Muddying Questions, Squandering Answers

More than anything else, what triggered the birth of The Mahablog were unanswered questions about September 11. About six months after that day, news stories in Time, Newsweek, and elsewhere revealed that the feds had received copious warnings that a terrorist strike on U.S. soil was imminent, yet the Bush Administration took no action to prevent it. In the spring of 2002 I spent considerable time piecing together a September 11 timeline, mostly so I could get straight in my own head what the U.S. government had done to prevent terrorism in both the Clinton and Bush II administrations, and what warnings the Bush White House had received before September 11.

In 2002 Condi Rice protested that no one could have imagined that terrorists would use hijacked airplanes to carry out a strike on American soil. But we learned since that a presidential daily brief of August 6, 2001, titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” not only explicitly said that, um, Osama bin Laden was determined to mount a terrorist strike in the U.S., the strike might involve a hijacked airplane and the strike would probably be carried out by bin Laden followers already in the U.S. The briefing even mentioned the World Trade Center and Washington. Yet the Bush Administration was weirdly unconcerned.

We got a reminder of the Bush Administration’s misplaced priorities this week when Robert Parry wrote for Consortium News (emphasis added):

… the documentary evidence is now clear that in summer 2001 – at the same time Bush’s National Security Council was ignoring warnings about an impending al-Qaeda terrorist attack – NSC adviser Condoleezza Rice was personally overseeing a government-wide task force to pressure India to give Enron as much as $2.3 billion.

Then, even after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when India’s cooperation in the “war on terror” was crucial, the Bush administration kept up its full-court press to get India to pay Enron for a white-elephant power plant that the company had built in Dabhol, India.

And last week Rory O’Connor and William Scott Malone wrote for AlterNet about “the 9/11 story that got away” — an anonymous White House source leaked top-secret NSA intelligence to reporter Judith Miller about a planned attack by al Qaeda on the United States. The story never got published.

In spite of attempts at investigation, there are vast gaps in our understanding of what happened on 9/11. The Family Steering Committee for the 9/11 Independent Commission submitted a long list of questions to the commission, most of which are still not clearly answered, IMO. Along with a full account of why intelligence of an impending attack was, apparently, ignored, there are many unanswered questions about NORAD and exactly what Bush and Cheney were up to — Cheney in particular — on that day.

My 9/11 timeline was obliterated without notification to me by the web host, Tripod, along with the first 13 months or so of Mahablog posts. But I remember a number of other loose threads, such as interference by the White House with the investigation of the U.S.S. Cole bombing. And let us not forget the 28 pages about the Saudis that were redacted from a congressional report on 9/11.

There’s little chance we’re going to get those questions answered as long as the Bushies control the White House and Congress, but I’ve hoped that someday the truth would come out. However, I fear that there are people — well-meaning people for the most part — who are working very hard to destroy any chance of a full accounting in our lifetime.

I’m talking about the “inside job” theorists. I’ve noticed what seems to be increased interest in the notion that the World Trade Center towers collapsed from controlled detonation rather than from being struck by commercial airplanes. And the theorists are getting more aggressive. Last week I deleted several comments linking to implosion theory sites and banned a commenter who would not respect my request to stop posting that junk here. I’ve received snippy emails from people who accused me of being a Bush dupe because I don’t subscribe to the detonation theory. Clearly, large numbers of people are determined to believe that the Bush Administration planned and carried out the September 11 attacks.

There are too many variations of the detonation scenario drizzled around the web to address every point. I could be flip and point out that, given their track record, if the Bushies had been behind 9/11 the WTC towers would still be standing. But to me the clearest sign the detonation theories are wrong is that the scenarios inevitably ignore basic, irrefutable facts about the WTC towers and their collapse. The theorists are frantically passing along misinformation to each other and spinning further and further into the Twilight Zone.

For example, this page — which calls itself “Hard Science and the Collapse of the World Trade Center” — goes on at length about the “mysterious” collapse of Tower 7 without mentioning the fact that the building had not only suffered structural damage when Tower 1 collapsed (among other things, the collapse set off an earthquake in lower Manhattan that registered on seismographs miles away), but also that fires raged unchecked on several floors for seven hours before the building finally crumbled about 5:20 that afternoon. (The FDNY was, you might recall, either dead or busy elsewhere that day.)

A New York Times article of September 12, 2001 (James Glanz, “A DAY OF TERROR: THE BUILDINGS; Towers Believed to Be Safe Proved Vulnerable to an Intense Jet Fuel Fire, Experts Say“) quoted Brian McIntyre, chief operating officer of the structural engineering firm that worked out the original WTC design (Skilling Ward Magnusson Barkshire), who said that WTC 7 was ”basically designed to resist heat buildup for three hours.” Catastrophic damage after seven hours of uncontrolled fire didn’t seem that mysterious to Mr. McIntyre.

I spent a big chunk of the day in a car with two other people trying to get off Manhattan island. When I got home that afternoon I remember flipping on the television and hearing a news report that WTC 7 was burning and severely damaged, and was expected to collapse soon, which it did. No big surprise.

Yet according to the “hard science” report hailed by several commenters as an amazing breakthrough, WTC 7 just sat safe and happy, nice as you please, all day long, until “WTC7 mysteriously imploded and fell to the ground in an astounding 6.5 seconds.” No mention of the fire.

Now, recall, we’re supposed to believe that each floor of the building “pancaked” on the one below. Each of the 47 floors supposedly pancaked and collapsed, individually. Yet WTC7 reached the ground in 0.5 seconds longer than freefall. Is this really possible?

I don’t know if that’s possible, but Tower 7 didn’t fall that way, according to New York Times news stories. Towers 1 and 2 fell that way (I’ll get to them in a second), but I haven’t seen any accounts of Tower 7’s collapse that claim it fell that way. Nor could I confirm the author’s claim that the collapse took only 6.5 seconds. A couple of news stories estimated the collapse took about 40 seconds, although that wasn’t official. The “hard science” guy doesn’t say where he got his data. I have to assume he hauled it out of his butt.

About the alleged “implosion” of towers 1 and 2 — as regulars know I watched the towers from a high rise office building on West 17th St., from which I had a clear, straight-on view. As I watched it was obvious to me that both towers collapsed when the weight of the floors above the impact sites was no longer supported and crashed down on the floors below, setting off a domino effect that brought both towers to the ground. Later I read a number of engineering reports that confirmed what I saw with my own eyes.

I’m not sure how this makes me a Bush dupe, but I’m told it does. Instead of relying on my own eyes, I’m told I must look at fuzzy and possibly doctored web clips that “prove” the towers “imploded.”

But let’s talk about implosion for a minute. According to this “how stuff works” explanation:

The basic idea of explosive demolition is quite simple: If you remove the support structure of a building at a certain point, the section of the building above that point will fall down on the part of the building below that point. If this upper section is heavy enough, it will collide with the lower part with sufficient force to cause significant damage. The explosives are just the trigger for the demolition. It’s gravity that brings the building down.

That’s pretty much what happened to the towers, except that the trigger was a loss of structural integrity caused by several factors resulting from a commercial airliner loaded with jet fuel plowing into each tower. Read the engineering reports linked above or here for details.

The “How Stuff Works” article continues to explain that controlled demolitions require considerable pre-demolition prepping and rigging. The whole process takes several days. The demolition team has to remove walls and cram explosive material into bore holes at several points in the building.

People, there’s no way a demolition team could have rigged the WTC towers to implode without anyone noticing them. That’s even dumber than thinking you could take the Brooklyn Bridge apart with a blowtorch without getting caught. The WTC towers had heavy security 24/7, and no one could have waltzed into, say, the Cantor Fitzgerald offices and drilled holes in the wall without somebody saying, um, excuse me? And you are here, why? No way.

[Update: From “World Trade Center – Some Engineering Aspects” by Tim Wilkinson at the University of Sydney:

Implosion firstly requires a lot of explosives placed in strategic areas all around the building. When and how was this explosive placed in the building without anyone knowing about it. Second, implosion required more than just explosives. Demolition experts spend weeks inside a derelict building planning an event. Many of the beams are cut through by about 90% so that the explosion only has to break a small bit of steel. In this state the building is highly dangerous, and there is no way such a prepared building could still be running day to day like WTC was.

Details, details … ]

Other arguments — the “inside job” people will tell you there were detonations on the lower floors, and they know this because people have testified they heard explosions. Of course they heard explosions. When big chunks of airplane and building fall nearly a quarter mile and hit pavement, this makes a big BOOM. Duh.

The “inside job” people also like to point to pictures that show billowing “smoke” that looks like smoke from a detonation. What they see is the billowing dust of pulverized building material. (Remember the news clips of people running to escape dust clouds?) The white dust was everywhere in and around the financial district after 9/11. I saw people walking up 8th Avenue covered in white dust that day.

Most of all the various “studies” created by the “inside job” people nearly always fail to consider the unique structure of the WTC towers and instead compare them to collapses of more conventional steel-supported skyscrapers. They’ll say jet fuel wouldn’t have burned that long, forgetting that the towers were full of all kinds of combustible things — furniture, carpeting, lots and lots of paper. Etc. etc. No, they say, the only way those towers could have collapsed was from a controlled demolition. End of argument. (And they say I’m closed minded.)

I’ve been loathe to bring this up, because I know as soon as I post this the tin foil hat crowd will flock here and post insults in the comments as fast as they can keyboard (which I will delete as promptly as possible). Clearly, some people have an irrational but overwhelming psychological need to exonerate the plane hijackers. But I decided to post this just once so I can link to it in the future when the theorists demand why I am so stupid as to believe the “official story” of 9/11, whatever that is.

There’s no question the Bushies benefited from 9/11 and have exploited it shamelessly. And as I said in the early paragraphs, I have big questions about what the feds might have known before the tragedy and why the White House took no action to prevent the tragedy they must have at least suspected was coming. But whatever they knew or didn’t know, it’s plain as day that Bush was unprepared for the Real Thing. If he’d known what was going to happen that day, he would have done a better job pretending to be a hero. But he was stunned. And he spent most of the day flitting about North America before pulling himself together to go back to Washington.

I fear the “inside job” theorists are poisoning the well. By mixing nonsense with legitimate issues they may be making all questions about September 11 seem absurd and further inquiry less likely. And, people, that pisses me off. And that’s why this blog will not be used as a conduit for the “inside job” theories.

Update: See also this British “September 11 Conspiracy Theories” page and this article from Popular Mechanics.