The 9/11 conspiracists: vindicated at last?

There are enough real conspiracies in US politics without making up fake ones

Column LAST UPDATED AT 09:37 ON Thu 1 Sep 2011

We're homing in on the tenth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon. One in seven Americans and one in four among those aged 16-24 believe that there was a vast conspiracy in which the US government was involved. But across those 10 years have the charges that it was an "inside job" – a favoured phrase of the self-styled "truthers"  - received any serious buttress?  

The answer is No.

Did the twin towers fall because they were badly built as a consequence of corruption, incompetence, regulatory evasions by the Port Authority, and because they were struck by huge planes loaded with jet fuel?

No, shout the conspiracists, they "pancaked" because Dick Cheney's agents – scores of them – methodically planted demolition charges in the preceding days, inserting the explosives in the relevant floors of three vast buildings, (moving day after day among the unsuspecting office workers), then on 9/11 activating the detonators. It was a conspiracy of thousands, all of whom, party to mass murder, have held their tongues ever since.

Take the plane that struck the Pentagon. Many conspiracists say it wasn't a plane but a missile. Eye-witnesses of a large plane hitting the Pentagon are contemptuously brushed aside. There are some photos of the impact of the "object" - i.e. the Boeing 757, flight 77 - which seem to show the sort of hole a missile might make. Ergo,  the Pentagon wasn't hit by a 757 but by a missile.

And yet images exist of the 757 plane hitting the Pentagon, taken by the surveillance cameras at Pentagon's heliport, which was right next to the impact point. Chuck Spinney, now retired after years of brilliant government service exposing the Pentagon's budgetary outrages, tells me: "I have seen them both - stills and moving pictures. I just missed seeing it [the moment of impact] personally, but the driver of the van I just got out of in South Parking saw it so closely that he could see the terrified faces of passengers in the windows. I knew two people who were on the plane. One was ID'd by dental remains found in the Pentagon."

This won't faze the conspiracists. They're immune to any reality check. Spinney "worked for the government". They switched the dental records. The Boeing 757 was flown to Nebraska for a rendezvous with President Bush, who shot the passengers, burned the bodies on the tarmac and gave Spinney's friend's teeth to Dick Cheney to drop through a hole in his trousers amid the debris in the Pentagon.

Of course there are conspiracies. The allegations that Saddam Hussein had WMD amounted to just such a one. I think there is strong evidence that FDR did have knowledge that a Japanese naval force in the north Pacific was going to launch an attack on Pearl Harbor. It's quite possible Roosevelt thought it would be a relatively mild assault and that it would provide the final green light to get the US into the war.

It's entirely plausible to assume that the FBI, US military intelligence and the CIA - as has just been rather convincingly claimed again in the latter instance - had penetrated the al-Qaeda team planning the 9/11 attacks; intelligence reports piled up in various Washington bureaucracies pointed to the impending onslaught and even the manner in which it might be carried out. The history of intelligence operations is profuse with examples of successful intelligence collection, but also fatal slowness to act on the intelligence, along with eagerness not to compromise the security and future usefulness of the informant, who has to prove his own credentials by even pressing for prompt action by the plotters.

Sometimes an undercover agent will actually propose an action, either to deflect efforts away from some graver threat, or to put the plotters in a position where they can be caught red-handed.
There is not the slightest need to postulate pre-placed explosive charges to explain why the towers collapsed at near free-fall speeds. As Pierre Sprey, a former plane and weapons designer who knows a great deal about explosions, told me: "To ensure the collapse of a major building requires very sizable demolition charges, charges that are large enough to do a lot more than emit the 'puffs of smoke' cited as evidence for the explosives hypothesis.

"Take a look at live and filmed explosive building demolitions. Each explosion is accompanied by a very visible shower of heavy rubble and a dense cloud of smoke and dust. Just that fact alone makes the explosives hypothesis untenable; no demolitions expert in the world would be willing to promise his client that he could bring down a tall building with explosions guaranteed to be indistinguishable from the effects of an aircraft impact."

Herman Soifer, a retired structural engineer, summarised the collapse of WTC Buildings 1 and 2 succinctly, in a letter to me, remarking that since he had followed the plans and engineering of the Twin Towers during construction he was able to explain the collapses to his wife a few hours after the buildings went down.

"The towers were basically tubes, essentially hollow. Tubes can be very efficient structures, strong and economical. The Trade Center tubes effectively resisted vertical loads, wind loads and vibrations and could probably have done very well against earthquakes. However, the relatively thin skin of the hollow tube must be braced at intervals to prevent local buckling of the skin under various possible loads, otherwise the tube itself can go out of shape and lose its strength.

"For their interior bracing, the thin-walled tubes of the Trade Center towers depended primarily on the interior floors being tied to the outer wall shells. These floor beam structures were basically open-web joists, adequate for the floor loads normally to be expected. These joist ends rested on steel angle clips attached to the outer walls.

"As the floors at the level of airplane impact caught fire, the open web joists, which could not be expected to resist such fires, softened under the heat, sagged and pulled away from their attachments to the walls. Their weight and the loads they were carrying, caused them to drop onto the next lower floor, which was then carrying double loads also becoming exposed to the heat. Then that floor collapsed, and so it went. But as the floors dropped, they no longer served as bracing for the thin-walled main tubes. "This loss of bracing permitted the walls to buckle outward in successive sections and thus the house of cards effect."

The conspiracists' last card is the collapse of the adjacent WTC building number 7 some hours after the morning attacks. But here again, as with the Twin Towers, the explanation offered by the US government's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is more than adequate.

"Collapse was caused by the rupturing of the building's metal framework due to the thermal expansion of its floor beams, which were heated by uncontrolled fires because the water main that supplied the building's fire suppression system had been cut by the collapse of WTC 1."

The NIST team said that the smallest blast event capable of crippling the critical column would have produced "a sound level of 130 to 140 decibels at a distance of half a mile". Yet no noise this loud was reported by witnesses or recorded on videos. Sound at 130 to 140 decibels is about as loud as humans can tolerate.

High grade steel can bend disastrously under extreme heat. As discussed in Wayne Barrett and Dan Collin's excellent book Grand Illusion, about New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and 9/11, helicopter pilots radioed warnings nine minutes before the final collapse that the South Tower might well go down and, repeatedly, as much as 25 minutes before the North Tower's fall.

What Barrett and Collins brilliantly show are the actual corrupt conspiracies on Giuliani's watch: the favouritism to Motorola which saddled the firemen with radios that didn't work; the ability of the Port Authority to skimp on fire protection; the mayor's catastrophic failure in the years before 9/11/2001 to organise an effective unified emergency command that would have meant that cops and firemen could have communicated; that many firemen wouldn't have unnecessarily entered the Towers; that people in the Towers wouldn't have been told by 911 emergency operators to stay in place; and that firemen could have heard the helicopter warnings and the final Mayday messages that prompted most of the NYPD men to flee the Towers.

That's the real political world, in which Mayor Giuliani and others have never been held accountable. The conspiracists disdain the real world because they wanted to promote Bush, Cheney and the neo-cons to an elevated status as the arch demons of American history, instead of being just one more team running the American empire, a team of more than usual stupidity and incompetence (characteristics I personally favour in imperial leaders). There are plenty of real conspiracies in America. Why make up fake ones? · 


Those who believe in the controlled demolition thesis make much of the fact that 1500 architects and engineers signed a petition calling for an additional investigation of the collapse of building 7. But there are MILLIONS of architects and engineers in the US. So what if 1500 or so of them have sufficient doubts that they signed this petition? Does the fact that this small minority signed the petition tell us ANYTHING about the predominant opinions of architects and engineers, demolition experts, physicists, or other relevant professionals in general about this matter?

I would suspect that most of them don't care enough about the issue to have investigated the matter much. After all, the US seems to be able to manufacture a case for going to war pretty much whenever it wants (WMDs, Gulf of Tonkin, "the communists are going to invade Texas," etc.), so why would this elaborate demolition plot be needed to bring about war in the Middle East? If terrorists crashed into the buildings and killed thousands of people anyway, what difference would it make whether or not the buildings actually collapsed?

Among the leaders of the "9/11 Truth" movement is physicist Stephen Jones. Jones' own department (physics at BYU) issued a public statement saying that they were "not convinced that his analyses and hypotheses have been submitted to relevant scientific venues that would ensure rigorous technical peer review." His claims were also not supported by anyone in the engineering department there, and several publicly stated that they disagreed with his claims. Numerous peer-reviewed scientific papers have been published disputing the controlled demolition theories and supporting the idea that the WTC buildings collapsed due to a combination of initial structural damage (from debris from the other buildings in the case of building 7) and fires, as have a book and special edition published by Popular Mechanics, which consulted hundreds of structural engineers and demolitions experts in putting together their reports.

@nrobi, you have many of your facts wrong. There were hundreds of firefighters at the 9/11 scene, including in building 7. They withdrew from building 7 a couple of hours before it collapsed because they decided that it was beyond saving and its collapse was inevitable. And it is certainly not the case that plane parts and human remains weren't found from flight 93; I haven't even heard of any 9/11 conspiracy theorists claiming that evidence of the crash was not found. Some do, however, claim that the plane was shot down rather than crashed due to a struggle with the hijackers. It seems like an odd claim to make given that it's inconsistent with the near-consensus among 9/11 conspiracy theorists that the government ALLOWED the other planes to get through and crash into their intended targets. If they wanted to create circumstances making a case for war by allowing planes to hit buildings, why would they let three through and shoot down the other one?

As a person who has not seen any conspiracy regarding the 4 flights that were hijacked to destroy specific targets in America I do find it odd, that among them there remains these questions regarding the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and other buildings.
There are 2 particularly troubling instances that have never been fully explained, 1) Building 7 of the World Trade Center. Building 7 fell approximately 8 hours after the initial attack. For a building to burn for approximately 8 hours and then fall, without so much as a firefighter fighting the fire is an odd occurrence. 2) Flight 97 the flight that crashed in Shanksville Pennsylvania. For a flight with that many people on board, to have crashed without so much as a body part visible, no luggage, no seats left from the crash, no engines, no black box, almost no visible parts, nothing except a hole in the ground is quite extraordinary in the annals of aviation history.
Please remember that I am not completely convinced of the conspiracy theory but have questions that to this day have never been fully answered.

Its simple really, thats why they call em SDGs !!!

More mildly, according to the Architects and Engineers group the Nist report is wrong on more than a dozen counts.

Good piece, but don't fall for similar guff about FDR knowing in advance about Pearl Harbor. If as you say "It's quite possible Roosevelt thought it would be a relatively mild assault" how could a mild assault be enough to convince a very anti-war American electorate that a declaration of war would be a reasonable response?

And then there's the fact that 1940s American interests lay predominantly in Europe and the then US 'hawks' and sizeable pro-British factions were pushing for war against Germany, not Japan.

Alexander (a great writer) mocks the idea of silence from the scores of Cheney's operatives. Well hundreds, if not thousands of people had gay sex with Rock Hudson but that somehow stayed a secret. In Hollywood! Or how about the financial fraud on Wall Street. That may include tens of thousands, many with no legally impeding disincentive to come forward. Sure, a few have.. a handful maybe. Doesn't exactly ring the bell for Alex though.

OK William Hogarth, I respect that my logic was wobbly. An architect on the site says that the report testifies an "impossible" event. His accusation is supported by his association. Point blank the NIST report is fiction.

I have been studying the events of 9/11 for 2 1/2 years and know without any doubt that we need another investigation. This time the investigators should not be politicians but experts supported by the concerned families of the victims. There are uncountable smoking guns at each and every event that day. The smokiest of all is the collapse Building 7. Anyone over 4 years old who looks at that collapse will see controlled demolition. Expert demolitionists say it was controlled demolition. Building 7 was a 47 story skyscraper that was not hit by a plane. It collapsed straight down that afternoon with it's roofline parallel to the street throughout the collapse. It fell in 6 1/2 seconds and the first one third of it's collapse was as fast as a bowling ball through air. The scientists at the National Institute of Science and technology have admitted that it fell at free fall acceleration. So I ask any of you including the author of this article, "how can this building fall through it's own foundation as fast as a bowling ball through air"?

I have surely stepped into a time warp and gone back ten years because your explanation as to why the towers collapsed goes right back to the FEMA pancake collapse theory of 2001.I cannot believe people are still trying to push this tired, worn out crap on us. Herman Soifer could not explain the collapses within two days because 10 years later those collapses have still not been explained. Ask Soifer one question for me, if the floors were tied between the core and the outer walls and one floor fell on the next and so on, what happened to that enormous free standing, braced and cross braced core? Because if we use Soifer's imbecilic analogy the core must have disappeared into thin air.Come on! how can you claim to have all the answers when you,clearly,do not even understand what the questions are.How very,very sad.

WTC7 - 58 outer and 25 internal steel columns all collapsed simultaneously in freefall, even the most damning DNA evidence relies on lower probability of occurrence. There might just have been a similar hoax after the Second World War, but this time we have the internet and five Israelis dancing Hava Nagila in the car park!!

PeterG - as has been said of religions, 'they can't all be right but they can all be wrong'. To use an Ozism, "not wrong" does NOT necessarily mean "correct", just that there might be summat more to consider.
Personally I'd look again at the structural integrity and cost cutting architectural features of the Towers.
The ruins showed the steel skeletons to which the mesh & sprayed cement floors were attached. The first one didn't collapse because it was hit so high but the 2nd, much lower down, was like a pack of cards with a section removed. First the floor above collapsed then the next & next & disaster, which brought down the first target.
Do you recall the collapse of the Tower Hamlets council block in the mid 60s, due to dodgy 'unit construction', from a minor gas stove explosion?

Sounds like someone has trained extensively in the use of that old standby: the red herring. You just make yourself look stupid with this kind of nonsense. Do a bit of research, then write a well informed piece that at least touches on some relevant issues. It doesn't matter which way you argue, but at least do it thoughtfully. As of now, you're a hack, parroting the same old talking points.

Hmmmm. I've looked for pictures of an airplane hitting the pentagon on 9/11. Haven't found it yet! why has Mr Cockburn not added this picture to his article?
I don't accept the government explanation of the events of 9/11. I've tried to bend mild steel by heating it with a kerosine torch. No matter how long you hold the torch on the same spot, no matter how high you set the gas flow, you cannot get the steel hot enough to be able to work it. I don't offer any explanation as to what happened in New York that day, does that make me a "conspiracy theorist"? I don't think so, I think it just shows I have a healthy skepticism. Of course, if the mainstream version of those events are true, Saudi Arabia has a resource more valuable then oil!! The material they make those passports from would make AMAZING building material. :-0!!

about the collapse of building 7 immune from any terrorist aircraft attack, you write

"Collapse was caused by the rupturing of the building's metal framework due to the thermal expansion of its floor beams, which were heated by uncontrolled fires because the water main that supplied the building's fire suppression system had been cut by the collapse of WTC 1."

Ah ah they were "uncontrolled fires" that could not be extinguished ... thats a valid enough explanation if .... you can explain who lit these fires in building 7 and why ....

I have no idea what happened on 9/11..who did what and so on and yes, there are conspiracies as you point out which may not be the ones we hear about.

What is disturbing is that Cockburn quotes one architect yet , as Peter Gardiner points out, hundreds more architects disagree.

Cockburn also quotes a former Pentagon official who claims to have seen photographs and offers a third hand account of an alleged eye-witness to seeing the terror on passengers faces (and if the man did see a plane then that account alone is so unlikely it is laughable).

I do not question whether a plane hit the Pentagon. I wasn't there so i do not know. But either was Cockburn.

Why haven't we been shown these photographs ?. At least it would put to rest that particular 'conspiracy' and I can think of absolutely no harm in the public-who have a right to know-in seeing these photographs. No-one would be harmed.

I am very disappointed in Alexander Cockburn writing a very simplistic article that seeks to discredit all 'conspiracy' merchants while he offers not one single piece of proof-just second-hand accounts by TWO people only that dismiss thousands of other professionals (architects and so on).

Yet he aknowledges their WAS a conspiracy to invade a country, kill untold thousands of people and in THAT conspiracy, as Pat Buchanan has written, the greatest handover (and theft) of public monies into private hands the world has ever witnessed.

Cockburn has done little (especially for his own credibility) in yet another blase attempt to belittle those who believe there was a conspiracy in respect to 9/11 (after-all, those who flew the planes conspired). He can do better and he should.

Yeah sure it was Bush what done it, Hilter was a friend of the Jews and Gaddafi has the power to resurrect the dead hence he still has his daughter supposedly killed by US airstrike.

It is wonderful to see the 9/11 conspiracy theories - flat earth people exist everywhere.

@ Peter Gardiner -----
You write that your group of 1,500 complains that the NIST report is not thorough. You add - "Either 1,500 architects and engineers are wrong or the report is wrong." What I think you may mean is that - "Either 1,500 architects and engineers are wrong or the report is insufficiently thorough." There is a substantial difference between these two statements perhaps best demonstrated by the difference between flawed by incorrect reporting or deduction, and flawed by insufficiency. You appear to be inviting your readers to draw an unjustified conclusion from this confusion.

AS usual Cockburn concentrates on the loony theories while ignoring the serious questions.

There is a protest group of about 1500 architects and engineers in the USA who say the the NIST official report is not thorough and needs another investigation. Either 1500 architects and engineers are wrong or the report is wrong. They cannot both be right. Without speculating on whether 1,500 fully trained and experienced architects are the tip of the iceberg, buildings should be bending, lurching and falling down all over the place in the USA due to flawed design, if the NIST report is correct. As these symptoms are not manifest it seems the NIST report must be flawed and should be dismissed rather than the 1500 architects and engineers who are holding on to their jobs.

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