Week of February 15, 2023

Did the US destroy the Nord Stream Pipeline?


If this story had come from anyone else, it would have been considered a fictional plot for a Hollywood movie.  It had intrigue and action.  All it needed was a headline action star like a younger Sylvester Stallone.

The plot, in short, was that a top-secret deep-sea diving team, that was so secret that it wasn’t even part of America’s Special Forces Command, sabotaged Russia’s Nord Stream natural gas pipelines so Russia couldn’t pressure Western nations into ending support for Ukraine.

Most would have considered it pure fiction if it wasn’t for the author of the story – Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter who has revealed such stories as American war crimes in Vietnam, the secrets of Israel’s nuclear weapons program, and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

But this is more than a mere story about a top secret military operation.  If true, it means that the United States has carried out an act of war against Russia and by shutting off the Russian natural gas, has threatened the lives and livelihoods of the citizens of its NATO allies.

It wasn’t the secret that was planned thanks to the elderly President Biden, who gave the operation away.  A year ago, at a press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Biden said, “If Russia invades [Ukraine]…then there will no longer be Nord Stream 2.  We will bring an end to it.”

When a reporter asked the president how he would do it, Biden responded, “I promise you we will be able to do it.

By the time Biden said that the US was well into the planning.  That had begun when the Nord Stream 2 was completed in 2021 and Russian troops were massing on the Ukraine border.   Norway was brought into the planning because they had deep sea diving experience from operating gas wells in the North Sea.  Norway is also a gas producer and could fill some of the shortage of Russian gas.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan formed a task force with officials from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA, the State department, and the Treasury.

It was agreed that a more vigorous action was needed because economic sanctions wouldn’t stop Putin.

Several plans were studied, but everyone agreed that secrecy was needed and the location near the Danish Island of Bornholm required the utmost secrecy.  Something like a bombing from an aircraft or destroying it with a submarine would be too obvious.

CIA Director William Burns assembled a working group to develop a plan to use deep sea divers to carry out the mission.

The team finally focused on placing shaped charges on the outside of the pipelines and then remotely detonating them weeks or months after the charges were laid.

The mines were laid during the NATO exercise BALTOPS.  The detonation would come after a sonar buoy was dropped that sent out a specific noise signal to trigger the blast.

The bombing went off when a Norwegian P8 surveillance aircraft dropped off the sonar buoy on September 26 during a routine flight.  A few hours later, three of the four pipelines were destroyed.

The US denied responsibility (and still does) and there were few who could contradict the White House.  Congress wasn’t informed and there was no briefing for the “Gang of Eight,” the heads of the intelligence committees.  The operation didn’t go through the Special Forces command.  Only a few national security people in agencies like the CIA were aware of it.  The US and Norway had covered themselves by briefing some NATO allies before the attack.

But who was really responsible is still a mystery.  Denmark and Sweden carried out investigations and determined that the blasts were a result of sabotage, but they were unable to determine which nation was guilty.

The Russians obviously had little interest in destroying their pipeline, which was the result of over a decade of work and billions of dollars.  It had also become the cornerstone of the policy to use the Nord Stream pipelines to pressure the Germans to stop supporting and sending arms to Ukraine.  The pipelines also allowed German companies to sell the additional inexpensive gas to neighboring countries.

Obviously, the one nation that could be suspected was the US.  The destruction of the pipeline helped bring Germany into line as an ally of Ukraine.  At the same time, US companies were helping to alleviate the gas shortage by shipping LNG to Europe.


What Happens now?

Attacking the Nord Stream pipeline is considered an act of war.  However, the US and Norway have denied the Hersh story and Russia doesn’t have any tangible proof.  Since some of Hersh’s previous investigative reports have been questioned like his story on Osama bin Laden, Russia can’t do any more than officially protest.

That, they did, even before the Hersh story came out.  Secretary of State for Political affairs Victoria Nuland said on January 26, “I am, and I think the administration is very gratified to know Nord Stream 2 is now… a hunk of metal at the bottom of the sea.”

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said, “This is not only the direct participation of the United States in the explosions of the Nord Stream pipelines, but Ms. Nuland has also made a confession.”

Aside from official protests, there is much that Russia can do.  The American attack on a Russian strategic asset has gone further than merely sending arms and intelligence to the Ukrainians.  Russia may decide to carry out sabotage that hurts the American infrastructure but gives them “plausible deniability.”

One logical option would be sabotaging the arms shipments.  There doesn’t have to be a dramatic act.  Russia could hack transportation networks in Europe so shipments of tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and other supplies would be slowed down on their way to Ukraine.  Sabotage of American gas or petroleum refining facilities would also be tit-for-tat.

The biggest problem with these retaliations is that Russia and the West are slow walking into a real, not a proxy war.  The Nord Stream pipeline attack was a step further – a direct attack on a Russian asset by an American military unit.

This is more than merely sending arms.  It promises more escalations.

53 years ago, a young investigative reporter revealed an American massacre of Vietnamese during the VietNam War, which was a proxy war between the USSR and the US.

That reporter was Seymour Hersh.

It seems that the lessons of VietNam have been forgotten as American officials rush into a new war just like Lyndon Johnson and his advisors did 60 years ago.