The Biden administration has acknowledged neither its responsibility for the pipeline bombing nor the purpose of the sabotage, writes Seymour Hersh, the famous American investigative journalist.
I do not know much about covert CIA operations — no outsider can — but I do understand that the essential component of all successful missions is total deniability. The American men and women who moved, under cover, in and out of Norway in the months it took to plan and carry out the destruction of three of the four Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea a year ago left no traces — not a hint of the team’s existence — other than the success of their mission.
Deniability, as an option for President Joe Biden and his foreign policy advisers, was paramount. No significant information about the mission was put on a computer, but instead typed on a Royal or perhaps a Smith Corona typewriter with a carbon copy or two, as if the Internet and the rest of the online world had yet to be invented. The White House was isolated from the goings-on near Oslo; various reports and updates from the field were directly provided to CIA Director Bill Burns, who was the only link between the planners and the president who authorized the mission to take place on September 26, 2022. Once the mission was completed, the typed papers and carbons were destroyed, thus leaving no physical trace—no evidence to be dug up later by a special prosecutor or a presidential historian. You could call it the perfect crime.
There was a flaw — a gap in understanding between those who carried out the mission and President Biden, as to why he ordered the destruction of the pipelines when he did. My initial 5,200-word report, published in early February, ended cryptically by quoting an official with knowledge of the mission telling me: “It was a beautiful cover story.” The official added: “The only flaw was the decision to do it.”
This is the first account of that flaw, on the one-year anniversary of the explosions, and it is one President Biden and his national security team will not like. I am now able to write about the unexplained flaw cited by the unnamed official. It goes once again to the classic issue of what the Central Intelligence Agency is all about.
Back to the Nord Stream pipelines: It is important to understand that no Russian gas was flowing to Germany through the Nord Stream pipelines when Joe Biden ordered them blown up last September 26. Nord Stream 1 had been supplying vast amounts of low-cost natural gas to Germany since 2011 and helped bolster Germany’s status as a manufacturing and industrial colossus. But it was shut down by Putin by the end of August 2022, as the Ukraine war was, at best, in a stalemate. Nord Stream 2 was completed in September 2021 but was blocked from delivering gas by the German government headed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz two days prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Given Russia’s vast stores of natural gas and oil, American presidents since John F. Kennedy have been alert to the potential weaponization of these natural resources for political purposes. That view remains dominant among Biden and his hawkish foreign policy advisers, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and Victoria Nuland, now the acting deputy to Blinken.
I now know what I did not know then: the real reason why the Biden administration “brought up taking out the Nord Stream pipeline.” The official recently explained to me that at the time Russia was supplying gas and oil throughout the world via more than a dozen pipelines, but Nord Stream 1 and 2 ran directly from Russia through the Baltic Sea to Germany. “The administration put Nord Stream on the table because it was the only one we could access and it would be totally deniable,” the official said. “We solved the problem within a few weeks — by early January — and told the White House. Our assumption was that the president would use the threat against Nord Stream as a deterrent to avoid the war.”
It was no surprise to the agency’s secret planning group when on January 27, 2022, the assured and confident Nuland, then undersecretary of state for political affairs, stridently warned Putin that if he invaded Ukraine, as he clearly was planning to, that “one way or another Nord Stream 2 will not move forward.” The line attracted enormous attention, but the words preceding the threat did not. The official State Department transcript shows that she preceded her threat by saying that with regard to the pipeline: “We continue to have very strong and clear conversations with our German allies.”
But two weeks after Nuland’s statement, on February 7, 2022, at a joint White House press conference with the visiting Scholz, Biden signaled that he had changed his mind and was joining Nuland and other equally hawkish foreign policy aides in talking about stopping the pipeline. “If Russia invades—that means tanks and troops crossing… the border of Ukraine again,” he said, “there will no longer be a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.” Asked how he could do so since the pipeline was under Germany’s control, he said: “We will, I promise you, we’ll be able to do it.”
Scholz, asked the same question, said: “We are acting together. We are absolutely united, and we will not be taking different steps. We will do the same steps, and they will be very very hard to Russia, and they should understand.” The German leader was considered then — and now — by some members of the CIA team to be fully aware of the secret planning underway to destroy the pipelines.
At the time, the challenge to the intelligence community was to come up with a plan that would be forceful enough to deter Putin from the attack on Ukraine. The official told me: “We did it. We found an extraordinary deterrent because of its economic impact on Russia. And Putin did it despite the threat.” It took months of research and practice in the churning waters of the Baltic Sea by the two expert US Navy deep sea divers recruited for the mission before it was deemed a go. Norway’s superb seamen found the right spot for planting the bombs that would blow up the pipelines. Senior officials in Sweden and Denmark, who still insist they had no idea what was going on in their shared territorial waters, turned a blind eye to the activities of the American and Norwegian operatives. The American team of divers and support staff on the mission’s mother ship — a Norwegian minesweeper — would be hard to hide while the divers were doing their work. The team would not learn until after the bombing that Nord Stream 2 had been shut down with 750 miles of natural gas in it.
What I did not know then, but was told recently, was that after Biden’s extraordinary public threat to blow up Nord Stream 2, with Scholz standing next to him, the CIA planning group was told by the White House that there would be no immediate attack on the two pipelines, but the group should arrange to plant the necessary bombs and be ready to trigger them “on demand” — after the war began.
After Biden’s order to trigger the explosives planted on the pipelines, it took only a short flight with a Norwegian fighter and the dropping of an altered off-the-shelf sonar device at the right spot in the Baltic Sea to get it done. By then the CIA group had long disbanded. By then, too, the official told me: “We realized that the destruction of the two Russian pipelines was not related to the Ukrainian war” — Putin was in the process of annexing the four Ukrainian oblasts he wanted — “but was part of a neocon political agenda to keep Scholz and Germany, with winter coming up and the pipelines shut down, from getting cold feet and opening up” the shuttered Nord Stream 2. “The White House fear was that Putin would get Germany under his thumb and then he was going to get Poland.”
The White House said nothing as the world wondered who committed the sabotage. “So the president struck a blow against the economy of Germany and Western Europe,” the official told me. “He could have done it in June and told Putin: We told you what we would do.” The White House’s silence and denials were, he said, “a betrayal of what we were doing. If you are going to do it, do it when it would have made a difference.”
The leadership of the CIA team viewed Biden’s misleading guidance for its order to destroy the pipelines, the official told me, “as taking a strategic step toward World War III. What if Russia had responded by saying: You blew up our pipelines and I’m going to blow up your pipelines and your communication cables.
Within days of the bombing, officials in Denmark and Sweden announced they would conduct an investigation. They reported two months later that there had indeed been an explosion and said there would be further inquiries. None has emerged. The German government conducted an inquiry but announced that major parts of its findings would be classified.
President Biden waited four days before calling the pipeline bombing “a deliberate act of sabotage.” He said: “Now the Russians are pumping out disinformation about it.”
There is no evidence that President Biden has required the American intelligence community to conduct a major all-source inquiry into the pipeline bombing. Such requests are known as “Taskings” and are taken seriously inside the government.
All of this explains why a routine question I posed a month or so after the bombings to someone with many years in the American intelligence community led me to a truth that no one in America or Germany seems to want to pursue. My question was simple: “Who did it?”
The Biden administration blew up the pipelines but the action had little to do with winning or stopping the war in Ukraine. It resulted from fears in the White House that Germany would waver and turn on the flow of Russia gas — and that Germany and then NATO, for economic reasons, would fall under the sway of Russia and its extensive and inexpensive natural resources.
And thus followed the ultimate fear: that America would lose its long-standing primacy in Western Europe, Seymour Hersh stresses.