American’s tendency to combine an inward-looking obsession with a historical disdain for foreign affairs often produces a false sense of reality. Foreign threats to the United States were and are as great as ever. Russia’s resurgence, China’s rise, Iranian terrorism, and North Korea’s nuclear fantasies continue.
Part of any adversary’s quiver is the use of a false flag. A “false flag” plan is an operation conducted primarily by one nation-state, masquerading as another nation-state or group to bring about the desired result where they are not implicated.
These operations have ranged the gamut from targeting individuals to betray their nation by posing as an ally. China is notorious for having its espionage agents pose as Taiwanese to convince pro-Taiwan individuals to acts of espionage or when the Soviets used a pro-Czarist false flag to kill Sidney Reilly, a British officer whose life inspired James Bond.
The next level would be when individuals are used to create a political or diplomatic incident. Nero blamed Christians for the fires that destroyed Rome in 64 AD and then used those fires to justify the persecution of the Christians afterward. The most infamous modern false flag operation was concocted by the Nazis when they used communist dupes to burn down the Reichstag. This allowed the Nazis to enact emergency powers paving the way for the Nazi dictatorship.
The most significant false flag operations were used to justify World War II. The 1931 Mukden incident designed by the Japanese and the 1939 Nazi Operation Himmler created the conditions for a war of “self-defense.” A more sophisticated false flag operation is when it is used to manipulate public opinion. The Soviets did this through a web of assets and activity during the Reagan years by push/pulling anti-American, anti-nuclear “peace groups” in Europe and the United States.
The above operations will be debated, possibly forever. The line between evil state action and bizarre conspiracy theory is a fine one. Naturally, the very nature of a covert operation is to create two conditions. One gives the offending actor plausible deniability. The other is that the action is so “absurd” that rational people will not believe it.
We have even placed such operations into our popular culture with the infamous quote from Palpatine in Star Wars, who engineers the destabilization of the Republic and then states, “It is with great reluctance that I have agreed to this calling. I love democracy. I love the Republic. Once this crisis has abated, I will lay down the powers you have given me!”
Was the attack on the U.S. Capitol a false flag operation? My answer is as complicated as the event itself.
The only beneficiaries of the summer riots, the Capitol attacks and the current left-wing violence in the Pacific Northwest are America’s adversaries, both foreign and domestic. We already know about Russian, Chinese, Iranian and North Korean cyber-attacks fomenting division in the United States among our citizens. Just as those on the right were willing to accept the links between Antifa and foreign adversaries, those on the left must be willing to take whatever links are found with the extremists who broke into the hallowed halls of Congress.
An effective false flag operation would entirely separate the actors from the intentions, which was how the Nazis used communist terrorists, and the Soviets used western peace activists.
The FBI is investigating a suspicious payment of half a million dollars made in bitcoin by a French national who died shortly after the attack to key figures in what the media has dubbed the “alt-right.” NBC News highlighted the long-standing link between extremist groups and Russia.
We know that the Russian and Chinese government and their proxy outlets have used the incident to denigrate the United States abroad and insult U.S. institutions. Some analysts have argued that some of the tactics used in the U.S. Capitol attack were similar to those used by Russia in the Ukraine and Crimea.
Another suspicious issue is the number of stolen devices and documents that may have classified information, particularly those of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat. SOFREP reports that their sources in the Pentagon told them that several laptops with classified information were stolen. There have also been questions raised as to whether or not surveillance equipment may have been left behind.
The FBI indicates that the question of foreign involvement is severe enough to provoke an investigation.
It is too early at this juncture to confirm or dismiss the level of foreign involvement in the attack on the U.S. Capitol. It is far too early for the popular media to ignore it. It has been 88 years since the Reichstag Fire, and we are still debating its origins. A profitable intelligence operation by nations that have been running covert operations for over a millennium would seek to cover their tracks and redirect blame.
A simple rule in both diplomacy and intelligence is asking the question of gain. Who has gained from the unrest and violence that has engulfed America from the spring until now? We know the answer is not the American people, and both political parties have suffered the stain of their extreme ends.
The answer points to the actions of extremist groups, which, as history indicates, benefits foreign adversaries whose low bar of risk with a considerable reward, even if propagandistic is great. The silver lining in all of this is that this issue can bring about true American concord as patriots unite against the republic’s foreign and domestic enemies.
• Lamont Colucci, a professor of politics and government at Ripon College, is the author of “The National Security Doctrines of the American Presidency: How they Shape our Present and Future” (Praeger).