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Further discrepancies in Hersh report on Nord Stream


US journalist Hersh had claimed that the US and Norway were behind the explosions at the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines. But several details in his report do not stand up to scrutiny.

By Pascal Siggelkow, ARD fact finder editors

The discussions about the explosions at several tubes of the Baltic Sea pipelines Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 are ongoing. While Russia through the Report by the American journalist Seymour Hersh sees his view confirmed, the United Nations called for restraint in the face of various accusations.

“We should avoid any unfounded allegations that could further escalate already heightened tensions in the region and potentially hamper the search for truth,” UN political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo told the UN Security Council this week. The United Nations could not confirm any claim. The results of the ongoing national investigations by Germany, Sweden and Denmark would have to be awaited.

However, little is known about these investigations. At the request of ARD fact finder A spokesman for the federal government only refers to question time on February 8 in the German Bundestag. There, Economics Minister Robert Habeck said that the investigations were classified by the secret service and were part of a secret service reconnaissance. The investigations of the Federal Public Prosecutor General against unknown persons continue.

Russia sees itself confirmed

The secrecy of the federal government, as well as the other states that have ongoing investigations into the case, further fuels speculation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov used Hersh’s report to spread the narrative that the West was deliberately withholding knowledge in order to cover up its own perpetration. Russia had already done something similar in the investigation into the downing of flight MH17 – it turned out in the end that the plane was shot down by the pro-Russian separatists. The rocket for it was supplied by Russia.

“Look at how the West is reacting to US journalist Seymour Hersh’s concrete and fact-based revelations about the Nord Stream explosions,” Lavrov said. “He presents concrete and timely facts about relevant meetings in the White House and in other departments of the US administration. What he put on paper corresponds to actually recorded incidents on the gas lines.”

No Alta-class minesweeper included

But there are more and more doubts about that. Shortly after his report was published, experts pointed out that there were some inconsistencies in Hersh’s version. With the help of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), further details have now begun to falter.

Lieutenant Colonel Vegard Norstad Finberg, press spokesman for the Norwegian armed forces, whose Navy, according to Hersh, together with the US Navy, is said to have attached the explosive devices to the gas pipelines and triggered them months later by sonobuoy, names the allegations against the ARD fact finder “unstable”. Hersh had claimed that the divers had carried out their operation from a Norwegian mine warfare vessel of the so-called Alta class. Finberg contradicts this: No Alta-class ship operated near the explosion sites during the NATO maneuvers BALTOPS last year.

Danish data analyst Oliver Alexander confirms this. This one has the Movements of Alta-class ships tracked at the time of the maneuver. According to this, the two still active ships were navigating in and around Norway at the time in question, well away from the Danish island of Bornholm, near which the explosions took place.

Too far away for use?

The only mine warfare vessel in the Norwegian Navy that was underway in the Baltic Sea during the BALTOPS maneuver is the KNM Hinnøy. This does not belong to the Alta class, but to the so-called Oksøy class. Again, the Norwegian Navy says the ship “never came near the area where the Nord Stream tubes were blown up months later.”

Alexander has that too examined using OSINT data. The result: the ship was never closer than 8.6 nautical miles (almost 16 kilometers) to one of the explosion sites. From there, it would have taken him 62 minutes to reach one of the sites; Added to this is the time for diving. In addition, satellite images would give no reason to assume that the ship had meanwhile secretly concealed its GPS data. The ship was also in a formation with three other NATO warships.

OSINT expert Joe Galvin also pointed out on Twitter that the KNM Hinnøy was not close enough to the pipelines to maneuver a diving team, for example.

Hersh also claimed to the Russian news agency TASS that the Norwegian ship was equipped with a CIA decompression chamber for the divers. Such a chamber serves to adapt to the atmospheric air pressure after long and deep diving missions in order to prevent decompression sickness. On videos that the participating ships after the end of the maneuver entering the port of Kiel However, such a chamber cannot be seen on any ship – not even on the Norwegian KNM Hinnøy (from minute 4:30).

Explosives in plant form unlikely

There are also still uncertainties about the details of the detonations. Hersh writes that the divers placed the C4 plastic explosive “in the form of plants on the four pipelines with concrete casings.” However, only three of the four pipelines are damaged, one tube of Nord Stream 2 remained undamaged. It is currently unclear whether explosive charges failed or whether a quarter of the transport capacity was deliberately spared.

According to experts, the characteristics of the seismograms caused by the explosions also show that the detonations must have had a TNT equivalent of several hundred kilograms. “You should be on the safe side with 300 to 400 kilograms of C4 explosive per blast,” says David Domjahn, lecturer in explosives technology at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). Against this background, the thesis that the explosives were attached in the form of plants was “adventurous”.

“The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline was recently completed, and around 300 kg of vegetation would have needed time to grow and should therefore not be suitable for camouflage,” says Domjahn. The type of plant design also raises questions. “Thick tree roots – probably unlikely at a water depth of around 80 meters – can be modeled with plastic explosives. When replicating more delicate structures such as seagrass, the challenge is not to go below the so-called limit diameter of the explosives.”

Due to the plasticity and the associated fragility, Domjahn considers it “impossible” that inconspicuous plant dummies were used, which are robust against the water current. The lack of fragmentation of the previously known part ends also speaks against the thesis. There is a likelihood that the explosive charges were not placed directly on the pipelines, but at a distance in order to achieve a “pushing effect” through the intervening water and at the same time to conceal the traces of the explosives used.

Basic mines instead of C4?

Domjahn therefore holds the Use of ground mines for significantly more likely. Because these could have simply been lowered into the water from a ship, the effort would have been much less than having divers attach individual explosive charges to the overgrown gas pipes and secure them against the current.

Domjahn is certain that a state actor is behind the explosions. Which, however, could only bring the investigation to light. “For a qualified statement about the explosives used, its shape and positioning, forensics of the damaged lines are required. Until then, statements about the explosives used are speculation.”

Reconnaissance aircraft was not over the Baltic Sea

The flight of the Norwegian P-8 reconnaissance aircraft, which according to Hersh dropped the sonobuoy into the Baltic Sea on September 26 to trigger the explosions, cannot be verified in detail. Lieutenant Colonel Finberg reports that the Norwegian P-8 Poseidon has never been in the said area. “The P-8 has not been in operational service and has only flown test flights in Norwegian airspace.” That coincides with the Norwegian Armed Forces press release from February 2022, noting that the P-8 will not replace the P-3 Orion reconnaissance aircraft until early 2023.

Flight data also shows that the P-8 only made a few test flights in September 2022, none of them near the later detonations. Since, according to Hersh, it was a maneuver disguised as a routine flight, it speaks against the fact that the movement data was deliberately concealed. The Norwegian P-3 reconnaissance aircraft was not flying over the Baltic Sea on September 26 either.

However, flight data shows that a US Navy P-8 reconnaissance aircraft flew over the Baltic Sea that day – but only more than an hour after the time of the explosion. Thus, this detail in Hersh’s report cannot be proved.

Hersh’s part about NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also raises questions. Hersh writes that the former Norwegian prime minister is a hardliner on Putin and Russia and has worked with US intelligence since the Vietnam War. But even in the last year of the Vietnam War in 1975, Stoltenberg was just 16 years old.

Hersh spreads Russian narrative of war

In Post-report interviews Hersh made some questionable statements. When asked why he didn’t offer his research to The New York Times, for example, he said that the newspaper decided “that the war in Ukraine will be won by Ukraine.” That’s what the editors want readers to hear and read, and that’s the way it should be.

He cannot understand US President Joe Biden’s commitment to Ukraine. In the United States there is an “enormous, persistent hatred of everything that has to do with Putin.” Hersh doesn’t think Putin wants to take over Europe. “He wants to tame Ukraine,” he said, referring to the Russian war of aggression. He also accused the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj of being to blame for the fact that the war was not over yet. “At the moment it’s a question of how many of his own people Zelenskyy wants to kill.” These unfounded statements are very much in line with the Russian narrative.

Just like his statements in relation to Germany. Due to the explosions of the pipelines, households here would remain cold and there would be a “lot of anger”.

A request from ARD fact finder to Hersh about the inconsistencies in his report went unanswered.