A false flag is defined as an “operation is an act committed with the intent of disguising the actual source of responsibility and pinning blame on another party.” There are many such incidents throughout history — the Mukden Incident of 1931 and the Gleiwitz radio attack in 1939 are two of the best-known examples. Couched in conspiracy and intrigue, false flags are prime fodder for thriller fiction, such as False Flag by John Altman.
A few months ago, I reviewed The Korean Woman, which is the sequel to False Flag. In this book, we are properly introduced to the protagonist, Dalia Artzi. An Israeli Defense Force vet, Dalia has specialized in war theory, analyzing the tactics and strategies of everyone from Alexander the Great to Napoleon. She also has deep connections with Israeli and American Intelligence, who recruit her to uncover a sinister plot.
Turns out, the head of the Mossad — the Israeli Intelligence Agency — has cooked up a plot, the titular false flag. Tensions are rising with Iran, which is seeking nuclear weapons. Many in Israeli Intelligence are worried that their stalwart ally, the United States, would betray them in case a war actually did come. After all, Israel has good reason to be suspicious, since it is surrounded on all sides by hostile powers. Not to mention the shadow of the Holocaust looming large in their national consciousness.
The plot involves creating a terrorist attack on the American government and frame the Iranians. To carry it out, Jana, a top agent, is tasked with the mission. Already undercover infiltrating Neo-Nazi organizations in the Pacific Northwest, Jana is actually loyal to this small group of fanatics within the Mossad. She manages to steal a huge cache of weapons and sarin gas from the Nazis, useful tools in the upcoming false flag. But even she’s just the organizer, not the weapon.
That task falls upon an Iraq War veteran, suffering from PTSD. A Jewish American, he’s bitter at the US government, at this war wounds which has taken a leg, and his failed marriage. Easy prey for the manipulative Jana.
Needing someone familiar with Mossad tactics, the Feds recruit Dalia, and begin a manhunt, working against time to stop the plot. False Flag starts off a little slow, but once it gets going it doesn’t stop until it races across the finish line. While I preferred The Korean Woman more, Altman’s crisp prose and dense plot kept me hooked. Anyone who enjoys spy thrillers should check this one out.
John Altman Interview
1) What inspired you to write False Flag?
I was reading about the original Godfather movie. Robert Evans (then head of production for Paramount) said something to the effect of, “I want it to be so authentic I can smell the spaghetti sauce.” That got me thinking about what would be my own equivalent of that. I’m Jewish and surrounded by Jewish family who likes to argue about Israel – so my equivalent, I thought, would be “smell the gefilte fish”. I had a lifetime of dinner-table arguments to draw on.
2) You briefly mention false flag operations during the Suez Canal War. How much truth was there in this? And has the Mossad engaged in many false flag operations?
I can’t speak to what Mossad has actually done or not; I’m an intelligence outsider and it’s all classified. (And if I could speak to it, I wouldn’t be allowed to!) I’m skeptical of conspiracy theories in general. That said, I do believe there have been false flag operations – I believe Hitler used them at least twice, for example.
3) Was False Flag a tough sell to the publishers?
The book didn’t turn out to be a tough sell, although the biggest publishing companies shied away from it – you’d have to ask them why.
4) Was there a specific reason you wanted to make Dalia Artzi a strategist in military warfare?
I had an idea for a series character (Dalia is also the protagonist in my following book, ‘The Korean Woman’) who would apply her expertise in military strategy (particularly ‘maneuver warfare’) to intelligence manhunts, the way Sherlock Holmes applies deductive reasoning to his cases. Also, I’m fascinated by a nonfiction book by John Keegan called “The Face of Battle” which got me interested in military strategy in general.
5) What do you think the future holds for Israel-Iranian relations?
I can’t speak to this one either – peace, I hope.
6) What are you working on currently?
Working on another thriller but the pandemic has slowed me down a lot – I’m taking care of my kids who need help getting through this, and my wife has been working at home, which is nice but a distraction, and there’s just a general ennui …