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A false flag operation is an operation conducted by one party or government and made to appear as though it were sponsored by another party or government.
The term (although not the tactic) has its origins in the traditions of "honourable" naval warfare, where ships were required to sail under their own national flag in order that they could be identified. As people learned that being a sneaky bastard was much more fun much more effective than playing by the rules, ships began sailing under "false" colours, i.e. flying their enemy's flag in order to get close to their enemy, before swapping to their true colours and opening fire.
1A flag flown to disguise the true identity or affiliation of a ship.
‘Captain Young hauled down his false flag, hoisted the American ensign, and opened fire’
figurative ‘he hides behind the false flag of patriotism’
2usually as modifier A political or military act orchestrated in such a way that it appears to have been carried out by a party who is not in fact responsible.
‘some believe that the bombings were a false flag operation by state forces’