Enough of the 9/11 Conspiracies, Already
By Matthew Rothschild
Septemer 11, 2006
At almost every progressive gathering
where there’s a question and answer period, someone or other vehemently
raises 9/11 and espouses a grand conspiracy theory.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of enduring these rants,
please let me share.
Here’s what the conspiracists believe:
9/11 was an inside job.
Members of the Bush Administration ordered it, not Osama bin Laden.
Arab hijackers may not have done the deed.
On top of that, the Twin Towers fell not because of the impact of
the airplanes and the ensuing fires but because the Bush Administration
got agents to plant explosives at the base of those buildings.
Building 7, another high-rise at the World Trade Center that fell on 9/11,
also came down by planted explosives.
The Pentagon was not hit by American Airlines Flight 77 but by a smaller
plane or a missile.
And the Pennsylvania plane did not crash as a result of the revolt by
the passengers but was brought down by the military.
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
I’m amazed at how many people give credence to these theories.
Everyone’s an engineer. People who never even took one college science
course can now hold forth at great length on how the buildings at the
World Trade Center could not possibly have collapsed in the way they
... and why the Pentagon could not have been struck by that American
Problem is, some of the best engineers in the country have studied
these questions and come up with perfectly logical, scientific
explanations for what happened.
The American Society of Civil Engineers and FEMA conducted an
in-depth investigation of the World Trade Center. ...
... The team members
included the director of the Structural Engineering Institute of the
American Society of Civil Engineers, the senior fire investigator for
the National Fire Protection Association, professors of fire safety,
and leaders of some of the top building design and engineering firms,
including Skidmore Owings & Merrill in Chicago, Skilling Ward
Magnusson Barkshire in Seattle, and Greenhorne & O’Mara in Maryland.
It concluded that massive structural damage caused by the crashing
of the aircrafts into the buildings, combined with the subsequent
fires, “were sufficient to induce the collapse of both structures.”
The National Institute of Standards and Technology did its own
forty-three volume study of the Twin Towers. “Some 200 technical
experts . . . reviewed tens of thousands of documents, interviewed more
than 1,000 people, reviewed 7,000 segments of video footage and 7,000
photographs, analyzed 236 pieces of steel from the wreckage, ...
performed laboratory tests and sophisticated computer simulations,” the
It also concluded that a combination of the crash and the subsequent
fires brought the towers down: “In each tower, a different combination
of impact damage and heat-weakened structural components contributed to
the abrupt structural collapse.”
Popular Mechanics, first in its March 2005 cover story and now in its
expanded book, Debunking 9/11 Myths,
after interviewing scores of other experts in the engineering field,
takes apart the most popular contentions of the conspiracists. “In
every case we examined, the key claims made by conspiracy theorists
turned out to be mistaken, misinterpreted, or deliberately falsified,”
the book says.
I made a few calls myself, including to Gene Corley, who conducted
the American Society of Civil Engineers/FEMA study, and to Mete Sozen,
structural engineering professor at Purdue, who was one of the
principal authors of “The Pentagon Building Performance Report” of
January 2003, which was done under the auspices of the American Society
of Civil Engineers and the Structural Engineering Institute. I also
contacted engineering professors at MIT and other leading universities
in the country, and none of them puts any stock in the 9/11 conspiracy
... In fact, they view them as a huge waste of time. They are
busy trying to figure out how to prevent buildings from falling in the
Of course, any conspiracy theorist worth his or her salt will claim
that all these people are in on the plot.
And that I am in on it, too.
Get over it.
The guru of the 9/11 conspiracy movement is David Ray Griffin, an
emeritus professor not of engineering but of philosophy and theology at
the Claremont School of Theology. First in The New Pearl Harbor
and then in The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions
and now in Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11, Griffin has
peddled his conspiracy theory.
“Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.”
He’s not alone, of course. A myriad of websites devote themselves to
this subject, and several films are circulating on it, including Loose
Change. There’s even a group called Scholars for 9/11 Truth, which
insists “the World Trade Center was almost certainly brought down by
controlled demolitions.” Most prominent among these is Steven E. Jones,
professor of physics and astronomy at Brigham Young University, whose
primary field is not engineering but cold fusion, according to
Debunking 9/11 Myths.
The conspiracy theories are particularly popular on the left for a
couple of understandable reasons. ...
... It’s undeniable that Bush has
ceaselessly seized on 9/11 to justify his warmaking abroad and his
repressive policies at home. And then there’s the notorious phrase in a
document of the Project for the New American Century, the fount of
neoconservativism, whose members included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld,
Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and a host of other hawks who flew into
the Bush Administration. That line, from the September 2000 study
“Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” argues for transforming the U.S.
military posture into a much more aggressive one, and for expanding the
Pentagon’s budget to reach $500 billion a year. The authors recognized
that this transformation would be difficult to achieve quickly “absent
some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.”
Griffin and other leftwing conspiracy theorists put the two
together, and voila. The attacks “were orchestrated in order to pave
the way for launching unprovoked wars on two countries that provided no
threat, whether imminent or long-term, to the people of the United
States,” he writes in Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11.
... “The Administration and its Pentagon even planned to use 9/11 as a
pretext . . . to attack still more countries. ...
... The U.S. government was
planning, therefore, to use the deaths of some 3,000 people (whom
itself had killed) to justify wars that would most likely kill and maim
many hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions.”
Before taking some of the major conspiracy claims one by one, let’s examine how outlandish the conspiracy theory is on its face.
First, Osama bin Laden has already claimed responsibility for the
attack several times and boasted of the prowess of the suicide bombers
who hijacked those planes. Why not take him at his word? ...
... And if bin
Laden were working in cahoots with the Bush Administration, why was the
President warned on August 6, 2001, in a Presidential daily briefing
that Osama bin Laden was about to attack the United States? Wouldn’t
that risk exposing the conspiracy?
Second, if the Bush Administration plotters carried out 9/11 to
justify attacking Iraq, why didn’t they have Iraqi hijackers do the
deed? In actuality, there was not a single Iraqi hijacker, and Bush
propagandists had to do all sorts of gymnastics to link Iraq to the
Third, for this conspiracy to have succeeded, it would have had to
have been amazingly vast: not only the high level members of the Bush
Administration (including the head of the Secret Service, Griffin says
in Christian Faith) and the explosives teams, but also many others.
Griffin, in Pearl Harbor, for instance, alleges that Mayor
Rudolph Giuliani may have been involved. Griffin quotes Giuliani
telling ABC News, “We were operating out of there [Building 7] when we
were told that the World Trade Center was gonna collapse.” Griffin says
Giuliani had no obvious way of knowing that, and concludes: “Giuliani’s
statement provides, therefore, evidence someone, perhaps he himself,
knew something that the firemen in the buildings did not know—which was
perhaps that explosives had been placed in the buildings and were about
to be set off.” Is that really evidence? Isn’t it much more likely that
the firefighters told the mayor to leave because the fire itself was
jeopardizing the building?
Griffin also alleges that Larry Silverstein, who leased the World
Trade Center complex, was in on the deal so he could collect the
insurance. (This claim—which he might as well have called “The Jew
Cashed In”—dovetails with the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory popular in
the Middle East that the Mossad blew up the towers and warned the
thousands of Jews who would have been working there to stay home.)
In Pearl Harbor, Griffin quotes Silverstein in a 2002 PBS
documentary recalling a conversation from the fire department commander
on September 11 “telling me that they were not sure they were gonna be
able to contain the fire, and I said, ‘We’ve had such terrible loss of
life, maybe the smartest thing to do is pull it.’ And they made that
decision to pull and we watched the building collapse.” Griffin, who
writes that Silverstein “made almost $500 million in profit from the
collapse of Building 7,” says by “pull it” Silverstein was recommending
that the building be demolished by explosives. Silverstein has flat-out
denied that. ...
... By “pulling it,” he has said that he meant giving up on
the firefighters’ efforts to save the building.
Two books later, Griffin removes any ambiguity Silverstein’s
“assertion that Building 7 was brought down by explosives, whatever the
motive behind it, explains why and how it collapsed,” Griffin writes in
Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11. But Silverstein never
made such an assertion, and for Griffin to claim he did is, to say the
least, a distortion.
The problems with a vast conspiracy theory are obvious. There’s the
likelihood that someone along the chain would squeal. ...
... Members of the
government have been engaged in far less treasonous plots (such as
Bush’s designs on Iran), and whistleblowers have managed to get the
information out to the likes of Seymour Hersh over at The New Yorker.
And, on top of that, we’re supposed to believe that this incompetent
Administration, which brought you Katrina, was somehow able to execute
this grand conspiracy?
“The government is not sufficiently competent to pull off such
conspiracies and too leaky to keep them secret,” said Richard Clarke,
the one-time counterterrorism czar for Clinton and Bush, in a blurb for
Debunking 9/11 Myths. Clarke has been a harsh critic of Bush,
and he was a strong supporter of John Kerry. Don’t you think Clarke
would have blown the whistle had he known? And who was in a better
position than he to know?
Finally, in Pearl Harbor, Griffin acknowledges one enormous,
unfillable hole in the conspiracists’ theory: If Flight 77 did not hit
the Pentagon, where did it go? And where did all sixty-four people on
board go? Griffin pathetically answers: “One cannot expect that the
revisionists, being independent researchers with limited budgets and no
power to subpoena testimony, could answer all the questions raised by
their alternative scenario.” But that doesn’t stop him from
speculating, in a ghoulish way, about one piece of evidence that
contradicts his Flight 77 notion: the phone calls from conservative
Barbara Olson, who was on Flight 77, to her husband, Ted Olson, Bush’s
solicitor general. Griffin casts doubt on whether the phone calls
actually happened, noting that Olson “is very close to the Bush
Administration.” At least in Pearl Harbor, Griffin recognizes the
weakness of this argument. The conspiracy theorists “still need to
explain, of course, what became of Barbara Olson, and also whether it
is plausible that Ted Olson would have participated in a plan with that
outcome,” he writes. In his latest book, though, Griffin does not
appear bothered in the least, as he continues to cast doubt on Ted
Olson’s account. He has swept Barbara Olson and sixty-three other
people under the rug.
On to some of Griffin’s most oft-cited questions.
Why did dust clouds shoot out of the Twin Towers as they fell?
Or, as Griffin poses it in Pearl Harbor:
“What other than explosives could turn concrete into powder and then
eject it horizontally 150 feet or more?”
Corley, who headed up the investigation for the American Society of
Civil Engineers and FEMA, gives a quick response to that. “That is
simply the air pressure being pushed down,” he says. “Once the collapse
started, then you had roughly a twenty-story building and roughly a
thirty-story building acting as a very large mass to push everything
down. The air pressure gets quite something, and the windows on the
lower floors break, and you see puffs of smoke coming out of them.”
Debunking 9/11 Myths
offers the same explanation and cites structural engineer Jon
Magnusson, who says this expulsion of air and debris is fairly common
when buildings collapse.
Why did the tower that was hit second fall first?
“All other things being equal, then, the tower that was struck first
should have collapsed first. And yet, although the South Tower was
struck seventeen minutes later than the North Tower, it collapsed
twenty-nine minutes earlier,” writes Griffin in Pearl Harbor. The fact
that the South Tower fell first, he concludes, “suggests that the
collapse of these buildings was caused by something other than the
But all things weren’t equal. “The damage done to the second
building was more serious than the damage done to the first,” says
The National Institute of Standards and Technology concurs. Its
“Final Report on the Collapse of the World Trade Center Towers” notes
that ten core columns were severed in the South Tower, ...
... whereas only six
were severed in the North. And 20,000 more square feet of insulation
was stripped from the trusses in the South Tower than the North. ...
... The report “found no corroborating evidence for alternative hypotheses
suggesting that the WTC were brought down by controlled demolition
using explosives planted prior to September 11, 2001.”
What about Building 7?
This is a favorite of the conspiracy theorists, ...
... since the planes did
not strike this structure. But the building did sustain damage from the
debris of the Twin Towers. “On about a third of the face to the center
and to the bottom—approximately ten stories—about 25 percent of the
depth of the building was scooped out,” Shyam Sunder, the lead
investigator for the National Institute of Standards and Technology,
told Popular Mechanics.
What’s more, the fire in the building lasted for about eight hours,
in part because there were fuel tanks in the basement and on some of
the floors. “The building was designed for a fire duration of no more
than about three hours,” says Corley. “Eight hours was way more than
what that building was designed for.” (Corley, by the way, also headed
up the investigation of the Murrah Building’s collapse
in Oklahoma City.)
The National Institute of Standards and Technology is still studying
the collapse of Building 7, but its initial report says: “NIST has seen
no evidence that the collapse of WTC 7 was caused by bombs, missiles,
or controlled demolition.”
What about the Pentagon?
Conspiracy theorists will bend your ear explaining that the American
Airlines Boeing 757 couldn’t possibly have made such a small hole in
the Pentagon. Griffin in Pearl Harbor: “The orifice created by
the impact . . . was at most eighteen feet in diameter. Is it not
absurd to suggest that a Boeing 757 created and then disappeared into
such a small hole? . . . Can anyone seriously believe that a
125-foot-wide airplane created and then went inside a hole less than
First of all, the hole was actually ninety feet wide, according to
the “Pentagon Building Performance Report” of January 2003, which the
American Society of Civil Engineers and the Structural Engineering
Institute put out. And Professor Sozen of Purdue, one of the authors of
that report, has an explanation.
“The reinforced columns of the Pentagon destroyed the wings,” says
Sozen. “That’s why the hole is smaller. It had to be smaller.” Since
working on that report, Sozen has designed simulations at Purdue, and
his results correspond with what happened to Flight 77, he says. Sozen,
who identifies himself as a progressive, says it is “ridiculous to
deny” that the American Airlines plane hit the Pentagon. And, he adds,
if Flight 77 didn’t hit the Pentagon, where did it go and “what
happened to the people in that plane”?
But we know what happened to them. They died at the Pentagon. “All
but five of the 189 people who died on the aircraft and in the Pentagon
were later identified through DNA testing,” according to Debunking 9/11
Finally, was Flight 93 shot down?
Griffin and many other conspiracists allege that Flight 93, which
crashed in Pennsylvania, was brought down not by the passengers
struggling with the hijackers but by a U.S. missile. But we know from
cell phone conversations that passengers on board that plane planned on
confronting the hijackers. And, as Debunking 9/11 Myths notes, “a
Cleveland air traffic controller assigned to Flight 93 heard signs of a
struggle in the cockpit, followed shortly by screaming.”
Tapes of the conversations at the northeast regional headquarters
for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) confirm this,
as Michael Bronner has shown in his August article for Vanity Fair
entitled “9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes.” Major Kevin Nasypany was the
facility’s mission-crew commander that day, and the tapes show him
frantically trying to figure what was going on and whether he had
orders to shoot Flight 93 down.
“Gimme the call sign,” he says at 10:07. “Gimme the whole nine yards.
. . . Let’s get some info, real quick. They got a bomb?”
But, as Bronner reports, by then “everyone on board is already dead.
Following the passengers’ counterattack, the plane crashed in a field
in Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m.”
The man who headed up the crash site investigation there was Matthew
McCormick, a thirty-three-year veteran at the National Transportation
Safety Board. “From my investigation there was no pre-impact stress to
the airplane,” he told the Debunking authors.
To be sure, there are discrepancies and omissions in The 9/11
Commission Report, ...
... and the Pentagon and FAA appear to have not been
fully truthful and forthcoming about what happened that day. Not every
riddle that Griffin and other conspiracists pose has a ready answer.
But almost all of their major assertions are baseless. ...
... And their own
theories have such gigantic holes and require such monumental leaps of
logic that they discredit themselves.
At bottom, the 9/11 conspiracy theories are profoundly irrational
and unscientific. ...
... It is more than passing strange that progressives,
who so revere science on such issues as tobacco, stem cells, evolution,
and global warming, are so willing to abandon science and give in to
fantasy on the subject of 9/11.
The 9/11 conspiracy theories are a cul-de-sac. They lead nowhere. ...
... And they aren’t necessary to prove the venality of the Bush
... There’s plenty of that proof lying around. We don’t
need to make it up.
© 2006 The Progressive
Editors Note [9/15/2006] Here are two additional sites with
useful information debunking some of the 9/11 myths, including those
contained in the film "Loose Change."