Mission improbable: Challenging the official story of 9/11

"A good theory explains most of the relevant facts and is not contradicted," notes David Ray Griffin, who has been examining the available evidence for the past three years and has so far published two books on the subject. This month, Griffin summarized his findings for more than 1,000 people in four well-attended Vermont talks. The bottom line, he informed a packed house in Burlington on Oct. 12, is that "every aspect of the official story is problematic," contradicting the available evidence and defying even the laws of physics.

You may well ask, how can this be true? And, if so, why haven’t we heard more about it? The answer to the second question is easy: Mainstream media outlets have consistently declined to examine the highly technical and exhaustively documented case Griffin has developed. That may also sound like a conspiracy theory, but the almost total news blackout of Griffin’s Vermont talks suggests that it’s an unfortunate fact.

Explaining why the official story doesn’t hold water is a bit more difficult, involving a many-layered analysis not easily summarized in sound bytes. Nevertheless, in person Griffin did manage to provide a provocative and persuasive summary of some information in his books, The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11 and The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions.

For example, he explained that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) concluded that structural damage and extremely hot fires caused the collapse of the Twin Towers, despite the fact that "fire has never caused steel frame high-rise buildings to collapse" and, contrary to rumor, the towers were designed to withstand the impact of airliners as large as those seen crashing into them.

FEMA also said that the steel beams of the building buckled. For that to happen, however, the fires had to reach 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit and last a long time. But jet fuel only reaches 1,700 degrees, and the black smoke seen billowing from the towers established that most of the jet fuel had burned up within the first 10 minutes. In fact, the fires were clearly waning; their heat didn’t even break most of the windows, and one survivor who reached the 80th floor of the south tower saw only smoke and very little fire, Griffin notes.

So, if the "fire theory" doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, how did it happen? Although Griffin doesn’t completely commit himself to a specific theory, his evidence demonstrates that the collapses have at least 10 features in common with "controlled demolition"- that is, a series of carefully planned and timed explosions. When confronted with this unsettling information, some people simply go into denial.

In any case, as everyone who watched the tragedy unfold on TV knows, the collapses were quite sudden. But steel doesn’t suddenly buckle, so the process should have been gradual. The buildings also came straight down at almost free fall speed in about 10 seconds. That indicates there was no resistance. As Griffin explains in The New Pearl Harbor, "If each floor produced just a little resistance, so that breaking through each one took a half second, the collapse of all those floors [in the south tower] would have taken 40 to 47 seconds."

The collapses were also total, creating a neat pile of rubble with no core columns left standing, an outcome consistent with the use of explosives to slice beams in controlled demolitions. In this case, the beams recovered at Ground Zero were already neatly cut up, then removed without forensic examination and quickly sold to scrap dealers who exported them to places like China and Korea.

In addition, a lot of dust was produced, a pulverization effect that also strongly suggests the use of powerful explosives, and a considerable amount of material was horizontally ejected for long distances, a reaction that defies physics unless explosives were used. If that isn’t enough to raise some questions, many witnesses reported seeing and hearing a series of explosions, some of them coming from beneath the building.

The New York Fire Department recorded more than 500 oral histories concerning the events, but New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to release them until a New York court of appeals required it. As a result, we now know that many witnesses mentioned explosions – "like bombs going off," one said – as well as low level flashes and the buildings blowing out on all sides.

There’s a lot more. For example, Building 7, which collapsed later in the day, wasn’t hit by a plane, and suffered only small fires on a few floors, ruling out fire as the cause. More troubling still, 25 firefighters and medical workers were told that the building was coming down hours before it happened and were ordered to move at least five blocks away. Then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was also informed about the impending collapse of Building 7 beforehand. The 9/11 Commission dealt with the whole problem by omitting any mention of Building 7 from its report.

Another startling revelation, also backed up with solid evidence and corroborative testimony, is that Flight 77, a Boeing 757, could not have caused the damage to the West Wing of the Pentagon. Among other things, its burned-out wreckage was not found at the site, and the 20-foot wide hole in the building was far too small for such a plane. Within minutes of the crash, the FBI showed up at a gas station across the street and seized the footage from a security camera that may have recorded the moment of impact. Most evidence points to a smaller plane or some sort of missile.

In addition to the physical evidence, reasons citied by Griffin and others who question what actually hit the Pentagon and why include: the extreme difficulty of maneuvering a huge plane during a 7,000 foot descent in less that three minutes; the inexperience of the supposed pilot; the flight’s approach to Washington for 29 minutes without being detected by radar; and the failure of the National Military Command Center to protect the most well-defended building on the planet.

As for the fourth plane, Flight 93, which supposedly crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers seized control, the evidence points instead to a shoot down. Fighter jets tailed that plane, according to a flight controller, CBS news, and witnesses on the ground. One passenger who placed a cell phone call just before contact was lost reported hearing "some sort of explosion" and seeing "white smoke." Witnesses on the ground heard loud bangs consistent with a missile strike and saw the plane suddenly drop "like a stone," Griffin reports. 

Hard to believe? Certainly. But one of the reasons we don’t know for sure is that the tape of the cockpit recording reviewed by relatives of the victims ends at 10:02, while a seismic study establishes that the crash occurred at 10:06. Adding to the mystery, no flight control transcript of that flight has been released.

Such claims raise numerous questions, many of which are addressed in Griffin’s books and subsequent lectures. One of the biggest is why, if 9/11 was some sort of "inside" job, anyone would want such destruction to take place. Another is who knew and, even more important, who made it possible? 

Aware of such questions, Griffin sticks with what is known. For example, both the Bush administration and Larry Silverstein, who owned Building 7 and had leased the WTC earlier in 2001, clearly benefited. How? Silverstein collected $7 billion in insurance on property that was losing money and faced major problems caused by asbestos, while the administration needed "an archetypal event" in order to implement the plans to invade Afghanistan and Iraq that several key administration figures had been developing for more than a decade.

If there was some "official complicity," there are many possible forms it could have taken, Griffin points out. The least serious – but still enough to provide grounds for impeachment – is that U.S. officials played no role, but covered up embarrassing facts to exploit the tragedy. Another alternative is that intelligence agencies knew something in advance, but didn’t prevent the attacks and persuaded the administration to help with a cover-up.

More difficult to accept is the suggestion that those agencies or the Pentagon may have had specific information, or even direct involvement. And, of course, the most troubling idea – the one most apt to spark angry charges of Bush bashing or anti-American extremism – is that someone in the executive branch may have known something, or even provided some help.

While most of these options may sound unlikely (at least until one hears Griffin speak or reads his books), it certainly wouldn’t be the first time elements within the government orchestrated horrific events – and lied afterward – to achieve a long-term aim. As Richard Falk points out in his introduction to The New Pearl Harbor, events were manipulated to justify the Spanish-American War, the U.S. entry into World War II, the expansion of the Vietnam War, and the current Iraq war. Scholars also have challenged the official accounts of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Griffin is often asked why, if his account is to be seriously considered, someone involved hasn’t spoken up. In other words, how could it be kept secret? "We don’t know the secrets they have kept," he replied in Burlington. "The Manhattan Project [to create the atomic bomb] was kept secret for a long time, as well as a war in Indonesia during the 1950s. Things are compartmentalized, with information available on a need-to-know basis.

"Most people are afraid for their jobs," he continued, adding that "if they talk and disobey, they can be imprisoned and worse … And when people have spoken the press hasn’t reported it. But members of the New York police and fire departments know it was an inside job." Another reason, he said, is that "those who know probably think it would be so disturbing that it’s better to let people believe the official version."

As more information emerges, however, and is catalogued on websites like 911truth.org and 911citizens.org, the official "conspiracy theory" begins to look more "outrageous" than the admittedly controversial contention that the attacks were somehow orchestrated from within the United States.

Hammering home the point that most of what we think we know may be mistaken, Griffin also points out that even the identities of the hijackers remain in doubt. In the months following 9/11, the London Times, Associated Press, and Saudi embassy in Washington reported that at least five of the 19 men whose photos and names circulated worldwide were still alive.

So, was bin Laden really the mastermind? If he was a player, did he have some help? These are two of the many troubling questions that arise from Griffin’s analysis. At this point, we simply don’t know, and not much can be said with complete certainty, except that without 9/11, George Bush would not have been able to declare himself a "war president" and there would have been no convincing reason to expand the federal government’s power through legislation like the USA PATRIOT Act.

Given the administration’s now discredited claims about Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s connection to the attacks and weapons of mass destruction, it doesn’t stretch credulity to conclude that, based on the considerable conflicting evidence (rather than more comforting assumptions), the public has yet to hear the whole story. For that to change, however, the media’s self-imposed myopia will have to end, at last granting Griffin’s research a thorough review, and perhaps even prompting a more credible and comprehensive official examination than has so far been conducted.

Greg Guma edits Vermont Guardian (www.vermontguardian.com), a statewide newsweekly, and is the author of "Uneasy Empire: Repression, Globalization, and What We Can Do," "Inquisitions (and Other Un-American Activities)," and "Spirits of Desire." This article appears in the Oct. 21, 2005 issue of Vermont Guardian.