Sy Hersh and Pres. Biden’s desperate measures

For a number of reasons, I am inclined to believe that the landmark piece of reporting that Sy Hersh released last week on Pres. Biden’s decision to bomb the Nord Stream pipelines, got the essential facts of the story right. I also, for what it’s worth, don’t rule out the possibility that the single insider source on whose revelations much of Hersh’s story relied may also to some extent have been playing him by revealing facts that the source’s bosses in the national security apparatus wanted to be revealed. But even if that’s the case, it doesn’t undermine the credibility of the revelations themselves, though it would raise other intriguing questions.

Two basic facts stand out, with or without the new revelations from Hersh’s source. The first is Pres. Biden’s stark declaration on February 7 last year that, “If Russia invades . . . there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it… I promise you that we will be able to do it.” The second is the fact that on September 26 the two Nord Stream pipelines were indeed blown up, in an operation that investigators from nearby Sweden and Denmark later concluded had been conducted by agents of a state actor, un-named.

We might also note that the countries that have benefited the most from the explosion have been Norway and the United States. And the countries that have suffered most from the explosion have been Germany and Russia.

Two aspects of Hersh’s report are distinctive. First is the wealth of technical and logistical detail that he provides, including the U.S. planning group’s enrollment of Norway into their plan decision to modify a long-running annual NATO naval exercise in the Baltic last June as a cover for the dive teams that attached the explosives to the pipelines, for later activation. Second is the “decisiveness” he attributes to Pres. Biden, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and CIA head William Burns throughout his story.

Equally notable is the nearly total silence with which the U.S. corporate media has greeted Hersh’s new revelations.

Look! The story contains numerous hitherto unrevealed, and operationally intriguing, details about an event that has had a massive impact on European countries and on U.S.-European relations… But no-one in the mainstream media here in the United States or apparently in West Europe wants to make any reference to it? The most one can hear in some corporate media circles is either (a) a reference to some small “open-source intelligence” source that tried—but failed—to refute one small detail of Hersh’s report, or (b) some decidedly ageist compassion-trolling of Hersh along the lines of “poor old Buggins, he used to be so good at his job but look at him now… “

Why this silence? It’s not as if the media in this country has anything like the degree of censorship on national-security affairs that their counterparts in Israel or even in the United Kingdom has to deal with. Last I heard, we still had a First Amendment?

One comparison with the situation in Israel can, I think, be very helpful in this regard. As we all know (right?), back in 1967 or thereabouts, Israel had put together its first Hiroshima-style nuclear weapon, and it continued to increase the size and destructive power of its nuclear arsenal for many years thereafter. Back in 1967, the United States, the Soviet Union, and other states around the world were completing their breakthrough negotiations on the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). It came into force in 1970. Israel has never been a member of the NPT; and thus, ever since 1970 it has been a nuclear rogue state, remaining quite outside the “rules-based order” that the United States was building together with both its allies and its Cold war opponents.

But support for Israel in the political elite here in the United States remained very high. And no-one in the New York Times, other legacy media, the U.S. Congress, or any administration here has ever wanted to come out and flat-out admit that Israel is a state with a nuclear arsenal that poses a potentially destructive and destabilizing threat to the Middle East and the whole global order. No sir! There’s nothing to look at here, just move right along…

Back in late 1986, a technician from the heart of Israel’s nuclear-weapons manufacturing facility called Mordechai Vanunu suffered a crisis of conscience, contacted the London Sunday Times, and provided them with numerous details and photographs of the facility in Dimona. After doing some good fact-checking, the Sunday Times ran a prominent three-page story based on his revelations.

Now, from what I understand about media (self-)censorship in London, I think it’s probable the Sunday Times editors ran the gist of their story by the quasi-governmental “D-Notice committee” before before they ran it, which means their revelation had some kind of nod from the British security bodies. The authorities in Israel were far harsher. Before the ST editors ran the story, they had asked an Israeli diplomat in London for a comment… and the Mossad immediately concocted a classic honey-trap that lured Vanunu onto a boat near Italy where—at just about the same time his story was being released in London—they kidnapped him and sped him to Israel. He was tried and sentenced to 18 years in prison, eleven of which he served in solitary confinement.

Full disclosure: I had worked for the Sunday Times in Beirut in the late 1970s. But when the Vanunu story ran I was in Washington DC, where in the late 1980s and early 1990s I took part in several semi-official study groups dealing with weapons proliferation in the Middle East. It was clear that the participants in those study groups were all well aware of the Vanunu revelations, and I don’t recall a single expert colleague among the many with whom I interacted challenging any of his revelations on factual grounds. But very few of them ever wanted to give any public acknowledgment either to his revelations or to the broader facts about Israel’s burgeoning nuclear-weapons capability that underlay them. (About which the intelligence agencies and many of the external experts who worked with them were doubtless well aware.) I was often the only pesky voice in the room saying, “Hey, we do also have to look at Israel’s nukes!”

At that point and over the decades since, whenever issues of weapons proliferation in Middle East would get discussed in mainstream U.S. media and policy circles, the journalists and spokespeople would nearly all hew closely to a strict vow of omertà regarding any news or information on Israel’s nuclear arsenal. It is hugely to Sy Hersh’s credit that back in 1991 he published a pretty good book on the topic called The Samson Option. But in the rest of the U.S. political elite, people’s attention was obsessively directed away from Israel’s arsenal and toward whatever much smaller, more primitive, or even non-existent weapons “programs” any of its neighbors might be pursuing.

In 2003, that obsession—which consumed the whole of the corporate media as well as the political class—was even parlayed into a totally unjustifiable invasion of Iraq.

Throughout the decades since 1967, and until today, Israeli leaders have always wanted the leaders of the Arab states and Iran to be in no doubt about their own mega-lethal weapons capabilities; and periodic revelations about these capabilities—from Vanunu and others—helped serve that purpose. And then, whenever such revelations came out, Israel and its defenders would perform an elaborate and deliberately misleading “veil dance” regarding them. On the one hand, yes, they wanted Arab and Muslim leaders to know that they had those capabilities. But on the other, they have never wanted to have to confirm publicly to their main backers here in the United States or elsewhere that this is the case. (This, though they know that everyone with decisionmaking power in Washington knows with a fairly high degree of accuracy exactly what they have.)

And the mainstream U.S. media? They have almost always played along.

I’m guessing that something largely analogous to this is what’s been happening with Sy Hersh’s Nord Stream revelations. The decisionmakers in the U.S. corporate media, the think-tanks (except Quincy!), and both branches of government all have a more or less clear idea of which government it was that undertook the Nord Stream operation. But they don’t want to mention or discuss this in public… Because, well, undertaking an act like like that was a violation of international law and a blatant act of aggression against Russia, Germany, and a number of other gas-receiving states. Discussing this too publicly would therefore (a) make the United States look like even more of a rogue nation than it was before, and (b) portray the United States as much more deeply a party to the war against Russia than it has until now claimed to be.

Hence, “There’s nothing to look at here, just move right along…”

But perhaps, for its part, the Biden administration is also happy to do a bit of a veil dance on this issue—in the same way that Israeli leaders have done for decades regarding their nuclear arsenal? Thus, to the U.S. public they say, “There’s nothing to look at here”, but to other audiences elsewhere it’s more like, “Well yes, of course there is actually something to look at. And if you didn’t adequately get our message back in September when we blew up the pipelines, then we’d like to remind you again of what we’re prepared to do.

The prime target audience there would almost certainly be Germany and its European neighbors. A forceful (but still slightly deniable) way of bitch-slapping them to keep them in line in the fight against Russia…

Throughout the first 40 years of NATO’s existence, thought leaders in several of its European member countries would summarize its core purpose as being, “To keep the Soviets out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” Then in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. NATO flailed around a little to define a new raison d’être, experimenting with various “out-of-area” operations while pursuing a determined campaign to push its own borders ever further east.

Starting early last year, NATO seems—at least in the eyes of U.S. national-security planners and the big military-industrial companies who stand behind them—to be imbued with a new purpose. This could maybe be described, from the U.S. perspective, as being “To keep the West European countries in line and to use whatever coercive measures are needed to achieve this.”

Let’s see what the coming weeks and months will bring…

When I started out to write this essay, I initially planned for it to cover some big questions concerning the global geography of U.S power today, including the degree to which Washington has been trying (but failing) to find a workable balance between the attention it pays to trans-Atlantic affairs and the attention it pays to trans-Pacific affairs. I certainly plan to come back and write more about this issue later.

For now, though, I can make two observations that link that “ocean-balancing” question to the matter of the Sy Hersh revelations:

  1. I guess I was not the only person who noticed the energy with which, over the past ten days, people in the Biden administration seemed to be trying to divert public attention from the matter of Hersh’s revelations to the nearly wholly concocted clown party about the balloons flying hither and yon over the country. The first balloon, the big Chinese one, flew over huge chunks of America until finally it was identified as an “issue”, or even a “threat”. The next three were much smaller, quite possibly amateur hobby balloons or similar, and military spokespeople were at pains to indicate it was never their idea to shoot them down. But the media and administration were in lockstep in devoting great time and attention to this “possible threat from China” rather than addressing the questions Sy Hersh had raised about U.S. actions on the far side of the Atlantic…
  2. Hersh’s revelations provided additional proof (if such were needed) that it was indeed the United States that blew up the Nord Stream pipelines. But if Pres. Biden and his advisors felt back in early 2022 that that action was indeed necessary, in order to “keep Germany in line”, then that seems to indicate that the relationship with the European allies that has been a core component of the United States’ power in the world since 1945 is significantly weaker and more dysfunctional than I had earlier thought…
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6 thoughts on “Sy Hersh and Pres. Biden’s desperate measures”

  1. One thing Sy doesn’t seem to address is whether there was any prior discussion or tip of by Washington with anyone in Germany. What does Helena think/

    1. It is significant that Biden made his declaration of February 7, 2022 with Chancellor Scholz standing right beside him in the White House! (Btw, I saw that the link I’d earlier put in for that declaration went to a V. Nuland video clip instead of the Biden-Scholz one. I’ve corrected that.) So if this whole action had, as I believe, a bitchslapping-Germany aspect to it, then that would have been one clear first instance. The next would have come in September when they activated the explosives; and the leak to Sy Hersh may well have been a bit of a public reminder to the Germans and other potentially wobbly-on-Ukraine Europeans?

      Fyi, the Merriam-Webster definition of a bitch slap is “to slap (someone) angrily usually as an expression of dominance, contempt, or disrespect.” The declaration that Biden made to the media with Scholz standing right next to him certainly seems to meet that definition…

  2. Thank you Helena Cobban for this excellent article. I am sad and disappointed that most on the “Left” are NOT paying attention to, much less protesting the US’s warmongering, its proxy war in Ukraine and its utter recklessness in precipitating WWIII and a nuclear confrontation. This is very scary. Life on our planet is in peril thanks to the insanity of President Biden, those in the State Department and their Neo-Con Advisors. 1 Billion to Ukraine, 858 B for the “Defense” Budget, 750+ Military Bases around the world. The Democratic Party is the Perpetual War Party. As Dr. MLK, JR. said on April 4, 1967, “The U.S. is the Greatest Purveyor of Violence in the World.” This is more true today than it was then!

  3. Excellent, provocative, credible reporting! Kudos to HC…and, of course, to investigative journalist extraordinaire Sy Hersh.

    I make two points in augmentation of HC’s two concluding observations:

    — The (wanna be) Emperor has no clothes.

    –Mr. Wanna be Emperor: Have you no shame, sir?

  4. Excellently stated and thought through, Helena. I speak from London, where trying to have such thoughts aired on the BBC, Ch 4, or Sky, or printed in The Guardian or Obs…let alone the baron-owned Tory press…would be as futile as daring suggest the Brit media mounted a constructive debate about ending the conflict in Ukraine.

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