Claims of U.S. Involvement in Nord Stream Attack Draw Scrutiny

A U.S. Navy EOD diver participates in the Baltops 2022 exercise, June 2022. Seymour Hersh's new report alleges that a U.S. covert operation used the exercise as cover (U.S. Navy file image)

Published Feb 9, 2023 10:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist Seymour Hersh has self-published a bombshell report suggesting that the Nord Stream pipeline attacks were carried out by the U.S. government, using a NATO minehunting exercise as cover. Russia and China have embraced the allegations and called for a closer investigation, while the Biden administration and U.S. security services have denied involvement.

Hersh has spent most of his multi-decade career studying sensitive national security secrets. He won a Pulitzer for breaking the story of the My Lai massacre in 1969, published extensive details on Israel's covert nuclear weapons program in 1991, and exposed the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in 2004, with many highlights in between. He has been lauded as a "quintessential investigative reporter" for his work, but in recent years he has also attracted criticism for his sourcing - in particular, a heavy reliance on a single anonymous source.

His latest report, released on his personal Substack page, suggests that the high-profile attack on the Nord Stream pipeline system was orchestrated by the Biden administration. Drawing primarily on information from a single anonymous source in the intelligence community, Hersh asserts that Biden's White House and the CIA planned a covert, time-delayed attack on the pipeline complex, executed months before the actual explosions. 

According to Hersh's source, an elite U.S. Navy dive team placed the explosives on all four Nord Stream pipes during the NATO BALTOPS 22 exercise in June 2022, with cooperative assistance from the Norwegian Navy. The source claimed that the detonators were fitted with hydroacoustic receivers, and on September 26, a Norwegian aircraft flew over and dropped a sonobuoy to trigger the blasts. Three out of four pipelines were destroyed, but the fourth remains intact; Danish and Swedish investigators have not released any conclusions as to the identity of the culprit, but have confirmed that the attack was sabotage.

Few leading American news publications have covered Hersh's independently-published report, and the reception has not been positive in Washington. The White House dismissed Hersh's allegations as "utterly false" on Wednesday, and the Pentagon told reporters that “the United States was not involved in the Nord Stream explosion." Hersh also quoted a CIA spokesperson as responding that his report was "completely and utterly false." 

The report received a somewhat warmer reception in Russia. On Wednesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told state-owned RIA Novosti that the report generally aligns with Russia's perspective, and said that there would be "consequences" for the pipeline attack. "By and large, [Hersh's] publication confirmed a conclusion we made for ourselves—the official representative of the foreign ministry said yesterday that we never had any doubts that the United States, possibly other NATO countries, were involved in this outrageous sabotage," Ryabkov said. 

In Beijing, the story made the top page of state-owned China Daily. The Global Times, an English-language division of the People's Daily, made an in-depth review of Hersh's report its top story on Thursday. "Given previous US behaviors, Chinese experts believe that the Hersh report is highly credible and Washington's denial cannot hinder Russia's determination to dig out more evidence," Global Times assessed.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.