King Gustav III grounds to attack Russia. Japan seized Manchuria in 1931 after its forces bombed its own rail line there and blamed the Chinese. In 1939 the Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich dressed concentration camp inmates in Nazi uniforms, had them shot, and then, seeking to win sympathy for the Nazi occupation of Poland, claimed that Polish partisans had killed them. That same year, Soviet forces bombarded a Russian village near the border with Finland, blamed it on the Finns, and four days later invaded Finland.
Some false flag operations require committing murder and other crimes that can be blamed on the enemy. The effect is greatest when the crime is especially horrific. During the 1970s, Africans working for an elite Rhodesian force called the Selous Scouts killed hundreds of civilians while disguised as Mozambican soldiers. Security forces in Turkey staged attacks and blamed them on Kurdish guerrillas. Algerian commandos disguised as terrorists carried out killings that were used to justify police repression. Security forces in Russia have been accused of staging bombings that they blamed on Chechen rebels.
In 1954, as the British were preparing to withdraw troops from Egypt, Israel tried to scare them into staying as protection against Arab nationalism. Israeli operatives recruited agents to set off bombs at American and British cinemas, libraries, and schools. The bombings were to be blamed on Communists and the Muslim Brotherhood, but the plan was discovered. Israel’s defense minister was forced to resign.
In 1962, senior American officers proposed a large-scale false flag operation aimed at providing what one memo called “justification for U.S. military intervention in Cuba.” At various stages, it involved plans for sinking a boat full of Cuban refugees, shooting down a civilian airliner, and assassinating Cuban exile leaders in Florida—all to be blamed on Cuba. One related proposal urged that if the launch of astronaut John Glenn failed, the United States should blame it on Cuba. Another suggested a military attack on a Latin American country staged to look as if Cuba had ordered it. Officers even proposed organizing an assault on the U.S. base at Guantanamo so they could use it as proof of Cuba’s hostility. They presented these plans to President Kennedy at an Oval Office meeting, but he rejected them.