3rd & 4th Messengers: My Lord, news: the Swiss have invaded France. King Richard IV: Excellent! Wessex, while they're away, take ten thousand troops and pillage Geneva! Lord Chiswick: But the Swiss are our allies, My Lord. King Richard IV: Oh yes... Well, er, get them to dress up as Germans, will you?
Pretending to be a member of a terrorist organization and attacking your own people, to better control them;
In espionage, pretending to be from either the victim's nation or an allied one to fool someone into betraying secrets.
It's not limited to violence; spreading misinformation or committing sabotage in someone else's name can work wonders too. Basically it is a Frameup scaled up to target large organizations and nations. Heroes typically end up trying to Prevent The War or Avoiding The Great War.
This is an example of Truth in Television, since false flag operations have been used in real life to do all of this. It's generally frowned upon by the Geneva Convention. You're allowed do it in naval warfare, but have to raise your true colours before opening fire.
Any False Flag Operation can be used to generate a Pretext for War. If a False Flag Operation is perpetrated by an individual villain to start a war for his own benefit, it's a case of War for Fun and Profit. If the attack is directly against the guys you're posing as (as opposed to your own), it's Dressing as the Enemy. When they disguise someone else it's Disguised Hostage Gambit. If the intent is to incite two villainous groups to wipe each other out, it can either be Evil Versus Evil or Enemy Civil War.
WARNING: Because this is often used as a plot twist, there will be spoilers below, many of which will not be covered.
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Anime and Manga
Baroque Works in One Piece occasionally pose as Alabastan troops attacking civilians in order to discredit the real army. Later, one agent actually transforms to look like the King of Alabasta to drive people into violent rebellion.
Don Krieg has also been known to use this strategy, specifically wanting to capture the Baratie to do it more easily.
In Mobile Suit Gundam MSIGLOO the Zeons made a Zaku disguised as a GM for this purpose. It was so good that it was shot down by its own ship on the way back from its mission.
In Fullmetal Alchemist, the shape-changing homunculus Envy took the form of an Amestrian soldier and fired the shot that started the Ishballan War.
In Transformers: Robots In Disguise, the Predacons disguise themselves as Autobots and fire on the Decepticons, hoping that the two groups will annihilate each other.
In an issue of G.I. Joe: Special Missions, the G.I. Joe team breaks a group of Russian soldiers out of prison in Afghanistan while posing as Russian military, and then gets the Russians to undertake a mission for them in the Middle East, posing as members of G.I. Joe in a bizarre double case.
Ozymandias pulls one of these in Watchmen by creating a psychic "alien" to attack New York City. The idea was to create an outside threat to the entire world in order to pull the United States and the Soviet Union into an alliance, thereby cutting off the Cold War before it went hot.
This same gambit was used by the JLA in JLA #100, in which the League fakes defeat to a group of radicals to unite the world's governments against them, in order to impress Mother Nature. It Makes Sense in Context
In a move that borders on Dangerously Genre Savvy, the Stunticons of all groups pull this in the course of the original The Transformers Marvel comic run. They end up realizing that the anti-robot human organization RAAT and their Psycho ElectroBroken Bird Circuit Breaker are indiscriminately targeting Transformers, completely blind to faction affiliations. They wise up to the fact faster than the Autobots, and during a battle with the Aerialbots, the Stunticons rally around the Autobot Skids, pretending to protect him from his allies, and ultimately convincing the mentally unhinged Circuit Breaker that her hunch was right—all the robots were working in concert to overthrow Earth and that the factions are just a ruse. Naturally, she attacks the Aerialbots while the Stunticons make a hasty escape. This is a case of an inverted false flag operation, with one faction pretending to protect their enemies in the middle of a clear fight between the two groups in order to have their mutual enemies start blindly attacking. Now bear in mind that this is the Stunticons we're talking about here.
In the Marvel Universe, one version of the terrorist group the Mutant Liberation Front was in fact organised by anti-mutant fanatic Simon Trask, and consisted of normal humans given drugs or wearing costumes to give them superpowers who masqueraded as mutants in order to convince the general populace that mutants were a dangerous threat that needed to be eliminated.
In Prelude to Civil War, Iron Man hired his old enemy the Titanium Man to make an attempt on his life in order to provide a cause for not passing the registration act (basically, America's enemies would take advantage of the division and wipe them all out).
The origin of the Golden AgeWestern heroine Firehair involved a group of whites disguising themselves as Dakota Indians and attacking a wagon train to steal the shipment of rifles on board.
The GCPD pulled a few of these to get various gangs to fight each other during the No Man's Land arc by painting over the territory markers of Gang A with the markers of Gang B and vice versa.
An early issue of Daredevil featured the Masked Marauder having a bunch of minions dressed as Daredevil harass Spider-Man — to get him to pick a fight with the real Daredevil when lured to him. It worked.
One of the stories in Fear Itself: The Home Front starred Jason Strongbow, the American Eagle, and involved rising hostility between the Navajo at the local reservation and the (mostly white) people in the surrounding area. Eventually strange Native American spirits start committing nightly raids on the town, but American Eagle exposes them as white townspeople trying to drive up anti-Native sentiment.
In the early issues of X-Factor, the original five X-Men thought it would be a good idea to locate mutants to save by pretending to be a mutant-hunting organization called X-Factor, Inc., and a group of mutant terrorists informally known as the X-Terminators.
In SuperboyVolume Six, Templar arranged for one of N.O.W.H.E.R.E.'s own bases to be attacked in order to set up his agenda.
In the Derelict campaign for FreeSpace 2, this happens accidentally when the Shivans attempt to reach a jump node blockaded by the GTVA. When Shivan capital ships larger than the blockade can handle start showing up, it seems like the Shivans will rip through them like paper. Cue the MMC-controlled Auriga, an Orion-class destroyer modified to have More Dakka, ripping through the Shivans like paper as it runs for the node. The Shivans, unaware the Auriga isn't friendly to GTVA interests, assume the GTVA is far better equipped than they actually are and retreat.
Played straight in another (otherwise unrelated) FreeSpace 2 campaign - In Sol: A History, a group of Earth Alliance pilots use ships generally used by another faction (the Independent Peoples of Pluto) and attack a Neptunian convoy, causing the two groups to start fighting each other.
Upon A Falling Feather: The Shadowbolts fuse together and disguise themselves as Shining Armor before attacking Cadence, thus turning the whole Crystal Empire on the heroes.
The Powers Of Harmony: According to the world-building forums, Discord started the Blood War between Metallic and Chromatic dragons by killing the dragon leader/progenitor Io and planting evidence that made each side think the other was responsible. Celestia and Luna eventually exposed the truth, but the war has left deep distrust between the two types of dragons ever since.
Atlas Strongest Tournament: Since the final match of the tournament, between Rarity and Scootaloo, is in a multi-leveled arena, when they're separated it gives Aurelia and another changeling a chance to lure them both into thinking the other is outright trying to kill them leading to Scootaloo nearly killing Rarity with her finishing move.
In The Warmistress of Equestria, the sequel to The God Empress Of Ponykind, the deer have apparently done a few of these over the years against the griffons and ponies, in order to keep them busy fighting each other and their attention off of the deer.
The Traitor Legions and their griffon co-conspirators take advantage of this trope as well — they send a "pony" assassin after the Griffon King and a griffon assassin after Celestia, in order start a war between Equestria and the griffons that the Traitor Legions can take advantage of.
In The Swarm of War, in the second story arc, a Zerg force is lost in a minor Warp anomaly and lands on an Imperium world. Investigation reveals Laser-Guided Amnesia in the colony’s memories, which implies artificial causes with hints pointing toward the Eldar and their psyker powers. However, Volran guesses correctly that the real culprit is the Overmind, since only he could have done such a precise work.
Subverted in The Divide — Chrysalis tries to take advantage of Cloudsdale's secession from Equestria and trigger a full-scale civil war by sending several changelings disguised as Royal Guards to attack the city. However, Swift Storm is smart enough to realize that if Celestia really wanted to attack Cloudsdale, she'd be a lot more effective at it.
V for Vendetta has the British government stage a biological warfare attack against the London Underground and a primary school, also imitating the Reichstag incident.
The Princess Bride has the bride-to-be almost becoming the victim of a False Flag Operation when her fiancé, evil Prince Humperdinck, hires agents to pose as enemy soldiers and murder her. This, so her death can be blamed on the neighboring country of Guilder, whom the Prince wants to go to war with.
You Only Live Twice has S.P.E.C.T.R.E. running a dual false flag operation against both the US and the USSR space programmes, making it look like each nation is hijacking the other's capsules out of orbit.
The Spy Who Loved Me has a similar plot, where two nukes are simultaneously launched towards Moscow and New York, prompting nuclear war. The Big Bad, of course, is safe in his undersea base.
Octopussy has rogue SovietGeneral Orlov attempting to smuggle in and detonate a nuclear bomb on a US military base in West Germany. Since there will be no detected missile launch, he hopes it will be assumed the explosion was an accident and that the European powers will respond by demanding removal/disarming of all stockpiled nuclear weapons. Once they are gone, Orlov plans to launch a massive land-based invasion of Western Europe, confident that without nukes, NATO will be powerless to stop him.
For Your Eyes Only had one on a smaller scale, with Locque pretending to be working for Colombo when he is really working for Kristatos.
The Living Daylights featured a fake KGB defector blaming his superior, General Pushkin, for assassinations of Western agents that he himself had caused. It's all planned to provoke the British into killing Pushkin before he uncovers said underlings illegal weapons and drug smuggling operations.
In the Woody Allen comedy Bananas, the dictator of San Marcos (a Fictional Counterpart of Cuba) attempts to assassinate a bumbling American tourist and frame a revolutionary group, in order to obtain American aid against the insurgents. It backfires, ultimately leading to the tourist becoming the leader of San Marcos.
In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country there were a bunch of false-flag operations going on, with Klingons firing on themselves to try starting a war, then (at least in the video releases) Humans pretending to be Klingons to assassinate the Klingon Chancellor at a peace conference. (Both incidents were part of the same conspiracy: Humans, Klingons and Romulans coming together to prevent peace. Awww...)
Not to mention the Enterprise pretending to be a Klingon freighter in order to rescue Kirk and Spock from Rura Penthe.
Star Wars 1 through 3 was all about false flag operations. To trigger the creation of the Republic Grand Army for instance, to later become his own Imperial Army, and one huge galactic, totalitarian dictatorship, Palpatine/Sidious played off both sides, which he both controlled.
Body of Lies (2008) features the CIA creating a fictional terrorist group and orchestrating a bombing (with fake victims) in order to draw a real terrorist out of hiding.
The League of Gentlemen (1960). While stealing weapons from a British army base for The Caper, the protagonists have a couple of men speaking in Irish accents, knowing that the IRA will get the blame.
Watchmen: The fictitious threat in the movie differs from that in the graphic novel but it has the same result - uniting the world against a common enemy.
CIA man: During the trial, one of the bombers claimed the CIA had advance knowledge. [Chuckling] The diplomat who issued the terrorists visa was CIA.
In Terry Gilliam's Brazil, random bombings occasionally erupt, implied to be false flags.
In Where Eagles Dare, the British shoot down one of their own planes, containing a (fake) American general, over Germany as a pretext to sending in a team of undercover agents in a convoluted effort to flush out The Mole.
In 8th Wonderland, the countries opposing the virtual nation initiate bombings and blame 8th Wonderland for them.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen starts with the Fantom and his Mooks attacking the Bank of England in London disguised as Germans and speaking German. They then attack a zeppelin factory in Berlin disguised as British soldiers. This is done for two purposes. First, the Fantom wants to escalate the animosity between the European powers in order to start World War I. Second, he wants the gold and plans for the foundation of Venice in the Bank of England and German scientists to design new war machines. Once the war starts, he wants to sell advanced weapons to both sides. The league is created by MI6 attempting to avoid an early start to WWI.
In Canadian Bacon, the government wants to create another Cold War, this time with Canada, in order to shift the blame from the current President to the hypothetical enemy. Besides a massive propaganda campaign, they send a squad of troops in Canadian uniforms to sabotage the Niagara Falls power plant. Unknown to them, the local sheriff believes all the anti-Canadian propaganda and organizes a militia to defend his town, including the power plant. The saboteurs are caught before they can do any damage. Despite this, the operation still succeeds, as the news of the attempt achieves the same result as an actual sabotage.
Sleeping Dogs has a member of the government pay thugs to shoot soldiers during an altercation with pro-union protesters to escalate tensions and give them an excuse for creating a police state.
Used by the protagonist in Layer Cake who fakes a police drugs raid on a warehouse full of ecstasy in order to a) claim the pills for himself and b) get the Serbian gangsters (from whom the pills were originally stolen) off his back.
Actually, the raid itself was real (though presumably on the protagonists tip off). The two detectives who came to pick up the evidence, on the other hand, weren't.
Gabriel Shear in Swordfish is part of a secret U.S. government agency that plans to attack terrorist states in more horrific ways than attacks they have supported, ostensibly as right-wing terrorists themselves. The idea is the terrorist states will become too afraid of a group that can carry out such attacks that none would dare support a group for attacking the U.S. Of course, it first requires they make a terrorist attack on US soil themselves, partly to seize a DEA slush fund for their bankroll (since the secret government money gets cut off), which helps establish their terrorist bonafides at the same time.
In the 1997 film version of Prince Valiant, the vikings of Thule raid Camelot and steal Excalibur while dressed in Scottish garb (The Dragon even rips off a piece of his kilt and drops it on the floor). Naturally, King Arthur and his knights assume Scotland was responsible for the attack.
In Total Recall (2012), it turns out that the series of supposed Resistance bombings across the UFB were actually organized by Chancellor Cohaagen in order to justify expanding his Synthetic army, until he has enough to launch a full scale invasion of the Colony.
The massacre of the McBains in Once Upon a Time in the West is carried out by Frank's henchmen (really working for Morton's railroad company) while dressed in dusters like Cheyenne's outlaw gang. A posse spends the first part of the film unsuccessfully tracking Cheyenne.
In The Lone Ranger, Butch Cavendish and his gang disguise themselves as Commanches and attack white settlements in order to make it look like the Commanche have violated the treaty.
Shown accurately for Naval Warfare of the time period in Master and Commander, where the crew of the HMS Surprise disguises the ship to look, and act, like a whaler ship, which the Akron (the ship they'd been hunting for months) was hunting. The Acheron falls for it, the captain issues one order, and within a minute, the colors are raised, the Marines take aim, and the Surprise manages to get a full broadside off while the Acherons crew was still reeling from the Oh Crap of seeing that the whaling ship they were after was in fact a British Royal Navy Frigate.
It should be noted that this was done because the first engagement with the Acheron ended with the Surprise having to retreat into a fog bank because her guns couldn't penetrate the hull of the Acheron note Which is stated to have been built in Boston, and based on the USS Constitution, and the Acherons guns had more then double the effective range of the Surprise. The plan was to fight the Acheron before she could bring her own weapons to bear.
Joseph Conrad's novel The Secret Agent involves a combination of false flagging and an agent provocateur — the main character is a member of the Tsarist secret police and he joins an anarchist group in London and plants a bomb in the Royal Greenwich Observatory to discredit them.
False flagging of this sort happened (or was suspected to happen) all the time in those days. The infamous Protocols of Zion was in fact written by a Tsarist secret service agent to discredit revolutionary groups as working for an "international Jewish conspiracy." This has been proven repeatedly, but it keeps resurfacing nonetheless.
Subverted in the Discworld novel Jingo. There is an assassination attempt on a ArabiKlatchian dignitary, and the evidence that the Klatchians themselves were behind it (i.e. the assassin was paid with foreign currency and there was sand on the floor) is so insultingly obvious, Commander Vimes assumes someone in Ankh-Morpork was framing them to make it look like they were trying to provoke a war. A Klatchian turns out to have planted the evidence to hide the fact that he did hire an assassin for this very purpose. After a couple hundred pages of messages against racism, the author points out that true equality means giving minorities the chance to be bastards.
In the Frederick Forsyth novel The Fourth Protocol, a Soviet spy pretends to work for South Africa to get a British official to reveal secrets. The British official was a staunch anti-Communist who felt that South Africa needed to know information to help fight the USSR and that South Africa was being denied information because of their "minor" problems with oppressing blacks. So he tells the spy classified information to help South Africa fight Soviet influence. Ironic, huh?
Not to mention the Russian plot in the book to detonate a nuclear bomb near a US Air Force base, to cause the election of an anti-nuclear, pro-Soviet government (Labour at that time were anti-nuclear. While not pro-Soviet, they had quite a few fellow travelers attempting to influence them from within. In the novel a faction of these are thus waiting in the wings to take control and remove the US nuclear missiles from the UK, eliminating this threat to the Soviet Union).
In one of Daniel Silva's novels about an Israeli spy, the hero is captured by Palestinian terrorists who want to place him at a suicide bombing in France they carry out as a False Flag Operation framing Israel for another, like the odious conspiracy theory Israel was behind 9/11. Sadly, it works at least temporarily all too well.
In Executive Orders, China heightens political tensions in Asia by orchestrating an air battle between their air forces and the air forces of Taiwan. It fits this trope, in that the Taiwanese pilots were tricked into opening hostilities when they were caught in the middle of a Chinese "training mission."
The terrorists in The Sum of All Fears have several False Flag operations going, first trying to frame the Russians for nuking Denver, and starting a shooting war in East Germany, and when that falls through, blaming the Iranians (who in this case actually had nothing to do with it) for being behind the whole thing.
Also discussed in The Bear and the Dragon, when China is preparing to invade Russia. The Chinese Defense Minister suggests that they shoot down a Russian recon plane, and then claim that it had invaded Chinese airspace as a justification for the invasion. Whether that actually happens is not mentioned (but it probably doesn't, as the Russians stop their recon flights in favor of the American UA Vs).
In Red Storm Rising, the KGB sets up a bombing of the Politburo to manufacture a casus belli as part of their "maskirovka" (Russian for "camouflage" or "concealment").
In one of the spy novels by Adam Hall, Quiller is assigned to babysit an Embassy official investigating an impending Polish uprising that might disrupt East/West peace talks. Quiller conducts his own investigations and is surprised to find the Poles believe the British government is backing their revolt. It turns out the Embassy official is a KGB Double Agent manufacturing evidence that the entire uprising is a Western-instigated plot, thereby justifying a crackdown by the Soviet military.
In Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novel Cain's Last Stand, Cain is suspicious of some soldiers and sees they are wearing standard Imperial armor. When one says he has a message for Cain, Cain shoots him: any message would have been sent through secure official channels. With the ploy blown, the others open fire.
Earlier, in For The Emperor, a Tau ambassador is killed during a fete at the governor's palace; naturally, the Imperials and the Tau blame each other for setting up the murder and nearly come to blows. In truth, the whole thing was set up by an underground Genestealer cult—including the governor himself—in order to provoke a war between both parties and soften them up for the coming Tyranid invasion.
Done several times in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. One of the most important ones was the raid on Wuchao (the climactic incident of the Battle of Guandu) which has two of these occur. First, Cao Cao disguises his troops as Yuan Shao's soldiers to get to Wuchao in the first place. Then, once Wuchao has been raided and burnt to the ground, he sends several soldiers in the guise of the Wuchao garrison to tell Yuan Shao that Cao Cao's raid has been successfully fought off. This causes Yuan to divert forces that would have gone to the defense of Wuchao to help raid Cao Cao's headquarters camp... where the rest of Cao's forces were waiting in ambush. This victory is almost enough to transform Smug Snake Cao Cao into a Magnificent Bastard.
In a more minor example, Sun Ce desecrates the grave of one of his officers before blaming it on a rival force so as to motivate his troops and officers.
Done by Darken Rahl in the Sword of Truth series. His forces disguised themselves as soldiers from Westland and began sacking towns loyal to him, making him appear like a benevolent savior and Westland as a nation of Knight Templar fanatics.
In the Honor Harrington series, this has been the Mesan Alignment's MO for the last few centuries. In recent years they've run multiple False Flag operations intended to heat up the shooting war between Manticore and Haven whenever it starts to cool down, and more recently to start a war between Manticore and the Solarian League.
Mesan agents pull a particularly nasty one during Shadow of Freedom, in which they visit planets on the Verge and promise their various La Resistances aid in Manticore's name against the local and Frontier Security forces exploiting them. It's essentially a Xanatos Gambit because the Manticorans, upon finding this out, will either stretch themselves thin out of an obligation to help people who genuinely thought they were receiving Manticoran aid, or leave them to their fate and look like they stirred up rebellions and hung them out to dry.
In the Hand of Thrawn duology, Supreme Commander Pellaeon of the Imperial Remnant was preparing for a Peace Conference with the New Republic. Some of his people disagreed violently. Pellaeon sent an envoy in a shuttle to request the talks and then quietly took his flagship to a neutral part of space to wait for a response, preferably the Corellian New Republic general he respected the most. His dissidents captured the envoy's shuttle while not letting it send any messages, and later paid a pirate force to disguise their ships as a midsized Corellian force and then attack Pellaeon's ships before retreating. Pellaeon, who'd studied under Grand Admiral Thrawn, was not fooled; he determined that these were not the Corellian general's forces based on their tactics, then destroyed most of them and sat back to wait, aware now that there was treachery among his people.
Meanwhile, the fake returning Thrawn and his associates assign Imperial Intelligence agents to trigger speciesist riots on Bothawui and eventually frame Han Solo for murder.
In the Young Bond novel By Royal Command, the Nazis get British communists to attempt to assassinate the king by pretending to be Russians.
Variations on this theme were a favorite tactic of Murgo infiltrators in the Belgariad and Malloreon, to the point where several characters make cracks about the Murgo lack of originality.
Used quite fittingly in a number of Napoleonic naval warfare novels, most notably in the Aubrey-Maturin and Horatio Hornblower series. A particular example from the Horatio Hornblower books stands out: while still a midshipman, Hornblower takes part in a cutting-out expedition to capture the Papillon. His own ship, the Indefatigable, is attacked by 3 French corvettes before the Papillon can get away, and so Hornblower (having wound up in command by an unlikely series of events) orders the Papillon to engage the corvettes, taking advantage of the fact that the boarding party had yet to replace the Republican tricolor with the Blue Ensign (or rather the Ensign over the tricolor). He (and pretty much every RN officer) deems it a legitimate ruse de guerre. In the television adaptation, he instead claims ignorance of the rule when warned against this strategy by one of the more experienced sailors, sarcastically offering to let the sailor show him the rule after they save the Indy.
He does this again as a Captain in Ship of the Line, intentionally creating a fake French tricolour to get close to a group of Spanish ships. This comes back to bite him in the next book when he is convicted of piracy in absentia by the French and sentenced to be executed after his ship is captured.
In Lord Hornblower, he does this yet again: A small vessel has been taken by mutineers who intend to seek offered refuge in France. Hornblower finds himself aboard that vessel's sister ship, and has the rigging modified to match before launching a raid on the nearby French port, guaranteeing that the mutineers' ship will now be presumed hostile by the French. This sets in motion a chain of events climaxing in Hornblower seizing control of the port for the British and leading into the fall of Napolean.
In Dale Brown's Fatal Terrain, the Chinese set up and/or stage attacks on their own resources to create the impression that Taiwan and the US are attacking them. In Warrior Class, the Big Bad Pavel Kazakov stages a Macedonian attack on Albania to get the two countries to fight. In Edge of Battle, Zakharov attacks illegal immigrants using the same weapons as the American Watchdogs in order to make it seem that they killed the immigrants.
The Fall Of The Galaxy, the rebelling biomechanical ships of the Bargon Empire are invading the Solar System - the heart of the Galaxy (yes, that is the name of one of the human galactic powers). The fleet of the Seven Systems' Union arrives to help the Galaxy defend Earth. However, as all three human powers distrust each other, the biomechanical ships use it to their advantage to trick the Galaxy into thinking that they are allied with the Seven Systems' Union. This causes additional confusion and more loss of life before the biomechanical ships are finally defeated.
In Crown of Fire, the Shuhr were planning to fake a Sentinel attack on Tallis in order to turn the Federacy against the Sentinels, the only people who could stand against the Shuhr.
One of Orson Scott Card's novels about an alternate America has (if memory serves, which it may not) William Henry Harrison offering his old friend, Hotch Palmer a hefty sum to recruit desperados, dress as Indians, and raid Vigor Church, killing women and children. Fink, after a moment, bursts into laughter; Harison has managed to find something Hootch won't do.
Palmer is ambushed and murdered on his way back to his boat, as he expected, and Harriosn's war starts on schedule.
George Orwell in 1984 had The Government use agents who posed as anti-government dissidents to recruit real anti-government dissidents who are then rounded up for torture and liquidation.
There was a book called something like The Double Invasion in which Earth had learned that a warlike species planned to attack a planet of Human Aliens soon. Instead of telling the targets, Earth's government sent a force to invade a year or so in advance, claiming to be the bad guys and committing "atrocities" just bad enough to piss off the locals and make them willing to mobilize and increase their industry to wartime levels. The fake invaders then allowed themselves to be "captured" and agreed to help improve the locals' defenses. The defenders were very surprised when the real alien invaders arrived and, after getting clobbered, were shown to be quite nonhuman.
In Vladimi Vasilyev's No One but Us, a group of Space Marines are forced to pretend to be rogues and pirates in order to invade a planet of Human Aliens in another galaxy in order to secure a cache of extremely-powerful portals left behind by Precursors. This gets to the point that they're forbidden from using official ranks or even words like "army" and "division" (these being replaced with "cohort"). This is despite the fact that the Human Aliens in question have never even seen an alien before and would probably assume the heavily-armed invaders were part of a government anyway.
One of the Star Trek Expanded Universe novels has John Harriman (the captain of the Enterprise-B) take part in a Starfleet Intelligence false flag operation against Federation outposts in the Foxtrot system (which were all automated and whose crew manifests consisted of dead officers) by sneaking aboard the Romulan flagship Tomed, commanded by his arch-nemesis Admiral Aventeer Vokar, and rigging it for a suicide run against the Federation outposts. When the ship enters the system at high warp, the rigged artificial singularity powering the ship breaks containment and destabilizes space-time in the area, destroying the outposts and a single Federation ship. The incident is recorded as a terrorist action by a crazed Romulan admiral (who conveniently perished in the attack), which causes the previously-neutral Klingons to take the Federation's side in the Treaty of Algeron. Facing this alliance, the Romulan withdraw and close their borders. This was what SI planned all along. Harriman himself is forced to resign, though, leaving Demora Sulu in command.
The intelligence-based version is mentioned in the backstory of the Harry Potter books. During the First Wizarding War, a wizard named Rookwood, who worked for the Department of Mysteries, set up at least one agent (Ludo Bagman) to pass along intelligence for the war effort, ostensibly to help the Ministry. Of course, Rookwood was actually a Death Eater spy who was passing this info on to Voldemort, and after the war Bagman was hauled in front of a tribunal and accused of being a Death Eater as well, but acquitted, partly due to his being a dim bulb and popular athlete who they saw could easily be taken in.
During the Time of Troubles in the Deverry novels, Lady Merodda arranges for her brother and his warband to kill one of her rivals while using enemy equipment to make it look like the result of a raid rather than a deliberate assassination. Unfortunately for her, Merodda's daughter figured it out and told the rival's husband what had really happened, prompting him to defect.
Mockingjay, the final book of the Hunger Games trilogy, describes a bomb attack on children from the Capitol using a plane with the Capitol's emblem. Katniss recognizes the attack as a strategy developed by Gale and District 13.
In Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Carlo and Francesco are sent to carry out such an operation. They are not told this is what they're doing and (as they realize when they figure out what they've actually done) they weren't supposed to survive it.
In The Immortals, Carthak disguises its ships as pirates when they attempt to kill Tortall's Queen and her children. Even though its dead obvious they're to blame, Tortall can't officially do anything, and instead sends diplomats for peace talks. They attempt to pull this again when they kidnap Daine to try and make it look like she's become part of La Résistance to justify going to war with Tortall.
Live Action TV
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine did this in one of its most celebrated episodes, "In the Pale Moonlight". Sisko puts aside his principles to get the Romulans to join the war against the Dominion. First a holographic recording is faked to make it appear that the Dominion were intending to attack the Romulans, and when this falls through, the Romulan ambassador is assassinated, his shuttle bombed, to make it appear that the Dominion didn't want the truth to be discovered. It is learned that Garak had, without Sisko's knowledge, set it up at a Xanatos Gambit, realizing the fake recording might not pass inspection, with the backup plan being to kill the Senator if he realized that.
In another (two-part) episode, a Starfleet admiral brings down Earth's power grid and blames it on Changeling sabotage, so that the Federation will declare martial law (which he thinks is necessary to prepare for a Dominion invasion).
The Founders of the Dominion also employ this trope by using shapeshifter infiltrators to manipulate the Klingon invasion of Cardassia, not to mention the withdrawal of the Klingon Empire from the Khitomer Accords, and the Second Federation-Klingon War that results, all in order to weaken the Alpha Quadrant powers for a Dominion invasion
Also used by the main cast in a captured Jem'Hadar warship to take out a Ketracel White facility.
Star Trek: Enterprise did this one when the Romulans used a ship with a holographic display to fake various species around human space to try getting them to fight each other. Brilliantly unsuccessfully, as it turns out, as the joint effort to find and defeat the ship forms the basis for the Federation and Starfleet.
In V, the Visitors use a staged terrorist attack against a Visitor-run chemical processing plant as grounds to institute martial law throughout most of the world. V being loosely based on the rise of fascism in pre-WWII Germany, this incident was inspired by the Reichstag fire of 1933, supposedly set by Nazi operatives posing as Communists.
Also in V the Visitors claim a conspiracy by Earth scientists is the reason they must take control, to keep order.
A group of English football (soccer) fans pull one of these to incite a riot with a rival group of fans in Life On Mars.
The Drakh run one to get the entire galaxy mad at the Centauri in Babylon 5.
The Earthgov regime under President Clark also plots one of these to implicate Babylon 5 in an attack on a Starfury squadron ("Epiphanies"). Bester, in an Enemy Mine collaboration, warns the Babylon 5 staff about this so they can thwart it.
In the Doctor Who story Frontier in Space, ships from the Earth Empire are apparently being raided by the Draconian Empire, and vice versa; the attacks are actually being staged by a third alien power that hopes to provoke a war that will weaken both Empires and leave them vulnerable to invasion.
Parodied in The Black Adder: King Richard tells a lord to attack the Swiss. The lord informs him that the Swiss are on their side. Pondering for a moment, King Richard then tells him to "have them dress up as Germans".
In one Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode, part of the backstory involved the well-publicized death of an American woman at the hands of Israeli soldiers while protesting on the West Bank. It's later revealed that far from being innocent she was actively supporting Palestinian militants, who set her up to be killed to garner international sympathy. Although Israel is aware of this, they don't say anything and take the bad press because she was actually a spy for them, and they don't want it revealed that they have infiltrated the peace movement by using foreign nationals and were stupid enough to kill their own agent.
Clearly this was based on the death of American activist Rachel Corrie, as similar allegations (at least regarding support for Palestinian militants) have been made about her.
In Volume 4 of Heroes, Homeland Security Black Ops leader and evil Jack Bauer Expy Danko (aka The Hunter) attempts to stage a nuclear suicide bombing of D.C., with the intention of blaming the whole thing on Supers to create justification for his anti-Super crusade.
In Burn Notice, Fiona pretends to be a CIA agent in order to get an allied nation's intelligence agent to hand over documents concerning a black flight landing in his home country. She does this because Michael's similar attempt as a pretend Russian agent backfires spectacularly when it turns out that the Polish agent hates the Russians with a passion despite (maybe even because of) the fact that his mother was a Russian.
Also, there was an entire episode titled "False Flag" in which an assassin pretends to be a client to get Micheal's help in finding a man in hiding.
In Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe, Veracruz plans to destroy a medical clinic and blame the rebels; using the attack as a justification for receiving greater US military aid.
Last Resort features a textbook example in the pilot — whoever in the Government Conspiracy attempted to sink the Colorado pins the blame on Pakistan in order to justify going to war with them.
Leverage: In "The Rundown Job", an extremist attempts to demonstrate that the US is unprepared for bio-terrorist attack by launching his own bio-terrorist attack while posing as Muslim extremist.
Boardwalk Empire plays with this in season 4. Al Capone is almost killed when gunmen open fire on his office. The attack is blamed on Hymmie Weiss and his North Side gang but there are hints that Joe Torrio tried to have Al killed and make it look like Weiss did it. Subsequently, when Torrio narrowly survives an assassination attempt, it is clear that he suspects that Capone was behind it. However, both men agree to blame Weiss for the attacks and the potential conflict is resolved when Torrio retires and gives control of his rackets to Capone . Historically, both attacks are attributed to Weiss.
In Warhammer, the Dark Elves used this to set in motion the events that led to the War of the BeardWar of Vengeance between the High Elves and the Dwarfs.
Later on Manfred von Carstein tried to do it again, by resurrecting dead Dwarfs in an Elf-Dwarf alliance and having them turn on their allies.
Happens repeatedly in the BattleTech universe, where interstellar communications lag makes it hard enough to get accurate intelligence in a timely fashion even without any deliberate trickery. Which doesn't prevent the assorted players from trying their hand at deception anyway, of course. Just three of the better known examples are: ComStar troops striking at a Davion research center disguised as Capellans, ComStar faking a Davion strike on one of their own installations as an excuse for Interdiction, and rogue Jade Falcons posing as pirates in an attempt to break the truce between the Clans and the Inner Sphere.
In the backstory for Shadowrun, the TerraFirst! attack on Shiawase's private nuclear power plant was one of these, with the real TerraFirst!'s headquarters bombed to destroy evidence that they weren't really responsible.
In Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, the Spiritual Successor to Civilization, your Probe Teams can perform various acts of terrorism at your opponents - and with an additional expenditure in Energy Credits, and a somewhat higher risk of failure, blame it on another faction at the same time. Takes a lot of guts and funding, but can truly work wonders.
This is also an option for very successful spy missions in Master Of Orion.
Or just about any spy mission if you're the Darloks.
And in Birth of the Federation. After a successful espionage/sabotage op, you can either leave no trace, or plant evidence incriminating another faction. It's a lot easier for the Cardassians and Romulans to do this than the Federation though.
Early on in Suikoden II, the hero's army of about seven defend their castle from a major arm of the Highland Army, while the nebbishy Yamamoto slips between enemy platoons and plants false information. The immediate result of this false flagging Within one turn-of-play, THE ENTIRE ARMY outside of the main general's platoon- themselves- switch their flags before the player's eyes. The turncoats were actually conscripted soldiers that fought because they had no other choice, since the majority of the City-States have been taken over at that point. Only when they have a chance to win, basically, a hope, do they actually revert to their previous allegiance.
Another example in the same game, is the massacre of the Youth Brigade in the beginning. Prince Luca Blight, in order to justify starting a war with the enemy, betrays and slaughters his own Youth Brigade, for the sake of propaganda.
There's also the infamous Kalekka Incident, mentioned a few times in the first Suikoden, in which Scarlet Moon soldiers slaughtered the entire town of civilians, while claiming it was actually Jowston soldiers that had done the horrible deed, in order to rouse support for the coming war among the anti-war citizens of the empire.
According to the Backstory of Suikoden IV and Suikoden Tactics, Scarlet Moon did this before, trying to spark a war with the Kooluk Empire. Unfortunately for them, they weren't aware that a little boy in the town they attacked had the Rune of Punishment, which he used to destroy them all before the Rune ate his soul and jumped to another host. That boy also happened to be the son of one Graham Cray; the empire then blamed him for the incident, causing his Start of Darkness, defection to Kooluk and setting him up as the Big Bad of IV. So they had a history of pulling this sort of stunt, and having it blow up in their faces.
There are a couple of other examples from that game, too. Often, you end up having to gather the flags yourself. Also, a short example from Warcraft III: in the expansion Undead campaign, a couple of banshees body-jack a group of guards in order to get close to Arthas, who is in for some serious hurt from the banshees' leader. They pull it again against a different foe's mooks to get into a fortified city.
Occurs again in the expansion for both Alliance and Horde. During the Nagrand questline that puts you in service to Lantresor of the Blade. In order to stop the Boulderfist Ogres from attacking Telaar (Alliance) or to gain a powerful Ogre ally (Horde), the player needs to stop the two enemies of the Boulderfist Clan, the Laughing Skull Clan and the Warmaul Clan, from attacking. Obviously, Lantresor of the Blade suggests that you use flags and corpses to create the appearance of a battle between the two. It works.
In The Shattering Prelude to Cataclysm, some orc members of the Twilight Hammer cult attack a meeting of druids and kill all the night elves present while pretending that Garrosh ordered the massacre. Cairne is outraged at Garrosh's apparent responsibility for the attack, and challenges him to a duel for leadership of the Horde.
Sturm's plan in Advance Wars was to incite a war between various countries with clones of their commanders so that he could sweep in when each faction was at its weakest and attack. He gets found out at the last minute by Sonja, who notices that Orange Star forces (led by Andy) were attacking Green Earth at the same time the real Andy was attacking Blue Moon.
Command & Conquer occasionally does this with Nod campaigns. In Tiberian Sun, the Brotherhood uses stolen GDI units against the mutant faction in order to win their trust. In the Kane's Wrath expansion to Tiberium Wars, Alexa Kovacs runs a double false flag - first she disguises her army as troops loyal to Kilian Qatar, then she has them assist GDI in attacking Temple Prime (thus framing Qatar as a GDI mole).
In End War, a new World War erupts when the European Federation, leery of the United States achieving clear military dominance through completion of a militarized space station, fund terrorist attacks on them and when that fails, they use their anti-ballistic-missile Kill Sat to shoot down the Freedom IV shuttle headed up to complete the station. Actually, the terrorists were funded by Russia, who was leery of being the world's largest supplier of oil once several other nations have hit Hubbert's Peak, and wanted the US to declare war on Europe so they could "aid their allies" in making Europe go away before the United States and Europe would turn Russia into Iraq II for their oil. As false flag operations go, this one is subverted; the plan goes off without a hitch...until the United States wigs right out when Russia starts making gains in the conflict and declares war on them, too.
In Tactics Ogre, this is done at the end of chapter 1, by your own side.
The Grand Theft Auto series is extremely fond of this trope. It starts in the second game when the Rednecks have the player use a Zaibatsu car to run down members of the Scientist gang, then vice versa.
In Grand Theft Auto III, corrupt businessman Donald Love wants to create a gang war that will lower real estate values across Liberty City. So, he hires your "services" to assassinate Kenji, one of the heads of the Yakuza in Staunton Island, while in the guise of a Colombian hitman. And you can do this while you're in Kenji and Asuka's (his sister) employ. In fact, Asuka, the ruthlessly intelligent and absolutely terrifying Yakuza mastermind, goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the Colombians, and yet she never finds out who really killed her brother.
In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Love is shown to have learned the trick from his mentor, corrupt land developer Avery Carrington, who starts a gang war between the Cuban and Haitian factions in Vice City by hiring Tommy to dress up as a member of the Cuban gang and shoot-up a Haitian gang member's funeral.
Saints Row 1 has a mission where you and Johnny Gat try to break the tentative alliance between the Vice Kings gang and the Stilwater Police Department by dressing up in VK outfits, hijacking a VK car and wreaking havoc.
Between the first and second games, it is revealed that Troy Bradshaw was an undercover cop who was trying to stop the gang wars.
In The Third, the protagonist undergoes drastic plastic surgery to look (and sound) like Cyrus Temple, then heads to the Thermopylae with Pierce and Viola as "prisoners" in an attempt to get Shaundi out of STAG's captivity. It goes well...up until the real Cyrus patches a call through to Kia, whom the protagonist is currently speaking to.
Grand Maestro Mohs from Tales of the Abyssattempts to do this to restart the war between Malkuth and Kimlasca, using replicas for suicidal bombings, but the attempt is so shabby and poorly thought out that no one is fooled for even a second.
Dead Cell were essentially method actors employed by the Patriots and the US Government, staging impromptu terrorist attacks in order to better prepare a VR-trained US army for war. Eventually they were so good at it that they went rogue.
The entire plant mission is revealed to be thought experiment performed on Raiden, Solid Snake's heir apparent, based on the Shadow Moses incident. An isolated facility, full of hostages, is under siege by terrorists holding the plant for ransom. Even the architectural layout is based on Shadow Moses island, with identical hallways and elevators. The player will naturally dismiss this as a conceit of being a MGS1 sequel. Later, Ocelot openly trolls the gamer during a speech. ("Did you think it was ALL a coincidence?")
The Statue of Liberty is reported to have been destroyed (beheaded) by terrorist groups. It is later suggested, and given the context of all you discover, very likely, that the government itself destroyed the Statue of Liberty to raise outrage against "terrorists."
The national pandemic "Grey Death" is revealed to be a corporate creation to reap massive profits of a vaccine, weed out the "undesirable" (poor) population, and ensure complete complicity from the population (even, in some cases, the government.)
You can pull this yourself, if you want to, in Uplink. When performing a high-profile hack, you can wipe the records incriminating yourself clean. Or, for added giggles, you can alter them and get some poor sap arrested.
Alpha Protocol has the Halbech corporation setting up one of these to trigger increased tensions between Taiwan and China, in order to sell weapons to both sides. The plan is to have an assassin kill the pro-independence Taiwanese president during an independence rally, thus turning him into a martyr for the independence movement, while at the same time having agitators in the crowds incite violence and riots, in order to push the island further toward favoring independence and thus toward conflict. Oh, and you can only stop one of these plans.
Likewise in Rome; the VCI are hired to set off a "terrorist" attack, in order to influence an upcoming vote on terror and terror protection device system things. Beyond that, of course, the evil plot is a False Flag Operation writ large; Halbech wants to keep the world angry and scared so they'll continue buying Halbech systems; The China/Taiwan war will make a huge market for weapons, as will the continued hunt for terrorists in the Middle East following the airliner incident that kicks everything off, and the Italian paranoia over terrorists will provide an endless market for terrorist-stopping systems.
In MechWarrior 2: Ghost Bear's Legacy, the sequel to the original Mechwarrior 2, the player takes the role of a Ghost Bear Mechwarrior and fights their canonical Inner Sphere enemy, the Draconis Combine, whose 'Mechs are responsible for a raid on a Ghost Bear genetics facility. Naturally, the Bears attack the Combine, but in this case, it actually is Draconis 'Mechs that were first captured by the Smoke Jaguars, which in turn leads you to fight the Jaguars, only for the Jaguars to admit they lost the 'Mechs to Clan Wolf's Crusader elements, finally leading you to the real culprits. That's a double false flag op, first discrediting the Combine, then the Jaguars.
Dragon Age II has one in which Sister Petrice murders the Viscount's son and makes it look as though Qunari had murdered him on holy ground while he was praying in an attempt to start a war with the Qunari, whom she regards as blasphemous heathens.
During the Guild Wars 2 Charr storyline if you're an Ash Legion soldier, you have to fight a plot of the Flame legion to attack Blood and Iron legion leaders while wearing Iron and Blood legion uniforms respectively.
In Tropico: Pirate Isle, you can order your ships to sail under false colors when raiding, in order to foster a war between two nations.
Used in a quest in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in which you have to murder the heads of two families and plant evidence on their bodies to implicate a member of the other family as the murderer. Why? Because the quest giver loves strife and wants to see the two families at war for their amusement.
The Cracha Preto from Max Payne 3 use gang-style executions in order to create the impression that the Gang Banger problem is worse than it actually is, and thus encourage people to hire their services.
Clu pulls off a pretty epic one in TRON: Evolution, the video game tie-in to TRON: Legacy, in order to justify the Purging of the ISOs: he forcibly rewrites one of the ISO leaders, Jalen, into a deadly, sentient virus called Abraxas, unleashes him on the Grid, and then turns around and implies to the Basic Program population that all ISOs have this potential, thereby gaining their support for the total elimination of the "simmering ISO menace".
The intro to Haegemonia: Legions of Iron has tension building up between Earth and its Solar System colonies. A peace summit is set on the Moon. Then unknown high-tech fighters attack and destroy the Martian ambassador's shuttle. Naturally, the colonists blame Earth, and war erupts, making up the first act of the single-player campaign. While some believe it was Earth, it doesn't make sense for the government to do that. On the other hand, it's possible a General Ripper in charge of a shadow organization did that deliberately. Especially since those fighters never appear in the game itself and anything either Earth or the colonists have is inferior.
King Steve of 8-Bit Theater tried to hire the Dark Warriors to attack his own kingdom so that he could declare martial law. Like everything else, the plan failed miserably.
In Chapter 16.13 of Worm, we learn about an operation in which Coil used a young child solider and a device made by Leet to fake a betrayal of the Undersiders by Skitter, thereby allowing him to both kill Skitter and keep his captive seer, Dinah, whom Skitter wanted freed. Unfortunately for his plans, Skitter survived.
In the first episode of The Legend of Calamity Jane, outlaw Bill Doolin fakes raids by both the Comanche tribe and the Calvary, threatening to cause already-poor relations to flare into war. The long-term implications don't really concern him, though — he just wants to draw security off of a shipment of gold.
In South Park, the US Government is trying to convince the world that 9/11 was a False Flag in order to make them look more competent. They do this by posing as conspiracy nuts, and running an actual False Flag campaign. This is subverted in that the plan is apparently to prevent trouble: the idea is that if people are determined to suspect the Government of treachery, those people should believe the Government is all powerful, so that they don't cause problems. What's actually amazing is how many conspiracy theories have similarly sinister origins.
The Transformers cartoon has this happen when Megatron has the Stunticons built. People automatically assume that 'car transformer = Autobot" and think they're the good guys, until the Stunticons go wild. The Autobots are, naturally, blamed for the attacks.
Archer's mother, in a drunken fit of jealousy, issues a burn notice on her son after he quits ISIS to work for the agency's nemesis ODIN. To save Archer from being killed by his new coworkers, Lana sends a retraction of the burn notice from a Telex in the ODIN office building. Lana's false flag is compounded, as it implies that the burn notice itself was an ODIN false flag operation designed to discredit ISIS and its best field agent.
The police has used (and may still use) agents provocateur during demonstrations to start riots and give their uniformed comrades a reason to crack down on the demonstrators. It has backfired occasionally, when the uniformed riot cops battered a group of protestors, including some undercover officers. It would have been hilarious, if it hadn't been for the dozens of injured protestors.
The Gleiwitz incident, when Nazi Germany provided justification for its war with Poland at the start of World War II by dressing some soldiers up in Polish uniforms, then attacking a German radio outpost while leaving behind a body, was just one of a number of independent operations collectively named "Operation Himmler". Noteworthy in that this was such an Epic Fail (absolutely no one believed it), the fact that Germany claimed self-defense as a reason to go to war is regarded as an interesting bit of trivia instead of an important historical fact.
Similarly, there were some account(s) of people doing these to gain sympathy from the Apathetic Citizens. These often involved exaggerating actions of the other side, accusing the other side of trying to do this to gain their sympathy, disguising as Germans or Russians and ransacking villages, or just spreading nasty rumours.
The Church of Scientology used stationery stolen from the apartment of author Paulette Cooper, who wrote an anti-Scientology book, to fake two bomb threat letters sent to Scientology facilities, and as part of Operation Freakout were planning on faking some more bomb threat letters to send to (among others) the US Secretary of State at the time, Henry Kissinger.
Rush Limbaugh's "Operation Chaos" during the 2008 Democratic primaries certainly tried its very hardest to be one of those. The idea was for Republicans to switch their party registration to Democrat and then vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton (the underdog, at that point) in the primaries, in an effort to draw the primaries out and encourage more intra-party warfare between Clinton and Obama supporters, with the end result of a divided Democratic Party, who would then lose to the Republicans in the general election. How well it succeeded in its initial goals is debatable — the primary fight went through all 50 states (an event not seen in American politics for close to 40 years prior), and False Flagging Republicans certainly had some effect, but it's hard to know precisely how much and where. How well it succeeded in the "split the Democrats down the middle and make McCain win" goal is a bit more obvious.
Britain used disguised ships to trap German commerce raiders during WWI. They sailed under neutral flags (often American) with the guns hidden, lured a commerce raider into challenging them, then hoisted the White Ensign and opened fire. Since the raider was 1) at close range and 2) probably surprised, this was an effective tactic. (Supposedly, at least one of these ships had special rigging to let it lower the decoy flag and raise the correct one simultaneously with a pull on a single rope.)
In both great wars, armed merchantmen or auxiliary cruisers (the German term for retrofitted fast merchantmen) both operating under false flags from neutral or opposing nations. While the British primarily used these ships in a defensive role to sucker their opponents (as noted above), the German ships would be used against other merchant ships as commerce raiders and minelayers, seeding well-trafficked areas with mines, but particularly in the First World War, British AMCs were also used in a raider role against German ships that had escaped the blockade. Infamously, and demonstrating the confusion that can result from this practice, in the First World War, the armed merchantman RMS Carmania encountered the SMS Cap Trafalgar, disguised as the RMS Carmania. The former immediately recognized the deception and subsequently engaged and sank the Cap Trafalgar in the Battle of Trindade.
It's more complicated than that, and splendidly ironic - the Carmania was herself disguised as the Cap Trafalgar.
During American Civil War, Confederate raiders disguised themselves as ships of foreign nations. CSS Alabama, a case in point, disguised itself as HMS Spitfire, a British warship, before the battle against USS Kearsarge. The only requirement, which all legitimate combatants followed, was that they identify themselves as warships of the correct nation before fighting (or, seizing a merchant ship.) It's still done today, in fact - there's a story floating around the interweb of the HMS Illustrious responding to radio challenges in Urdu when on exercises and pretending to be a cruise liner from Pakistan, thus fooling their opponents. This only works when outside visual range, but that isn't such a problem when you are an aircraft carrier.
The Lavon Affair: In 1954, Israeli agents in Egypt (mostly Egyptian Jews) planted bombs at British and American targets in Egypt, hoping it would be blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood, the Communists, or any number of nationalistic groups in the country. The Egyptian authorities found out about it, informing the Brits and Americans, neither of whom were amused. As for the Egyptians themselves, they considered it evidence that their Jewish population was all potential agents of Israel, and could potentially be a threat to security (this was probably wrong, but that didn't matter at the time), and so proceeded to de facto expel the Jews from Egypt (they weren't direct about it of course; mostly, the government let life get unbearable for them). To this day, the episode is often called "haEsek haBish (the Unfortunate Affair) in Israel. The eponymous Pinhas Lavon, who OKed the plot, was forced to resign as Defense Minister as a result of the botched operation.
Operation Northwoods, a Cold War era program declassified in the 2000s, was a series of military proposals to commit false-flag operations and frame Cuba for it to justify an invasion, such as pretending to send a plane full of college students over the Gulf of Mexico, shooting it down, and blaming Castro; and planting false evidence of a Cuban attack should John Glenn be killed in his spaceflight. The scary thing? The plan was approved by all the Joint Chiefs of Staff and sent to the desk of the Secretary of Defense. JFK however, was not at all amused when he found out, as General Lemnitzer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was forced to resign afterwards. Cue conspiracy theories galore in 1...2...3...
The Mukden Incident provided the pretext for the invasion of Manchuria by Japan.
You know those ads for secrets "the credit card companies don't want you to know"? Most of those companies are owned by credit card companies. The logic being that if one goes bankrupt, they get nothing, but if they arrange even a partial payment, they get some kind of money.
The Lindsay Pamphlet Scandal: Prior to the 2007 Australian election, Liberal Party members were caught distributing pamphlets purportedly from a radical Muslim organisation (that did not actually exist) supporting the Labor Party. They were immediately dismissed.
Operation Trust, in which the Cheka (the first USSR state security service) ran fake counter-revolutionary groups so they could expose and arrest real Soviet counter-revolutionaries.
In 1965, a clandestine group of army officers in Indonesia attempted, and failed, a coup against the military leadership. The army promptly blamed the whole incident on Indonesian communists...not the party, mind you, but all Indonesian communists, leading to the largest mass murder in Indonesian history to kill every last one of them (~500,000 or more). The operation was so successful the mass murder of communists and leftists is largely still unknown, ignored, or blamed on the actual communists who were among the first of hundreds of thousands killed.
In 1975, Indonesia then tried to convince the international world that their invasion of East Timor was in fact an independent action by pro-Indonesia factions such as APODETI by giving their paratroopers Russian weapons, and... not much else. If that's too hard for you to believe, consider the fact that during the invasion, Indonesian cargo planes accidentally dropped troops on the sea and the forces on the ground traded so much friendly fire that there might've been more Indonesian casualties from friendly fire than from the poorly-armed Fretilin resistance fighters.
In 66 AD, a band of Jewish Zealots known as the Sicarii infiltrated the city of Jerusalem and proceeded to commit a series of atrocities against their own people in order to ensure that they would have no choice but to continue warring with the Romans rather than negotiate for peace.
An incident in France involved Mosques being bombed and Muslim neighborhoods being vandalized; notes were sent with the perpetrators claiming to be a radical Zionist group. Once French police tracked and caught the perpetrators, they found them to be Neo-Nazis who were trying to stir up tensions between Muslims and Jews.
The Cinema Rex fire in Iran, which was a major prelude to the Iranian Revolution. This one was particularly notable for actually being a Batman Gambit (and something of a double subversion) pulled off by the revolutionaries. The cinema at the time was widely seen a symbol of Western intrusions into Iran's traditional society and was a frequent target of criticism by Islamists. The revolutionaries who burned down the cinema knew that the Iranian government was well aware of their hatred of the institution and correctly predicted that Shah would immediately jump to blame them for the attack. This then allowed the revolutionaries to counter-accuse the government of making a baseless accusation against them without any evidence and, in turn, claimed that the fire was a false-flag committed by the secret police SAVAK. As much of the public was already sympathizing with the revolutionaries at this point and since SAVAK itself was already known for being a not-so-benevolent force that had executed false-flag operations in the past, the event was a huge PR victory for the Islamists and became a lightning rod that pushed the country into further chaos.
The Marxist-Leninist Party of the Netherlands, a fake pro-China communist party in the Netherlands set up by the Dutch secret service to develop contacts with the Chinese government for espionage purposes.
In theMountain Meadows Massacre Mormon militia disguised themselves as local Ute braves, attacking and massacring emigrants moving through the area.
There have also been a lot of documented agent provocateur activities, both recently and a while back. In 1977, CBS News obtained a US Army document that detailing plans for dealing with protesters at the 1968 DNC. According to the document, about one out of 6 people at the protests was an FBI operative or some other type of government asset.
Participants in the Boston Tea Party dressed up like Mohawks when they dumped shiploads of tea into the harbor, although they didn't actively maintain the ruse of being Mohawks and were mainly demonstrating their affiliation with America over Britain.
The whole goal of the murders committed by the Manson Family were intended to start a race war between the black and white people of the country. Their idea of how to plant "convincing" evidence that the murders of wealthy white victims had been done by black militants included writing in blood on the walls and making a small paw print, referring to the Black Panthers (there are some reports they also left watermelon rinds in the sink but it is hard to verify, so it might be a rumor). Manson and his gang were arrested, tried and convicted, their clumsy attempt at a false flag horrifying many, but fooling nobody.
One of the many conspiracy theories surrounding the September 11th attacks is that the United States government either knew about them beforehand or outright put them into action.