Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh has released a bombshell report, writing in detail how the United States, with the aid of Norway, blew up the German-Russian Nord Stream pipelines, amounting to what is a major act of infrastructure sabotage against a NATO ally.
The report, which was Hersh’s first post on Substack, is slowly roiling its way through the German media and proving hard to ignore considering Hersh is widely seen as one of the greatest living journalists in the world. As a star reporter for the New York Times and The New Yorker, Hersh has broken some of the top intelligence and geopolitical stories of the last decades, including the Mỹ Lai massacre and incidences of torture by U.S. soldiers in Abu Ghraib.
His investigative reporting found that the CIA and U.S. Navy were behind the Sept. 26 underwater blasts that destroyed the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea in an act of sabotage. Although much of the world media attempted to blame Russia, even going so far as to blame those who pointed the finger at the U.S. as conspiracy theorists, Hersh’s report appears to show that the U.S. was the actor behind the blast. Hersh, known for having access to an extensive network of insider intelligence and political sources, describes not only the step-by-step process the U.S. took to blow up the pipelines, but also the internal deliberations within the Biden administration and the various intelligence organizations behind the decision to sabotage the pipeline.
Hersh’s report entitled “How America Took Out The Nord Stream Pipeline,” describes how the U.S. used the cover of the BALTOPS 22 NATO exercises to plant the initial explosives on the pipelines only to detonate them three months later using a complex sonar system trigger from floating buoys.
“Last June, the Navy divers, operating under the cover of a widely publicized mid-summer NATO exercise known as BALTOPS 22, planted the remotely triggered explosives that, three months later, destroyed three of the four Nord Stream pipelines, according to a source with direct knowledge of the operational planning,” writes Hersh.
Hersh further details the deep divisions and debates within the Biden White House, the Pentagon, and the CIA over whether to move forward with the sabotage attack. The CIA and others stressed that if the high-stakes attack on a NATO ally’s infrastructure were to go through, it would have to be conducted with the utmost secrecy.
“The Navy proposed using a newly commissioned submarine to assault the pipeline directly. The Air Force discussed dropping bombs with delayed fuses that could be set off remotely. The CIA argued that whatever was done, it would have to be covert. Everyone involved understood the stakes,” writes Hersh, who added, “For much of that time, the issue was not whether to do the mission, but how to get it done without leaving any clue as to who was responsible.”
The report indicates Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, was already leading a task force that was planning to destroy the pipelines all the way back in December 2021. As a part of this effort to maintain secrecy, “The Biden Administration was doing everything possible to avoid leaks as the planning took place late in 2021 and into the first months of 2022.”
Hersh also details the various motivations behind the attack, and importantly, they were not just about Russia, but also about Germany and its ability to obtain cheap Russian energy to support its manufacturing sector.
“The direct route, which bypassed any need to transit Ukraine, had been a boon for the German economy, which enjoyed an abundance of cheap Russian natural gas—enough to run its factories and heat its homes while enabling German distributors to sell excess gas, at a profit, throughout Western Europe. Action that could be traced to the administration would violate US promises to minimize direct conflict with Russia. Secrecy was essential,” reads the report.
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Hersh details the history of the Nord Stream pipelines, their economic impact on Europe, the geopolitical reasons the U.S. wanted the pipelines gone, and the tense situation surrounding the pipelines in the run-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As troops began to build up, Hershel writes: “The administration’s attention once again was focused on Nord Stream. As long as Europe remained dependent on the pipelines for cheap natural gas, Washington was afraid that countries like Germany would be reluctant to supply Ukraine with the money and weapons it needed to defeat Russia. It was at this unsettled moment that Biden authorized Jake Sullivan to bring together an interagency group to come up with a plan.”
During ensuing meetings, top officials from the State and Treasury departments, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the CIA met in a secure location to discuss the pipelines, with the Air Force and Navy offering different recommendations on how the task could be accomplished.
The participants seemed to know what was at stake, with one source saying, “This is not kiddie stuff,” and that if the attacks were traced to the United States, “it’s an act of war.”
Hersh describes numerous warnings against the operation, with the source saying, “some working guys in the CIA and the State Department were saying, ‘Don’t do this. It’s stupid and will be a political nightmare if it comes out.’”
Despite the warnings, the CIA settled on the idea of using elite U.S. Navy deep-sea divers who were based out of Panama City in Florida to plant the explosives and destroy the pipeline.
What came next was stunning. On February 7, less than three weeks before the seemingly inevitable Russian invasion of Ukraine, Biden met in his White House office with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who, after some wobbling, was now firmly on the American team. At the press briefing that followed, Biden defiantly said, “If Russia invades . . . there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.”
Twenty days earlier, Undersecretary Nuland had delivered essentially the same message at a State Department briefing, with little press coverage. “I want to be very clear to you today,” she said in response to a question. “If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another Nord Stream 2 will not move forward.”
Remix News reported in September the questionable nature of the Biden administration’s response to the pipelines being blown up, with Biden essentially threatening to “end” the pipelines if Russia invaded Ukraine.
Hersh provides an in-depth look at how the sabotage operation was conducted with the help of Norway, which stood to benefit from the destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines since they compete with Norwegian gas sales.
“The destruction of Nord Stream—if the Americans could pull it off—would allow Norway to sell vastly more of its own natural gas to Europe,” according to the report.
Sometime in March, a few members of the team flew to Norway to meet with the Norwegian Secret Service and Navy. One of the key questions was where exactly in the Baltic Sea was the best place to plant the explosives. Nord Stream 1 and 2, each with two sets of pipelines, were separated much of the way by little more than a mile as they made their run to the port of Greifswald in the far northeast of Germany.
The Norwegian navy was quick to find the right spot, in the shallow waters of the Baltic sea a few miles off Denmark’s Bornholm Island. The pipelines ran more than a mile apart along a seafloor that was only 260 feet deep. That would be well within the range of the divers, who, operating from a Norwegian Alta class mine hunter, would dive with a mixture of oxygen, nitrogen and helium streaming from their tanks, and plant shaped C4 charges on the four pipelines with concrete protective covers. It would be tedious, time consuming and dangerous work, but the waters off Bornholm had another advantage: there were no major tidal currents, which would have made the task of diving much more difficult.
The Norwegians were key to solving other hurdles. The Russian navy was known to possess surveillance technology capable of spotting, and triggering, underwater mines. The American explosive devices needed to be camouflaged in a way that would make them appear to the Russian system as part of the natural background—something that required adapting to the specific salinity of the water. The Norwegians had a fix.
The C4 attached to the pipelines would be triggered by a sonar buoy dropped by a plane on short notice, but the procedure involved the most advanced signal processing technology. Once in place, the delayed timing devices attached to any of the four pipelines could be accidentally triggered by the complex mix of ocean background noises throughout the heavily trafficked Baltic Sea—from near and distant ships, underwater drilling, seismic events, waves and even sea creatures. To avoid this, the sonar buoy, once in place, would emit a sequence of unique low frequency tonal sounds—much like those emitted by a flute or a piano—that would be recognized by the timing device and, after a pre-set hours of delay, trigger the explosives.
On September 26, 2022, a Norwegian Navy P8 surveillance plane made a seemingly routine flight and dropped a sonar buoy. The signal spread underwater, initially to Nord Stream 2 and then on to Nord Stream 1. A few hours later, the high-powered C4 explosives were triggered and three of the four pipelines were put out of commission. Within a few minutes, pools of methane gas that remained in the shuttered pipelines could be seen spreading on the water’s surface and the world learned that something irreversible had taken place.
The White House has already denied the report, with a spokesperson writing in an email that the report “is false and complete fiction.” The CIA wrote, “This claim is completely and utterly false.”
Already, many journalists, academics, and intellectuals who raised doubts about the claim that Russia blew up its own very lucrative and geopolitically significant pipelines are pointing to the story as direct evidence that the U.S. was behind the attack.
After the attack, claims that the U.S. may have been behind the blast were labeled “disinformation” and “conspiracy theories.”
An article from SEPA entitled, “Conspiracy Theorists, Right-wing Politicians Fuel Nord Stream Disinformation” claimed that “It was a blatant falsehood: seven hours after the Nord Stream 2 pipeline reported a pressure drop, right-wing activist, conspiracy theorist, and former Donald Trump speechwriter Darren J. Beattie, blamed the CIA.”
“The disinformation about US complicity gained traction. This case study used an open-source command line tool known as Twarc to archive nearly 500,000 tweets mentioning “nordstream” posted from September 24 to October 2. More than 63% blamed the US while 10% targeted Russia for the damaged pipelines. Only 27% of the posts remained neutral, asking users to wait until evidence is found before assigning responsibility or discussing the environmental impact of the escaped methane.”
Business Insider referred to “wild and baseless claims” that Biden ordered the sabotage of the pipelines. Brookings wrote of U.S. podcasters “spreading Kremlin narratives on Nord Stream sabotage.”
Outlets like the Associated Press also attempted to discredit any claim that the U.S. was behind the attack.