Thinking of “False Flags”, Agent Provocateurs, & Sock Puppets

“False Flag” is defined by Wiki as having origins in naval warfare, where the use of a flag other than the belligerent’s true battle flag as a ruse de guerre, before engaging an enemy, has long been acceptable. The term came into analyst vogue in last decade as indicating a covert operation designed to deceive in such a way that the operations appear as though they are being carried out by other entities– under a false flag or black flag.

Operations carried during peace-time by civilian organisation, as well as covert government agencies, may by extension be called false flag operations if they seek to hide the real organisation behind an operation.

The classic example is for the police force of a country to carry out an action using plain-clothes people blending into the crowd, and then police charge into the crowd arresting people, on charge of violence. During the various globalization protests over the last ten years (G8, Canada, Occupy, etc) it was one common practice that plainclothes police would pretend to be protesters, merge into the crowd, and then from the crowd throw molotov at the police. Then the police would charge in, arrest everyone, and the provocateur would be left alone due to special codes, such as special shoes, etc.

This also merges with an agent provocateur (plural: agents provocateurs, French for “inciting agent(s)”)– an agent employed by the police or other entity to act undercover to entice or provoke another person to commit an illegal act. More generally, the term may refer to a person or group that seeks to discredit or harm another by provoking them to commit a wrong or rash action.

There is a long history of provocateurs infiltrating movements. A movements main work becomes to protect against it.

There is also a long history of using false flag operations to destabilize a situation. And then the “saviors” come in to save the day. Often the saviors are from overseas, or they are a country’s military, or at the least they are the existing government’s security, spying, and policing operations. The aftermath of false flag op is always, always, to strengthen rightist elements within a government.

In blog world, one extension of this is the sock puppet, posting replies to your own posts under other names so as to generate heat, controversy, ratings.


I have been thinking of all this in the context of recent post-Shahbagh events (post, because the main gathering has ended and migrated). The first honest framing must be to admit that if you are relying, as I am, on conversations at Shahbagh, facebook exchanges, scanning the media, reading the blogs– you still do not know more than 40% of what is going on.

I have been thinking of a way to usefully divide up the various elements in and around the Shahbagh movement. I came up with the following divisions, imperfect and simple, but just for discussion (please add your own in comments).

1. The early dedicated activists who were there from day 1 (Chatra Union, other Left groups, Blogger platform, 71-er chetona young people)
2. The people who joined as it started growing, say from day 3 (shadharon jonogon, students in the area)
3. The people who joined and tried to use it for politics, say from day 4 (BCL leaders, etc)
4. Government forces who tried to join/use/appropriate (Ministers such as Nasim, Home Minister, PM, etc)
5. People who were part of it in early days, but grew worried as things grew more volatile post-Thaba death (unaffiliated, as much as can be)
6. People initially excited, later critical as the presence of BCL became more visible, especially after day 12 (part of Blogger networks)
7. People initially lightly critical, now quieter as things get more intense (part of BNP that thinks JI is liability for the party, but worried about current environ)
8. People initially critical, now very vocal in critique (part of BNP that does not think JI is liability, and sees AL’s appropriation of Shahbagh as killing CTG; other unaffiliated)
9. People organized in critique from day 1, now even more vocal (parts of JI, especially overseas branches, but also locally)
10. Other groups, unclassifiable, swinging in pendulum of opinion (this is a large portion)

Above list is very imperfect, but everyone has some list in their head. Now, let me come to why I say false flag. The fast moving events of last 12 days (murder of a blogger, Friday violence in mosque, jainamaz burning, Boi Mela burning, shooting death of Shibir worker, etc) are usually interpreted as follows.

>Group 1-4 were initially on the advantage
>Now, group 7-9 are hitting back
>Group 2-4 are using govt muscle to hit back at 7-9
>Group 5-6, and 10 are on sidelines

This is in some ways still a conventional narrative.

But last few days my mind could not make sense of this narrative. A few things stick out.

1. Why JI will burn jainamaj in Baitul Mokarram? Why will they rip the flag? This does not make sense. Their whole political strategy has been for last 30 years to wrap themselves in prayer mat, and at least for last 15 years to wrap themselves in flag as well. They will not go as far as to try to take over pohela boishakh as that is not possible, but they have tried to also make themselves part of the Bangladesh story. To burn jainamaj feeds into their opponent’s #1 charge (not actually islamic) and to rip flag feeds charge # 2 (still pakistani in heart). It is too neat. It is what someone would do precisely to make a case for banning JI. Why they will help make that case themselves? I had the same thought about Boi Mela fire as well, although so far no one really tied it to JI.

2. Why of all people the blogger to be killed is an “athesist,” beautifully setting up an atheist-vs-islam plotline? Others have commented on this eloquently already on this blog. Please look at posts by Mr Hassan and Wasif.

3. Then on the other hand, the police firing on Shibir member also worried me. This is the action that is best designed to present the government as brutal in their action against JI. Why govt will follow that script as well, so neatly?

There is more to write here, and maybe I will make above list longer, but let me cut to a conclusion of sorts.

Are there are other players we are not aware of? I am not suggesting there is one all-powerful puppetmaster who is sitting in a dark room and moving the levers. I do not believe in such unified conspiracy theory. Rather I think that in a volatile situation, there can be many small players as well, who are also lobbing their little cocktails into the crowd, to see what happens.

Is it general anarchy theory? No, I don’t think these are students of Bakunin. Nor of Mao (“Everything Under Heaven is in Utter Chaos. The Situation is Excellent”). But rather this is the anarchy principle that always invites the arrival of a strongman to set things right.

Before 1/11 we saw the country was “sliding into chaos.” Remember that one of the climactic battles was between AL and JI activists, the logi-boitha battle. That time also, a JI activist was killed. Remember also the JMB’s wave of violence.

Soon after that, the Military rolled in, for maybe the third big time in our history, supported by the Embassies.

I do not know what is happening now. I do not know if there are players waiting in the wing, who they are, whether one force or many. I also do not think there is one unified project/roadmap/plot. But I do think that some things happening now start to appear in shape like possible “false flag” op.

Or even if they are not ff, they will be used as such. One group will give the call, take the action; another will come in from our blindside and take advantage.

I end the post with no answers, only lot of questions. But I urge my fellow bloggers to slow down and ask more questions.

We are running headlong into a chaos situation. You may think “your side” (whichever it may be, pro or anti) will win this battle and come out stronger. But what if no side wins, and a third force comes in? What if the chaos breaks Bangladesh?

Be alert, ask questions, think independently, reject groupthink. And reject easy answers.

Deyal Potrika is a journalist.

Source: Alal o Dulal


  1. The country definitely is in chaos right now. But we do not need the military. Military was always inefficient in public matters and they should remain in the barracks and watch our borders. We need people rising up against corruption and order in the civil service. Awami League government has destroyed the civil services, armed forces as well as the education system. Our PM was too busy promoting her father’s image into making him the father of the nation.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here