Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published a story Wednesday alleging that the United States was behind the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline system last year, citing a single unnamed source "with direct knowledge of the operational planning."
According to Hersh, who published the story on his new
Substack, the September attack on the Russia-to-Germany gas pipelines was carried out by the U.S. Navy "under the cover of a widely publicized mid-summer NATO exercise known as BALTOPS 22" and with the help of the Norwegian navy and secret service.
Last June, with the authorization of President Joe Biden, U.S. Navy divers planted "remotely triggered explosives that, three months later, destroyed three of the four Nord Stream pipelines," Hersh reported.
Adrienne Watson, a White House National Security Council spokesperson,
told the Russian state-owned outlet TASS that Hersh's reporting is "false and complete fiction." The White House gave the same statement to Reuters and to Hersh himself, who over the course of his decades-long career has famously exposed U.S. forces' massacre of hundreds of Vietnamese civilians and shined light on the torture of detainees at the U.S-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
In recent years, Hersh has drawn
growing backlash from mainstream media outlets and the federal government for casting doubts on the official U.S. narrative surrounding the killing of Osama bin Laden and questioning whether bin Laden really masterminded the September 11 attacks. Hersh has also drawn criticism for relying too heavily on anonymous sources.
In his Wednesday piece, Hersh reported that "Biden's decision to sabotage the pipelines came after more than nine months of highly secret back and forth debate inside Washington's national security community about how to best achieve that goal."
“This is not kiddie stuff," the anonymous source told Hersh, calling the pipeline attack "an act of war" that would be seen as such if it was traced back to the U.S.
According to Hersh, who provided a detailed account of the closed-door deliberations that preceded the pipeline attack, "there was a vital bureaucratic reason" for the Biden administration's decision to rely on graduates of the U.S. Navy’s Diving and Salvage Center to carry out the operation.
"The divers were Navy only, and not members of America's Special Operations Command, whose covert operations must be reported to Congress and briefed in advance to the Senate and House leadership," he continued. "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."
As for why the U.S. would be compelled to sabotage the Nord Stream system, Hersh wrote:
From its earliest days, Nord Stream 1 was seen by Washington and its anti-Russian NATO partners as a threat to western dominance. The holding company behind it,
Nord Stream AG, was incorporated in Switzerland in 2005 in partnership with Gazprom, a publicly traded Russian company producing enormous profits for shareholders which is dominated by oligarchs known to be in the thrall of Putin. Gazprom controlled 51% of the company, with four European energy firms—one in France, one in the Netherlands and two in Germany—sharing the remaining 49% of stock, and having the right to control downstream sales of the inexpensive natural gas to local distributors in Germany and Western Europe. Gazprom’s profits were shared with the Russian government, and state gas and oil revenues were estimated in some years to amount to as much as 45% of Russia's annual budget.
America's political fears were real: Putin would now have an additional and much-needed major source of income, and Germany and the rest of Western Europe would become addicted to low-cost natural gas supplied by Russia—while diminishing European reliance on America. In fact, that's exactly what happened...
Nord Stream 1 was dangerous enough, in the view of NATO and Washington, but Nord Stream 2, whose construction was completed in September of 2021, would, if approved by German regulators, double the amount of cheap gas that would be available to Germany and Western Europe.
The Biden administration wasn't quiet about its opposition to Nord Stream 2, which never became operational after Germany put the process on hold just days before Russian forces invaded Ukraine in late February of last year.
"If Russia invades—that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine—then there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2," Biden said during a press conference on February 7. "We will bring an end to it."
"I promise you, we will be able to do it," the U.S. president added.
Citing his unnamed source, Hersh reported that "several of those involved in planning the pipeline mission were dismayed by what they viewed as indirect references to the attack" by Biden and other U.S. officials.
“The plan was for the options to be executed post-invasion and not advertised publicly," Hersh wrote. "Biden simply didn't get it or ignored it."
Hersh reported that a number of options were considered to sabotage the pipelines.
"The Navy proposed using a newly commissioned submarine to assault the pipeline directly," the journalist wrote. "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."
The CIA denied Hersh's reporting, calling it "completely and utterly false."
Ultimately, according to Hersh, Norwegian officials proposed that the June NATO exercise in the Baltic Sea—sponsored annually by the United States Sixth Fleet naval unit—"would be the ideal cover to plant the mines" on the pipelines.
According to the reporting:
The Americans provided one vital element: they convinced the Sixth Fleet planners to add a research and development exercise to the program. The exercise, as made public by the Navy, involved the Sixth Fleet in collaboration with the Navy's "research and warfare centers." The at-sea event would be held off the coast of Bornholm Island and involve NATO teams of divers planting mines, with competing teams using the latest underwater technology to find and destroy them.
"It was both a useful exercise and ingenious cover," Hersh wrote. "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."
The White House later had second thoughts about the proposed two-day detonation window, according to Hersh, and opted for a plan by which "the C4 attached to the pipelines would be triggered by a sonar buoy dropped by a plane on short notice."
"On September 26, 2022, a Norwegian Navy P8 surveillance plane made a seemingly routine flight and dropped a sonar buoy," Hersh wrote. "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."
After conducting separate investigations into the pipeline explosions, which unleashed a large sum of planet-warming methane into the atmosphere, both Sweden and Denmark concluded that the blasts were a result of deliberate sabotage, pointing to traces of explosives found at the scene.
Neither country has publicly assigned blame.
In the days following the attack, speculation and baseless allegations circulated rapidly, with some European officials pointing to Russia while Moscow suggested that the U.S. or the U.K. may have been responsible.
While it remains impossible to verify Hersh's account without access to his source or other corroborating evidence, Wednesday's story put the international whodunit back up for serious consideration and generated a fresh round of questions about the possible U.S. role.
Ishaan Tharoor, a foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Post, wrote on Twitter that while he is "not going to wade into debates over the sourcing and reporting" in Hersh's story, "it is without a doubt a bit odd how this whole story quietly went away once it became clear it didn't make any sense as an act of Russian sabotage."
"And of course, when the explosion actually happened, some folks in the transatlantic, anti-Kremlin space cheered it happily as a successful act of anti-Russian sabotage," Tharoor added, an apparent reference to a European member of Parliament's since-deleted tweet thanking the U.S. for the Nord Stream explosions.