While it is well-established that American intelligence agencies and the Bush Administration knew an Al-Qaeda attack on U.S. soil was imminent and did not do enough to stop it, some believe the story to be even darker: that the U.S. government allowed, or orchestrated, the attack to serve domestic and foreign policy purposes. This is one of the few conspiracy theories where both motives and science can guide us to the most likely conclusion.
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Intelligence briefers reported to President George W. Bush in August 2001 that Osama bin Laden was determined to attack the U.S. by hijacking planes (see The Concise Untold History of the United States, Stone and Kuznick).
These warnings were ignored. Stone and Kuznick write that
Bush disdainfully told his CIA briefer, “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.” Yet with a straight face, Bush told a news conference in April 2004, “Had I any inkling whatsoever that the people were going to fly airplanes into buildings, we would have moved heaven and earth to save the country.”
Dissident journalist I.F. Stone once said, “All governments lie.” That Bush would lie to protect the image of his administration from the glare of the worst security breach in U.S. history is predictable.
But was there more? Did, as the “9/11 Truthers” suggest, the government allow the attack to occur, or use explosives to demolish the World Trade Center after it was struck by planes? All in order to justify profit war in the Middle East and the expansion of State power at home?
Believers in this theory range from high-profile entertainers like Mark Ruffalo, Charlie Sheen, Martin Sheen, Rose O’Donnell, and Ed Asner to physics teachers, theologians, engineers, and architects.
The World Trade Center was composed of more than the Twin Towers, Buildings 1 and 2. Buildings 3, 4, 5, and 6 were severely damaged by the collapse of the Twin Towers. But Building 7, a 47-story structure, fell as well, not in the morning like the Twin Towers, but at 5:21 p.m.
9/11 Truthers believe Building 7 was purposefully demolished, that it fell neatly into its own footprint at free fall speeds, precisely as demolished buildings do. They claim that if there was no controlled explosion, the perimeter columns would have slowed the descent. The 9/11 Truth website documents witnesses in and around Building 7 who reported explosions, at mid-morning and in the afternoon before the structure fell.
Dan Rather and other reporters said the collapse looked like a controlled implosion. The owner of a Danish controlled demolition company, shown the footage but not told what it was, was confident it was a man-made implosion.
Researchers from the Worchester Polytechnic Institute and the University of California – Berkeley, as reported in the New York Times, found that the steel of Building 7 had melted, requiring 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit of heat, far hotter than the fires supposedly burned. 9/11 Truthers believe thermite and sulfur were used to lower the melting point of steel.
Fueling ideas of a government cover-up, 9/11 Truthers point out the national media rarely showed Building 7’s collapse, focusing only on the Twin Towers; that the 9/11 Commission Report did not mention Building 7 at all; that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) delayed its report on Building 7 each year from 2005-2008; and that the NIST report has a plethora of omissions, fabrications, and contradictions.
The Remember Building 7 website builds a similar case.
Anti-conspiracy theorists counter that:
What is often conveniently left out of the story are actual reports from NYFD firefighters at the scene, which describe huge, raging, unfought fires on many floors at once and visible deformations and creaking [sic] of the building prior to its collapse… Tower 7 was not hit by an airplane; however, it was struck by a 110-story flaming skyscraper, the North Tower. The fires raged for hours, and they eventually caused a critical column (#79) to fail because of thermal expansion; NIST determined that this column was crucial to the building and could even be considered a design flaw. Its failure would have collapsed the building even without the other structural damage from WTC 1’s collapse and the fires.
Indeed, “about 25 percent of the depth of the building was scooped out” when the One WTC crushed Building 7. Support columns that did not take damage were not designed to handle the entire weight of the building, and thermal expansion contributed to their failure, as some fires burned for up to 7 hours, fueled by diesel fuel many tenants used to power emergency generators, a possible source of explosions.
And though conspiracy theorists judge Building 7 to free fall for 2.25 seconds and insist the NIST admitted this, the report actually argues that indeed the breaking of perimeter columns slowed the descent and only the north face of the structure free fell, for but 8 stories.
Further, the building did not implode in on itself as neatly as a standard demolition: “In actuality, it twisted and tilted over to one side as it fell, and parts of the building severely damaged two neighboring buildings (the Verizon and Fiterman Hall structures).”
The Twin Towers
Similarly, 9/11 Truthers believe the Twin Towers could not have fallen after being struck by planes, that there must have been a demolition to finish the job (some Truthers, it should be noted, believe the Towers were never struck by planes at all, despite all the video footage by media outlets and everyday New Yorkers).
According to the theory, the Towers experienced free fall while taking the path of greatest resistance, which points to demolition. They marvel at how fast the towers collapsed, 15-20 seconds from the beginning of each collapse to the end.
Further, Truthers point out that as fire and heat cannot melt steel, the Twin Towers would be the first of such structures to ever fall to these elements in world history.
As one meme put it, 1.5 hours after fire broke out in the Towers, they were falling to the ground; but 20 hours after a similar structure, the Windsor Building in Madrid, started burning (February 2005), it remained standing.
Of course, such comparisons are easily dismissed as inappropriate: the Twin Towers were struck by jets, while the Windsor Building and other structures were not.
After suffering explosions equivalent to 400 tons of T.N.T., eliminating structural members on floors 90-96 on One WTC and 75-84 on Two WTC, the inferno inside only reached 1832 degrees Fahrenheit, but
experts agree that for the towers to collapse, their steel frames didn’t need to melt, they just had to lose some of their structural strength—and that required exposure to much less heat. “I have never seen melted steel in a building fire,” says retired New York deputy fire chief Vincent Dunn, author of The Collapse Of Burning Buildings: A Guide To Fireground Safety. “But I’ve seen a lot of twisted, warped, bent and sagging steel. What happens is that the steel tries to expand at both ends, but when it can no longer expand, it sags and the surrounding concrete cracks.”
“Steel loses about 50 percent of its strength at 1100°F,” notes senior engineer Farid Alfawak-hiri of the American Institute of Steel Construction. “And at 1800° it is probably at less than 10 percent.” NIST also believes that a great deal of the spray-on fireproofing insulation was likely knocked off the steel beams that were in the path of the crashing jets, leaving the metal more vulnerable to the heat.
Therefore, the impact and fires “eventually caused floor trusses to sag, pulling the perimeter walls inward until they finally snapped. At this instant, the entire upper section of each tower fell the height of one floor, initiating an inevitable, progressive, and utterly catastrophic collapse of each of the structures.”
As noted in the diagram, the collapse of perimeter walls under the weight of the structure above created a chain reaction of increasing mass and speed (quick, but not free fall).
During the collapse,
…air—along with the concrete and other debris pulverized by the force of the collapse—was ejected with enormous energy. “When you have a significant portion of a floor collapsing, it’s going to shoot air and concrete dust out the window,” NIST lead investigator Shyam Sunder [says].
This explains the blasts from the sides of the Towers as they fell, which Truthers point to as evidence of other explosions inside the buildings.
Again, as with Building 7, Truthers believe thermite was used to intentionally lower the melting point of steel (even though this is never used in actual demolitions!). They believe molten iron, iron oxide (rust), and pure aluminum found at Ground Zero are evidence of thermite reactions, rather than the more natural explanations anti-conspiracy theorists insist upon.
The Achilles Heel
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the 9/11 conspiracy theory.
Much more is claimed by organizations like 9/11 Truth and Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth and countered by scientists, architects, and engineers in publications like Popular Mechanics and Scientific American.
For instance, that only explosives could send debris sailing hundreds of feet away from the Towers as they fell; that the hole in the Pentagon was too small to have been made by a Boeing airliner and was therefore created by a missile; that the government issued an Air Force stand down order to allow planes to reach their targets; that the government destroyed evidence; etc.
Yet certain questions point to, rather than diabolical genius on the part of Bush’s government, almost unimaginable incompetence should this be an inside job.
Most striking: any controlled demolition of Building 7 would carry some risk of exposure. Why demolish Building 7 as part of some sinister plot in the evening of 9/11, when the World Trade Center was already in ruins? The pointlessness and absurdity of such a plan are astounding. It offers no benefit whatsoever, only increased risk of actual evidence being found linking the State to the crime.
Likewise, the events after 9/11 make little sense were this a government conspiracy.
It is well-established that Bush and his inner circle sought to attack Iraq from the moment the planes struck the Twin Towers.
Richard A. Clarke, the National Security Council counterterrorism coordinator at the time, said, “When the 9-11 attacks occurred, Bush cabinet members immediately discussed how that tragedy could be used to justify an invasion [of Iraq]” and “Bush himself asked me to try to pin the blame for 9-11 on Iraq.”
The administration was so eager to blame Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld ordered strike plans against Iraq on September 11, while the ruins of the twin towers still smoldered (see Stone and Kuznick).
A false case was made for war against Iraq; real evidence that Iraq participated in the attack or was planning to do so in the future never materialized; the “evidence” the government presented—that one of the 9/11 hijackers met with an Iraqi intelligence official, that Iraq was buying uranium from Niger, kept mobile biological weapons labs, and helped train Al-Qaeda—all turned out to be forgeries and lies.
Secretary of State Collin Powell presented all this to the United Nations (Bush told him, “Maybe they’ll believe you”), but later called it a low point in his career (see Stone and Kuznick).
Michael Morell, a CIA official who served as Bush’s intelligence briefer, admitted in 2015 that the Bush administration took the information he provided and distorted it. Later, Bush administration officials like Cheney and Rumsfeld ordered the use of torture in Iraq in an attempt to turn their lie into a truth, to establish a link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda operations (see Chomsky, Hopes and Prospects).
In reality, after 9/11 the Bush Administration saw an easy opportunity to eliminate an enemy dictator, who had formerly been a close U.S. ally but had since gone rogue, and seize control over one of the largest oil reserves in the world (see Chomsky, Imperial Ambitions; Hegemony or Survival).
Iraq, one of the richest prizes in the world, was both militarily weak and, with a little dishonesty, could be made into an enemy with weapons of mass destruction that supported the 9/11 attacks.
9/11 Truthers rightly insist that before 9/11 the U.S. sought to expand its control of the Middle East for its natural resources. In 1999, Dick Cheney told oil industry leaders, “The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies.” Cheney even set up a secret energy task force to plan how the U.S. could best control the world’s oil (see Stone and Kuznick).
Truthers also correctly note how 9/11 was used as justification for any foreign or domestic policy whim of American leaders, no matter how violent, deadly, authoritarian, or barbaric.
Seizing Afghanistan and Iraq could open the door to further interventions and tighter control of the region. “Pentagon officials foresaw a five-year campaign with a total of seven targeted countries, beginning with Iraq, followed by Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and the biggest prize of all, Iran” (see Stone and Kuznick).
In the National Security Strategy of 2002, the Bush administration declared it had the right to launch pre-emptive wars against any nation that it perceived to be a future threat, and that no nation should be allowed to challenge America’s global dominance (see Foner, Give Me Liberty!).
Yet based on the historical facts, had the government orchestrated, or allowed, the 9/11 attacks, and was going to craft the greatest lie in American history, it seems more likely it would have simply pinned the blame on Saddam Hussein.
First, not only is it clear Iraq was a U.S. target from the beginning, it is obvious why Iraq would have been seen as a more valuable conquest than Afghanistan. While Afghanistan is extremely rich in natural gas and minerals, its oil wealth is estimated at 3.6 billion barrels (but 0 proved reserves). Contrast this to Iraq, which has 144 billion barrels of proved reserves (the Bush administration quietly announced it would be American oil companies such as Halliburton, whose former CEO was Dick Cheney, that would rebuild the Iraqi oil industry, reaping billions in profits).
Second, dismissing Al Qaeda and simply blaming Iraq would have saved the Bush administration from having to conjure up tall tales of Hussein having weapons of mass destruction or that he supported the 9/11 attacks.
Again, here we have a redundant fabrication. Just as there was no need to demolish Building 7 after the World Trade Center was demolished, there was no need to lie about Iraq having biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons, or being a haven for Al Qaeda terrorists, or supporting the 9/11 plot, when a simpler, earlier lie would have sufficed (and likely have been immediately accepted by the American populace without question): that Iraq planned and executed the destruction of the Twin Towers.