I do not know much about covert CIA operations—no outsider can—but I do understand that the essential component of all successful missions is total deniability. The American men and women who moved, under cover, in and out of Norway in the months it took to plan and carry out the destruction of three of the four Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea a year ago left no traces—not a hint of the team’s existence—other than the success of their mission.
Deniability, as an option for President Joe Biden and his foreign policy advisers, was paramount. No significant information about the mission was put on a computer, but instead typed on a Royal or perhaps a Smith Corona typewriter with a carbon copy or two, as if the Internet and the rest of the online world had yet to be invented. The White House was isolated from the goings-on near Oslo; various reports and updates from the field were directly provided to CIA Director Bill Burns, who was the only link between the planners and the president who authorized the mission to take place on September 26, 2022. Once the mission was completed, the typed papers and carbons were destroyed, thus leaving no physical trace—no evidence to be dug up later by a special prosecutor or a presidential historian. You could call it the perfect crime.
There was a flaw—a gap in understanding between those who carried out the mission and President Biden, as to why he ordered the destruction of the pipelines when he did. My initial 5,200-word report, published in early February, ended cryptically by quoting an official with knowledge of the mission telling me: “It was a beautiful cover story.” The official added: “The only flaw was the decision to do it.”
This is the first account of that flaw, on the one-year anniversary of the explosions, and it is one President Biden and his national security team will not like.
Inevitably, my initial story caused a sensation, but the major media emphasized the White House denials and relied on an old canard—my reliance on an unnamed source—to join the administration in debunking the notion that Joe Biden could have had anything to do with such an attack. I must note here that I’ve won literally scores of prizes in my career for stories in the New York Times and the New Yorker that relied on not a single named source. In the past year we’ve seen a series of contrary newspaper stories, with no named first-hand sources, claiming that a dissident Ukrainian group carried out the technical diving operation attack in the Baltic Sea via a 49-foot rented yacht called the Andromeda.
I am now able to write about the unexplained flaw cited by the unnamed official. It goes once again to the classic issue of what the Central Intelligence Agency is all about: an issue raised by Richard Helms, who headed the agency during the tumultuous years of the Vietnam War and the CIA’s secret spying on Americans, as ordered by President Lyndon Johnson and sustained by Richard Nixon. I published an exposé in the Times about that spying in December 1974 that led to unprecedented hearings by the Senate into the role of the agency in its unsuccessful attempts, authorized by President John F. Kennedy, to assassinate Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Helms told the senators that the issue was whether he, as CIA director, worked for the Constitution or for the Crown, in the person of presidents Johnson and Nixon. The Church Committee left the issue unresolved, but Helms made it clear he and his agency worked for the top man in the White House.
Back to the Nord Stream pipelines: It is important to understand that no Russian gas was flowing to Germany through the Nord Stream pipelines when Joe Biden ordered them blown up last September 26. Nord Stream 1 had been supplying vast amounts of low-cost natural gas to Germany since 2011 and helped bolster Germany’s status as a manufacturing and industrial colossus. But it was shut down by Putin by the end of August 2022, as the Ukraine war was, at best, in a stalemate. Nord Stream 2 was completed in September 2021 but was blocked from delivering gas by the German government headed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz two days prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Given Russia’s vast stores of natural gas and oil, American presidents since John F. Kennedy have been alert to the potential weaponization of these natural resources for political purposes. That view remains dominant among Biden and his hawkish foreign policy advisers, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and Victoria Nuland, now the acting deputy to Blinken.