By Philip Giraldi
It was perhaps completely predictable that the government-subservient mainstream American media would almost completely ignore the devastating report released by top investigative journalist Seymour Hersh on Feb. 8.
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Hersh’s article was entitled “How America Took Out the Nord Stream Pipeline,” with a secondary headline reading “The New York Times called it a ‘mystery,’ but the United States executed a covert sea operation that was kept secret—until now.”
The article, which Hersh self-published on the internet, describes in considerable detail the preparations and execution by the U.S. Navy Diving and Salvage Center and Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Maritime Branch, coordinated and directed by the White House, to sabotage and destroy Russia’s four Baltic Sea Nord Stream gas pipelines, a war crime and terroristic action that moved the United States much closer to direct conflict with Russia.
Given its potential political blowback, the Hersh story might very well be the most important exposé to appear since fighting began in Ukraine over a year ago, but it is being ignored by the White House, which is denying the report, with a spokesman only commenting that “this is false and complete fiction.”
The CIA’s spokesman, Tammy Thorp, likewise replied to Hersh that “this claim is completely and utterly false.” The U.S. Navy was also asked for comments but did not respond.
Meanwhile, the media, clearly evident by its inaction, has religiously adhered to that government line, possibly due to some mistaken notion that our national security forces have to be supported when they are going “toe to toe with the Russkies” over Ukraine. On the contrary, it is precisely when the government is behaving recklessly—not to mention criminally—to bring about an unnecessary war that the press should be in hot pursuit of the story and what it means. That is particularly so as the Ukraine conflict is now escalating and threatening to go nuclear as both sides dig in to incompatible positions.
I have known Sy Hersh for a number of years and spent time together with him and other former CIA colleagues helping to confirm details of some of his earlier exposes on U.S. government abuses and outright lies in its somewhat not completely credible role as “guardian” of national security. Hersh is a meticulous investigator who never, in my experience, accepted uncorroborated claims in support of his narratives.
I have some understanding of who his sources in the intelligence agencies and Department of Defense might be in this case and it should be accepted that what he has written is completely verifiable and derived from individuals who were actual participants in the activities described. That is not to say that there will not be failures to recall accurately certain details including aspects of the possible Norwegian involvement, something critics are already pointing to, but the main thrust of “whodunit” and “how” is pretty definitively demonstrated.
The report is long and includes a great deal of information on both the planning and the political decision-making that went into the willingness to destroy the pipeline, which I will briefly describe. Sy claims the following: It has not exactly been a secret that many in the United States government have long regarded the Nord Stream pipelines to be a security threat as the supply of cheap natural gas to Germany as a gateway into Europe by Russia would enable Moscow to create a dependency on it for energy which could be manipulated to produce political and strategic advantage.
As the crisis over Ukraine deepened in 2021, the Biden White House set up a secret task force that worked on possible scenarios that focused on using military and intelligence resources to physically destroy the pipelines with some measure of plausible deniability of the U.S. hand in the process in order to avoid political blowback from America’s European allies or escalation of the conflict. The secrecy was needed to protect Biden from charges of hypocrisy since he had repeatedly pledged that the U.S. would not be directly involved in any armed conflict with Russia over Ukraine.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan headed the interagency task force, which convened throughout late 2021 and included key players from the CIA’s Maritime Branch and the Navy’s Diving and Salvage Center, both located in Panama City, Fla., as well as the State Department, Treasury and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The operation was originally treated as a covert action that would have required congressional oversight, but that fig leaf was abandoned and it became a “highly classified intelligence operation” when Biden and others in the administration stated publicly and clearly their intentions, making what eventually took place an openly declared policy, perhaps intended to send a warning to the Russians.
A number of options to destroy the pipelines was discussed. According to Hersh, the participants in the meeting, many of whom were hawks who had cut their teeth in the Obama administration, clearly understood that they were proposing an “act of war” that was being considered because the president had ordered it.
In early February 2022, shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Biden publicly pledged during a joint news conference, accompanied by silent and frowning German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, that “if Russia invades … there will no longer be a Nord Stream 2.” When pressed on how he would carry that out, he responded, “We will—I promise you—we will be able to do it.”
Later, after the destruction of the pipeline, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that the sabotage offered a “tremendous opportunity to once and for all remove the dependence on Russian energy.”
“That’s very significant and that offers tremendous strategic opportunity for the years to come,” Blinked noted.
Not that any more confirmation was needed, but, on Jan. 22, 2023, Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland gloated while testifying to a U.S. Senate committee that “the administration is very gratified to know that Nord Stream 2 is now … a hunk of metal at the bottom of the sea.”
The Biden administration, in its arrogance, has, more or less, been admitting that it was behind the sabotage, which it certainly had the motive and means to carry out, though it was carefully avoiding leaving any actual evidence behind that it had carried out the destruction. It has also been deliberately avoiding any congressional involvement, presumably to avoid any discussion of war powers or even due to concerns over possible media leaks.
The mechanics of placing explosives, followed by the actual destruction of the pipelines, was as follows: Under cover of a NATO Baltic Sea exercise called BALTOPS-22 in June 2022, U.S. Navy and possibly also CIA Special Activities and Norwegian deep sea divers descended 260 feet to a spot off the Danish Island of Bornholm, which was considered to be a location where the pipelines converged in relatively shallow tide-free water and were particularly vulnerable. They attached C-4 explosives both to Nord Stream 1, which was operational, and Nord Stream 2, which was completed but was waiting for German safety and security regulators to approve it so it could become active. The explosives were designed to be remotely detonatable.
The explosives were on a timer that created an escape window for those initiating the detonation, and were to be activated by a secure signal sent by a sonar buoy that was dropped onto the prepared site by a Norwegian navy helicopter. The Norwegians were essential in that role due to their own military presence close to the targeted part of the Baltic as well as their considerable experience in deep-sea cold-water operations. A Norwegian Navy helicopter in the area would arouse no particular concern, even from the ever-watchful Russians.
Under orders to “Go!” from Washington, on Sept. 26, 2022, the Norwegians dropped the sonar buoy and, a few hours later, the C-4 explosives were detonated, immediately knocking out three of the four pipelines. In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, the U.S. and its allies in the controlled media made every effort to blame the Russians, who were repeatedly cited as a likely culprit.
Leaks from the White House and from the British government never established a clear explanation of why Moscow would be into self-sabotage of a lucrative business arrangement. A few months later, when it was revealed that Russian authorities had been quietly getting estimates for the cost to repair the Nord Streams, in the neighborhood of $10 billion, The New York Times seemingly cluelessly described the development as “complicating theories about who was behind” the sabotage.
Indeed, it was never clear why Russia would seek to destroy its own valuable pipeline which was intended to be a major income source for many years to come, a proposition that former British diplomat Craig Murray describes as “deranged.”
But a more telling rationale for the president’s action came from Secretary of State Blinken. Asked at a press conference in September about the consequences of the worsening global energy crisis, most felt in Western Europe, a delusional Secretary of State Blinken described the development in positive terms, enthusing how the destruction would “take away from Vladimir Putin the weaponization of energy as a means of advancing his imperial designs.”
The tale told by Sy Hersh is yet another great betrayal by the country’s so-called leadership, an egregious example of the United States government aided by its lap dog media again lying to its own citizens and the world to cover up a criminal act that in no way made Americans safer or more prosperous. In the U.S., only the gadfly Tucker Carlson, among prominent journalists, has up to this point dared to present the investigative account developed by Hersh in a five-minute segment of his program. Beyond that, there remains, nevertheless, a lot of questions about the destruction of Nord Stream, which was unambiguously an act of war or even terrorism, that continue to be unanswered.
Consider, for example, how NATO countries, the U.S. and Norway, de facto attacked fellow NATO country Germany, which was an economic partner in the pipelines. Though some British involvement in the operation, also detected by Russian intelligence, was quickly revealed publicly by then-Prime Minister Elizabeth Truss’s “It’s done” text to Secretary of State Antony Blinken 60 seconds after the detonation, Berlin apparently was not trusted enough to have a voice in the planning and execution of the bombing even though it was gravely damaged by it.
Also, Article 5 of the NATO charter says an attack on one nation requires all other alliance members to aid the country that was attacked, and it is intriguing to consider whether the rest of NATO ought to go to war with the United States and Norway. Alternatively, can “friends” in the defensive alliance attack one another without consequences, or ought the U.S. and Norway now be considered rogue nations? Will the alliance itself be able to stay together if several member states take steps unilaterally that can severely damage the economy of another member?
And how are the Germans actually responding to their sinking economy and standards of living, with closing factories and cold houses as a consequence of the U.S./Norwegian action? But the final and biggest question remains: How will Russia retaliate? Will it be one step closer to possible nuclear war initiated by the reckless development?
Moscow will certainly be careful to pick the right time and place, but the last act in this play surely remains to be written.
Philip Giraldi is a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer and a columnist and television commentator. He is also the executive director of the Council for the National Interest. Other articles by Giraldi can be found on the website of the Unz Review.
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