By Seymour Hersh / Substack
This story is a follow up to Seymour Hersh’s original report on the Nord Stream pipeline sabotage. To read the full report, subscribe to Hersh’s Substack here.
It’s been six weeks since I published a report, based on anonymous sourcing, naming President Joe Biden as the official who ordered the mysterious destruction last September of Nord Stream 2, a new $11-billion pipeline that was scheduled to double the volume of natural gas delivered from Russia to Germany. The story gained traction in Germany and Western Europe, but was subject to a near media blackout in the US. Two weeks ago, after a visit by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to Washington, US and German intelligence agencies attempted to add to the blackout by feeding the New York Times and the German weekly Die Zeit false cover stories to counter the report that Biden and US operatives were responsible for the pipelines’ destruction.
Press aides for the White House and Central Intelligence Agency have consistently denied that America was responsible for exploding the pipelines, and those pro forma denials were more than enough for the White House press corps. There is no evidence that any reporter assigned there has yet to ask the White House press secretary whether Biden had done what any serious leader would do: formally “task” the American intelligence community to conduct a deep investigation, with all of its assets, and find out just who had done the deed in the Baltic Sea. According to a source within the intelligence community, the president has not done so, nor will he. Why not? Because he knows the answer.
Sarah Miller—an energy expert and an editor at Energy Intelligence, which publishes leading trade journals—explained to me in an interview why the pipeline story has been big news in Germany and Western Europe. “The destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines in September led to a further surge of natural gas prices that were already six or more times pre-crisis levels,” she said. “Nord Stream was blown up in late September. German gas imports peaked a month later, in October, at 10 times pre-crisis levels. Electricity prices across Europe were pulled up, and governments spent as much as 800 billion euros, by some estimates, shielding households and businesses from the impact. Gas prices, reflecting the mild winter in Europe, have now fallen back to roughly a quarter of the October peak, but they are still between two and three times pre-crisis levels and are more than three times current US rates. Over the last year, German and other European manufacturers closed their most energy-intensive operations, such as fertilizer and glass production, and it’s unclear when, if ever, those plants will reopen. Europe is scrambling to get solar and wind capacity in place, but it may not come soon enough to save large chunks of German industry.” (Miller writes a blog on Medium.)
In early March, President Biden hosted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Washington. The trip included only two public events—a brief pro forma exchange of compliments between Biden and Scholz before the White House press corps, with no questions allowed; and a CNN interview with Scholz by Fareed Zakaria, who did not touch on the pipeline allegations. The chancellor had flown to Washington with no members of the German press on board, no formal dinner scheduled, and the two world leaders were not slated to conduct a press conference, as routinely happens at such high-profile meetings. Instead, it was later reported that Biden and Scholz had an 80-minute meeting, with no aides present for much of the time. There have been no statements or written understandings made public since then by either government, but I was told by someone with access to diplomatic intelligence that there was a discussion of the pipeline exposé and, as a result, certain elements in the Central Intelligence Agency were asked to prepare a cover story in collaboration with German intelligence that would provide the American and German press with an alternative version for the destruction of Nord Stream 2. In the words of the intelligence community, the agency was “to pulse the system” in an effort to discount the claim that Biden had ordered the pipelines’ destruction.
At this point, it must be noted that Chancellor Scholz, whether or not he was alerted of the destruction of the pipeline in advance—still an open question—has clearly been complicit since last fall in support of the Biden Administration’s cover-up of its operation in the Baltic Sea.
The agency did its job and, with the help of German intelligence, concocted and planted stories about an ad hoc “off the books” operation that had led to the destruction of the pipelines. The scam had two elements: a March 7 report in the New York Times citing an anonymous American official claiming that “[n]ew intelligence…suggests” that “a pro-Ukrainian group” may have been involved in the pipeline’s destruction; and a report the same day in Der Zeit, Germany’s most widely read weekly newspaper, stating that German investigative officials had tracked down a chartered luxury sailing yacht that was known to have set off on September 6 from the German port at Rostock past Bornholm island off the coast of Denmark. The island is a few miles from the area where the pipelines were destroyed on September 26. The yacht had been rented from Ukrainian owners and manned by a party of six: a captain, two divers, two divers’ assistants, and a doctor. Five were men, and one a woman. False passports were involved.
The two publications included cautions in their stories noting that, as the Times put it, “there was much they did not know.” The new information was, however, also said to have given officials “increased . . . optimism” that a firm conclusion about the perpetrators would be reached. But it would take a long time, according to various senior officials in Washington and Germany. The message was that the press and the public should stop asking questions and let the investigators unravel the truth. Which, of course, would never come. Holger Stark, the author of the report in Die Zeit, went a step further and noted that there were some “in international security services” who had not excluded the possibility that the yacht story “was a false flag operation.” Indeed, it was.
“It was a total fabrication by American intelligence that was passed along to the Germans, and aimed at discrediting your story,” I was told by a source within the American intelligence community. The disinformation professionals inside the CIA understand that a propaganda gambit can only work if those on receiving are desperate for a story that can diminish or displace an unwanted truth. And the truth in question is that President Joe Biden authorized the destruction of the pipelines and will have a difficult time explaining away his action as Germany and its Western European neighbors suffer as businesses are shuttered amid high day-to-day energy costs.
Ironically, the most telling evidence about the weakness of the New York Times report came from one of three Times reporters whose bylines were on the story. A few days after publication of the story, the reporter, Julian Barnes, was interviewed on the popular Times podcast The Daily by host Michael Barbaro. Here’s the transcript:
HOST: Who exactly was responsible for this attack? And how did you and our colleagues go about figuring that out?
REPORTER: Well, I think what happened was for much of the investigation, we weren’t asking exactly the right questions.
HOST: Hmm. And what were the right questions?
REPORTER: Well, we had logically been focused on countries.
REPORTER: All those states that we just went through, did Russia do it? Did the Ukraine state do it? And that was just hitting dead end after dead end. We weren’t finding officials who were telling us that there was credible evidence pointing at a government. So my colleagues Adam Entous, Adam Goldman, and I started asking a different question. Could this have been done by non-state actors?
REPORTER: Could this have been done by a group of individuals who were not working for a government?
HOST: Kind of like freelance saboteurs. So where did you take this new question?
REPORTER: Well, we started asking, who might these saboteurs be? Or if we couldn’t answer that, who might they be aligned with? Could they be pro-Russian saboteurs? Could they be other saboteurs? And the more we talk to officials who had access to intelligence, the more we saw this theory gaining traction.
REPORTER: And my initial thought that this could be pro-Russian saboteurs turned out to be wrong. And we learned that it was most likely a pro-Ukrainian group.
HOST: Hmm. So in other words, a group of people who did this on behalf of Ukraine. What do you learn that makes you think that’s what happened?
REPORTER: Michael, I should be very clear that we know really very little, right? This group remains mysterious. And it remains mysterious not just to us, but also to the US government officials that we have spoken to. They know that the people involved were either Ukrainian, or Russian, or a mix. They know that they are not affiliated with the Ukrainian government. But they know they’re also anti-Putin and pro-Ukraine.
HOST: So after all this investigative reporting, what you find is that the culprit here is a group of people who want the same thing as Ukraine, but aren’t officially tied to the government of Ukraine. But I’m curious how certain you are that these individuals are not connected to the Ukrainian government?
REPORTER: Well, the intelligence right now says they’re not. And while officials are telling us that the president of Ukraine and his key advisors did not know, we can’t be certain that that’s true or that somebody else didn’t know.
The Times reporters in Washington were at the mercy of White House officials “who had access to intelligence.” But the information they received originated with a group of CIA experts in deception and propaganda whose mission was to feed the newspaper a cover story—and to protect a president who made an unwise decision and is now lying about it.
© 2023 Seymour Hersh
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