Friday, September 9, 2011

Facing the Fact of 9/11

This essay has been adapted from an earlier post on March 4, 2010.

Hey - I admit it.

I'm skeptical of many things, and cynical about many others.

Not that I'm proud of the latter, or find that the former wins me friends.

But I'm neither skeptical nor cynical about whether our government perpetrated 9/11. One of the few things I can say with confidence, even as the 10-year anniversary of that event dawns this Sunday, is that there was no Washington conspiracy.

None. Nada. Zip.

Which, conversely, makes me incredibly cynical towards those folks who do still insist that American officials contrived to perpetrate those despicable events of September 11, 2001. I realize that many Americans harbor incredible animosity and vitriol against our own government. And none of us thinks Washington is scrupulously honest, or always looking out for the interests of the general public.

But planning 9/11?

Is it the sheer, stunning audacity of what happened that makes conspiracists unable to process it all? Has that much vile contempt for Washington been fomented over the years that people would rather suspect it of terrorism than Muslim extremists?

What kind of satisfaction do 9/11 conspiracy theorists expect to find in the knowledge that our own leaders masterminded the whole thing? If George W. Bush were to walk out onto the lawn of his Dallas home to a press conference and admit that, yeah, he and Clinton plotted the whole thing – would conspiracists rejoice?

Good grief – what kind of wacko, delusional fatalist does one have to be to believe our federal government is a sham? That it’s utterly despicable, full of brazen traitors and zombie killers?

Because that’s what having the US government plot 9/11 would have required.

No elite domestic terrorism cell within any covert agency or branch of the government would have been able to pull off the stunning scenario watched by people all over the world that awful Tuesday morning. No group of 10, 20, 100, or 500 people still run around the Pentagon, or live in some sort of witness protection program, sharing secret handshakes and holding alumni reunions underground in honor of their brazen plot.

For the level of cover-up required to pull off 9/11 as an inside job, trying to coordinate so many people of so many disciplines with so much equipment and such widespread access would have been sheer folly. Granted, Washington has known its share of folly, but not from a clandestine operation of that scale.

Look, we can’t safeguard normal state secrets any longer than it takes somebody to dial a phone. If anybody knew of the breathtaking plans for 9/11, wouldn't Moscow have been buzzing about it within hours? Our entire capital district is one giant sieve of confidential information.

Why the World Trade Center Wasn't an Inside Job

I don’t know much about the Pentagon, or whatever target Flight 93 was destined to destroy before passengers heroically forced it into a Pennsylvania field. But I do know something about New York’s World Trade Center (WTC). So let me help debunk at least one critical aspect about which many conspiracy advocates keep harping: the WTC's destruction being an inside job.

First, I’ve heard them say that since the WTC was a government facility, government operatives would have had easy access to plant explosives and other destructive devices.

Well, yes, it is a government facility, but the governments are the states of New York and New Jersey, not the federal government. It was – and still is – owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and a more over-bureaucratized and union-saturated organization you’ll never find. Absolutely nothing happened in that huge, 7-building complex without at least dozens of people knowing about it.

Not only did the Port Authority control the complex, but the City of New York, the New York governor’s office, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and any number of too-big-to-fail banks all had operations in the World Trade Center. These are organizations with lots of busybodies and redundant security protocols.

In addition, veteran Manhattan developer Larry Silverstein had just won a mammoth new management contract from the Port Authority to run the WTC. It's simply beyond reason to suspect such an experienced and shrewd operator as Silverstein would bungle his due diligence by ignoring telltale signs of sabotage on the WTC structures. It's also the apex of cynicism to suggest that he would be complicit with spies and play along with their grand charade, crafting an innocent diversion like a management contract so new, the paperwork hadn't even come back from the lawyers before September 11.

In addition to Silverstein and his executives, consider the sheer volume of people from whom the prep work for 9-11 would have had to be hidden. Over 50,000 people worked in or visited the WTC every day – that’s greater than the population of many cities. It had a shopping mall, restaurants, subway stations, and a commuter rail station – just in the basement levels. Do you honestly think somebody could hack away drywall and concrete to strap plastic explosives on a steel beam without one person noticing?

A favorite bit of “ah-ha!” evidence conspiracy theorists like to trot out is the odd collapse of 7 WTC late in the afternoon of September 11. They say that without warning, this newest addition to the Trade Center complex fell of its own accord, hours after all the other structures in the complex had already been obliterated. Look at the videos, they insist: you see puffs of smoke, indicating explosives being detonated floor by floor.

There are so many facts here that conspiracy theorists ignore, it’s hard to know where to start. Fortunately, I don’t have to go into all of them – I’ve found a fairly comprehensive and easy-to-read description of the fall of 7 WTC on Wikipedia. While I’m normally hesitant to recommend much on that site, this material has references and research notes to copious to be faked.
  • You’ll recall that nobody died in the collapse of 7 WTC. But it wasn't because some spy had a change of heart and warned tenants; firefighters noticed the building becoming unstable hours earlier, and made sure it was completely evacuated and nearby streets cleared well in advance of its falling.
  • Media images of the building taken throughout that day, plus official reports of the afternoon's recovery efforts, provide documented evidence that the building was significantly, structurally damaged from the fall of the WTC's north tower.
  • Popping sounds (not explosions) could be heard inside the building well before it fell. These noises came from structural elements buckling and dislodging as the stricken building shifted in preparation for its collapse, not demolition detonations.
  • The smoky puffs visible in photos and videos were from smoldering fires sparked when debris hit the building earlier in the day, whose smoke was released when windows popped out of their frames as the building facade crumbled.
Are You Smarter Than a Forensic Scientist?

Now, I suppose the most intransigent conspiracy theorist could insist that the news coverage was doctored, the fire department was running two sets of books when it documented events as the day unfolded, and that all of the scientists who have spent years studying the physics of this catastrophe are on the take.

But which is harder to imagine: that our government was audacious enough to orchestrate all of this and overcome so many prohibitive obstacles? Or that some ill-advised and desperately suspicious citizens are audacious enough to believe our government could do it?

Quite simply, no proof, no logic, and no motive exists to justify and explain such an outlandish accusation towards our government. For such theorists to continue hedging the possibility that legitimate questions remain over the planning, execution, and clean-up of 9-11 seems more than preposterous. It paints adherents to such suspicions with more than general silliness; it douses them with dismal acrylics of mean-spiritedness, spite, and absurdity.

We’ve moved past the time for such insipid speculation, and those who insist on perpetuating the fantasy of such unimaginable scales of state-sponsored terrorism need to cease and desist. Respecting those in authority – particularly within a democracy – remains our civic obligation unless we have proof to the contrary.

And if you believe you’ve got real proof, what makes you think a government that could pull off 9/11 is gonna let you spill the beans?
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