As the U.S. approaches the tenth anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001, it is time to put to rest the myriad of conspiracy theories that have surrounded both the attacks and the U.S. response. Radicals from both the extreme right and left have sought to propagate these theories in order to further their own aims. Not coincidentally, many of these conpiricists have also made handsome profits
from books and films that purport to dispel the lies about 9/11.
The attacks, which were the worst attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor, resulted in the deaths of 2,996 people. Several Georgians were also killed in the attacks. Maynard Spence of Douglasville, Harshad Thatte of Norcross, Adam White of Atlanta, and Claude Michael Gann of Roswell died in the World Trade Center. Leslie Whittington of Atlanta died when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. U.S. Army Maj. Steve Long of Georgia died in the Pentagon.
Five years after the attacks, Popular Mechanics released a definitive analysis of many of the conspiracy claims. Much of the information in the book “Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up To Hard Facts” is now available for free online at PopularMechanics.com. The website 911myths.com also debunks many of the conspiracy theories around the attacks.
The Popular Mechanics report notes that only 14 American fighter planes were on alert in the 48 contiguous states on the morning of September 11. Further, intercepts of civilian aircraft were not common for air defense fighters. In the decade before the attacks, the one and only civilian aircraft intercepted by fighters in U.S. airspace was the Learjet carrying golfer Payne Stewart, which flew uncontrolled from Florida to South Dakota before crashing after the cabin depressurized. PM reports that it took an F-16 one hour and 22 minutes to make the intercept.
In answer to the skeptics’ claim that the damage to the World Trade Center buildings was too widespread to be caused by a single aircraft strike on each tower, PM responds that thousands of pounds of jet fuel atomized on impact and traveled throughout the buildings. The burning fuel spread flames through elevator and utility shafts. Flames reportedly exploded through the elevator doors in the lobby moments after impact. The 1500 degree flames from burning jet fuel was not strong enough melt steel, but it did reduce the steel frames of the towers to about ten percent of their normal strength.
PM notes that at least one conspiracy site cropped seismology charts to support the notion that controlled demolitions toppled the towers. The full charts clearly show the impacts of both aircraft followed by the collapse of the towers. Extensive damage to surrounding buildings also lends credence to the fact that the collapse of the towers was a chaotic, catastrophic event.
Conspiracy theorists have charged that the Pentagon was hit by a missile rather than an airplane, citing the small size of the hole in the wall. PM points out that both wings of the aircraft were sheared off by the impact and that the 75 foot wide hole that is consistent with the size of the airliner’s fuselage. A separate 12 foot hole was likely made by the landing gear.
In contrast with conspiracy claims that no aircraft wreckage was recovered at the Pentagon, there are both photos and eyewitness accounts of
aircraft wreckage. Allyn Kilsheimer, a structural engineer and blast expert who arrived on scene shortly after the crash, is quoted in the PM article
, “I picked up parts of the plane with the airline markings on them. I held in my hand the tail section of the plane, and I found the black box. I held parts of uniforms from crew members in my hands, including body parts. Okay?"
In Pennsylvania, where United Flight 93 crashed, a white jet reported in the area is revealed to be a business jet that was descending into nearby Johnstown. Air traffic control asked the jet’s pilots to investigate Flight 93 and they subsequently orbited the crash site at 1500 feet.
PM reports that the debris pattern of the Flight 93 crash site is consistent with a surface impact given the flight path and wind direction at the time of the crash. Lighter debris was thrown up and carried downwind for several miles. Similarly, an engine was found 300 yards downrange. This is consistent with the mass and velocity of the engine at impact.
Reports on a conspiracy radio show that claimed an F-16 pilot shot the airliner down were revealed to be lies. Ed Jacoby, director of the New York State Emergency Management Office, was with the pilot reported to have fired the missiles at Flight 93. The F-16 and pilot were tasked to return Jacoby from a meeting in Montana to Albany, N.Y. where he could coordinate the emergency services response to the attacks. Jacoby categorically denies that the pilot, Lt. Col. Rick Gibney, shot down Flight 93.
An examination of the timing of the attacks backs up Jacoby’s story. The North Dakota Air National Guard operated F-16Bs. The straight-line distance between Bozeman, Mt. and Albany, N.Y. is 1,857 miles. Using the fighter’s top speed listed on the plane’s Air Force fact sheet, 1,345 mph, the trip would take less than an hour and a half, which would barely give Gibney time to get in position to shoot down Flight 93 at 10:03 a.m. if he took off from Bozeman immediately after American Flight 11 crashed into the WTC at 8:46 a.m. Eastern Time. But, according to the Air Force, the F-16B’s range is only 1,407 miles and that range could only be achieved by flying at slower speeds. It is likely that Gibney had to rendezvous with an aerial tanker, which would further slow down the flight to Albany. It is also highly unlikely that Gibney was ready to launch immediately after the first WTC attack. In fact, Gibney first had to fly from his base at Fargo, N.D. to Bozeman to pick up Jacoby. There is simply no way he could have been over Pennsylvania in time to shoot down Flight 93.
Logically, the conspiracy theories do not add up. An obvious reason is that the government and the military were clearly caught by surprise. According to the official timeline on National911Memorial.org, President Bush, who was visiting students at a Florida elementary school, was notified that a plane had crashed into the WTC at 8:50 a.m., four minutes after American Flight 11, the first hijacked airliner, had crashed. United Flight 175 crashed at 9:03 a.m. and the president was notified two minutes later.
The Secret Service did not evacuate Vice President Cheney from the White House to a secure bunker until 9:30, one minute before American Flight 77 hit the Pentagon. The nationwide ground stop for all flights was issued at 9:42 a.m. and the White House and Capitol were evacuated at 9:45, an hour after the attacks began. The last commercial flight in U.S. airspace did not land until 12:16 p.m.
In the years after the attacks, President Bush faced much criticism for his slow reaction to the attacks. If the U.S. government were complicit in the attacks, the reaction of all levels of government, including President Bush, would have been much more swift and certain. When the president left Florida aboard Air Force One, he was taken to Offutt AFB in Nebraska after a stop in Louisiana. The president’s location was kept secret for much of the day due to an anonymous phone call that was interpreted as a threat against Air Force One. President Bush did not make his memorable address to the nation until later that night.
Equally illogical is the culprit behind the 9/11 attacks. If, as some charge, the attacks were a smokescreen to justify an invasion of Iraq, then why implicate Osama bin Laden, a Saudi exile that few had ever heard of, and the Afghan Taliban? If Iraq were truly the target of the conspirators, it seems that the evidence would have pointed toward Saddam Hussein, a known supporter of terrorists. As it was, the invasion of Iraq did not take place until March 19, 2003, a year and a half after September 11.
Finally, 9/11 conspiracy theories can be compared to a real government conspiracy, Operation Fast and Furious. Fast and Furious was an operation carried out by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, ostensibly to track the smuggling of weapons to Mexico. In reality, ATF allowed criminals to make “straw purchases” of thousands of weapons, which were then taken to Mexico where ATF lost the trail. Weapons from the program were used to murder a U.S. Border Patrol agent in December 2010.
In contrast with 9/11 conspiracies, there is ample evidence of the government’s culpability in Fast and Furious. Whistleblowers came forward almost immediately and a congressional investigation was begun. If government workers objected to the cover-up of one death in Fast and Furious enough to risk their jobs to bring out the truth, it is likely that a conspiracy large enough to cover-up the hijackings of four airliners and that resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians would also generate a large number of whistleblowers seeking justice. No whistleblowers have come forward and investigations are limited to members of the political fringe such as professional conspiracy monger Alex Jones and Cynthia McKinney, a former Georgia congresswoman turned Green Party presidential candidate who is perhaps best remembered for striking a U.S. Capitol police officer.
In truth, there was a conspiracy around the September 11 attacks. It was conspiracy between Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorists. The
very date of the attacks, September 11, is prominent in Muslim history as the anniversary of a catastrophic defeat
of the Turks outside the gates of Vienna, Austria in 1683. The defeat ended Turkish dreams of controlling Europe and marked the beginning of the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Bin Laden and his zealots hoped
that September 11, 2001 would be the beginning of an Islamic jihad to throw Americans and other westerners out of Muslim lands as a first step in establishing a worldwide Islamic caliphate
Note: With the exception of the 9/11 memorial engraving, the photos are from the September 11, 2001 Attacks collection on Wikimedia.org.
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