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A Hazardous Decision: Supplying Ukraine with Depleted Uranium Shells

Should they be taking them? Ukraine is desperate for any bit of warring materiel its armed forces can lay their hands on, but depleted uranium shells would surely not be a model example of use. And yet, the UK, in an act of killing with kindness, is happy to fork them out to aid the cause against the Russians, despite the scandals, the alleged illnesses, and environmental harms.

An outline of the measure was provided by Minister of state for defence Baroness Annabel Goldie’s written answer to a question posed by Lord Hylton: “Alongside our granting of a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, we will be providing ammunition including armour piercing rounds which contain depleted uranium. Such rounds are highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armoured vehicles.”

The response from the Kremlin was swift. “If all this happens,” warned Russian President Vladimir Putin, “Russia will have to respond accordingly, given that the West collectively is already beginning to use weapons with a nuclear component.” Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu also foresaw “nuclear collision”.

The statement from Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the Russian lower house, shifted the focus from potential nuclear catastrophe to the field of medical consequences, reminding his fellow members that the use of such ammunition by the US in former Yugoslavia and Iraq had led to “radioactive contamination and a sharp rise in oncological cases.”

News networks were left trying to convey a picture to the public, much of it skimpy on the perilous consequences arising from using such munitions. The BBC’s characteristic language of understatement notes that such uranium, stripped of much of its radioactive content, “makes weapons more powerful, but it is feared those weapons could be a threat to people in areas where they are used.”

Sky News had its own benign interpretation of the dangers, suggesting that DU, in emitting alpha particles, did not “have enough energy to go through skin, so exposure to the outside of the body is not considered a serious hazard.” An admission as to the dangers had to follow. “It can be a serious health hazard, however, if it is swallowed or inhaled.”

The US Department of Veterans Affairs outlines a few points on the matter in greater detail. “When a projectile made with DU penetrates a vehicle, small particles of DU can be formed and breathed in or swallowed by service members in the struck vehicle. Small DU fragments can also scatter and become embedded in muscle and soft tissue.”

Since their use in the Gulf War (1991), the Kosovo War (1999), the Iraq War (2003) and Afghanistan, the curriculum vitae of such weapons has become increasingly blotchy. The use of such shells has been contentious to the point of being criminal, said to be carcinogenic and a cause of birth defects. A study examining a civilian population sample from Eastern Afghanistan, published in 2005, revealed that “contamination in Afghanistan with a source consistent with natural uranium has resulted in total concentrations up to 100 times higher than the normal range for various geographic and environmental areas throughout the world.”

Subsequent field research, notably in Iraq, has found instances of serious birth defects, including congenital heart disease, paralysis, missing limbs and neurological problems. While some of these outcomes can be attributable to other activities of the US military and its allies, the role of DU looms large.

The nature of such weaponry is also indiscriminate. As a law firm representing US war veterans acknowledges, those involved in campaigns, notably in Iraq, “may have been exposed to depleted uranium as a result of being in a vehicle that was hit by a projectile, being exposed to burning depleted uranium, or salvaging the wreckage of a vehicle that was hit by a depleted uranium projectile.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs has also admitted that DU is a “potential health hazard if it enters the body, such as through embedded fragments, contaminated wounds, and inhalation or ingestion.” It prefers, however, to treat each claim for disability that might have been the result of DU poisoning “on a case-by-case basis.”

The claimed lack of unequivocal evidence linking such projectiles to adverse effects on the environment and humans has been a consistent theme in investigations – and a boon for militaries using them. A committee of review established by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia that covered, among other things, the use of these shells by NATO forces in the Kosovo campaign, proved less than satisfactory.

In recommending that no investigation be commenced regarding the bombing campaign – hardly a surprise – the members had to concede that NATO’s responses to any queries were “couched in general terms and failed to address specific incidents.” The Committee also found no consensus on whether the “use of such projectiles violate general principles of the law applicable to use of weapons in armed conflict.”

The UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights proved more forthright on the issue, claiming in a resolution that DU are weapons with indiscriminate effects and should therefore be prohibited under international humanitarian law. The UN General Assembly’s latest resolution on the matter, however, suggested a distinct lack of backbone, noting that “studies conducted so far by relevant international organizations have not provided a detailed enough account of the magnitude of the potential long-term effects on human beings and the environment of the use of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium.”

Little wonder, given such a muddled frame of mind, that the use of DU projectiles has persisted with some relish, despite an avalanche of studies warning of their dangers. Nature abhors a vacuum and fills it accordingly with the mean and ghastly. In November 2015, 5000 rounds of DU ammunition were used in an air raid on oil trucks used by Islamic State forces despite assurances from the US military that it had stopped using such weapons. As to whether it will supply Kyiv with this hazardous product remains unclear – the Pentagon is proving reticent on the subject.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has attacked the UK’s decision. Its General Secretary, Kate Hudson, outlined her concerns in a statement: “CND has repeatedly called for the UK government to place an immediate moratorium on the use of depleted uranium weapons and to fund long-term studies into their health and environmental impacts.”

Short of a clear treaty on the subject, preferably one with teeth, this is much wishful thinking. The Ukrainian forces, however, should give the whole matter a second thought: the effects of such weapons will not distinguish between the users, the targets, and the civilians. In the long run, it will also prove unsparing to the environment, which promises to be richly contaminated by the toxicity of such lingering munitions.


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  1. Douglas Pritchard

    If I really knew that Zilensky intended to enjoy his retirement in Ukraine then I could begin to think he is making decisions which benefit his country.
    However I have a strong inclination to think his retired years will be enjoyed in Florida, in pleasant surroundings.
    His country of birth may well experience being reduced to so much brick dust, and scrap metal, but to compound this with generations of birth defects is simply outragous.
    History of recent war zones has clearly shown that use of these weapons is pure stupidity, and clearly the decision makers have abandoned any thoughts of Ukraine being anything more than a “no-go” zone for ALL humanity.
    So fighting gains no prizes?
    2 Vultures scrapping over a dead cat?

  2. andy56

    Douglas, i disagree with your prediction. I think it will be Putin that walks the plank. Russia has run out of ammo, Ukraine will start to collect its territory back soon. As for depleted bombs, yea the world can do without them. Its only the brits that are talking about this anyway. I for one dont blame Zelenski, for him its do or die against the Russian old guard. We would do the same. And thats assuming the Russians havent used any . They are not scared to use all the other nasties of war or to kill innocents in their immoral persuits.

  3. New England Cocky

    Yet again this article demonstrates that having the USA (United States of Apartheid) as an ally really makes any enemies irre;levant.

  4. Douglas Pritchard

    Andy, I need to take issue with your direction.
    Who says Russia is out of Ammo? Not Russia.
    One thing about war is that there really are NO rules.
    Putin knows that.
    But this is a US proxy scrap, and the US are gradually turning up the heat like the frog in the fry pan.
    Their motives are both political and financial.
    If Putin turns Ukraine into a no-mans land then he has achieved his goal of keeping NATO at a distance.
    And millions of refugees roam the planet looking for a country that will allow them to settle.
    That wont be within our “rules based system” that we take so much pride in.

  5. Andrew Smith

    Apart from the well founded concerns in the article, from comments, how easy is it for Kremlin talking points to infect discourse in the Anglosphere, making Putin out as a victim of his own aggression and invasion, that concurs with FoxNews, MAGA & RWNJs talking points?

    Faux anti-imperialism to run protection for a corrupt and authoritarian regime?

    In much of Europe it’s well understood and overwhelming support from the left through right for Ukraine vs. Anglosphere & Russian allies demands for ‘peace’ &/or ‘negotiations’, why?

    The Baltic etc. states have been warning for years about the Russian threat, and if there was an immediate ‘ceasefire’ then Ukraine stops fighting and trusts Putin’s word, it will not exist anymore while Putin’s Russia will remain in eastern Ukraine and continue with stated ‘special operation’ objectives & existential threat, peace?

  6. B Sullivan

    A Smith, “ overwhelming support from the left through right…”

    “The Left” is a direction taken in politics. It is not a collective of people. For example, if a political party thought to be made up of Left leaning individuals – like the Labor Party – moves to the Right of politics, it does not mean that the action they advocate is henceforth representative of Left wing politics. They have moved to the Right. They can not still claim to be of the Left. Politics are consistent, people are not.

    “The Russian threat’’ like “the Chinese threat” is that they will react whenever the West threatens their National Security. Solution, don’t threaten their National Security. It is ignorant and arrogant to suggest that the West has not been pursuing a policy of deliberately threatening their National Security with ever tightening encircling rings of military containment. Why must we contain China and not a war-mongering state sponsor of Nord Stream ecoterrorism that has devastated the economy of Europe? Is is because China threatens to spread its success in eliminating poverty to the rest of the world? Don’t bait the bear, don’t prod the panda, and then complain if they turn on you and savage you.

  7. Phil Pryor

    Let is be charitable and give away some life supporting charitable goods, especially medical aid items. Let us give away superfluous un Australian humans, perhaps for lab experiments or guinea piggery, e g., B Joyce, M Deeming, Pox Morrison. D Ficient-Canavan, P Debed-Dutton, D Pucking-Ferrotet, SSS LLeeeyyy, (so lluucckkyy) anmd Angus Tucking Faylor the synthetic human image. Give away NOTHING dangerous, military, traceable, vulnerable, tax free or subject to ASIO investigation.

  8. GL


    How about adding Dumbo Ears Stewie Robert to list. He could be used as a mobile listening post.

    On another note: I see that Origin Energy looks like it may go to the Canadians and Yanks. The board and the big stakeholders (as usual) was made an offer that their greedy little hearts and offshore banks accounts just could not refuse. No doubt it will be a “huge benefit to all ‘strayans”.

  9. andy56

    Douglas, if the russians are wheeling out 70yr old tanks, me thinks they are close to depletion. They have used up 80% of their missiles attacking apartment blocks. Their shock troops have been pleading for ammunition. They have no air superiority because their pilots dont want to be shot down in mass. Stop reading “neutral” news services. Russian statistics have no corelation with the truth.
    As far as proxy wars, this is one the US didnt seek. But once russia crossed that line, sure the US will want to extract a price. A once in a generation chance to squash russia is a juicy extract indeed. But that is all russia’s fault in the making.
    And to describe it as a proxy war is really an immoral step too far for me. The Ukraines were not a military power of any persuasion, in fact handing over all the nukes to russia as the price of peace. What did russia do then? invaded the crimea. And if you watch any russian tv(propaganda), they want poland back too.
    I dont dismiss american imperialism at all, but to equate america with russia is to totally disbelieve the truth in front of our eyes.
    The russians are acting like total barbarians. I too used to give russia the benefit of the doubt, not anymore. they have totally exposed themselves and i say good riddance. Reducing them to a rump will make the chinese think twice about invading taiwan. When you act like an arsehole, people will naturally try to keep you at bay. After all, chinese expansion has only increased everyone elses spend to counter it. Its the thing when you have absolute power, you have an urge to use it. I am not sorry here either, it was the chinese who explicitly said taiwan is ours one way or another. Fuck russia, fuck china and fuck america not so much..

  10. Douglas Pritchard

    Andy, nothing beats a good robust discussion so lets pretend that the USA has 800 military bases arround the globe, and its nothing to do with intimidation. Its just a bunch of good ole guys playing ping pong.
    And lets pretend that the US did not interfere with the Ukraine election, and they were happy for the country to remain neutral.
    And that when Zilensky said that he would bring a halt to the war in Donbas, he would go ahead and do that rather than start an arms build up, and kill Ukrainians that remained true to Russia.
    And that on last nights TV there was not this bedragled fugitive of the war who was cursing the Zilenskies.
    And that there is is not a popular push to prevent arming Ukraine in Germany where their energy from US is costing 4 times what it used to be before “someone” blew up the pipelines.
    Lets pretend that there is no corruption in Ukraine and that the nightly broadcasts for help are just a cover for everything going sweetly in the country.
    And finally that the idea that all food and drink will be boosted by some polonium down at the cafes.
    Lets pretend this is still not the thin end of the wedge, and USA is driving it home.

  11. Steve Davis

    “…it was the chinese who explicitly said taiwan is ours one way or another.”

    Andy56, your research assistant is letting you down.

    Not only does China say Taiwan is part of China, but Taiwan says that Taiwan is part of China. Their only point of difference is about who’s in charge.

    As for the Chinese “expansion” you refer too, Taiwan makes the same territorial claims.

    With the world such a complex place, it’s difficult to know what to get prejudiced about! (chuckle)

  12. andy56

    douglas, please dont mix american imperialism with russian imperialism. Both are abnoxious. At the moment Russian barbarism has to be stopped. You certainly have been down a few rabbit holes. Who blew up the pipeline? Well the russians were there two weeks before the big ka boom, but hell lets blame the yanks, the ukraines . It fits a preconceived idea but you know what happens when you assume. After all, it could have been an accident, you know they still happen.
    Steve, dont be pedantic, you know very well china has been rattling the cage. China has also been laying claim to 90% of the sth china seas, contrary to the wishes of its neighbours. Its the same senario as russia wanting ukrain territory as part of its historical imperialism. I dont buy the idea that america is an areshole so we should excuse every other areshole.

  13. Steve Davis

    “Steve, dont be pedantic…”

    Andy, it’s not only your research assistant letting you down, it’s your dictionary also.

    Making a factual statement is not pedantic.

    If you do not believe that Taiwan considers itself to be part of China then give some evidence for that.

    If you do not believe that Taiwan has territorial claims in the Sth China Sea then give evidence for that.

    If you do not believe that the Taiwan govt believes it is the legitimate govt for all China then give evidence for that.

    I’m only doing this from memory so I could be wrong, and I’m always happy to be corrected.

    But I just got this from Wikipedia – “The ROC (Taiwan)… has not formally renounced its claim to the mainland,…”

    And as far as I’m aware, China’s Sth China Sea claim is simply a continuation of that proposed by Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China (ROC) when it governed from Nanjing. Taiwan has not to my knowledge renounced that claim.

  14. andy56

    “Steve, dont be pedantic…” You missed my point and kept at it. Taiwan threatens nobody. Their claim is pure political theatre, a counter claim with no intention of progressing. Sure they always hoped china would become democratic and hence their desired statement. Equating the two is pure indulgence on your behalf. Take the rose coloured glasses off. Ask your self , who is the overt agressor here. Who has been building up a military attack force? Who has built naval outpost on the sth china seas, in effect seizing territory from disputed areas? Who has been spending money on pure defence? Who has been doing the saber rattling? Stop sitting on the fence of plausible neutrality. China is acting as a pure arsehole, saying taiwan is the same is just turning your back on reality. You like my gramatical mistakes? well phaqq you too. In future , i will deliberately make a few.

  15. Steve Davis

    Andy, you said ” Their claim is pure political theatre, a counter claim with no intention of progressing.”

    You know their intentions ? You really should be in the diplomatic corps Andy – that mind-reading ability is something special. And “a counter claim” ??? Taiwan’s claim was the original; it cannot be a counter claim.

    You said “who is the overt agressor here. Who has been building up a military attack force? Who has built naval outpost on the sth china seas, in effect seizing territory from disputed areas? Who has been spending money on pure defence? Who has been doing the saber rattling?”

    Ah yes. Chinese aggression. As was commented elsewhere, one of the most hilarious empire narratives we’re being asked to believe today is that the US is militarily encircling its number one rival China, on the other side of the planet, defensively. Or as one wag put it – “look how close they put their country to our military bases.” How anyone could fall for this is staggering.
    The US is very plainly the aggressor in this standoff, and China is very clearly reacting defensively to that aggression. The US has been encircling the PRC with war machinery in ways that Washington would never permit itself to be encircled and waging economic warfare that it itself would never tolerate.

    Even the fiercely pro-Western Financial Times acknowledges that Xi Jinping’s comments about encirclement and suppression are “not technically wrong.”

  16. leefe

    The last overt Chinese aggression/expansion was what … Tibet? They have little need for anything like that given the influence – even to the point of partial control – they have achieved through diplomatic means, trade and investment.

    Now, if you compare that to USAnian activity beyond their own shores …

  17. Douglas Pritchard

    Andy, do you really think that “Well the russians were there two weeks before …..” is sufficient evidence to condemn them for this war crime?
    You dont need to find a dictionary, or a “fact checker”, but you are abandoning the basic forensic clues which are motive, means and opportunity.
    USA is proving reluctant to enter into any sort of enquiry, because to date, all the evidence is pointing to their guilt.
    From a NATO perspective one country within the organisation is sabotaging the assets of one of its members.
    Hardly a friendly act, and an action to help unite those signed up to the “Rules based system”.
    Is it pure intuition that you bring to this discussion?

  18. andy56

    yea Douglas, “motive, means and opportunity.” doesnt apply to russia.
    ” all the evidence is pointing to their guilt.” Because Russia didn’t want to use gas as a blackmail tool?
    I see a pattern here. Your bias is showing through loud and clear.

    America does shit and we all cane it unmercifully. Russia does shit and its all America’s fault. China does shit and again its all america’s fault. Why are you suddenly thinking that China and Russian dont do shit out of their own arrogance?
    The only thing stopping china’s invasion of Taiwan is american military might. Tell me it isnt so. China wont invade out of the goodness of their hearts. Dream on mate.
    The only thing that stopped russia from swallowing Ukraine was foreign arms support. Yes america is a fucked country, but boy oh boy, russia is orders of magnitude worse. Just watch their news. Putin is preparing the populas for an unlimited war. Because you know, invading Ukraine was to put down an existential threat, (sic). That decision alone is an existential threat to russia as a super power. Good riddance i say.

  19. Steve Davis

    The global situation is changing rapidly, more rapidly than the traditional news outlets would have us believe.
    Yet even at this unrealistically slow rate of perceived change, it’s clear from comments here that some people find this so confronting that the reaction is to block it out; to say its not happening.

    The bad news for those people is that it’s about to get worse.

    Yesterday Russia released reformulated foreign policy positions and principles.

    Article 19 begins; In order to help adapt the world order to the realities of a multipolar world, the Russian Federation intends to make it a priority to: (1) eliminate the vestiges of domination by the US and other unfriendly states in global affairs, create conditions to enable any state to renounce neo-colonial or hegemonic ambitions;…

    This is, for all practical purposes if not formal purposes, a declaration of intent to neuter, to discipline, to take charge.

    This is not a statement from a weak power that has bitten off more than it can chew in Ukraine.

    That this was Article 19 and not Article 1 is a statement in itself. It shows where Russia sees the US in its list of priorities.

    The world is about to change. As a nation that relies hugely on trade for its prosperity, it’s time we all started looking at the big picture. 20th Cent alliances are so…well…20th Century.

  20. Douglas Pritchard

    Andy, good try but appropriate for the date. You did not fool me.
    Steve. To date I have thought that its US that has been determining the pace of escalation but once Russia is taking the initiative, then as you say, time to worry.

  21. andy56

    See Douglas, your the one in fairy land here. ” To date I have thought that its US that has been determining the pace of escalation”. Yea right, it was american tanks lined up on the road to Kyiv. Its american bombs raining down on cities in russia.
    Your position doesnt exactly correlate with reality. Its great if you constantly hold conspiracies in your hand.

    Steve Davis, i wouldnt worry too much about what russia says. Its been doing those things for a while. In fact, holding Europe to blackmail over gas was always part of the plan. Russian imperial ambitions were always part of Putin’s plan.

    We just chose to not believe it.

    The american military was right in a fashion but chose the wrong path to salvation. I say that america fucked up everywhere it went with its fucked up methods. Putin thinks he can exploit our anger with america. Using american crap as cover for his own bastardry. Dougy, no amount of appeasement will satisfy putin now, he’s on his last legs and getting desperate. We have been here before in history.

  22. Steve Davis

    Douglas, the worry as I see it is that even before Russia released its new foreign policy, there was cause for concern from developments that received little coverage in the West.

    With the de-coupling from the US dollar proceeding so quickly, with agreements being reached and alliances formed that act against US interests, alliances and agreements that assume or imply that the US is now irrelevant, we have to assume that the US could or will lash out in a quite irrational and violent manner in the near future.

    This latest development might well be the tipping point.

  23. Steve Davis

    Andy56 – “In fact, holding Europe to blackmail over gas was always part of the plan. Russian imperial ambitions were always part of Putin’s plan….Putin thinks he can exploit our anger with america…no amount of appeasement will satisfy putin now,…”

    Andy, it’s worth repeating, your ability to read minds is quite extraordinary, a gift to be cherished.

  24. Douglas Pritchard

    I think we are on the same page.
    The sanctions seem to have backfired and of course we just follow.
    Closer ties China and Russia should have alerted us.
    Now we have China broking peace in the ME with Saudi and Iran.
    As you say, it happened very quickly, like a plan that we watched unravelling
    And, at home I worry about my savings in our banks when the $US dives as a consequence.
    I`m getting almost as paranoid as your average American

  25. Steve Davis

    Indeed Doug, we are on the same page, and have the same concerns about savings.

    You mentioned the failure of the sanctions, which was actually quite spectacular. Since as far back as Vietnam, perhaps longer, the US has been making policy decisions contrary to advice from their intelligence agencies.

    They imposed sanctions on Russia in the foolish belief that the Russian economy would crumble. Instead, Russia is now more powerful, both economically and militarily, due to an underlying economic strength that the agencies must have known about.

    With the art of diplomacy apparently forgotten, US policy making seems to be operating in a fantasy world, and this ailment has spread to Europe which now acts as though a US parasite has overtaken its mental processes. It’s fascinating to watch, but it’s also very scary.

  26. Canguro

    Another C&P from Seymour Hersh regarding the Nord pipeline destruction by USA operatives; the stench of American lies is somewhat nauseating…

    THE NORD STREAM GHOST SHIP… the false details in the CIA’s cover story

    America’s Central Intelligence Agency is constantly running covert operations around the world, and all must have a cover story in case things go badly, as they often do. It is just as important to have an explanation when things go well, as they did in the Baltic Sea last fall. Within weeks of my report that Joe Biden ordered the destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines, the agency produced a cover story and found willing takers in the New York Times and two major German publications.

    By creating a story of deep sea divers and a crew who did not exist, the agency was following protocol, and the story would have been part of the first days of secret planning to destroy the pipelines. The essential element was a mythical yacht ironically named the Andromeda—after the beautiful daughter of a mythical king who was chained to a rock, naked. The cover story was shared with and supported by the BND, Germany’s federal intelligence service.

    My initial report received coverage around the world but was ignored by the major newspapers and television networks in the United States. As the story gained traction in Europe and elsewhere abroad, the New York Times on March 7 published a report quoting US officials asserting that American intelligence had accumulated information suggesting that a pro-Ukrainian group sabotaged the pipelines. The story said officials who had “reviewed” the new intelligence depicted it to be “a step toward determining responsibility” for the pipeline sabotage. The Times story got worldwide attention, but nothing more has been heard since from the newspaper about who did what. In an interview for a Times podcast, one of the three authors of the article inadvertently explained why the story was dead on arrival. The writer was asked about the involvement of the alleged pro-Ukrainian group: “What makes you think that’s what happened?” He answered: “I should be very clear that we know really very little. Right?”

    On April 3 the Washington Post reported that some European investigators now doubt that the Andromeda could have sabotaged the pipelines without the help of a second vessel. Some in Europe wondered if the role of the Andromeda was “something to distract or only part of the picture.” The article did not suggest that the Biden Administration was involved in the destruction of the pipeline, but it did quote an unnamed European diplomat saying that everyone can see there is a body lying there, but all are pretending things are normal. “It’s better not to know,” the diplomat said. No American officials were quoted, even anonymously, by the Post. The Biden administration has become a Nord Stream-free reporting zone.

    Chalk one up for the various CIA officials who have been supplying phony stories to the media here and abroad in what has been a successful effort to keep the world focused on any possible suspects outside of what has emerged as the most logical one—the president of the United States.

    The Times also reported that a European lawmaker briefed by his country’s intelligence agencies said that the service was gathering intelligence on roughly forty-five ships whose transponders were not working when they passed the area where the pipelines were blown up. One of the so-called ‘ghost ships’ could have planted the mines and later pulled the trigger.

    After the Times story went online, Die Zeit, Germany’s largest newspaper, rushed to publish a report on an investigation into the Nord Stream bombing that it had been researching for months, in conjunction with a public television network. The weekly had something new: it identified a yacht that, it reported, was “rented from a company in Poland, apparently owned by two Ukrainians.” The group leasing the yacht and carrying out the destruction of the pipeline was said to include a captain, two divers, two diving assistants, and a doctor. Depicted by Die Zeit as “assassins” whose names were not published or known, the group used forged passports and had transported the needed explosives to the crime scene. The yacht was said to have sailed near the Danish island of Bornholm, which is close to the site of the pipeline sabotage.

    The newspaper reported that the yacht had been returned to the company that leased it—such yachts can two thousand dollars per week or more to rent—in an “uncleaned condition” that enabled German investigators to find traces of an explosive on a cabin table. Later stories said that investigators also had found two fraudulent Ukrainian passports left on the yacht. A subsequent story in Der Spiegel, the German weekly magazine, said that the yacht in question was named the Andromeda.

    I subsequently published a story suggesting that the information supplied by German federal police to both Die Zeit and Der Spiegel had originated with US intelligence. The author of the Die Zeit report, Holger Stark, an experienced journalist whom I have known since he worked in Washington a decade or so ago, contacted me to complain about the assertion. Stark told me he had excellent sources in the German federal police and learned what he did from those links, and not from any intelligence agency, German or American. I believed him and immediately corrected the story.

    I acknowledge that it’s difficult for any journalist to write about a fellow journalist, especially a good one. But this case involves the acceptance of facts that should have been questioned. For example, I did not ask Stark if he wondered why an American newspaper nearly four thousand miles away would publish the same allegation about a group of unnamed Ukrainians, who were not linked to the leadership in Kiev, that officials in Germany said they had been chasing. We did discuss a fact that he brought up: that officials in Germany, Sweden, and Denmark had decided shortly after the pipeline bombings to send teams to the site to recover the one mine that has not gone off. He said they were too late; an American ship had sped to the site within a day or two and recovered the mine and other materials. I asked him why he thought the Americans had been so quick to get to the site and he answered, with a wave of his hand, “You know what Americans are like. Always wanting to be first.” There was another very obvious explanation.

    The trick of a good propaganda operation is to provide the targets—in this case the Western media—with what they want to hear. One intelligence expert put it to me more succinctly: “When you do an operation like the pipelines, you need to plan a counter-op—a red herring that has a whiff of reality. And it must be a detailed as possible to be believed.”

    “People today have forgotten that there is such a thing as a parody,” the expert said. “Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore is not a history of the Royal Navy in the 19th Century. It’s a parody. The CIA’s goal in the pipeline case was to produce a parody that was so good that the press would believe it. But where to start? Cannot have the pipelines destroyed by a bomb from an airplane or sailors on a rubber boat.

    “But why not a sailboat? Any serious student of the event would know that you cannot anchor a sailboat in waters that are 260 feet deep”—the depth at which the four pipelines were destroyed—“but the story was not aimed at him but at the press who would not know a parody when presented with one.”

    The intelligence expert listed all the elements needed before any individual or group could charter an expensive yacht. “You cannot just walk off the street with a fake passport and lease a boat. You either need to accept a captain who was supplied by the leasing agent or owner of the yacht, or have a captain who comes with a certificate of competency as mandated by maritime law. Anyone who’s ever chartered a yacht would know that.” Similar proof of expertise and competence for deep sea diving involving the use of Nitox, a specialized mix of oxygen and nitrogen would be required by the divers and the doctor.

    The expert had more questions about the alleged yacht. “How does a 49-foot sailboat find the pipelines in the Baltic Sea? The pipelines are not that big and they are not on the charts that come with the lease. Maybe the thought was to put the two divers into the water”—not very easy to do so from a small yacht—“and let the divers look for it. How long can a diver stay down in their suits? Maybe fifteen minutes. Which means it would take the diver four years to search one square mile.

    “None of these questions is asked by the media. So you have six people on the yacht—two divers, two helpers, a doctor and a captain leasing the boat. One thing is missing—who is going to crew the yacht? Or cook? What about the logbook that the leasing company must keep for legal reasons?

    “None of this happened,” the expert told me. “Stop trying to link this to reality. It’s a parody.”

    The stories in the New York Times and the European press have given no indication that any journalist was able to board and physically examine the yacht in question. Nor do they explain why any passengers on a yacht would leave passports, fraudulent or otherwise, on board after a rental. There have been photographs of a sailboat in dry dock named Andromeda published.

    None of this can save a bad cover story, the intelligence export told me. “The effort to turn fiction into truth will go on forever. Now it’s a picture of a sailboat that appears after the investigation that can’t be traced—with no license number where it legally should be. The Andromeda has replaced the Piltdown man in the press.”

    The expert had one final thought: “In the world of professional analysts and operators everyone will universally and correctly conclude from your story that the devilish CIA concocted a counter-op that is on its face so ridiculous and childish that the real purpose was to reinforce the truth.”


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