In September, a series of powerful explosions destroyed the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines that run through the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany and provide cheap gas to mainland Europe. The attack was soon revealed to have been a deliberate act but no culprit has yet been identified.
In a 5,000-word report published on the online publishing platform Substack, Hersh writes that the operation was disguised “under the cover of a widely publicized mid-summer NATO exercise known as Baltic Operations 22 or BALTOPS 22”, which was conducted in June off the coast of Germany.
He says that Biden’s decision to sabotage the pipelines came after more than nine months of top-secret planning within the American national security community. “For much of that time, the issue was not whether to do the mission, but how to get it done with no overt clue as to who was responsible,” Hersh has written.
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 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.
In his report on Nord Stream, Hersh has quoted an anonymous source “with direct knowledge of the operational planning”. He said that deep-sea divers from the US Navy’s Diving and Salvage Centre in Panama City, Florida, the largest diving facility in the world, planted C4 explosives alongside the pipeline, which were later triggered by a sonar buoy dropped by a plane.
Hersh has claimed that on September 26, 2022, a Norwegian Navy P8 surveillance plane made “a seemingly routine flight” and released the sonar buoy. “The signal spread underwater, initially to Nord Stream 2 and then on to Nord Stream 1,” he wrote. “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.”
Nord Stream is run by a Swiss-based company whose major shareholder is Gazprom, the Russian energy giant. Russia has spent about $20 billion building the pipelines. Nord Stream 2, which was completed in 2021, was not yet operational at the time of the sabotage.
Hersh notes that Biden and his foreign policy team, which includes his national security adviser Jake Sullivan, his secretary of state Antony Blinken and under secretary of state for political affairs Victoria Nuland, had spoken out against Nord Stream 2, which would have yoked Europe to Russian gas for decades. It would also have increased the Kremlin’s political influence over the continent at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and the West and significantly boosted revenue for Russia. Nord Stream 2, alone, would have doubled gas supply already provided by Nord Stream 1.
In February 2022, just weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, while discussing possible sanctions against Moscow, Biden warned: “If Russia invades (. . .) there will no longer be a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.”
Hersh’s anonymous source says that, because of the president’s threat, destroying 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 US military support,” Hersh has written. According to Hersh’s source, “there was no longer a legal requirement to report the operation to Congress. All they had to do now was just do it”.
Hersh’s report comes after Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, alleged last week that the attack had been carried out by Washington in an attempt to ensure its global dominance. Moscow had previously accused the British Royal Navy of blowing up the pipelines but did not provide evidence.
Last week, The Times revealed that German investigators remained open to theories that a western state carried out the bombing with the aim of blaming it on Russia. The explosions are also being investigated by Denmark and Sweden.
Some western officials initially suspected the Kremlin although they stopped short of formally accusing Moscow. However, 23 diplomatic and intelligence officials in nine different western countries told the Washington Post recently that they had yet to see evidence linking Russia to the attack, with some saying they did not believe Russia was to blame. President Putin’s spokesman said allegations that Russia would cripple its own pipelines were “stupid and absurd”.
After the attack, Washington rejected allegations that the US was involved. “The idea that the United States was in any way involved in the apparent sabotage of these pipelines is preposterous. It is nothing more than a function of Russian disinformation and should be treated as such,” the US State Department said.
Adrienne Watson, a US National Security Council spokesperson, said: “This is utterly false and complete fiction.”