By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
It was never hard to figure out — despite best efforts of our famously free press — who blew up the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline (and even the Germans say there’s no evidence [makes warding sign] that Russia did it). Biden said he would do it:
Then he did. And The Blob, in the person of Radosław Sikorski, AEI member, former Minister of National Defense for Poland, and Member of the European Parliament, thanked him for it:
Sikorski deleted the tweet, but fortunately we have the Wayback Machine. (Hilariously for Blob stans, Sikorski is married to CFR member Anne Applebaum, who is also on the board of the National Endowment for Democracy. One big happy!)
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So we’ve had the who for a long time, along with the what (“Blam!”), the where (the Baltic), and the why (transform Germany into a deindustrialized vassal state). But we’ve been missing the how. Here, “muckraking legend” Seymour Hersh — who broke the My Lai massacre story during Vietnam and the Abu Ghraib torture story during Iraq — breaks another story: How America Took Out The Nord Stream Pipeline. Awesomely, the story is Hersh’s first (!) Substack post (incidentally validating not only the Substack business model, but the platform itself; hat tip to the founders and staff). You should go read it now. And subscribe, while you’re at it.
In this post, I will first look briefly at Hersh’s sourcing. I will then excerpt some of the high points. (The excerpting is hard to do, for two reasons: First, the story is exceptionally taut and driving, so I feel I’m cutting into muscle whenever I cut at all; second, Hersh has a lifetime’s worth of knowledge of the national security bureaucracy; this is important to the story, but the detail of the interagency process is such that I could end up with a collection of excerpts equal to the original in length, hardly a useful exercise.) Finally, I’ll take a quick look at the state of play in the media, at least as of this writing. Helpfully, both the CIA and the White House, apparently unwitting of the Streisand Effect, have already denied the story. Never believe anything until it’s been officially denied.
First, then Hersh’s sourcing. Let me quote from the beginning and then the end. Hersh summarizes the story in one sentence. Paragraph 3:
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 with direct knowledge of the operational planning.
That’s the indefinite article, there. And now paragraph 77, at the end:
had a much more streetwise view of Biden’s decision to sabotage more than 1500 miles of Gazprom pipeline as winter approached. “Well,” he said, speaking of the President, “I gotta admit the guy has a pair of balls. He said he was going to do it, and he did.”
Asked why he thought the Russians failed to respond, he said cynically, “Maybe they want the capability to do the same things the U.S. did.
“It was a beautiful cover story,” he went on. “Behind it was a covert operation that placed experts in the field and equipment that operated on a covert signal.
“The only flaw was the decision to do it.”
And that’s the definite article. Hersh’s scoop, in other words, is single-sourced. I certainly wouldn’t write it off on that account, and it may well be that this story will cause some shoes to drop that Hersh can use for a follow-up.
Now let’s turn to the story itself. I’m going to pluck out what I regard as the juiciest nuggets for your delectation in comments, dear readers.
Hersh begins with the Navy Divers, in paragraphs one and two:
The U.S. Navy’s Diving and Salvage Center can be found in a location as obscure as its name—down what was once a country lane in rural Panama City, a now-booming resort city in the southwestern panhandle of Florida, 70 miles south of the Alabama border.
The center has been training highly skilled deep-water divers for decades who, once assigned to American military units worldwide, are capable of technical diving to do the good—using C4 explosives to clear harbors and beaches of debris and unexploded ordinance—as well as the bad, like blowing up foreign oil rigs, fouling intake valves for undersea power plants, destroying locks on crucial shipping canals. The Panama City center, which boasts the second largest indoor pool in America, was the perfect place to recruit the best, and most taciturn, graduates of the diving school who successfully did last summer what they had been authorized to do 260 feet under the surface of the Baltic Sea.
Using the Navy divers enabled the players to bypass Congress:
There was a vital bureaucratic reason for relying on the graduates of the center’s hardcore diving school in Panama City. 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—the so-called Gang of Eight.
Here are the
perps players who ran the interagency process that culminated in the operation’s authorization:
(John Helmer notes that both Blinken and Nuland, along with our future NATO Secretary General, Chrystia Freedland, are Ukrainian… Well, I won’t use the word irredentists but feel free to think it.)
Planning began in 2021:
In December of 2021, two months before the first Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, 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…. What became clear to participants, according to , is that Sullivan intended for the group to come up with a plan for the destruction of the two Nord Stream pipelines—and that he was delivering on the desires of the President.
Heck yeah. What’s the point of a planning process if you can’t engineer the outcome?
Enter the spooks, who’ve had experience with underwater cables:
[CIA Director William] Burns quickly authorized an Agency working group whose ad hoc members included—by chance—someone who was familiar with the capabilities of the Navy’s deep-sea divers in Panama City. 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. … In early 2022, the CIA working group reported back to Sullivan’s interagency group: “We have a way to blow up the pipelines.”
Meanwhile, both Nuland and Biden (see above) blabber publicly that Nord Stream 2 is in the crosshairs. Giving the players an opportunity for some bureaucratic knifework:
Biden’s and Nuland’s indiscretion, if that is what it was, might have frustrated some of the planners. But it also created an opportunity. According to , some of the senior officials of the CIA determined that blowing up the pipeline “no longer could be considered a covert option because the President just announced that we knew how to do it.”
The plan to blow up Nord Stream 1 and 2 was suddenly downgraded from a covert operation requiring that Congress be informed to one that was deemed as a highly classified intelligence operation with U.S. military support.
Biden gives the thumbs up:
The Agency working group members had no direct contact with the White House, and were eager to find out if the President meant what he’d said—that is, if the mission was now a go. recalled, “Bill Burns comes back and says, ‘Do it.’”
Enter the Norwegians:
Back in Washington, planners knew they had to go to Norway. “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,” said. 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.) … 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.
(The Norwegians were also helpful in figuring out BALTOPS should be the cover and wrangling other Baltic states.)
And then: Washington had second thoughts. The bombs would still be planted during BALTOPS, but the White House worried that a two-day window for their detonation would be too close to the end of the exercise, and it would be obvious that America had been involved.
Instead, the White House had a new request: “Can the guys in the field come up with some way to blow the pipelines later on command?”
And the technical solution:
The C4 [explosives] 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.
Thank you, USA!
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A few media reactions. First, Mark Ames:
Expect Hersh’s bombshell scoop to get smeared by the corporate media as they’ve done to nearly all of his scoops going back to his 1974 exposé on CIA’s illegal domestic spy program—attacked by WaPo, Time, Newsweek, etc, but validated by Church Committee.https://t.co/eAPrxtJa8E pic.twitter.com/uX1chiLvjZ
— Mark Ames (@MarkAmesExiled) February 8, 2023
Well, naturally. The Times of London is first out of the box:
Once hailed “the greatest American investigative reporter”, Hersh’s more recent stories have been called into question. These included articles about how the US found Osama bin Laden [OBL] and calling into question the use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians by Syria’s regime, which were criticised for relying heavily on anonymous sources and lacking hard evidence.
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I’d hate to bet the farm on a single-sourced story, any single-sourced story. That said, Hersh’s piece sure hangs together, and his source seems to have exceptional access. Hopefully there will be a follow-up post from Hersh — or maybe others? — in the coming days. Meanwhile, kudos once more to Substack. What a time for an old-school blogger to be alive!
 Helmer has posited a quite plausible alternative (see also NC): “The military operation on Monday night which fired munitions to blow holes in the Nord Stream I and Nord Stream II pipelines on the Baltic Sea floor, near Bornholm Island, was executed by the Polish Navy and special forces. It was aided by the Danish and Swedish military; planned and coordinated with US intelligence and technical support; and approved by the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.” Comparing Hersh’s theory and Helmer’s is beyond the scope of this post, since I am pressed temporally, but readers may wish to try. Moon of Alabama got BALTOPS right away.
 “The Gang of 8 includes the top two congressional leaders in each chamber — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — as well as the top Democrat and Republican on the House and Senate intelligence committees.”