Preface: Although throughout much of this article the language is quite neutral I am not attempting to make this a Wikipedia entry and I couldn't resist a snide comment here and there. But I think the grading scale I used is quite fair to each of these theories; I hardly ever consider myself either a skeptic or a believer, just somewhere in between.
One of the most debated subjects lately is whether or not there was some kind of nefarious conspiracy surrounding the tragic events of September 11, 2001 and most of this debate seems to be happening on the internet. Some say the United States government, and maybe even the President himself, somehow orchestrated the entire affair, or at least some of it.
The fact is, there was a conspiracy behind 9/11. It was orchestrated by al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and perpetrated by nineteen hijackers.
But let's go beyond this obvious conspiracy to the ones that are stirring up all of this JFK-like conspiracy controversy. I am going to present to you each theory (some of them go together into one Grand Conspiracy but I think some bits of the conspiracies are more plausible than others) and be as balanced in my presentation as I can with the claims and debunkings. And as far as my personal asessments of them, they will mostly come in the form of the following grades:
- A: Probable and highly likely
- B: Plausible
- C: Plausible but not likely
- D: Possible but highly unlikely
- F: No. Absolutely not.
- F-: What are you smoking and can you pass me some?
In the interest of fairness, we should start with the official story.
The Official Conspiracy:
On the morning of September 11, 2001, nineteen individuals hijacked four transcontinental flights:
- American Airlines Flight 11 - a Boeing 767-223 which regularly flew from Logan International Airport in East Boston, Massachusetts, to Los Angeles International Airport.
- United Airlines Flight 175 - a Boeing 767-222 that regularly flew from Logan International Airport in East Boston, Massachusetts to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California
- American Airlines Flight 77 - a Boeing 757-223 that usually flew from Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), near Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
- United Airlines Flight 93 - a Boeing 757-222, a regular flight from Newark International Airport (now known as Newark Liberty International Airport) in Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco International Airport
At 8:46:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (12:46:30 UTC), AA Flight 11 crashed into the north side of the North Tower in the World Trade Center in Manhattan (New York City, New York). All on board the plane were killed. Many inside the building were as well.
UA Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower at 9:02:59 a.m. local time (13:02:59 UTC) - again, all on board were killed, many in the building.
At 8:55 AM President George W. Bush is at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida on a scheduled visit. Karl Rove erroneously informs him that a twin engine plane crashed into the World Trade Center. After speaking with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice Bush learns that it was actually a commercial aircraft. At 9:05 Bush is about to begin reading a children's book called The Pet Goat to the students at Booker when Chief of Staff Andrew Card interrupts to inform the President that a second plane has struck the other tower of the World Trade Center. Bush decides to continue reading rather than alarm the students. Around 9:15 he finally leaves and enters another classroom with the secret service, some of his staff, a phone, and a television to watch the coverage.
At 9:26 AM The FAA banned all take-offs of civilian aircraft.
At 9:37 AM Flight 77 crashed into the western side of the Pentagon causing a large explosion and a huge fire. All on board were killed and over a hundred Pentagon staff perished as well.
At 9:45 AM the FAA made history by shutting down all air traffic.
At 9:57 AM a passenger revolt began on UA Flight 93. This includes the now-famous "let's roll!" moment. According to the cockpit voice recorder, information from which is gathered much later, it appears that the passengers tried to break into the cockpit using a food cart. At that point the hijackers changed their plans (which likely involved crashing the plane into the Capitol Building or the White House). At 10:01 AM Flight 93 is seen waving its wings, probably a sign of the struggle in the cockpit. Unlike the other hijacked planes, many phone calls were made from this flight, either via cellular phone or airphone. Tom Burnett had been the passenger who said to his wife "Don't worry. We're going to do something." And passenger Todd Beamer, placing a call from a phone at the back of the plane, was the passenger who, after saying they were going to jump the hijackers, said: "Are you guys ready? Let's roll." At 10:03 AM Flight 93 crashed in a rural area southeast of Pittsburgh in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. All on board - but nobody on the ground - perished.
At 9:59 the South Tower collapses.
At 10:28 the North Tower crashes.
The towers were designed as framed tubed structures with open floor plans with numerous strong perimeter columns and load-bearing core columns to support the structures. Elevators and stairwells were in the cores. The design actually anticipated airplane impacts (like sticking a pen in a screen door, as one engineer described this feature in a Discovery Channel special about the construction of the towers - filmed before 9/11). And they initially sustained the impacts. However, those transcontinental flights were filled with fuel and the hollow nature of the towers facilitated the jet fuel seeping deep into the towers, igniting many large fires along the way. They were hot enough to significantly weaken the columns and cause the floors to sag, pushing perimeter columns inward, transferring the load-bearing to the overheated and weakened inner columns, which lead to the demise of both towers. Additionally, the impacts had dislodged fireproofing from the steel of the columns, increasing its exposure to the heat of the fires. The collapse was progressive: the weight of the towers above the impact areas was too much to bear for the structures beneath them. From then on as each floor collapsed the floor below couldn't handle the weight and it collapsed, and so on and so on.
In all, 2,595 people inside and near the towers were killed, along with the 157 people who were aboard the two airplanes.
These attacks were executed - from plans made between March and September 2000 - by nineteen terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda with the infamous Osama bin Laden the master planner. They used knives and boxcutters - items allowed on flights at the time - to intimidate (and kill) passengers and members of the crew to gain control. They also used threats of bombs. There were four teams of these hijackers, each one lead by a pilot:
- American Airlines Flight 11
Pilot: Mohamed Atta: A quiet man of Egyptian origin who spent most of the planning time leading quietly, always very serious, almost devoid of emotion. He is suspected of being the mastermind of all 19 hijackers.
Strongmen: (All from Saudia Arabia) Waleed and Wail al-Shehri; Satam al-Süquami, Abdulaziz al-Omari
- American Airlines Flight 175
Pilot: Marwan al-Shehhi: A bespeckled man from United Arab Emirates who was described by a former teacher of being immature and aimless. He knew of the war he would be waging long before the other terrorists.
Strongmen: Ahmed and Hamza Alghamdi (both Saudi); Fayez Ahmed (from UAE), Mohald al-Shehri (Saudi)
- American Airlines Flight 77
Pilot: Hani Hanjour: From Saudia Arabia, the only hijacker to have lived in the United States before the attacks were planned.
Strongmen: Khalid al-Mihdhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaf al-Hazmi, Salem al-Hazmi (all from Saudia Arabia).
- United Airlines Flight 93
Pilot: Ziad Jarrah: This Lebanese man was the only hijacker believed to have had close family ties and a secular upbringing.
Strongmen: Ahmed al-Haznawi, Ahmed al-Nami, Saeed al-Ghamdi (all from Saudia Arabia).
Evidence For: Countless eyewitnesses, photographs, motion pictures, some broadcast on live television as they happened, and a duffle bag full of documents and literature belonging to Atta that he had left at the airport before boarding his doomed flight.
Evidence Against: Unsubstantiated accounts of some of the hijackers alive after the event, highly questionable suppositions by scientists that the towers could not have collapsed the way they did, witnesses claiming to hear and/or see explosions at the base of the towers which some claim to be evidence of munitions (as in somebody brought the towers down with explosives).
The Government Knew the Attack was Coming
This is the conspiracy theory that doesn't directly challenge the official story above. It simply states that the US government knew that something was going to happen and were either incompetent to stop it, as the 9/11 Commission asserted, or let it happen on purpose - often referred to with the acronym LIHOP (feel like pancakes, anybody?) Depending on which conspiracy theorist you talk to the level of the foreknowledge of the events range widely. In the interest of brevity, we will just leave it at that.
Evidence for: Admitted breakdowns in communication between the FBI and CIA and various local law enforcement agencies and various "connect the dots" approaches in a grey area left open by what many consider to be unanswered questions.
Evidence against: President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, et al swearing they had no idea that such an attack was imminent.
The US Government Made It Happen On Purpose (MIHOP)
This is an overall theory made up of many smaller ones that it was entirely orchestrated by the US Government as part of a false flag operation to drum up support for warring in the Middle East - Iraq in particular.
Evidence for: Often cited by conspiracy theorists is the document entitled Rebuilding America's Defenses by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a neoconservative think tank which George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld were/are allegedly members of. Operation Northwoods is also interesting, but circumstantial, evidence for MIHOP. This is an actual document declassified in 1998 outlining a false flag operation to drum up support for invading Cuba, drafted in 1962, a proposal that was rejected by the Kennedy Administration.
Evidence Against: Would the US Government do such a horrible thing to its own people? We hope not! Plus, there were those 19 hijackers. And bin Laden and al-Qaeda claimed responsibility. And all the "Evidence for" in the official conspiracy. And common sense dictates that such a conspiracy would be much more elaborate than the official one and it would be nearly impossible to keep each of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people needed to orchestrate it under wraps never to say anything about it. And here's an interesting point: most conspiracy theorists are Bush haters. If you think he and his administration are so bumbling do you really want to give him any credit for being able to pull this off?
The President's Odd Behavior
Some claim that the fact that President Bush continued to sit there and read The Pet Goat (viciously mocked by Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11) is evidence that he had foreknowledge of the attack. If there was a large scale terrorist attack why would he not be immediately whisked away, a man who would be a very likely target in that scenario? Unless he wasn't worried?
Bush claims he wanted to project strength and calm and not frighten the children. That seems reasonable. It is odd, though, that in late 2001 and 2002 he had suggested that he'd seen the first plane hit the tower, which would have been impossible in that classroom. Skeptics say he's obviously talking about seeing footage in the aftermath.
Evidence for: Bush's odd behavior and odd quotes.
Evidence against: Bush saying he didn't want to scare the children; he saw the first plane hit the tower like most people did: from watching the film captured by Jules Naudet as he was filming a documentary on a new firefighter.
United 93 Was Shot Down by Fighter Jets
It is believed quite widely that United Flight 93 was shot down by a fighter jet or jets, even by those who still believe there was that passenger revolt on board. This theory usually goes in conjunction with the theories that there was no passenger revolt - the cell phone calls were impossible - or that the flight never crashed.
First, and most importantly, in the interest of clarity, I'd like to point out that there is actually no "official" explanation, technically, for what brought down United 93 (the FBI has not released the official cause for the crash) so there is actually no "official" story here for a conspiracy theory to refute.
It is actually a policy to use fighter jets to shoot down air vehicles that threaten the President and/or the Capitol. I've seen the interview myself, but here is an actual partial transcript: during an interview on Meet the Press with Tim Russert, Vice President Dick Cheney actually said: "Well, the – I suppose the toughest decision was this question of whether or not we would intercept incoming commercial aircraft." Tim Russert asked what he'd decided. Cheney replied: "We decided to do it. We'd, in effect, put a flying combat air patrol up over the city; F-16s with an AWACS, which is an airborne radar system, and tanker support so they could stay up a long time ... It doesn't do any good to put up a combat air patrol if you don't give them instructions to act, if, in fact, they feel it's appropriate."
When Russert asked "So if the United States government became aware that a hijacked commercial airline(r) was destined for the White House or the Capitol, we would take the plane down?" Cheney responded: "Yes. The president made the decision ... that if the plane would not divert ... as a last resort, our pilots were authorized to take them out. Now, people say, you know, that's a horrendous decision to make. Well, it is. You've got an airplane full of American citizens, civilians, captured by ... terrorists, headed and are you going to, in fact, shoot it down, obviously, and kill all those Americans on board?
"... It's a presidential-level decision, and the president made, I think, exactly the right call in this case, to say, I wished we'd had combat air patrol up over New York."
A little chilling, no? Also on that same website is an alleged quote by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld where he actually refers to flight 93 being shot down: "I think all of us have a sense if we imagine the kind of world we would face if the people who bombed the mess hall in Mosul, or the people who did the bombing in Spain, or the people who attacked the United States in New York, shot down the plane over Pennsylvania and attacked the Pentagon..."
Add to this the many eyewitness accounts of there being a second plane, usually a "small white jet" at the United 93 crash site. However, Popular Mechanics, which has been involved in debunking many conspiracy theories about 9/11, has an simple explanation for that. There was a small white jet in the vicinity - a Dassault Falcon 20 business jet owned by an apparel company. It was flying into Johnstown-Cambria airport, 20 miles north of Shanksville.
But there is also an account of a man in the plane's bathroom on a phone telling of an explosion and white smoke at the very back of the plane right before it went down. Even the 9/11 Commission reported that "authorities suggested that U.S. air defenses had reacted quickly, that jets had been scrambled in response to the last two hijackings and that fighters were prepared to shoot down United Airlines Flight 93 if it threatened Washington." But, they also reported that audio tapes from NORAD's Northeast headquarters clearly showed that the military never had any of the hijacked airliners in their sights and even at one point were chasing Delta Airlines Flight 1989 which was later deemed to have been safe and not hijacked.
Jim Hoffman, a software engineer working in scientific visualization (and a leading conspiracy theorist) has cited a time discrepancy in the cockpit voice recording before the plane crashed. The transcripts end at abruptly 10:03 AM but Cleveland Air Traffic Control and FAA radar records show that United 93 went out of radar contact at 10:06 a.m. Also, seismologists record an impact at 10:06:05 a.m., plus or minus a few seconds. This discrepancy is fodder for conspiracy theorists because they point to it as evidence that there is a cover-up, in conjunction with the fact that the flight data and voice recorders have never been released and the transcript could have been fudged. However, on April 18, 2002, the FBI allowed the families of victims from Flight 93 to listen to the voice recordings. Of course, it is possible that those were altered. But at any rate, what does this time discrepancy tell us about what caused the crash anyway? It may simply mean the clocks of cockpit voice recorders are synchronized to something else. And another explanation for eyewitness accounts for a second plane is that it was simply a business jet that the ATC had sent to investigate the crash after it had happened.
Another item conspiracy theorists point to is the size of the debris field (some debris found 8 miles away), or more than one debris field, at the crash site. Popular Mechanics has refuted this, citing that this is not a unique occurrence in commercial airline crashes. However, what if the terrorists did have a bomb and they weren't just blowing smoke, pun not intended? This could account for the explosion and debris field problem.
Evidence For: The quotes by Rumsfeld and Cheney, eyewitnesses testimonies, debris field, and the mysterious second jet.
Evidence Against: The Official Record says that fighter jets were dispatched, and probably would or could have shot down Flight 93, but they didn't get there in time, partially because of pursuing Flight 1989, despite claims that they did have plenty of time. It is understandable, though, in a confusing time such as the morning of September 11, 2001 that it would have taken longer than normal to get the jets over to Flight 93. And let's face it, it would not be the first time and certainly not the last that the US Government/Military would be slow to respond to an emergency (see Hurricane Katrina).
United 93 Never Crashed
Some conspiracy theorists claim that United 93 landed safely in Ohio and that the plane that crashed was a different one. This is largely due to an errant AP story based on an errant report from WCPO, a local Cincinnati ABC news affiliate. This is usually part of an overall conspiracy theory that none of the planes crashed. Debunkers are quick to point out that the logistics of this "plane swapping" would be very daunting at best. And if it landed safely, what became of the jet? Its passengers? Some claim that the jet is still in use, as are the other jets, that their tail numbers are still in a database of active commercial airliners (I'll tackle this later). But are we expected to believe that United 93 landed safely, was never hijacked, "let's roll" never happened (which brings up a slew of other questions like how were their relatives fooled into thinking they were talking to impersonators?), and that either the Government arrested all of them and executed them after they landed without anybody noticing or their relatives were forced or scared into silence to claim that their family members are dead when they are really, in fact, alive?? And what was this other plane that crashed? Occam's Razor is screaming right now and banging on this node's front door.
Evidence For: An initial television news story that United 93 landed safely in Cincinnati from WCPO.
Evidence Against: Common sense. And eyewitness accounts. And the cell phone calls. And... speaking of those...
United 93 Cell Phone Calls were Impossible
To anybody who has ever flown on a commercial airliner with a cellular phone (and ignored the flight attendants when they tell you to turn off your phone shortly after takeoff) this conspiracy theory is certainly intriguing. This is because before you get to cruising altitude the signal suddenly drops off to nothing, indeed making it impossible to make a call. Add to that the fact that (at the time of writing this) 9/11 was six years ago and cell phone technology wasn't as good as it is now. At this point, you perhaps are thinking that this one's a slam dunk. But... let's examine this one more carefully:
Before we get into the technical nitty gritty, let's tackle the basics.
First of all, again, how would the family members have been fooled if the calls they supposedly took from their loved ones were faked by the government somehow, if they weren't really able to make the calls? Occamm's razor is screaming again. But maybe not as loudly in this case because, well, those calls would have been extremely difficult to make, or impossible, right? Well, read the next paragraph.
Second, contrary to popular belief, most of the telephone calls made from United 93 at the time of the hijacking were actually made from airphones, NOT mobile phones. Tom Burnett's call to his wife? Airphone. Todd Beamer's "let's roll" call? Yup, airphone. There were only actually two cellular phone calls made: Ed Felts calling 911 from the bathroom (and I believe this may be the call I mentioned in the United 93 Shot Down conspiracy) which was answered by a dispatcher named John Shaw, and a call made by flight attendant CeeCee Lyles. Both calls were made at 9:58 AM.
OK so there were only two made. But still, shouldn't they have been nearly impossible to place? Well, the short answer is: no.
So, at cruising altitude there's rarely a signal, but what about before you get that high? Let's look at the timing of the only two cell phone calls: 9:58 AM (which cell phone records confirm, by the way). This is six minutes before United 93 crashed and one minute after the passenger revolt began. If the hijackers were planning to hit the Capitol and/or the White House (and that is the general consensus) they would have been flying at a lower-than-normal altitude. And indeed they were according to a NTSB report. The aircraft was only about 5,000 feet above sea level at 9:58AM (again, when the cell phone calls were made) and the field near Shanksville where it crashed was 2,350 feet above sea level (it's a slightly mountainous region). So the plane was only 2,650 feet off of the ground at that moment in time. I had no way to measure, but I am reasonably certain that on my last flight I had a full signal on my cell phone well after we had descended to 2,650 feet.
Still not convinced it's possible? Paranoid that that NTSB report was fudged as part of the conspiracy? Let's move onto the technical aspects of this issue:
Experiments have been done to address the claims that the cell phone calls were impossible to make from the airplane. In 2003 during "Project Achilles" a Canadian team of researchers conducted experiments at many different elevations. They found that cell phones had a 75% success rate at 2000 feet (and keep in mind again that United 93 was at 2,650 when the calls were made), 25% at 4000 feet, and 17-18% at 6,000 feet. At cruising altitude they found that making a typical cell phone call, making it to ground and engaging a cellsite was less than 1 in 100. (The formula of success was actually found to be: Probability of Success = 6,400,000/altitude2.) So it is possible, just not likely, that even at cruising altitude that you could make a call. Carnegie Mellon researched just how many people break the rules and make or attempt to make calls from the air. In their study they monitored spectrum frequencies generated by cell phone use during commercial passenger flights. The conclusion: one to four cell phone calls are made during each average passenger flight, despite FCC and FAA regulations.
So why can't you make cellular phone calls from an airplane? Yes, it is illegal, as the team over at Mythbusters found out when they tried to see if a cell phone call would actually interfere with radio communications from and to the cockpit. But the question most ask when discussing 9/11 is why is it supposedly impossible to do? Simply put: the infrastructure wasn't designed to make air-to-ground cell calls (although there are currently inroads into solving this mobile dilemma). There's two main reasons: 1) the cell phones are above the cell towers and the towers usually aren't meant to transmit signals above them; some of them are actually pointed down if they're at the edge of a service area in an attempt to reach more customers, 2) as a jet airliner moves at such a high rate of speed, the hand-off gets dropped (as you move from cell to cell each time your signal is handed off to the next one). A third thing to take into consideration is the Doppler effect that induces frequency variations.
But the main point to understand when dealing with this conspiracy is that it is possible to make cell phone calls from the air. But the calls get dropped often (and many, if not all of those airplane cell phone calls that day did experience that problem). Reportedly, Felts' call was indeed cut short. In fact, he barely got out that there was a "hijacking in progress" before being cut off. See, you can make cellular phone calls from an airplane, but it just doesn't work very well.
Evidence for: All of the difficulties discussed above for making cellular phone calls from planes.
Evidence against: The experiments done that show that it is possible to make cell phone calls from a plane. And the fact that Flight 93 was flying low enough at the time to more facilitate the calls.
The Pentagon was Not Hit by a Boeing 757
Despite video evidence to the contrary released after the Zacarias Moussaoui trial suggestions that
Flight 77 never actually crashed into the Pentagon still persist. Initially, when security video footage and other evidence to the contrary weren't available (withheld because of security issues and the fact that they were evidence in Moussaoui's trial), people looked at photographs that were available from the crash and had determined that the Pentagon was not hit by a jet airliner. Maybe it was a missile of some sort. The apparent lack of debris from an airplane in the early photographs fueled this idea. Another thing that fueled this conspiracy was simply the lack of video footage, initially after the attacks. There are even reports of camera footage from a nearby Citgo gas station and from the Virginia Department of Transportation being swiftly confiscated by the US government after the attacks. (Things like that always throw conspiracy theorists into a tizzy don't they? Oh, never mind the fact that the footage might have been needed as evidence in a criminal investigation - one of the - if not the - biggest crimes in US history.)
Another thing harped on by conspiracy theorists is that the light poles on the way to the Pentagon were undamaged. I've seen photographs of ravaged light poles outside the Pentagon crash site. I guess the conspiracy theorists didn't see those.
The video evidence that is now available unfortunately does not show the impact very clearly due to the low frames-per-second of the footage from all of the videos (as you can imagine how fast the jet might have been going when it impacted you could understand why). Here you can find an example of the most important one. For somebody looking to disprove that it was an airplane, there is no definitive visual evidence. Well, that depends upon what you define as "definitive." OK one still from a video shows the airplane about to hit the Pentagon, not actually hitting. Hey, maybe it pulled up at the last second and then the US military fired a missile into its own headquarters.
Speaking of this missile, some conspiracy theorists consider their best evidence a quote from Donald Rumsfeld during an interview with Parade Magazine on October 12, 2001:
They find a lot and any number of terrorist efforts have been dissuaded, deterred or stopped by good intelligence gathering and good preventive work. It is a truth that a terrorist can attack any time, any place, using any technique and it's physically impossible to defend at every time and every place against every conceivable technique. Here we're talking about plastic knives and using an American Airlines flight filed with our citizens, and the missile to damage this building and similar (inaudible) that damaged the World Trade Center...
All right. That certainly is an odd thing to say. You could consider a giant, fast-moving metal tube filled with explosive materials a missile, I suppose, which is essentially what a jet airliner is when it is being flown right into a building. Conspiracy theorists do tend to ignore what he said near the beginning of the interview during a piece on the initial chaos after the impact: "Asked a person who'd seen it, and he told me that a plane had flown into it."
Probably, if you ask a lot of people there that day, they'd say a plane flew into it, because that's what they saw. Out of all of the people who saw the impact, not one person saw a missile hit the Pentagon (or any other such weapon). No, they all saw a jet airliner, strikingly similar to a Boeing 757, hit the Pentagon.
All right, so is this all the conspiracy theorists have, a lack of evidence for the official story and Rumsfeld's quote? Actually, no.
In June of 2007 Calum Douglas, from Pilots for 9/11 Truth, presented an alleged analysis information from Flight 77's data recorder box. He had used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the data from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The analysis provides for 3 independent methods of measuring aircraft position and 2 methods of measuring aircraft height near the end of the recording. Pilots for 9/11 Truth subsequently released the following interesting items:
- The NTSB Flight Path Animation approach path and altitude does not support official events.
- All Altitude data shows the aircraft at least 300 feet too high to have struck the light poles.
- The rate of descent data is in direct conflict with the aircraft being able to impact the light poles and be captured in the Dept of Defense "5 Frames" video of an object traveling nearly parallel with the Pentagon lawn.
- The record of data stops at least one second prior to official impact time.
- If data trends are continued, the aircraft altitude would have been at least 100 feet too high to have hit the Pentagon.
The NTSB and FBI have declined to comment on these discrepancies. This keeps this theory from a solid "F." I do recommend, though, for further reading, this part of the guide for the conspiracy documentary Loose Change. As I have not seen LC I will not be mentioning it much, but this part of the debunking guide talks about the plane hitting (or not hitting) the Pentagon and is quite informative (and at times quite hilarious). And I think that if you have seen LC or plan on seeing it soon, I'd read that whole guide.
Evidence for: Lack of airplane debris in initial photographs, Rumsfeld's inexplicable mention of a "missile," lack of good video and/or photographic evidence for the official story, and that interesting discrepancies in the data recorder black box.
Evidence against: Hundreds of eyewitnesses claiming to have seen an airplane hitting the Pentagon.
Flight 77 Did Not Hit The Pentagon; Explosion From The Inside Out to Steal The Spear of Destiny From the Pentagon's Basement
No, I'm serious.
First, what is the Spear of Destiny aka the Holy Lance? It is simply the lance that pierced Jesus Christ while he was on the cross. It was used to stab Jesus to make sure that he was dead. Blood and water came out, which was considered a miracle. Today, the legend goes that whomever has the Spear of Destiny has Ultimate Power. It is said that Hitler began World War II in an effort to obtain this spear. At the end of the war the spear supposedly came to be in the hands of US General George S. Patton. I suppose this is how it ended up in the "basement of the Pentagon."
I cannot find a single article to back me up on this theory so specifically (although I did find a lot about the Spear in reference to the Illuminati and New World Order and how George W. Bush and the Skull and Bones Society is trying to bring about NWO, etc. etc.) but I listened to a radio interview in 2005 where a leading paranormal investigator named Dr. Michael Lynch - from Paravisions - was very serious about this conspiracy.
It goes like this: Somebody used a bomb to blow out the side of the Pentagon from the inside to get out of the Pentagon. This Somebody did this after successfully stealing, from the basement, the Spear of Destiny. I believe that when asked Who, Dr. Lynch proposed that it could have been the U.S. Government so that President Bush could obtain the spear. But isn't he Commander in Chief of the military, which is headquartered in the Pentagon?
Evidence for: Absolutely nothing credible.
Evidence against: Hundreds of eyewitnesses seeing Flight 77 crash into the Pentagon, debris from a Boeing 757 at the crash site, video footage showing the crash, etc. etc.
The World Trade Center Collapse was a Controlled Demolition
Many just cannot believe that the World Trade Center towers collapsed without any help. Even structural engineers were surprised that the planes crashing into the higher floors of the towers was enough to bring them down. This theory is probably the most interesting because it seems to be the most widely believed. There's even a movement by credible scientists (not wacky pseudo scientists) that, if nothing else, calls for more investigation into the matter.
It goes like this: just to make sure that the towers collapsed explosives were planted at the bottom floors of the twin towers - and the World Trade Center 7 building (which no plane had crashed into) - and detonated after the planes had crashed into them. The event was supposedly the first time ever a global collapse of skyscrapers was caused by local injuries to the structures. So this means it is more likely that there was an intentional demolition to make sure that the towers fell.
This "controlled demolition" is one of the central themes of Dylan Avery's 2005 documentary Loose Change (it also covers most of these other conspiracies here) and it is addressed at length. (Again, because I have not seen the film I will not be discussing it much). The evidence for the demo varies:
- The speed of the collapse of the towers was at or near gravitational - In 2006 Steven E. Jones, a physicist at Brigham Young University, argued that without demolition charges it would have defied the laws of physics.
- Molten metal was found underground weeks after the attacks - Steven Jones again here points to this as evidence that the jet fuel could not have been the only incendiary device and that thermite might possibly have been involved. Whatreallyhappened.com claims that at Ground Zero "The temperature at the core of 'the pile,' is near 2000 degrees Fahrenheit." It also claims that the max temperature a jet fuel fire can burn is 1520°. The claim goes further to say that deprived of oxygen after the collapse the buried fires should have burned at much cooler temps than that. This leads to one of the biggest bones of contention with the official jet fuel fire theory: the fire should not have been hot enough to melt the steel of the support columns.
- Various witness claims (survivors, firefighters) to have seen an explosion close to the ground, or coming up stairs.
- Power outages and unusual fire drills in the weeks leading up to September 11, 2001.
- Seismic spikes indicated that bombs went off before the buildings fell
- A BBC news report that WTC 7 was collapsing well before it actually did
B7 collapsing is the other major bone of contention. How did it collapse when it wasn't even hit with a plane? Debris fell on it, but surely that wouldn't be enough? FEMA claims that it took over 30 seconds for the building to collapse which would indicate a slow cascading failure of the internal structure similar to what the official story says brought down the other towers but conspiracy theorists claim it was closer to 7 seconds. Larry Silverstein, the building's owner, said that the fire department had chosen to "pull it" which conspiracy theorists take to mean "demolish." He claimed later he meant "evacuate." The official investigation of how that tower collapsed is still ongoing as of writing this (investigating the other two towers took priority). However evidence has suggested that the damage from falling debris was more significant than in FEMA's preliminary report. There was much physical damage to the south face of WTC7 and the building also experienced intense fires. Videos of its collapse show kinks in the building's facade just before the two penthouses disappeared into the structure. The entire building imploded, with the slumping east side of the structure pulling down the west side in a diagonal collapse. While the investigation on this is still incomplete, this is a good working hypotheses.
Next let's tackle this fire temperature problem head-on. According to Popular Mechanics, it's true that jet fuel burns at 800° to 1500°F, not near the temperature of 2750°F required to melt the steel. However, "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."
What was that?
In order for the WTC towers to collapse, their steel frames didn't need to melt, they just had to lose some of their structural strength which required less heat.
Hold on. What'd you say? They didn't --?
In order for the WTC towers to collapse, their steel frames didn't need to melt, they just had to lose some of their structural strength which required less heat.
Popular Mechanics: "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." Senior engineer Farid Alfawak-hiri of the American Institute of Steel Construction adds that steel loses half of its strength at 1100°F and at 1800°F it is at less than 10 percent. Granted that's 300 degrees hotter than 1500. But let's not forget that more than jet fuel was burning in the WTC towers. The inferno was intensified by other combustible materials, notably paper (just how much paper do you think was in a gigantic office building??) Also combustible was rugs, curtains, and furniture (and... well... people). Some pockets of fire were even alleged to have hit 1832°F.
Basically, all of that jet fuel was just an ignition source for all of these other fires that took place inside the buildings, running down the elevator shafts like hot, spilling, liquid death, burning everything and everybody in its path.
OK now what of these explosions that witnesses saw? An ad placed in The New York Times for the book Painful Questions: An Analysis Of The September 11th Attack said: "The concrete clouds shooting out of the buildings are not possible from a mere collapse. They do occur from explosions." Van Romero, an explosives expert and vice president of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology said "the collapse of the structures resembled those of controlled implosions used to demolish old structures."
Well, the fact is, there were explosions.
What do you think is required on each floor of the towers for its occupants to live? AIR. That's right. You need air, and a lot of it, in those towers, just like in any building. What happens when you stomp on a well-sealed cardboard box?
You see, as the towers fell (which began near the top of the towers, not the bottom) the weight of the above floors came down with pulverizing force on the next intact floor and, unable to absorb that energy, that floor fails and the destructive descent continues to the next floor down, which is how the "pancaking" process goes. And let's keep in mind the unique structure of the WTC towers (without the normal skeleton of support columns that most skyscrapers have; this facilitated the pancaking once the center columns lost their strength). As each floor fell into the next all the air on that floor was violently expelled, causing explosions that shattered the windows and blew out clouds of pulverized concrete which would, in fact, to a casual observer look like bomb explosions.
Romero admitted later that he did not know his comment would be fodder for conspiracy theorists, by the way, that he only meant to say that's what it looked like. And indeed it did.
If all of debunking evidence above isn't enough, just think about how difficult it would be to stage a controlled demolition of a major skyscraper without anybody noticing. A lot of preparation would have to be done for that. All the workers attaching explosives to key areas at the bottom (or under) the structures would have had to have gone unnoticed. And supposedly the security of the two buildings was quite high. Also don't forget that the attempted bombing of the WTC in 1993 was almost a complete failure. Bringing down those towers with explosives would not be an easy task by any stretch of the imagination.
But, you say, University Professors are even saying it was a controlled demolition! Professor Jones is a professor of physics for crying out loud! OK, what of this Professor Jones? You might find it interesting that, in addition to his 9/11 conspiracy paper, he also published a paper entitled "Behold My Hands: Evidence for Christ's Visit in Ancient America" where he claims that there are circles in ancient Meso-American art in what seems to be the palms of south American deities suggesting they are the hands of the crucified Jesus. Not only does this in an of itself sound ridiculous to anybody who is not a Mormon like Jones, but he ignored other circles in the ancient artwork to make his case. And this ignorance of contrary evidence is what he is accused of doing of by other physicists and engineers with his controlled demolition theory.
By the way, he's no longer a professor at BYU. On September 7, 2006, Jones removed his controlled demo paper from BYU's website at the request of administrators and was placed on paid leave. He finalized a retirement package the next month.
One last thing in this theory we have to address are the seismic spikes that were recorded which conspiracy theorists claim represent bomb explosions. WhatReallyHappened.com reports that seismographs at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y. (21 miles north of the WTC), recorded the events of 9/11 and found "The strongest jolts were all registered at the beginning of the collapses, well before falling debris struck the earth." A columnist on Prisonplanet.com, a Web site run by radio talk show host Alex Jones, claims the seismic spikes are "indisputable proof that massive explosions" brought the towers down. The site says its findings are supported by two seismologists at the observatory, Won-Young Kim and Arthur Lerner-Lam. Each "sharp spike of short duration," says Prisonplanet.com, was consistent with a "demolition-style implosion."
However, Lerner-Lam told Popular Mechanics that "There is no scientific basis for the conclusion that explosions brought down the towers. That representation of our work is categorically incorrect and not in context." As it turns out that report included various graphs of the seismic activity (the planes crashing into the towers, the collapses later) and WhatReallyHappened.com only chose to display one graph which shows readings over a 30-minute span. On this graph, the 8 and 10 second collapses appear - misleadingly - as a pair of sudden spikes.
By the way, I could not find that graph on the website anywhere anymore. Perhaps they've taken it down in being called out on this error.
To be fair, WhatReallyHappened.com is a fairly large site with a lot of information on the 9/11 conspiracies and I would gather more stuff is being added to it quite often and the Popular Mechanics debunking article came out in 2005. I highly recommend checking out the website and more of the PM report (link in "Sources" below) for further reading. There is just too much on both to try to cover all of it here but I believe I have covered what's most relevant. And one could accuse PM of only debunking what myths they could debunk and picking their battles but they were pretty thorough.
Evidence for: Explosions seen by witnesses, paranoia of the US Government and False Flag Operations, Seismic Spikes suggesting bombs, white smoke.
Scientific and thorough debunkings and perfectly logical explanations of how the towers actually fell including the "pancaking" effect.
Mini Nukes and/or Energy Weapons Brought Down the WTC
Since our Professor Jones and another man named Kevin Ryan resigned from the Scholars for 9/11 Truth group a man named James Fetzer has expanded considerations for conspiracy theories to wild ideas like the possible use of mini-nukes and directed energy weapons (and even HAARP). Judy Wood, who supposedly specializes in "optics in relation to mechanics," has proposed that a directed energy beam could have come from above, perhaps a space-based satellite, and took out the WTC. This theory, though, has actually caused dissention amongst the ranks of the conspiracy theorists: Professor Jones and Jim Hoffman have published refutations of the mini-nuke thoery and found the energy weapon idea highly questionable and untestable.
Perhaps there's hope for them yet.
Evidence for: Speculation.
Evidence against: Nobody saw a beam from the sky hit the WTC (although, to be fair, you might not actually be able to see an energy weapon, it's probably not like Star Trek). But nobody saw any nuclear explosions, miniature or otherwise.
A "Pod" on Flight 175
911 In Plane Site, Let’s Roll 911, and Reopen 911 have all harped on the idea that there was some sort of "pod" under the plane that hit the south tower. Most of this is based on fuzzy photographs and ideas have ranged from a missile to the Boeing's left fairing. An analysis by a Spanish university supposedly proves that there were objects on the base of the plane and says that the "only explanation" for these objects is that they are "in relief." But 9/11 research websites like oilempire.us, 911review.com, and questionsquestions.net have all published refutations of this claim. Doubters of this theory have often called promoters of it "pod people."
Popular Mechanics quoted Ronald Greeley, director of the Space Photography Laboratory at Arizona State, as saying that the sunlight is glinting off the plane, and that "such a glint causes a blossoming (enlargement) on film, which tends to be amplified in digital versions of images--the pixels are saturated and tend to 'spill over' to adjacent pixels." They went further to say that the photograph revealed only the Boeing's right fairing. 911 In Plane Site came back with a claim that it could not have been the fairing because of how far it protrudes beyond the front of the wing. Theorists are using this pod to explain that either the plane was tampered with by the Government or wasn't Flight 175 at all (part of the "none of the flights were actually crashed" theory which we'll get to later).
Check out the photographs here. These are what conspiracy theorists are basing this theory off of. Fuzzy bulges.
Again, this is another theory that even conspiracy theorists are grumbling at. The 9/11 Truth Movement accuses this one of being "another hoax to distract from real evidence of complicity."
Evidence for: Fuzzy photographs and stills from videos.
Evidence against: Photographs of planes we know don't have missiles displaying almost identical optical illusions.
There Was a "Flash" before Flight 175 hit the South Tower
This is related to the pod theory above. Many conspiracy theorists have alleged that there was a bright flash as the plane hit the south tower and that this proves that a missile was indeed launched from the underside of the plane. 911 IPS says that the flash could not be a reflection, as it was seen at four different angles and an object cannot reflect light in more than one direction. They also say that sparks or static discharge "have been ruled out by every airline pilot we have spoken with."
The same 9/11 researches mentioned in the pod theory above refuted this, claiming that it was most likely kinetic energy of the collisions vaporizing a mix of materials like steel or aluminum and that the pressure of the 400+mph collision rapidly oxidized them. Interestingly, Popular Mechanics chose not to debunk this claim.
Evidence for: More fuzzy photographs.
Evidence against: Better ideas for what caused the flash.
Some of the Hijackers are Still Alive (or at least were after 9/11)
There are many reports out there of some or all of the 9/11 hijackers to still be alive after September 11, 2001. BBC reported on 9/23/01 that some of the hijackers the FBI had named were alive and well, including Waleed al-Shehri who was supposedly found in Casablanca, Morocco. Also according to that BBC report Abdulaziz Al Omari, Saeed Alghamdi, and Khalid al-Midhar, three other hijackers, were living in the Middle East at the time. The Saudi Gazette and The Khaleej Times both supposedly claimed that Marwan al-Shehhi was still alive in Morocco later that September. The Telegraph reported on 9/23/01 that Ahmed al-Nami was alive and well working as an administrative supervisor with Saudi Arabian Airlines and said "I'm still alive, as you can see. I was shocked to see my name mentioned by the American Justice Department. I had never even heard of Pennsylvania where the plane I was supposed to have hijacked." Mohamed Atta senior, when being interviewed by a reporter from Der Spiegel and asked if he was worried that his son might have flown that jet into the WTC on 9/11, he responded "No, why should I? He was still alive after the attack. He called me twenty-four hours and forty-eight hours after the attack." and Atta called his father no more because, as Atta Sr. puts it, "they indeed killed him." ("They" here, to Atta, would be Americans, Zionists, etc.)
Mohamed Atta Sr.'s testimony there is somewhat intriguing but it's not a far stretch of the imagination that a grieving father would want to believe that he was called by his son later and did not participate in those horrific acts, or that Atta Sr. was simply lying because he didn't want admit his son would do such a thing. At any rate, this simple quote from an angry old man is hardly evidence of anything.
What's most perplexing is, according to my research, almost all citations on conspiracy websites of the terrorists being alive after 9/11 all are going back to those BBC and Telegraph reports, reports which were later recanted and said to be simple cases of mistaken identity, just other men with the same or similar names (go ahead, Google yourself, Zabba search yourself, how many other people out there have your name?) Ironically, one fact that promoters of this theory often point out - that all of the hijackers used fake names on fake passports and were thus difficult to track - can also be used for skeptics debunking this theory.
All credible agencies - FBI, CIA, and law enforcement in other countries - say that those men were the hijackers and that they are now dead. Nothing credible says otherwise.
Evidence for: BBC and Telegraph articles (that, again, were later recanted) and some testimony from friends/family members.
Evidence against: A mountain of evidence that says they're dead and that places them in the Hamburg cell and in the United States planning the attacks.
None of the Planes Hijacked on 9/11 Were Actually Crashed
So here we go. It's the penultimate theory - next to the overall one - that the Government was behind the whole shibang. It's the veritable smoking gun. Forget all the other theories. If all of these planes are indeed still in one piece, then there is definitely something fishy going on.
Some conspiracy theorists claim that the N-numbers of the planes that were used in the terrorist attacks are still listed as active in the FAA's database. Well, let's look at the FAA's online database. I won't include all the listed information on each flight, just the pertinent ones.
- American Airlines Flight 11
Serial Number: 22332
Mfgr. Name: Boeing
Year Mfgr: 1987
Reason for Cancellation: DESTROYED
Certificate Issue Date: 01/06/2000
Cancel Date: 01/14/2002
N-number 334AA currently reserved by "Greenway Jonathan James," reserve date: 9/15/2006
- American Airlines Flight 77
Serial Number: 24602
Mfgr. Name: Boeing
Year Mfgr: 1991
Reason for Cancellation: DESTROYED
Certificate Issue Date: 05/08/1991
Cancel Date: 01/14/2002
N-number 644AA currently reserved by "Greenway Jonathan James," reserve date: 9/15/2006
- United Airlines Flight 175
Serial Number: 21873
Mfgr. Name: Boeing
Year Mfgr: 1983
Reason for Cancellation: CANCELLED
Certificate Issue Date: 01/18/1984
Cancel Date: 09/28/2005
N-number 612UA currently reserved by "United Air Lines Inc," reserve date: 10/11/2005, renewal date: 09/22/2006, purge date: 11/11/2007
- United Airlines Flight 93
Serial Number: 28142
Mfgr. Name: Boeing
Year Mfgr: 1996
Reason for Cancellation: CANCELLED
Certificate Issue Date: 07/01/1996
Cancel Date: 09/28/2005
N-number 591UA currently reserved by "United Air Lines Inc," reserve date: 10/11/2005, renewal date: 09/22/2006, purge date: 11/11/2007
As you can see, all of the aircraft are deregistered. Yes, the N-numbers are still in the database, each with more than one record: previous aircraft and whomever has the number presently reserved. Apparently American Airlines and United Airlines have different policies as for giving the reason for deregistration; maybe UA doesn't like the word "destroyed." I think the reason that the numbers are still in use is simply that, like license plate numbers, like Social Security Numbers, they are recycled. Once the number is deregistered it can be reserved again. United has reserved them again (Perhaps to put them on another plane? keep them from being reserved again? Who knows?) and "Greenway Jonathan James" (whoever that is) snagged the other two. But so why did it take until 2002 or 2005 to cancel the numbers, one might ask? There probably isn't a rule that you have to give up the number as soon as the aircraft is no longer in service. The answer is either that or something else simple like that. Nothing seems nefarious about that to me.
So now we've cleared the air about the myth that the 9/11 aircrafts are all still registered and in use according to the FAA. Let's face it. Even if this conspiracy is correct, do you think They would do something as dumb as keep the aircraft registered in the database?
A man by the name of Greg Szymanski in a web article cited a researcher he'd only name as "Roger" (who apparently just did the same thing I did, look at the FAA website; no MIBs have shown up on my front door - yet - so I don't know what this "Roger" is so afraid of or even if he exists for that matter) who pointed out that United Airlines didn't list the deregistration reason as "Destroyed" and only "Cancelled" and that this Roger claimed that they only finally deregistered the planes after he called them wondering why they hadn't been yet. He also pointed out missing BTS flight data for the planes on September 11, 2001 and the fact that on that terrible day the number of passengers reported to be on Flight 11 varied depending on which news channel one was watching. The day was so chaotic that I, for one, am not all that surprised. And as for the missing BTS flight data, if it is true that United didn't file them properly for that day, that would also be an understandable flub-up considering the chaos of the day. BTS reports are due monthly according to this so they didn't have to be filed that day. For instance, I don't think anybody really cared if United filled out Flight 175's mishandled luggage report.
Speaking of Flight 175, one of the nuggets that conspiracy theorists are clinging to in regards to that plane never hitting the South Tower was that on 9/11 Fox News broadcast a live interview with Marc Birnbach who was reported to have seen it crash into the tower and said "It definitely did not look like a commercial plane. I didn't see any windows on the sides."
In actuality, Birnbach revealed to Popular Mechanics that he was more than two miles away from the South Tower and had only heard the explosion. He saw the plane fly over, heard the big BOOM! and that was it. When FEMA probed the crash a licensed structural engineer (and his team) with Construction Technology Laboratories photographed aircraft debris on the roof of WTC 5, including a chunk of fuselage that had passenger windows.
Other conspiracies I've already mentioned are a part of this. Flight 77 didn't hit the Pentagon; it was a missile. The Flight 93 cell phone calls weren't actually made. United 93 never crashed. The hijackers are still alive. People adamantly believe all of these theories in the face of a mountain of physical evidence, eyewitness testimony (not only those on the scenes but literally millions of viewers watching live television when United 175 crashed into the South Tower), and post-event studies and tests. Why is this? Rampant paranoia? Mistrust in the government? Have we watched too many action/suspenseful movies and television shows with secret groups (or shadow governments) doing nefarious things? Maybe it's a combination of all of these things.
Evidence for: Odd eyewitness testimonies inconsistent with what most others saw, discrepancies with flight reports and N-number cancellations, and evidence in the other related theories.
Evidence against: Mountains of physical evidence and thousands upon thousands of the total eyewitnesses who saw the planes go into the buildings/crash, the terrorists and all of the passengers are dead, radar that saw the planes veer off their courses and crash into the buildings, and... should I go on?
I hope that this has been useful to you, whether you are a conspiracy theorist or conspiracy theory debunker, or somewhere in-between. Personally, I'm the somewhere in-between. While I don't want to buy into the ridiculous theories that defy logic at the same time I don't want to be naive. It's fairly safe to say that our Government does lots of things we don't know about, based on things it has done long ago that have been declassified because of the Freedom of Information Act - like Operation Northwoods. You never know what kind of weird or terrible things it's up to now or planning for the future.
But, while we keep that in mind, let's also be reasonable.
If you have any suggestions (especially conspiracies you think are important that I have neglected to list) and/or have any comments whatsoever, /msg me. Or, if you are reading this and are not a member of everything2.com, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading, it took quite a while to construct.
The Reporters, Writers, and Editors of Der Spiegel Magazine. Inside 9/11: What Really Happened. St. Martin's Press, 2002.