2 U.S. Reports Seek to Counter Conspiracy Theories About 9/11
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Faced with an angry minority of people who believe the Sept. 11 attacks were part of a shadowy and sprawling plot run by Americans, separate reports were published this week by the State Department and a federal science agency insisting that the catastrophes were caused by hijackers who used commercial airliners as weapons.
The official narrative of the attacks has been attacked as little more than a cover story by an assortment of radio hosts, academics, amateur filmmakers and others who have spread their arguments on the Internet and cable television in America and abroad. As a motive, they suggest that the Bush administration wanted to use the attacks to justify military action in the Middle East.
Most elaborately, they propose that the collapse of the World Trade Center was actually caused by explosive charges secretly planted in the buildings, rather than by the destructive force of the airliners that thundered into the towers and set them ablaze.
The government reports and officials say the demolition argument is utterly implausible on a number of grounds. Indeed, few proponents of the explosives theory are willing to venture explanations of how daunting logistical problems would be overcome, such as planting thousands of pounds of explosives in busy office towers.
Nevertheless, federal officials say they moved to affirm the conventional history of the day because of the persistence of what they call “alternative theories.” On Wednesday, the National Institute of Standards and Technology issued a seven-page study based on its earlier 10,000-page report on how and why the trade center collapsed. The full report, released a year ago, and the new study, in a question and answer format, are available online at http://wtc.nist.gov.
About a dozen researchers produced the new study over the last two months by assembling material from the longer report that addressed the conspiracy claims.
“With the fifth anniversary coming up, there seemed to be more play for the alternative viewpoints,” said Michael E. Newman, a spokesman for the institute. “We have received e-mails and phone calls asking us to respond to these theories, and we felt that this fact sheet was the best means of doing so.”
A nationwide poll taken earlier this summer by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University found that more than a third of those surveyed said the federal government either took part in the attacks or allowed them to happen. And 16 percent said the destruction of the trade center was aided by explosives hidden in the buildings. The survey questioned 1,010 adults by telephone and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points. Details are available at http://newspolls.org.
The demolition theory has managed to endure what would seem to be enormous obstacles to its practicality. Controlled demolition is done from the bottom of buildings, not the top, to take advantage of gravity, and there is little dispute that the collapse of the two towers began high in the towers, in the areas where the airplanes struck.
Moreover, a demolition project would have required the tower walls to be opened on dozens of floors, followed by the insertion of thousands of pounds of explosives, fuses and ignition mechanisms, all sneaked past the security stations, inside hundreds of feet of walls on all four faces of both buildings. Then the walls presumably would have been closed up.
All this would have had to take place without attracting the notice of any of the thousands of tenants and workers in either building; no witness has ever reported such activity. Then on the morning of Sept. 11, the demolition explosives would have had to withstand the impacts of the airplanes, since the collapse did not begin for 57 minutes in one tower, and 102 minutes in the other.
Those who believe in the demolition theory remain unpersuaded by government statements new or old, and the officials who issued the would-be rejoinders say they are not surprised. “We realize that this fact sheet won’t convince those who hold to the alternative theories that our findings are sound,” Mr. Newman said. “In fact, the fact sheet was never intended for them. It is for the masses who have seen or heard the alternative theory claims and want balance.”
Mr. Newman was correct that the institute’s reports would not convert those who favor the demolition theories, said Kevin Ryan, who is the coeditor of an online publication, www.journalof911studies.com, that has published much of the material arguing that the government’s accounts are false.
“The list of answers NIST has provided is generating more questions, and more skepticism, than ever before,” Mr. Ryan said.
Mr. Newman said, “NIST respects the opinions of others who do not agree with the findings in its report on the collapses of WTC1 and WTC2.”
The State Department report, which officials said was written independently of the new institute study, is titled, “The Top Sept. 11 Conspiracy Theories” and says, “Numerous unfounded conspiracy theories about the Sept. 11 attacks continue to circulate, especially on the Internet.” Produced by an arm of the State Department known as a “counter-misinformation team,” the report is dated Aug. 28 and appears as a special feature on the department’s Web site, at http://usinfo.state.gov/media/misinformation.html.
The report brought to light one little-known detail about the morning: a private demolition monitoring firm, Protec Documentation Services, had seismographs at several construction sites in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Those machines documented the tremors of the falling towers, but captured no ground vibrations before the collapses from demolition charges or bombs, according to a separate report by Brent Blanchard, the director of field operations for Protec. It is available online at www.implosionworld.com.
Asked for comment, Mr. Ryan said that his online 9/11 journal would soon publish an article on those seismic recordings. He also maintained that the Protec paper did not adequately address why puffs of smoke were seen being expelled from some of the floors. However, the federal investigators said that about 70 percent of a building’s volume consists of air, and what looked like puffs of smoke were jets of air — and dust — that were pushed ahead of the collapse.
Among those now propelling the argument that explosives took down the trade center is Steven E. Jones, a physics professor at Brigham Young University, coeditor with Mr. Ryan of www.journalof911studies.com, which published his paper, “Why Indeed Did the World Trade Center Buildings Completely Collapse on 9-11-2001?”
In an e-mail message yesterday, Professor Jones did not explain how so much explosive could have been positioned in the two buildings without drawing attention. “Others are researching the maintenance activity in the buildings in the weeks prior to 9/11/2001,” he wrote.
He said his investigation was finding fluorine and zinc in metal debris and dust gathered from near the trade center site, and argued that those elements should not have been found in the building compounds. “We are investigating the possibility of thermite-based arson and demolition,” he wrote, referring to compounds that, under controlled circumstances, can cut through steel.
The federal investigators at the National Institute of Standards and Technology state that enormous quantities of thermite would have to be applied to the structural columns to damage them. Not so, said Professor Jones; he said he and others were investigating “superthermite.”
Professor Jones also argues that the molten steel found in the rubble was evidence of demolition explosives because an ordinary airplane fire would not generate enough heat. He cited photographs of construction equipment removing debris that appeared to be red.
In rebuttal, Mr. Blanchard of Protec said that if there had been any molten steel in the rubble, it would have permanently damaged any excavation equipment encountering it. “As a fundamental point, if an excavator or grapple ever dug into a pile of molten steel heated to excess of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, it would completely lose its ability to function,” Mr. Blanchard wrote. “At a minimum, the hydraulics would immediately fail and its moving parts would bond together or seize up.”