A bold new report from journalist Seymour Hersh has sparked intense debate about whether or not it was the United States, not Russia, that sabotaged the Nord Stream pipeline last year.
Hersh published a report on Substack on Wednesday in which he stated that the United States, specifically elements of the CIA, U.S. Navy and White House, planted C4 explosives on the Nord Stream pipelines that were later detonated. The entire report was based on a single anonymous source, who allegedly went into great detail about the planning process and implicated a number of top officials.
President Joe Biden and his top advisors allegedly began exploring options to retaliate against Russia for an invasion of Ukraine before the invasion itself actually occurred, according to the Hersh report. A multi-agency task force was formed to look at options and key players allegedly ultimately settled on sabotaging Nord Stream, according to Hersh.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan allegedly played a key role and worked with the CIA to develop a plan that involved cooperating with the Norwegian military to send Navy divers beneath the sea during NATO training exercises last summer, according to the Hersh report. Months after the C4 was allegedly planted by the American divers, a Norwegian aircraft dropped a sonar buoy that triggered an explosion, according to Hersh.
Hersh’s version of events has not been corroborated by any other reports or official statements thus far. Spokespersons for the White House and CIA both vociferously denied his report, calling it, among other things, “fiction” and “utterly false.”
The entire report is based on only a single anonymous source, which Hersh described as someone “with direct knowledge of the operational planning.”
Early reports pointed to a variety of suspects, once it was agreed upon that the explosion was, in fact, sabotage and not an accident or natural disaster. Some intelligence analysts in the West blamed Russia, while Russia naturally deflected blame back on the U.S. and Europe. Months passed by with little new information, until in December it was reported that the intelligence community had found no solid evidence connecting Russian actors to the blast.
The Hersh report garnered little mainstream media attention, with the few stories written about it dismissing it as a “blog post” or with framing around the U.S. denial rather than the report itself. Members of the alternative media, however, rushed to promote the report, leading it to go viral on social media and gain significant traction amongst anti-establishment journalists.
Figures from Matt Taibbi to Jimmy Dore to Richard Medhurst shared the story, either without pushback or outright endorsement. English newspaper The Times wrote about Hersh’s report — a move that was widely criticized.
I’m troubled that I can’t immediately rule out the suggestion that the U.S. blew up Nord Stream. I checked with a bunch of Senate colleagues. Among those I’ve asked, none were ever briefed on this. If it turns out to be true, we’ve got a huge problem. https://t.co/DG0dYTByPI
— Mike Lee (@BasedMikeLee) February 8, 2023
Some non-journalists amplified the story as well. Edward Snowden tweeted a link, and Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee shared the story, saying he was “troubled” that he can’t “immediately rule out” the idea that the U.S. was behind the explosion.
Supporters of the story pointed to Hersh’s resume as reason to take it seriously. The veteran journalist won a Pulitzer Prize more than 50 years ago for exposing the My Lai massacre, in which hundreds of Vietnamese civilians were murdered by American troops in 1969.
In recent years, Hersh has strained credibility by reporting inaccurate or highly contested stories related to the killing of Osama bin Laden, chemical attacks in Syria and poisonings by Russia. Hersh said that “not one word” of what the Obama administration said about the killing of bin Laden was true, and in 2018 said that he was not convinced bin Laden was involved in 9/11.
Hersh has also written that there is little to no evidence the government of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad was responsible for chemical weapons attacks against civilians during the Syrian Civil War, and that the poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal in 2018 was likely not carried out by the Russian government. (RELATED: ‘Thank You, U.S.A.’: Why Is Poland’s EU Rep Cheering Nord Stream’s Potential Sabotage?)
Like with those accounts, critics have pointed out holes in the latest report from Hersh. The most clear cut evidence is that there is no open-source documentation of Norwegian aircraft or ships needed to carry out the operation in the region near the explosion during the NATO exercise or the time of the explosion, according to an analysis by OSINT editor Joe Galvin.
This is why an OSINT approach has merit in this case. Perhaps a totally covert operation was undertaken to blow up the pipelines. But that is not what Hersh describes in his piece, which is why I say the piece doesn’t match up to publicly available data.
— Joe Galvin (@Joey_Galvin) February 9, 2023
Others attacked Hersh’s credibility, pointing to his questioning of Syrian chemical weapons attacks. Foreign policy writer Bruno Macaes called the report “laughable to anyone who knows the facts.”
As for the Biden administration, the denials continued into Thursday. State Department Spokesman Ned Price described the report as “utter nonsense” that contained elements of “propaganda” and said the U.S. government denial of involvement is credible.
The reporter who questioned Price mentioned that the Biden administration had made clear multiple times last year, including from the mouths of Biden himself and the State Department, that the pipeline would not go forward as planned if Russia invaded Ukraine. Still, Washington has not identified a culprit in the incident.