Did the US Bomb the Nord Stream Pipelines?

By February 23, 2023 International Politics

We came across the following post in a popular Singapore-based Telegram group:

A Contentious Blog Post

The post links to a lengthy blog post from 8 February by the journalist Seymour Hersh. In it, Hersh makes the assertion that the 26 September 2022 bombings of the Nord Stream pipelines—used to transport gas from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea—were carried out by US Navy divers under the cover of the large-scale NATO military exercise called BALTOPS 22. The sabotage, he claims, was planned by the CIA with assistance from the Norwegian navy.

Hersh’s claims rely largely on extensive interviews with an unidentified ‘source with direct knowledge of the operational planning’. The White House responded to the allegations by calling the claims ‘utterly false and complete fiction’.

Evidence to corroborate Hersh’s claims is scarce. Investigations by Swedish, Danish and German authorities are still ongoing. Investigators have determined the damage to have been caused by sabotage, and that it was most likely carried out by state actors rather than individuals.

However, they have yet to assign responsibility for the sabotage to any party. In the wake of the bombings, Western officials have hesitated to directly blame Russia for the attacks, even if some have pointed out that the bombings took place against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and increasingly assertive Russian espionage efforts in the Baltic Sea region.

Russia has at various points attributed the sabotage to members of the Western alliance. In September 2022, shortly after the attacks, the Russian President Vladimir Putin said that ‘the sanctions (imposed as a result of the war) were not enough for the Anglo-Saxons: they moved onto sabotage’. About a month later, the Russian defence ministry said—without offering evidence—that ‘specialists’ from the British navy carried out the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines.

The only account that mirrors the information in Hersh’s article comes from John Dougan, a former police officer and US Marine who claimed asylum in Russia in 2017 after fleeing the US while under investigation by the FBI for exposing the confidential information of security and justice officials.

In an interview with RT News, Dougan said he had received a letter from an unnamed NATO officer who claimed to have seen a suspicious US Navy crew near the pipeline before it was blown up.

Well-known Sources with Controversial Histories

Given that both Hersh and Dougan rely on accounts from unidentified individuals without providing conclusive evidence for their assertions, it is not possible to evaluate the veracity of their claims. As such, we assessed the reliability of the two sources to gain some insight into the credibility of their claims.

Seymour Hersh is a renowned investigative journalist who won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for exposing the 1969 My Lai massacre of South Vietnamese civilians by American soldiers during the Vietnam War. He later reported extensively for The New York Times on President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, and for The New Yorker on the US military’s torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib during the Iraq War.

More recently, however, Hersh has espoused conspiracy theories that contradict official US statements. He disputed the details of the 2011 US raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and attributed a chemical attack on the Syrian opposition-held territory of Ghouta to rebels supported by Turkey, though Western governments had largely assessed the attack to have been carried out by Syrian government forces. Just like Hersh’s reporting on the Nord Stream bombings, these accounts have not been verifiable due to the lack of conclusive evidence.

Dougan, meanwhile, had reported on abuses of power by US law enforcement officials while in the US. Since moving to Russia, Dougan has become a proponent of the conspiracy that the hacked emails of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) during the 2016 US presidential elections were given to him by a DNC staffer who was later murdered. The US government attributed the hack to Russian military intelligence after an investigation.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Dougan has also accompanied Russian military to Ukraine, where he has claimed without evidence to have seen US-funded bioweapons facilities, or ‘biolabs’, that have been used as Russia as a justification for their full-scale invasion. The claims about the labs—which are in fact research facilities studying the threats of dangerous diseases—have been debunked by multiple media organisations who have visited the labs.

The lack of conclusive evidence means there is little to suggest Hersh and Dougan’s reports on the Nord Stream sabotage have any factual basis. However, it is impossible to refute their assertions either, as investigations have yet to conclude.

Hersh and Dougan’s patchy track records should give readers hesitation when considering if their accounts are credible. Dougan in particular invites suspicion due to his asylum status in Russia and his previous reporting on debunked conspiracy theories that have served as propaganda for Russia. Moreover, his interview regarding the Nord Stream bombings took place on RT News, which has been assessed as a tool of pro-Russian propaganda and conspiracy theories and banned from broadcasting in the EU due to disinformation.

The Truth Remains Submerged

The Nord Stream bombing is still the subject of intense political wrangling, and it remains deeply shrouded in mystery. Russia, supported by China, has called for an independent inquiry into the bombing at the UN Security Council in the wake of Seymour Hersh’s blog post. Furthermore, the motivations of countries involved may well be influenced by the heated political climate as a result of the war in Ukraine.

As such, until more conclusive evidence emerges, it is uncertain if there is any truth to Hersh and Dougan’s claims that the US bombed the Nord Stream pipelines.

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