How the United States destroyed the Nord Stream pipeline


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The United States carried out a covert naval operation that was kept secret—until the New York Times termed it a “mystery,”
How the United States destroyed the Nord Stream pipeline
Although the United States carried out a covert naval operation that was maintained a secret—until now—the New York Times dubbed it a “mystery.”

The U.S. Navy’s Diving and Salvage Center is located in rural Panama Community, a now-booming resort city in the southwest panhandle of Florida, 70 miles south of the Alabama line, down what was once a country lane. The center’s complex is a drab post-World War II concrete building with the appearance of a vocational high school on the west side of Chicago that is as unremarkable as its surroundings. Across from the current four-lane road are a coin-operated laundromat and a dancing studio.

Since decades, the facility has been educating highly qualified deep-water divers who, after being sent to American military units abroad, can use technical diving to accomplish good by clearing harbors and beaches with C4 explosives.

Read more: How the United States destroyed the Nord Stream pipeline

According to a source with direct knowledge of the operational planning, the Navy divers planted the remotely detonated explosives that, three months later, destroyed three of the four Nord Stream pipelines while acting under the cover of the widely publicized mid-summer NATO exercise known as BALTOPS 22.

For more than a decade, two of the pipelines—collectively known as Nord Stream 1—had been delivering inexpensive Russian natural gas to Germany and much of Western Europe. A second set of pipelines, known as Nord Stream 2, had been constructed but had not yet begun to flow. President Joseph Biden saw the pipelines as a vehicle for Vladimir Putin at this time, when Russian forces were massing on the border of Ukraine and the deadliest conflict in Europe since 1945 was coming.

When contacted for comment, White House spokesman Adrienne Watson said via email, “This is incorrect and pure nonsense.” The Central Intelligence Agency’s Tammy Thorp wrote, “This accusation is entirely and utterly false.” in a similar manner.

After more than nine months of intensely confidential back and forth discussion within Washington’s national security community about how to best accomplish that aim, Biden decided to damage the pipelines. The question for the majority of that period was not whether to complete the mission, but rather how to accomplish so without being aware of who was in charge.

Relying on the graduates of the center’s extreme diving school in Panama City was necessary for bureaucratic reasons. Only Navy personnel, not members, were the divers.

Relying on the graduates of the center’s extreme diving school in Panama City was necessary for bureaucratic reasons. The divers were all from the Navy and not from the Special Forces Command of the United States, whose clandestine activities must be disclosed to Congress and briefed beforehand to the leadership of the Senate and House, or the so-called Gang of Eight. The Biden Administration was taking every precaution to prevent leaks while the planning took place in the final months of 2021 and the beginning of 2022.

President Biden and his foreign policy team, including Undersecretary of State for Policy Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, had been vocal and consistent in their opposition to the two pipelines, which ran parallel to one another for 750 miles under the ocean.

German distributors were able to sell excess gas, at a profit, throughout Western Europe thanks to the direct route, which avoided the need to travel through Ukraine. German distributors were able to power their companies and heat their homes with an abundance of inexpensive Russian natural gas. The US would break its vows to avoid direct conflict with Russia if the government took any action. Privacy was crucial.

Washington and its anti-Russian NATO allies have viewed Nord Stream 1 as a danger to western hegemony since its inception. The holding company behind it, Nord Stream AG, was established in Switzerland in 2005 in collaboration with Gazprom, an oligarch-dominated publicly traded Russian firm that generates tremendous profits for its owners.

The straight route, which did not require passing via Ukraine, had benefited the German economy, which benefited from an abundance of inexpensive

The political concerns of the United States were justified: Putin would now have a significant extra source of money, and Germany and the rest of Western Europe would become dependent on the cheap natural gas supplied by Russia, which would lessen European reliance on the United States. In actuality, it is what took place. Many Germans viewed Nord Stream 1 as an important component of the realization of former Chancellor Willy Brandt’s renowned Ostpolitik theory, which called for the use of cheap Russian gas to power a thriving Western European market and trading economy in order to enable postwar Germany to rebuild itself and other European nations decimated in World War II.

NATO and Washington considered Nord Stream 1 to be risky enough, but if German regulators authorized Nord Stream 2, which is scheduled to be finished in September 2021, it would more than double the amount of cheap gas that would be available to Germany and Western Europe. More over half of Germany’s annual gas consumption would be met by the second pipeline. The strong foreign policy of the Biden Administration contributed to the ongoing escalation of tensions between Russia and NATO.

When Senate Republicans, led by Ted Cruz of Texas, repeatedly brought up the political threat of cheap Russian natural gas during the confirmation process for Blinken as Secretary of State in January 2021, opposition to Nord Stream 2 exploded on the eve of the Biden inauguration.

When Senate Republicans, led by Ted Cruz of Texas, repeatedly brought up the political threat posed by cheap Russian natural gas during the confirmation process for Blinken as Secretary of State in January 2021, opposition to Nord Stream 2 exploded on the eve of the Biden inauguration. A measure that “halted [the pipeline] in its tracks,” as Cruz told Blinken, had been successfully passed by that point by a united Senate. To get the second pipeline online, the German government, then led by Angela Merkel, would exert tremendous political and economic pressure.

Will Biden oppose the Germans? Yes, Blinken acknowledged, but he also clarified that they had not spoken in detail about the incoming President’s opinions. He is adamant that this is a poor idea, and I know that.

Biden blinked a few months later, when the second pipeline’s construction was almost finished. In a surprise change of events that May, the administration lifted sanctions against Nord Stream AG, with a State Department official admitting that it had “always been a long shot” to try to stop the project through sanctions and diplomacy. Officials from the government are said to have advised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky not to criticize the action as he was then under threat of an invasion by Russia.

Immediate repercussions resulted. The immediate blockade of all of Biden’s foreign policy candidates was declared by Senate Republicans, led by Cruz, and ratification of the yearly defense bill was postponed for months, well into the fall. Later, Politico described Biden’s change of heart over the second Russian pipeline as “the one choice, possibly more important

Despite receiving a relief from the crisis in mid-November when Germany’s energy regulators postponed approval of the second Nord Stream pipeline, the administration was still struggling. With mounting concerns in Germany and Europe that the suspension of the pipeline and the growing likelihood of war between Russia and Ukraine would usher in an unwelcome harsh winter, natural gas prices rose 8% in only a few days. Washington was unsure about Olaf Scholz’s position as Germany’s freshly chosen chancellor. In a speech in Prague a few months prior, Scholtz had openly backed French President Emmanuel Macron’s desire for a more independent European foreign policy—clearly implying less reliance on Washington and its erratic behavior.

Russian forces had been steadily and menacingly amassing on Ukraine’s frontiers throughout this time, and by the end of December, more than 100,000 soldiers were ready to launch an attack from Crimea and Belarus. Washington was becoming increasingly alarmed as a result of Blinken’s prediction that those troop levels may “double in short order.”

Once more, Nord Stream was the center of attention for the administration. Washington feared that nations like Germany would be unwilling to provide Ukraine the money and the weapons it needed to beat Russia as long as Europe relied on the pipelines for inexpensive natural gas.

At this uncertain time, Biden gave Jake Sullivan the go-ahead to form an interagency team to develop a solution.

Jake Sullivan called a meeting of a newly formed task force in December 2021, two months before the first Russian tanks entered Ukraine, and asked for suggestions on how to counter Putin’s impending invasion. Participants included people from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA, the State and Treasury Departments, and others.

It would be the first of several top-secret sessions, held in a secure room on the top level of the Old Executive Office Building, which was also where the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board was located. This building was next to the White House (PFIAB). The normal back-and-forth conversation eventually led to a vital opening query: Would the group’s suggestion to the President be reversible—such as another group coming in and making a different recommendation?

Participants realized that Sullivan wanted them to develop a strategy for the destruction of the two Nord Stream pipelines, and that he was carrying out the President’s wishes, according to the source with firsthand knowledge of the meeting.

The attendees discussed potential attack strategies during the subsequent meetings. The Navy suggested directly attacking the pipeline with a newly-commissioned submarine. The Air Force considered dropping bombs with remotely detonable delayed fuses. Whatever was done, according to the CIA, would have to be clandestine. Everyone involved was aware of the risks. This is not children’s material, the source insisted. “It’s an act of war,” if the strike could be linked to the US.

William Burns, a cordial former ambassador to Russia who had served as deputy secretary of state during the Obama Administration, oversaw the CIA at the time. Burns swiftly approved the formation of an Agency working group, one of whose ad hoc members just so happened to be knowledgeable of Panama City’s Navy deep-sea divers’ capabilities. The CIA working group started formulating a plan for a covert operation over the following few weeks that would employ deep-sea divers to set off an explosion along the pipeline.

This sort of thing had been done before. Two significant Russian Navy units were communicating via an underwater cable buried in the Sea of Okhotsk in 1971, the American intelligence community learnt from still-undisclosed sources.

Undercover, a hand-selected team of CIA and NSA operatives met somewhere in the Washington, D.C., area and devised a strategy that eventually led to the discovery of the Russian cable. The strategy involved Navy divers, modified submarines, and a deep-submarine rescue vehicle. The divers successfully intercepted the Russian traffic by installing a sophisticated listening device on the cable, which was then used to capture it on a recording system.

The NSA discovered that senior Russian navy personnel communicated freely with their colleagues without using encryption because they were confident in the security of their communication channel. The project ran smoothly for ten years until it was compromised by a forty-four year old civilian NSA worker. The recording device and its tape had to be changed every month.

The undersea success known as Ivy Bells, which was inventive and dangerous, yielded priceless information about the goals and plans of the Russian Navy.

The CIA’s enthusiasm for a secret deep-sea attack, however, didn’t win over the interagency group right away. Too many questions remained unanswered. There were no oil rigs that could be utilized as cover for a diving operation, and the Russian navy was actively patrolling the Baltic Sea’s waters. Would training for the operation require the divers to travel to Estonia, which is just across the border from Russia’s natural gas loading docks? It would be a goat fuck, someone told the Agency.

According to the insider, throughout “all of this planning,” “certain working guys at the CIA and the State Department were saying,

We have a means to blow up the pipelines, the CIA working group informed Sullivan’s interagency panel in early 2022.

The next event was astounding. On February 7, less than three weeks before the ominous Russian invasion of Ukraine, Biden met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in his White House office. Scholz had previously wavered but was now firmly on the American side. In the news conference that followed, Biden firmly asserted, “If Russia invades, there won’t be a Nord Stream 2 anymore.” We’ll put a stop to it.

Twenty days previously, with little public attention, Undersecretary Nuland had essentially made the same point at a State Department briefing. She said, “I want to be very clear to you today.”

Several people who were engaged in the pipeline mission’s preparation were horrified by what they perceived to be oblique allusions to the attack.

The insider compared it to dropping an atomic bomb in Tokyo and informing the Japanese that it would soon go off. The alternatives were supposed to be implemented after the invasion and not made widely known. Biden simply ignored it or didn’t comprehend it.

Some of the planners may have been irritated by Biden and Nuland’s inappropriate behavior, if that is what it was. But it also presented a chance. The insider claims that several top CIA officers came to the conclusion that detonating the pipeline was no longer a viable covert option because the President had just made that announcement.

The proposal to blow up Nord Stream 1 and 2 was abruptly lowered from a covert operation needing notification of Congress to a highly classified intelligence operation with U.S. military help. The source stated that there was no longer an obligation under the legislation to inform Congress of the operation. Now all they needed to do was carry it out—but it had to remain a secret. The Baltic Sea is under excellent Russian monitoring.

Members of the Agency working group, who were unable to communicate directly with the White House, were anxious to learn whether the President meant what he said, that is, whether the mission was now approved. “Bill Burns comes back and says, Do,” the person recalled.

The base for the mission was in Norway, which was ideal.

The U.S. military has significantly increased its presence within Norway during the recent East-West dispute. Norway’s western border with Russia extends 1,400 miles along the north Atlantic Ocean and converges above the Arctic Circle. Despite some local opposition, the Pentagon has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to improve and expand American Navy and Air Force installations in Norway, resulting in the creation of high-paying jobs and contracts. The most significant of the new developments was a sophisticated synthetic aperture radar that was deployed far to the north, capable of penetrating deep into Russia, and that went online just as the American intelligence community lost access to a number of long-range listening posts within China.

More American submarines could now closely collaborate with their Norwegian counterparts to monitor and snoop on a significant Russian nuclear redoubt 250 miles to the east, on the Kola Peninsula, thanks to the opening of a recently renovated American submarine base that had been under construction for years. In order to improve its long-range surveillance on all things Russian, America has also significantly expanded a Norwegian air base in the north and given the Norwegian air force a fleet of P8 Poseidon patrol planes made by Boeing.

By passing the Supplementary Defense Cooperation Agreement in November, the Norwegian government infuriated liberals and several moderates in its parliament (SDCA). In accordance with the new agreement, American soldiers accused of crimes committed off base as well as any Norwegian civilians suspected of interfering with base operations would be subject to U.S. legal proceedings in specified “designated regions” of the North.

In the early years of the Cold War, in 1949, Norway was one of the founding members of NATO. Jens Stoltenberg, a devoted anti-communist who served as Norway’s prime minister for eight years before assuming his senior NATO position in 2014 with American support, is currently the organization’s supreme commander. He was a staunch opponent of Vladimir Putin and all things Russian who had worked with American intelligence agencies ever since the Vietnam War. Since then, he has earned entire trust. The insider claimed that “he is the glove that fits the American hand.”

Planners in Washington understood they had to travel to Norway. They detested the Russians, and the Norwegian navy was staffed with excellent divers and sailors with decades of experience.

A small portion of the crew traveled to Norway sometime in March to meet with the Norwegian Secret Service and Navy. The optimum location to plant the explosives in the Baltic Sea was one of the main issues. As they traveled to the port of Greifswald in the extreme northeast of Germany, Nord Stream 1 and 2, each with two sets of pipelines, were mostly spaced out by less than a mile.

The Norwegian navy quickly identified the ideal location, in the shallow Baltic Sea seas a few kilometers off the Danish island of Bornholm. The seafloor was barely 260 feet deep, and the pipelines were more than a mile apart. In that case,

The Americans all joined after some research.

The Navy’s obscure deep-diving unit in Panama City came back into play at this moment. The top Naval Academy graduates in Annapolis, who normally want the glory of being assigned as a Seal, fighter pilot, or submariner, saw the deep-sea schools at Panama City, whose trainees participated in Ivy Bells, as an unwelcome backwater. There is always at least duty on a destroyer, cruiser, or amphibious ship if one must become a “Black Shoe,” or a member of the less desired surface ship command. Mine warfare is the least glamourous of all. Its divers never show up in Hollywood productions or on magazine covers.

Only the top divers with deep diving certifications are recruited for the operation, and they are instructed to be ready to be called to the CIA in Washington, according to the source.

The Swedish or Danish warships might notice any strange undersea activity in the waters off Bornholm and report it, which would worry the Norwegians and Americans who already had a location and the operatives.

The intelligence community was aware of Denmark’s unique ties to the United Kingdom as one of the initial NATO signatories. Sweden had submitted a membership application to NATO, showcasing its excellent management of its undersea sound and magnetic sensor systems that successfully tracked

The intelligence community was aware of Denmark’s unique ties to the United Kingdom as one of the initial NATO signatories. Swedish submarines that periodically appeared in the isolated waters of the Swedish archipelago and were driven to the surface were successfully detected by underwater sound and magnetic sensor systems after Sweden submitted an application for membership in NATO.

Along with the Americans, the Norwegians insisted that senior officials in Sweden and Denmark receive a broad briefing on any potential diving activity in the area. In that case, a superior could step in and prevent a report from entering the chain of command, protecting the pipeline operation.

The Norwegians were crucial in overcoming other obstacles. It was known that the Russian navy had monitoring equipment that could find and detonate underwater mines. It was necessary to adjust the American explosive devices to the precise salinity of the water in order to conceal them so that they would look to the Russian system as a natural background. Norwegians were in a fix.

The essential issue of when the operation should occur was likewise addressed by the Norwegians. The American Sixth Fleet, whose flagship is headquartered in Gaeta, Italy, south of Rome, has sponsored a significant NATO exercise in the Baltic Sea every June for the past 21 years, involving dozens of partner ships from all over the region. Baltic Operations 22, or BALTOPS 22, would be the name of the current exercise, which took place in June. The Norwegians suggested that this would provide for the perfect mine planting cover.

One crucial component was supplied by the Americans, who persuaded the Sixth Fleet planners to include a research and development exercise in the program. According to the Navy, the Sixth Fleet participated in the exercise with its “research and warfare centers.” A NATO dive team would install mines off the shore of Bornholm Island, and competing teams would use cutting-edge underwater technology to locate and detonate the mines.

It served as both a helpful exercise and a clever cover. By the conclusion of BALTOPS22, the Panama City boys would have completed their tasks and placed the C4 explosives with a 48-hour timer. By the first explosion, all of the Americans and Norwegians would have left.

The days were dwindling. The insider stated that “the clock was ticking and we were getting close to mission accomplished.”

Washington then had a change of heart. The White House was concerned that a two-day window for their detonation would be too close to the conclusion of the exercise and make it clear that America had been participating. The bombs would nevertheless be planted during BALTOPS.

The White House instead issued a fresh request: “Can the field personnel devise a method to explode the pipelines later on command?”

The President’s apparent uncertainty infuriated and irritated some members of the planning committee. The team in Norway now had to figure out a means to offer Biden what he wanted—the power to issue a successful execution order at a moment of his choosing—since the divers in Panama City had repeatedly practiced planting the C4 on pipes as they would during BALTOPS.

The CIA was used to dealing with capricious, last-minute changes and knew how to handle them. However, it also brought back some of the worries many had about the necessity and legality of the entire operation.

The President’s covert directives also brought to mind the CIA’s predicament during the Vietnam War, when President Johnson ordered the Agency to go against its mission because of rising anti-Vietnam War sentiment.

In the end, the agency gave in, and throughout the course of the 1970s, it became evident exactly how far it had been prepared to go. After the Watergate disclosures, there were following press exposures concerning the Agency’s snooping on American civilians, its involvement in the killing of foreign leaders, and its sabotage of Salvador Allende’s socialist government.

The Agency director at the time, Richard Helms, acknowledged that he had a duty to carry out the President’s wishes, even if they meant breaking the law, during a dramatic series of hearings in the Senate in the middle of the 1970s that were chaired by Frank Church of Idaho.

Helms lamented that when anything is done on a President’s orders in secret, “you nearly have an Immaculate Conception,” in an unpublished, closed-door testimony. Whether it is appropriate or bad to have it, the CIA operates under a distinct set of guidelines than any other branch of the government. In essence, he was informing the Senators that, in his capacity as head of the CIA, he was aware that he had been serving the Crown rather than the Constitution.

Working within the same framework, the Americans in Norway diligently set to work on the new challenge—figuring out how to remotely explode the C4 explosives in accordance with Biden’s directive. The task was far more difficult than people in Washington realized. The Norwegian team had no means of anticipating when the President would press the button. Would it happen in a few weeks, a few months, a half-year, or even later?

The sonar buoy would be dropped by a plane on short notice, activating the C4 linked to the pipes, but the process required the most cutting-edge signal processing equipment. Once installed, the delayed timing devices connected to any of the four pipelines could unintentionally be triggered by the diverse background noises of the sea that are present throughout the heavily traveled Baltic Sea, including sounds from nearby and distant ships, underwater drilling, seismic events, waves, and even sea life. To prevent this, the sonar buoy, once it was in position, would emit a series of distinctive low frequency tonal sounds, similar to those produced by a flute or a piano. These sounds would be recognized by the timing device, which would then set off the explosives after a predetermined number of hours.

I was informed by Dr. Theodore Postol, professor emeritus of science, technology, and national security policy at MIT, that “you want a signal that is strong enough such that no other signal could mistakenly deliver a pulse that detonated the explosives.” The problem facing the group in Norway as a result of Biden’s delay, according to Postol, the science adviser to the Pentagon’s Chief of Naval Operations, was one of chance: “The longer the explosives stay in the water the greater likelihood there would be of a random signal that would fire the bombs.”

A Norwegian Navy P8 surveillance plane dropped a sonar buoy on September 26, 2022, during what appeared to be a routine flight. Underwater, the signal traveled first to Nord Stream 2 and subsequently to Nord Stream 1. A few hours later, the powerful C4 explosives were detonated, taking three out of the four pipes offline. The world quickly understood that something irreparable had happened when pools of methane gas remaining in the shut-off pipelines could be observed expanding on the water’s surface.



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