The claim by a discredited journalist that the US secretly blew up the Nord Stream pipeline is proving a gift to Putin
- Once-celebrated journalist Seymour Hersh made unproven claims the US blew up the Nord Stream pipelines.
- Hersh won a Pulitzer in 1970, but his more recent work has come under sharp criticism.
A journalist's heavily disputed claim on Wednesday that the US government blew up the Nord Stream 2 pipelines sparked a flat rejection from the White House — and glee from the Kremlin.
Seymour Hersh alleged in a self-published article that the Biden administration partnered with Norway in a top-secret operation targeting the pipelines under the Baltic Sea, which were destroyed in June 2022.
The White House, contacted by Hersh for comment, called the story "false and complete fiction" and issued a further denial after the article was published.
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Insider: "These allegations are nonsense."
In recent decades, he has come under criticism by those who call it poorly-sourced, conspiratorial, and over-reliant on anonymous sources. The open-source investigative outlet Bellingcat was deeply critical of his reporting on chemical attacks in Syria, and Vox raised doubts about his infamous 2015 claim that President Barack Obama did not, in fact, mastermind the killing of Osama bin Laden.
A gleeful endorsement
None of that stopped Russia, which swiftly endorsed Hersh's claim and breathlessly reported it via its closely controlled state media.
The central new claims of Hersh's article appear to rely on a single unnamed source, and included no details which Insider or other media outlets were able to verify.
It was greeted with skepticism by close watchers of the attack, which many observers blamed on Russia. Sweden, which has spent months investigating the pipeline destruction, last year declared the event a sabotage but did not say by whom.
In Russia, Hersh's story was immediately greeted with a sense of vindication. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the state outlet RIA Novosti that Hersh's article was not a surprise in Moscow and said it would bring "consequences" for the US.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova seized on the article, citing the multiple times that Russia suggested the US was behind the attack, also without evidence.
Russian politician Konstantin Kosachev wrote on Telegram that the saying the reporting is "impossible to dismiss."
Those remarks were shared by TV personality Vladimir Solovyev, arguably Russia's leading propagandist, to his 1.3 million Telegram followers.
President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, called the article "remarkable," though he added that "some points can be disputed" and that some "need proof."
All breezily dismissed the unusually explicit rebuttal from US officials.
State-controlled news agency TASS quickly published a review of the Russian press reaction to the claims.
High-stakes blame game
Investigations remain inconclusive. In December unnamed US and EU officials told The Washington Post that there was no strong evidence that Russia was behind the attack. More recently, German officials agreed.
However, the evidence-free theory that President Joe Biden engineered the explosions has long circulated between far-right US media and Russian propagandists, echoed by Russian officials.
It is largely based on remarks made by Biden in early February 2022, and the theory that the pipeline's destruction would be politically advantageous to the US.
Biden had said he opposed opening the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and saying the US could "bring an end to" it if Russia invaded Ukraine.
The pipeline was due to supply vast amounts of cheap Russian gas to Europe, a move that the US believed would give Russia political leverage over its neighbors.
The invasion did take place, and officials in Germany — where the pipeline was due to pump its gas — axed the project before Nord Stream 2 moved any gas. Nord Stream 1 kept pumping until the explosion.
Hersh's article recounted this and went further, describing in detail an alleged plot in which US divers, under cover of publicly-announced undersea exercises, planted the explosives at a spot off the Norwegian coast.
The central claims of the 5,200-word article appear to be based on a single source, who is described only as having "direct knowledge of the operational planning."
Asked by TASS about his source, Hersch refused to reveal their name but said: "It's a person, who, it seems, knows a lot about what's going on." Hersh declined to comment when contacted by Insider.
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