59

In September 2022, the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines off the coast of Denmark were sabotaged

Seymour Hersh, a Pulitzer-winning investigative journalist, recently published a blog post, How America Took Out The Nord Stream Pipeline reconstructing a top-secret CIA operation allegedly behind the sabotage.

Last June, the Navy divers, operating under the cover of a widely publicized mid-summer NATO exercise known as BALTOPS 22, planted the remotely triggered explosives that, three months later, destroyed three of the four Nord Stream pipelines, according to a source with direct knowledge of the operational planning. [...]

On September 26, 2022, a Norwegian Navy P8 surveillance plane made a seemingly routine flight and dropped a sonar buoy. The signal spread underwater, initially to Nord Stream 2 and then on to Nord Stream 1. A few hours later, the high-powered C4 explosives were triggered and three of the four pipelines were put out of commission.

The reconstruction the post appears very detailed but it is difficult to confirm it with publicly-available information.

Did the CIA conspire to sabotage the Nord Stream pipelines?

5
  • 29
    As this is very recent news with only a single source of information this is going to be almost impossible to prove one way or another. More time is going to be needed to learn more information and there will likely be investigations into this.
    – Joe W
    Feb 10, 2023 at 14:49
  • three months later??? That's the most unbelievable part of the story, so many things could go wrong in three months!
    – Michael
    Feb 17, 2023 at 22:26
  • Re "off the coast of Denmark": Well, close to a small (isolated) island (approx. 20 x 30 km). Feb 21, 2023 at 21:30
  • 1
    Can this be changed to "Who or What Cause the Nordstream 1 Pipeline explosion?" (without changing the intent of the question). This phrasing leaves more possibilities open to the answerer.
    – inund8
    Feb 23, 2023 at 21:00

2 Answers 2

115

There is a good OSINT (open-source intelligence) based assessment of Hersh's claims by Oliver Alexander, which you can read in full at Blowing Holes in Seymour Hersh's Pipe Dream.

The executive summary is:

When first reading through Hersh’s account of the events, the level of detail he provides could add credence to his story. Unfortunately for Hersh’s story, the high level of detail is also where the entire story begins to unravel and fall apart. It is often stated that people who lie have a tendency to add too much superfluous detail to their accounts. This attempt to “cover all bases” is in many cases what trips these people up. Extra details add extra points of reference that can be crosschecked and examined. In Hersh’s case, this is exactly what appears to have happened. On the surface level, the level of detail checks out to laymen or people without more niche knowledge of the subject matter mentioned. When you look closer though, the entire story begins to show massive glaring holes and specific details can be debunked.

It isn't really possible to summarise the analysis without quoting the whole thing, but the gist is that Hersh provides various details that look like they give credibility to the story that turn out to be incorrect:

  • NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg is said to have worked with the US intelligence since the Vietnam War, although he was actually only 16 when the war ended.

  • The sabotage was supposed to be done by units involved in the BALTOPS 2022 exercises. Divers were supposed to have deployed from a "Norwegian Alta class mine hunter", but no Alta class vessels were involved in BALTOPS 2022

  • Hersh claims that a "Norwegian Navy P8 surveillance plane" on a routine flight (and thus visible to open source flight tracking) would drop a sonar buoy which would be used to detonate the charges. The Norwegian Navy doesn't operate any P8s. The Norwegian Army has taken delivery of some, but they aren't due to enter active service until later in 2023, and weren't in use by any Norwegian forces in 2022.

  • Much of Hersh's narrative seems to assume that the explosions of Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines were close together. In fact the explosion sites were 80 km apart.

In summary, on several of the points on which can be checked with publicly available information, the information contradicts Hersh's narrative.

5
  • 4
    TBH I'm not sure who published first (both articles are dated Feb 10), but the [counter-]points are nearly identical to those raised in the Nowegian press filternyheter.no/… Feb 11, 2023 at 19:57
  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Skeptics Meta, or in Skeptics Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Oddthinking
    Feb 14, 2023 at 4:29
  • The cited reference in this answer just seeks to drown you with questionable data to seem credible. A good rebuttal pointing out the weakness of the data and analysis has been made in the the comment of the same article - oalexanderdk.substack.com/p/…
    – sfxedit
    Mar 2, 2023 at 19:40
  • @Oddthinking It says comment have been moved to the chat - but clicking the link gives a "page not found"? And my comment that is also deleted or "moved to chat" was pertinent to the answer as it did suggest how the answer could be improved. The only reason to remove it / hide it behind chat is to make it seem like this answer is impeccable, just as my answer too was deleted for the same reason.
    – sfxedit
    Mar 12, 2023 at 3:05
  • I am surprised the chat room was already deleted for inactivity. Seems faster than it used to be. I undeleted your comment. Your attribution of malign motives is uncalled for.
    – Oddthinking
    Mar 12, 2023 at 3:15
26

Not according to the Russian Ministry of Defense, whose spokesman accused "British Navy personnel" of having done it, back in October. Hersh in contrast is very specific that US Navy "graduates of the center’s hardcore diving school in Panama City" planted the bombs. There no real way for us to check if either of these allegations is true (and both the US and the UK denied them) but it is a bit jarring that they don't agree on such specifics, while claiming to have identified the personnel in quite some detail (the Russian MoD story also claims that unit participated on an attack on Crimea).

Although a whole bunch of Russian politicians have endorsed the latest Hersh reporting, Kremlin spokesperson Peskov was somewhat more circumspect. He

called the article "remarkable," though he added that "some points can be disputed" and that some "need proof."

Also, similarly with Hersh's 2015 story on bin Laden's killing in the Abbottabad raid being a "fairy tale" (which Hersh reported using a single source--possibly from ISI as one of their generals made the same claim later via the Pakistani press), this story also relies on a single source that told all that to Hersh.

Although around 2003 the editor of the New Yorker stood behind the identity/credibility of Hersh's sources, this story has only been published on his substack, so there's not much indication of the kind of cross checking that takes place in newsrooms having been done here. (Even his controversial bin Laden story was published by the London Review of Books.)


Some of the the Norwegian press also analyzed Hersh's story. They went even over the possibilities that it might have inaccuracies like it could have been a P-3, not a P-8 flight, another class of Norwegian ship rather than the one stated by Hersh etc. However, the gist of this is that Hersh's claim that the operation could have been carried out by Norwegian ships and planes hiding in plain sight under the guise of routine operations that can be plotted from open source intelligence doesn't pan out even under those relaxed assumptions.

Also, Hersh doubled down that his source was someone “with direct knowledge of the operational planning” of the operation, in other words the he claims the details he laid out were not merely guesses. Interestingly, the Chinese official press was the only one that didn't question any details in Hersh's story (previous link).

At least regarding the P-8 plane, the story does have a resemblance to some earlier news coverage that a US P-8 plane taking off from Iceland surveyed the area, although the timing of that was a couple of hours after explosion(s).


Hersh gets into more details about it in a more recent interview, like how the Pentagon supposedly wasn't informed, and possibly not even the CIA was except its director, but it was done by a black ops outfit called the C-SHOP (or SEASHOP?) in coop with Norway. I suppose he might be talking about the SAC, but it's hard to find a confirmed [para]military activity of theirs in the past 20 years or so that wasn't coordinated with the Pentagon, although if one goes further back in time, one might find such [confirmed] examples. Hersh also alleges that the CIA has been [again] conducting paramilitary operations against Iran, since 2008 or so.

5
  • 25
    Is there any sign at all that we should believe, or even care at all, what the "Russian Ministry of Defense" has to say about anything? Feb 11, 2023 at 13:52
  • 28
    @EricDuminil It's an admission against interest -- the Russians blame the CIA for everything, so if not even they say so... . But this is Skeptics, not Politics. Something can either be debunked or it can't, so the Russians don't matter. And this was posted an hour after an answer was which showed what debunking looks like. Feb 11, 2023 at 14:48
  • 1
    @OwenReynolds fair enough. That's a good point! Feb 12, 2023 at 4:36
  • What is very weird is that Hersh's theory was published with apparently, according to press reviewers, a lot of "stupid" mistakes: if it is true, why would he speak of a P-3 instead of a P-8? Of course this could be a blunder. But if it is wrong, the question is even more pregnant: did he make up everything from scratch without even looking at what the Norwegians had in service? Feb 18, 2023 at 21:25
  • 1
    @totalMongot: I've watched him "defend" his theory in a talk show. Although he spoke for like 1/4-hour, it was an echo chamber. He addressed none of the concrete cricisims. He just congratulated himself over and over for his piece, and railed against the US gov't. Alas, it happens to some people in the old age that they just want to one up their early life achievements, and when fate isn't cooperating... Feb 18, 2023 at 21:28

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .