9-11 hero's testimony sparks controversy on the first anniversary of his death

9-11 hero's testimony sparks controversy on the first anniversary of his death

by Peter Duveen

PETER’S NEW YORK, Wednesday, September 9, 2009--Barry Jennings was one of the heroes of 9-11, but an apparent news blackout regarding his death a year ago has raised fears among some investigators of a concerted attempt to hide Jennings's testimony about the events of that day.

On September 11, 2001, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) collapsed into piles of steel, concrete rubble and dust an hour or so after being hit by two aircraft. Later on the same day, another high-rise office building collapsed into its own footprint in a mere six seconds, even though it had not suffered any direct impact from aircraft. In a number of reports meant to explain the three collapses, the federal government contended that damage to the WTC complex was due entirely to the impacts of the aircraft and resulting fires. It also claimed that the aircraft were piloted by Islamic terrorists from the Middle East.

A major challenge to the government's version of events consists of the viewpoint that only a controlled demolition--the careful planting and timed detonation of explosives such as is used by the construction industry to clear away outdated structures--could have brought the WTC buildings down the way they fell, each having dissembled and collapsed into its foundation in a matter of seconds. Some of Jennings's public statements in which he describes his ordeal on that day appear to lend credence to the "controlled demolition" hypothesis.

Jennings held an important administrative post at the New York City Housing Authority, and he left a detailed account of his experience on 9-11 in the form of a 2007 videotaped interview with the documentary filmmaker Dylan Avery.
As he describes it, just after the first plane struck the 110-story WTC 1, Jennings was told to report to the New York City Office of Emergency Management's Command Center on the 23rd Floor of Building 7, a 47-story office tower in the WTC complex that was home to a good number of municipal, state and federal agencies. The command center was supposed to coordinate the activities of various city agencies during a major catastrophe. When Jennings arrived, he found that the command center had been hastily abandoned, as testified to by the presence of still-steaming cups of coffee and open sandwiches at desks. This, he said, was around the time the second plane hit the second of the twin towers, WTC 2, at 9:03 a.m.

Jennings made a few phone calls at the command center, and during one of these, he was told he should leave the building right away. Michael Hess, the New York City Corporation Counsel, had also gone to the command center to meet with then-Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, and Hess and Jennings found a stairwell that should have led them out of the building. When the two reached the sixth floor, however, there was an explosion, and the stairwell underneath them gave way, leaving Jennings hanging onto the upper structure of the stairwell with Hess on the landing above.

Jennings managed to drag himself up and he and Hess made it back to the eighth floor. By that time, the heat in the building was becoming intolerable, and the lights had gone out.

Jennings broke out a window with a fire extinguisher, and signaled to firemen on the street below that he and Hess were trapped. The firemen indicated they would help, but suddenly bolted away from the building. This, Jennings later learned, was because WTC 2 had collapsed, and the firemen were running to escape falling debris. They returned again, only to flee moments later when WTC 1 collapsed.

Believing that neither he nor Hess would ever get out alive, Jennings told Hess that he was going to pray, and suggested Hess do the same. Soon after, members of the fire department arrived on the 8th floor, and led both men safely to the building's lobby, which had been destroyed beyond recognition. As he was led out of the building by firefighters, Jennings was instructed not to look down, and said that he was stepping over people, presumably the bodies of those killed in whatever destroyed the lobby. Jennings and Hess had to be taken out through an opening in the wall made by the firefighters.

While he and Hess had been trapped in the building, Jennings said he heard multiple explosions, but when he looked outside the window on the eighth floor to see where the sounds were coming from, he could see nothing that had blown up. Later that day, Jennings returned home, and watched the video footage of the Twin Towers coming down. It was then that he heard the news that Building 7 had also collapsed. "I'm saying to myself, 'Why did that building come down?' And I know why it came down--because of the explosions," Jennings said in his interview with Avery. The explanation he had been given--that a fuel oil tank in the building had caused the explosions and destruction--did not sit well with Jennings, and was later officially rescinded.

Years later, when Jennings was asked to testify before the 9-11 Commission, he said he was unsure whether his testimony was what the individuals who questioned him wanted to hear. Later, a controversy arose over the timing of his harrowing experience and final rescue. Building 7, according to the official account, fell due to the debris and resulting fires caused by the collapses of the Twin Towers. Jennings' testimony, however, makes it clear that the explosions he heard and felt occurred in the building well before the Twin Towers collapsed. His testimony thus supports the "controlled demolition" theory.

Avery originally hoped to use the Jennings interview in one of his "Loose Change" series of documentaries, which contend that elements of the U.S. government played an active role in orchestrating the events of 9-11 as a pretext for the implementation of the so-called "war on terror" and a predatory foreign policy in the oil-rich Middle East. Jennings at first gave permission for the interview to be shown as part of the film, but later asked that it be withheld because he feared there would be reprisals if his testimony were made public.

According to an article on a New York City Housing Authority website, Jennings died Aug. 19, 2008, at age 53. The article credits Jennings with saving Hess's life. But oddly for one of the true heroes of 9-11, Jennings's death was not reported in the mainstream press. Some observers remark that his passing occurred shortly before the release of the official report on the collapse of Building 7 by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Because Jennings's testimony is at odds with the conclusions of the report, critics say he constituted a threat to the status quo represented by that report, adding to suspicions regarding the timing and cause of his death.

In order to underscore the mysterious demise of Jennings and the other contradictory information in the government's reports about 9-11, a number of demonstrations were held throughout the country on the anniversary of Jennings's death. The gatherings were held outside the offices of newspapers around the country, to protest what many observers contend amounts to a media blackout about Jennings's story.

One such demonstration was held in front of the offices of the Glens Falls, N.Y. Post-Star, a newspaper that often boasts of the Pulitzer Prize one of its staffers was awarded earlier this year. Three members of the local activist group Wake Up Now--Dave Nicholson, Phil Nicholson and Marian Jesmain--and local businessman and café proprietor Matt Funiciello joined in holding up signs in front of the Post-Star headquarters directing passers-by to the website www.jenningsmystery.com, which explores Jennings's life and and what little is known about his death.

All was perhaps not in vain for the participants, as at least one Post-Star reporter took notes and promised the newspaper would look into the Jennings story.

There was not much love lost between the demonstrators and the newspaper, however. Dave Nicholson and Jesmain have penned many a letter to the Post-Star challenging the paper to improve its coverage of important issues. And Funiciello said he did not make the newspaper available in his café because of what he characterized as the paper's distorted coverage of national and international news. Funiciello said he especially took the paper's management to task for relying on the Associated Press, which, he said, was known to be infiltrated by U.S. intelligence agencies, a long-held view not only of Funiciello, but documented in a lengthy article by "Watergate" investigative journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Bernstein as far back as 1977. It is likely that, with the continual erosion of constitutional safeguards since the Watergate era, the influence of the U.S. intelligence agencies on the news media has increased exponentially since Bernstein's study.

Oddly enough, when the possibility of the infiltration of Associated Press was broached by this writer in a letter published by the Post Star, Ken Tingley, the paper's editor, responded by writing a column quoting from the letter without attribution, and stalwartly defending the integrity of the news service by denying any connection between AP and intelligence branches of the U.S. government.

In spite of its quixotic editor, the paper has enjoyed some attention for its coverage of controversial issues, for which one of its writers won a Pulitzer Prize this year, a fact that the newspaper likes to crow about on its masthead. Whether the paper intends to apply its award-winning journalistic enterprise to the case of Barry Jennings remains as much a mystery as the death of Jennings itself.

(The original article, with photos, links, and any additions or corrections, may be found at www.petersnewyork.com.)