Everyone has an interest in learning who is responsible for the audacious act of sabotage that destroyed the Nord Stream pipelines last year. Veteran reporter Seymour Hersh accused the US government of orchestrating the attack in a thinly sourced, but finely detailed piece. The media largely ignored his findings, until The New York Times jumped into the breach and uncritically regurgitated government propaganda, proving the paper of record is anything but.
Last month, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Seymour Hersh took to Substack to accuse the United States government of using C4 explosives to destroy the Nord Stream pipelines that transport Russian gas to Europe. Mr. Hersh’s story relies on a single source and has not been corroborated so far, but the source manages to provide reasonably meticulous detail, from the base of operations and the reason it was chosen to the extended planning and last minute changes. In his telling, the story begins in late 2021, even before the Russians invaded Ukraine, when National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan “convened a meeting of a newly formed task force—men and women from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA, and the State and Treasury Departments—and asked for recommendations about how to respond to Putin’s impending invasion. It would be the first of a series of top-secret meetings, in a secure room on a top floor of the Old Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House, that was also the home of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB).” The first question they asked themselves was the extent to which the US government would be willing to go. “Would the recommendation forwarded by the group to the President be reversible—such as another layer of sanctions and currency restrictions—or irreversible—that is, kinetic actions, which could not be undone?”
According to Mr. Hersh, the National Security Advisor favored doing permanent damage and had selected the Nord Stream pipelines on behalf of President Biden. How to do that was the question, and over a series of meetings various strategies were discussed. “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.” “This is not kiddie stuff,” the source told Mr. Hersh, and it could not be traced back to the United States because “It’s an act of war.” CIA Director William Burns, a former ambassador to Russia and a deputy Secretary of State in the Obama Administration, convened a working group to discuss how such an operation might be carried out in secret. Serendipitously the group included a person familiar with the skills of Navy divers based in Panama City, whose operations exist outside of Congress’ reach and the need to inform the Gang of Eight that is supposed to maintain oversight on classified operations. There was also some historical precedent for the kind of deep water operation they were attempting. In 1971 the CIA operation known as “Ivy Bells” used Navy divers to plant recording devices on an undersea Russian cable that transmitted unencrypted communications and gleaned valuable intelligence for ten years, and so “Over the next few weeks, members of the CIA’s working group began to craft a plan for a covert operation that would use deep-sea divers to trigger an explosion along the pipeline.”
There were, of course, detractors. “It would be a goat fuck,” the CIA was told, others in the State Department were saying, “Don’t do this. It’s stupid and will be a political nightmare if it comes out.” Regardless of these concerns, the CIA presented a plan to Mr. Sullivan’s team in early 2022. Russia still hadn’t invaded Ukraine but senior officials in the Biden Administration were already broadcasting their desire to scuttle the pipelines. In late January, Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland told a briefing, “I want to be very clear to you today. If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another Nord Stream 2 will not move forward.” On February 7, President Biden himself met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and proclaimed at the press briefing afterward, “If Russia invades…there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.” Asked how, he responded cryptically, “I promise you we’ll be able to do it.” Statements like these prompted concern in the interagency group that we were telegraphing the attack even by indirect references, according to Mr. Hersh’s source. “It was like putting an atomic bomb on the ground in Tokyo and telling the Japanese that we are going to detonate it,” the source said. “The plan was for the options to be executed post invasion and not advertised publicly. Biden simply didn’t get it or ignored it.” Some, however, saw opportunity in these loose lips because the CIA believed the operation could be classified differently and completely hidden from Congress. Under the law, the source explained, “There was no longer a legal requirement to report the operation to Congress. All they had to do now is just do it—but it still had to be secret. The Russians have superlative surveillance of the Baltic Sea.” All they needed was the President’s final go ahead, which they received from CIA Director Burns.
Norway served as an in-theater base of operations, thanks to proximity to the Baltic Sea and a large military presence in the country. “A newly refurbished American submarine base, which had been under construction for years, had become operational and more American submarines were now able to work closely with their Norwegian colleagues to monitor and spy on a major Russian nuclear redoubt 250 miles to the east, on the Kola Peninsula. America also has vastly expanded a Norwegian air base in the north and delivered to the Norwegian air force a fleet of Boeing-built P8 Poseidon patrol planes to bolster its long-range spying on all things Russia.” Norway also had a long, strained relationship with Russia, and would benefit from increased oil sales of their own. “They hated the Russians, and the Norwegian navy was full of superb sailors and divers who had generations of experience in highly profitable deep-sea oil and gas exploration,” the source told Mr. Hersh. Mr Hersh himself added, “They also could be trusted to keep the mission secret. (The Norwegians may have had other interests as well. 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.)” Meetings with Norwegian officials began in March of 2022, and they were quick to identify an optimal location for the attack, “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.”
By June, the operation was ready to go into effect. The bombs would be planted under the cover of annual NATO exercises in the area. Known as “Baltic Operations 2022” or “BALTOPS 22” these exercises would feature dozens of ships and the Navy was able to add a new element to the program, combining the Sixth Fleet and “research and warfare centers” right off the coast of Bornholm Island. “It was both a useful exercise and ingenious cover. The Panama City boys would do their thing and the C4 explosives would be in place by the end of BALTOPS22, with a 48-hour timer attached. All of the Americans and Norwegians would be long gone by the first explosion.” Everything seemed set, but there was a final hitch. The powers that be in Washington DC grew skeptical that 24 hours was long enough to prevent the destruction of the pipelines from being traced back to the United States and they asked, “Can the guys in the field come up with some way to blow the pipelines later on command?” At the last minute, they devised a “sonar buoy” that would transmit a signal to the detonator underwater. 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.” The buoy itself was dropped by a Norwegian Navy P8 plane on September 26, 2022, during what was claimed as a routine flight. A few hours later, three of the four pipelines were destroyed, and the US promptly blamed Russia. It was only a few days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken reversed course and claimed this was actually a unique opportunity, the best thing that could’ve happened.
To be sure, the United States government vehemently disputes this version of events, denying any and all involvement. Asked for comment by Mr. Hersh, Adrienne Watson, a White House spokesperson, wrote in an email, “This is false and complete fiction.” Tammy Thorp, a spokesperson for the Central Intelligence Agency, similarly claimed, “This claim is completely and utterly false.” It is possible that Mr. Hersh’s source could be making the entire thing up, or even that Mr. Hersh made up the source. At the same time, Mr. Hersh is not one to make such claims lightly with over 50 decades of experience in journalism, frequently breaking stories the government would prefer remain hidden, and the volume and specificity of the details he included should make it relatively easy for an enterprising news organization to corroborate the claim. This is not a matter of small importance: The government might be lying about an intentional act of war that could very well unleash World War III. Instead, Mr. Hersh’s original report on Substack, posted on February 8, was almost entirely ignored by the mainstream media. CNN, for example, posted not a single article about it on cnn.com. Reuters covered the story with a “Factbox: Seymour Hersh: who is the journalist who claims the US blew up the Nord Stream pipelines?” They noted only that “Reuters was unable to corroborate Hersh’s self-published article, which said Biden authorized the operation to blunt Moscow’s ability to use gas sales to Europe to fund its invasion of Ukraine,” without explaining what they were doing to corroborate it, how much effort they were investing in the corroboration, or any details at all. That their article was published the very next day gives you some indication of how little effort they put forth.
For its part, The New York Times declined to cover the report at the time, pretending the story did not exist and was not news fit to print, but a month later they finally revisited the topic. Did they do a deep investigative dive of their own, chasing down Mr. Hersh’s sources to confirm or deny the report or finding others that could better illuminate what happened last September? Did they identify who was responsible or shed any new light on the story? Did they do anything at all? The last question is somewhat rhetorical. Somewhat, because what they actually did was far more insidious. In an article headlined, “Intelligence Suggests Pro-Ukrainian Group Sabotaged Pipelines, U.S. Officials Say” they did nothing more but serve as a propaganda organ for unnamed government sources. They claimed that “New intelligence reporting amounts to the first significant known lead about who was responsible for the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines that carried natural gas from Russia to Europe,” but provide no real detail about either the nature of the intelligence or who might have been responsible other than a vague “Pro-Ukrainian” group. You have to read it to believe it, “U.S. officials said there was much they did not know about the perpetrators and their affiliations. The review of newly collected intelligence suggests they were opponents of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, but does not specify the members of the group, or who directed or paid for the operation.” They wrote this while acknowledging in the very next paragraph, “U.S. officials declined to disclose the nature of the intelligence, how it was obtained or any details of the strength of the evidence it contains. They have said that there are no firm conclusions about it, leaving open the possibility that the operation might have been conducted off the books by a proxy force with connections to the Ukrainian government or its security services.” Later they noted that, in fact, no one knows anything, “U.S. officials who have been briefed on the intelligence are divided about how much weight to put on the new information. All of them spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified intelligence and matters of sensitive diplomacy,” meaning the entire article is entirely meaningless, of no reporting value whatsoever.
Even then, the best they could do was to hazily suggest, “Officials who have reviewed the intelligence said they believed the saboteurs were most likely Ukrainian or Russian nationals, or some combination of the two. U.S. officials said no American or British nationals were involved.” Putting this another way, the Times knows absolutely nothing, except what the US government told them to print. Incredibly, they expressed no skepticism whatsoever that some unknown group had the necessary skills and budget to carry out an operation that required the remote detonation of special concrete encased, C4 explosives planted over 200 feet beneath the ocean across a significant distance. They noted only the incredibly obvious, that the “explosives were most likely planted with the help of experienced divers who did not appear to be working for military or intelligence services, U.S. officials who have reviewed the new intelligence said. But it is possible that the perpetrators received specialized government training in the past.” Left unsaid is how else would the explosives get to the bottom of the ocean, some radical new teleportation technology? Somehow, they manage to conflate this attack with others involving a car bomb, a truck bomb, and a drone strike as if the capabilities to carry out those sorts of operations were even remotely similar to what it took to destroy the pipelines. Of course, the single most salient fact of the Nord Stream explosion has always been how few countries could execute such an audacious operation. Real life is not a James Bond movie. Terrorists and other non-governmental agitators would like nothing more than to deploy such advanced capabilities, but back in the real world they use improvised explosive devices, guns, knives, and vehicles as weapons because the operational capability and the budget to do anything more is beyond them. Whoever carried out the Nord Stream attacks had extensive funding, experienced personnel in deep sea diving, explosives expertise and the explosives themselves, plus the necessary ships and support craft to bring all this into the Baltic Sea without anyone noticing.
The idea that this was some group no one has ever heard of is absurd, and that The New York Times would accept that explanation even moreso, but they are no longer a news organization, simply a propaganda arm of the government. Everyone involved in the story – and there were four reporters on it – should be ashamed of themselves and the editorial staff should be fired for printing such tripe. Personally, I have no special knowledge of what happened, but I would bet on Mr. Hersh’s independent reporting over the Times stenography on behalf of the government.