The Biden administration had been intending to take out the Nord Stream pipeline since December 2021. This was two months before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, while Putin was amassing troops on the border.
It was "the first of a series of top-secret meetings," reports Seymour Hersh, and it was here that the crucial question was asked by the president's advisors, which was if they should recommend further economic sanctions to Biden, or something irreversible.
It was Jake Sullivan, Hersch reports, according to a source, who intended to concoct a plan to destroy two of the Nord Stream pipelines, known collectively as Nord Stream 1, that were delivering natural gas from Russia to Europe, and to recommend that course of action to the president.
Many plans and schemes as to how to go about this were entertained, but as they developed, the winning plan involved the use of deep-sea Navy divers, divers who were not part of any special forces units, as the use of those units had to be cleared by Congress and plans briefed to the Gang of Eight. This was not something Sullivan wanted to do.
The Naval deep-sea teams trained in Panama City, Florida, and by June 2022, Hersch reports, those divers, "operating under the cover of a widely publicized mid-summer NATO exercise known as BALTOPS 22, planted the remotely triggered explosives that, three months later, destroyed three of the four Nord Stream pipelines, according to a source with direct knowledge of the operational planning."
The operation was staged in Norway, and the US team worked with the Norwegian Secret Service and their Navy. The Norwegians located the "right spot" for the explosives, and they also came up with the right time that would result in the least suspicion, which was during the BALTOPS 22. The explosives were planted, but it was determined by the White House that they should be detonated at a later date.
By the time those pipelines were destroyed, the plan "to sabotage the pipelines came after more than nine months of highly secret back and forth debate inside Washington’s national security community about how to best achieve that goal. For much of that time, the issue was not whether to do the mission, but how to get it done with no overt clue as to who was responsible."
The Nord Stream pipelines were majority controlled by Russian energy giant Gazprom, and the profits from the sale of natural gas that went to Gazprom would also be shared with the Russian government. Hersch reports that "state gas and oil revenues were estimated in some years to amount to as much as 45 percent of Russia’s annual budget."
On February 7, nearly two weeks before the pending invasion, Biden, along with Victoria Nuland, stated publicly that if Russia were to invade Ukraine, the Nord Stream pipelines would not move ahead. For those planning the operation to sabotage those pipelines, this was something of an opportunity.
It was no longer covert, since it had essentially been publicly announced, meaning that Congress did not have to be informed about the plans. The source told Hersch that "There was no longer a legal requirement to report the operation to Congress. All they had to do now is just do it—but it still had to be secret. The Russians have superlative surveillance of the Baltic Sea."
While those working on the plan were not in direct contact with the White House, the source said that "Bill Burns comes back and says, 'Do it.'"
"On September 26, 2022," Hersch reports, "a Norwegian Navy P8 surveillance plane made a seemingly routine flight and dropped a sonar buoy." This is what was needed to trigger remote detonation. "The signal spread underwater, initially to Nord Stream 2 and then on to Nord Stream 1. A few hours later, the high-powered C4 explosives were triggered and three of the four pipelines were put out of commission. Within a few minutes, pools of methane gas that remained in the shuttered pipelines could be seen spreading on the water’s surface and the world learned that something irreversible had taken place."
In the aftermath, the Biden administration claimed that Russia had destroyed their own pipelines, repeatedly insisting that it had not been the US who had done it. Russia claimed that the UK had done it.
"Let me say this," Biden said on September 30, 2022, "it was a deliberate act of sabotage and now the Russians are pumping out disinformation and lies." He promised to send a dive team to investigate. Biden said the US would "get to the bottom" of it, but continued to deny that they had any part to play.
Press Secretary Karrine Jean-Pierre played her part when she responded to a reporter who asked about Russia's claims that the US was behind the leaks.
"So, look," she said, "the President said that NS 2 wouldn't become operational and we would work with Germany on that," she said. "And he was right, because Germany took the step in February to freeze it, which was widely reported by all of you. And so that is what the President was talking about at that time."
Energy prices in Europe have skyrocketed since the destruction of the gas lines, as inflation has risen across the region. The European energy crisis will not be solved with Russian gas, as Russia said that they would not resume gas supplies to Europe until the west lifts sanctions on that nation over the invasion of Ukraine. Prices were already rising prior to that pipeline sabotage as well, and Russia had already cut a natural gas pipeline to Germany in retaliation for sanctions.
The destruction of the pipeline took the decision as to whether or not to continue to use Russian natural gas out of the hands of European leaders, since the most efficient means to obtain that gas have now been destroyed.