Popular Mechanics Attacks Its "9/11 LIES" Straw Man
Jim Hoffman | February 8, 2005
The Hearst-owned Popular Mechanics magazine takes aim at the 9/11 Truth Movement (without ever acknowledging it by that name) with a cover story in its March 2005 edition. Sandwiched between ads and features for monster trucks, Nascar paraphernalia, and off-road racing are twelve dense and brilliantly designed pages purporting to debunk the myths of 9/11.
The article's approach is to identify and attack a series of claims which it asserts represent the whole of 9/11 skepticism.
It gives the false impression that these claims, several of which are clearly absurd, represent the breadth of challenges to the official account of the flights, the World Trade Center attack, and the Pentagon attack. Meanwhile it entirely ignores vast bodies of evidence showing that only insiders had the means, motive, and opportunity to carry out the attack.
The article gives no hint of the put options on the targeted airlines ,warnings received by government and corporate officials ,complicit behavior by top officials ,obstruction of justice by a much larger group , or obvious frauds in the official story . Instead it attacks a mere 16 claims of its choosing, which it asserts are the "most prevalent" among "conspiracy theorists." The claims are grouped into topics which cover some of the subjects central to the analysis of 9-11 Research . However, for each topic, the article presents specious claims to divert the reader from understanding the issue. For example, the three pages devoted to attacking the Twin Towers' demolition present three red-herring claims and avoid the dozens of points I feature in my presentations, such as the Twin Towers' Demolition .
The article brackets its distortion of the issues highlighted by 9/11 skeptics with smears against the skeptics themselves, whom it dehumanizes and accuses of "disgracing the memories" of the victims.
More important, it misrepresents skeptics' views by implying that the skeptics' community is an undifferentiated "army" that wholly embraces the article's sixteen "poisonous claims," which it asserts are "at the root of virtually every 9/11 alternative scenario." In fact much of the 9/11 truth community has been working to expose many of these claims as disinformation.
"The Lies Are Out There"
James Meigs, appointed editor of Popular Mechanics in May 2004, trashes skeptics of the official story of 9/11/01 as irresponsible disgracers of the memories of victims, apart from "we as a society."
This article has a page of Editor's Notes, "The Lies Are Out There," written by James Meigs, whose previous columns have praised military technology (such as the UAVs used in Fallujah). Meigs places outside of society anyone who questions the official version of events of 9/11/01:
We as a society accept the basic premise that a group of Islamist terrorists hijacked four airplanes and turned them into weapons against us. ... Sadly, the noble search for truth is now being hijacked by a growing army of conspiracy theorists.
Meigs throws a series of insults at the "conspiracy theorists," saying they ignore the facts and engage in "elaborate, shadowy theorizing," and concludes his diatribe by saying:
[T]hose who peddle fantasies that this country encouraged, permitted or actually carried out the attacks are libeling the truth -- and disgracing the memories of the thousands who died that day.
Besides trashing the skeptics, and conflating "this country" with its corrupt leaders, Meig's piece attempts to legitimate PM 's "investigation." It reads:
We assembled a team of reporters and researchers, including professional fact checkers and the editors of PM, and methodically analyzed all 16 conspiracy claims. We interviewed scores of engineers, aviation experts, military officials, eyewitnesses and members of the investigative teams who have held the wreckage of the attacks in their own hands. We pored over photography, maps, blueprints, aviation logs and transcripts. In every single instance, we found that the facts used by the conspiracy theorists to support their fantasies were mistaken, misunderstood, or deliberately falsified.
This sounds impressive, but the article provides no evidence to back up these claims. It provides no footnotes to source its many assertions, and despite the scores of experts listed in its final section , the article cites only a few "experts," who would themselves likely be suspects if normal criminal justice procedures were used to investigate the crime.
Moreover, glaring errors in the article -- such as the assertion that there was only a single interception in the decade before 9/11/01 -- don't inspire confidence in PM 's "professional fact checkers." It echoes the discredited assertions of official reports such as the FEMA WTC Building Performance Study and the 9/11 Commission Report , and provides no evidence that it is anything but a well-orchestrated hit piece to perpetuate the 9/11 cover-up.
"9/11: DEBUNKING the MYTHS"
The main article consists of six two-page spreads, each devoted to a topic. Spanning these spreads are a series of sixteen "poisonous claims," which the article purports to refute, while it implicitly identifies them as the beliefs of all in the "growing army" of "conspiracy theorists." The two-page spreads, beginning on page 70, are as follows:
Superficially, the topics appear to address the major physical evidence issues brought up by the skeptics (while ignoring the mountains of evidence of foreknowledge, motive, and unique means possessed by insiders). However, the sixteen "most prevalent claims made by conspiracy theorists" which it attacks are mostly specious claims, many of which were probably invented to discredit skepticism of the official story in the first place. The article debunks the more specious claims, and uses distortion and falsehoods to counter serious claims.
Thus the main approach of the article is to set up and attack a straw man of claims that it pretends represent the entirety of the skeptics' movement. The list includes many of the same claims that are debunked on the companion to this site, 911review.com . The article gives no hint of the questions raised by the evidence in this site, nor any sense of the issues raised by the broader 9/11 truth movement.
Before proceeding to its 16 points, the article's introduction levels more insults at the skeptics -- "extremists", some of whose theories are "byproducts of cynical imaginations that aim to inject suspicion and animosity into public debate." It begins by asking you to type "World Trade Center conspiracy" into Google.com , and claims that "More than 3000 books on 9/11 have been published" -- an incredible claim. (Of these supposed 3000 titles, we recommend only a few, listed here .)
The sixteen "claims" attacked by the article are described here under the headings taken from the article, which indicate either the claim, the counter-cliam, or a broader issue.
Where's The Pod
The pod-plane idea has been used for over a year to discredit skepticism of the official story. It's not surprising that the article gives it top billing. See ERROR: A Pod Was Attached to the South Tower Plane . The article mentions the site LetsRoll911.org and the video In Plane Site , implying they are representative of the skeptics. Of course it makes no reference to skeptics' sites debunking these productions and the pod-plane idea they feature, such as on OilEmpire.us, or on QuestionsQuestions.net.
No Stand-Down Order
Here, the article falsely implies that emperors-clothes.com and StandDown.net both claim that no jets were scrambled to pursue any of the four commandeered jets. It then attacks this straw man by relating some details of the Commission's timeline (without sourcing the Commission's Report) to suggest that interceptors were scrambled, but that ATC couldn't find the hijacked flights because there were too many radar blips. The article makes no mention of the many problems with NORAD's account of the failed intercepts, but relates the following incredible assertion by NORAD public affairs officer Maj. Douglas Martin that there was a hole in NORAD's radar coverage:
It was like a doughnut. There was no coverage in the middle.
This absurd idea that NORAD had no radar coverage over much of the continental US is distilled from the 9/11 Commission Report. Predictably, the article makes no mention of evidence that war games were planned for the day of 9/11/01. See Multiple War Games on 9/11/01 Helped to Disable Air Defense .
Intercepts Not Routine
This section quotes the following excerpt from OilEmpire.us :
It has been standard operating procedures for decades to immediately intercept off-course planes that do not respond to communications from air traffic controllers. When the Air Force 'scrambles' a fighter plane to intercept, they usually reach the plane in question in minutes.
It then dismisses this 'claim' with the following sweeping 'fact':
In the decade before 9/11 NORAD intercepted only one civilian plane over North America: golfer Payne Stewart's Learjet, in October 1999.
This bold assertion flies in the face of a published report of scramble frequencies that quotes the same Maj. Douglas Martin that is one of PM 's cited experts!
From Sept. 11 to June, NORAD scrambled jets or diverted combat air patrols 462 times, almost seven times as often as the 67 scrambles from September 2000 to June 2001, Martin said.
It is safe to assume that a significant fraction of scrambles lead to intercepts, so the fact that there were 67 scrambles in a 9-month period before 9/11/01 suggests that there are dozens of intercepts per year. To its assertion that there was only one intercept in a decade, the article adds that "rules in effect ... prohibited supersonic flight on intercepts," and the suggestion that there were no hotlines between ATCs and NORAD.
Flight 175's Windows
That the South Tower plane had no windows is one of several ludicrous claims made by the In Plane Site video, and, like the pod-planes claim, is dismissed by the simplest analysis. See The Windowless Plane .
THE WORLD TRADE CENTER
The article's lead point in the World Trade Center topic is an obscure idea that explosives in the basements of the towers damaged the lobbies at about the time the planes hit. With only sparse evidence to support it, this contention is only mentioned by a few researchers. Indeed it is entirely distinct -- in both the support that exists for it, and the support that it provides for "conspiracy theories" -- from the contention that explosives brought down the towers (56 and 102 minutes after the plane crashes).
Puffs Of Dust
The article reproduces this image of the early stage of the South Tower's collapse, but fails to credit Gulnara Samoilova , the photographer who risked her life to take the dramatic photograph.
Here the article cites this quote from an advertisement for the book Painful Questions :
The concrete clouds shooting out of the buildings are not possible from a mere collapse. They do occur from explosions.
By titling this section "Puffs Of Dust," rather than "explosions of concrete," and by showing only a collapse photograph from early in the South Tower's destruction, the article minimizes the explosiveness of the event, but nonetheless goes to lengths to explain these "puffs." It quotes NIST lead investigator Shyam Sunder saying "When you have a significant portion of of a floor collapsing it's going to shoot air and concrete dust out the window" without explaining where the concrete dust came from, or even attempting to quantify the amount of dust that should be expected in the absence of explosives.
The article mentions none of the other features of the collapses that indicate controlled demolition, such as:
The towers fell straight down through themselves maintaining vertical symmetry ,
The towers' tops mushroomed into vast clouds of pulverized concrete and shattered steel.
The collapses exhibited demolition squibs shooting out of the towers well below the zones of total destruction.
The collapses generated vast dust clouds that expanded to many times the towers' volumes -- more than occurs in typical controlled demolitions.
The towers came down suddenly and completely, at a rate only slightly slower than free-fall in a vacuum . The flat top of the North Tower's rubble cloud revealed in these photos show the rubble falling at the same speed inside and outside the former building's profile, an impossibility unless demolition were removing the building's structure ahead of the falling rubble.
The explosions of the towers were characterized by intense blast waves that shattered windows in buildings 400 feet away.
The steel skeletons were consistently shredded into short pieces which could be carried easily by the equipment used to dispose of the evidence.
Eyewitnesses reported explosions before and at the outset of the collapses.
The article implies that skeptics' criticism of the official account that fires weakened the towers' structures is based on the erroneous assumption that the official story requires that the fires melted the steel.
In fact the fire-melts-steel claim was first introduced by apologists for the official story on the day of the attack, by no less than a structural engineer. The more sophisticated column failure and truss failure theories, advanced in subsequent days and weeks, are the subject of detailed analysis and debunking here .
The idea that seismic spikes preceded the collapses of the towers is the subject of the page, ERROR: Seismic Spikes Preceded Collapses . Unfortunately a number of web sites seized upon this idea without critically evaluating it. The article takes advantage of this red-herring by pointing out that PrisonPlanet.com and WhatReallyHappened.com support it, while ignoring the much larger bodies of valid evidence of demolition that these sites present.
WTC 7 Collapse
Here the article cites 911review.org , a site that promotes discrediting ideas but purports to speak for the 9/11 skeptics' community. The article simply repeats the site's claim that "the video clearly shows that it was not a collapse subsequent to fire, but rather a controlled demolition," without directing the reader to where they can see videos, such as on WTC7.net . The article makes no mention of the facts that skeptics most often cite as evidence that the collapse was a controlled demolition:
The building collapsed with precise vertical symmetry.
The building collapsed at almost the rate of free-fall.
The building collapsed into a tidy pile of rubble.
The article lets NIST's Shyam Sunder sell the "progressive collapse" of Building 7:
What our preliminary analysis has shown is that if you take out just one column on one of the lower floors, it could cause a vertical progression of collapse so that the entire section comes down.
Note the guarded language Sunder uses to describe the extent of the collapse. The reader is led to believe that the collapse of a "section" could lead to the total collapse of the building, when in fact there are no examples of total progressive collapse of steel frame buildings outside of the alleged cases of the Twin Towers and Building 7.
Big Plane, Small Holes
Here the article cites the claim on reopen911.org that the the hole in the pentagon was "only 16ft. across," and mentions French author Thierry Meyssan, who helped to spawn the "no-757-crash theory", the subject of my earlier essay . The article again implies that this idea is gospel among 9/11 skeptics, giving no clue that there is controversy about the issue in 9/11 skeptics circles, and that many consider this claim that no jetliner hit the Pentagon a big distraction. The page ERROR: The Pentagon Attack Left Only a Small Impact Hole and others by 9/11 skeptics have long debunked Meyssan's wildly inaccurate description of a 16-foot-diameter entry hole.
Here the article misrepresents an argument by skeptics of the official account of Flight 77's crash by stating that the issue is intact windows "near the impact area," when the skeptics point to unbroken windows in the trajectory of portions of the Boeing 757.
PM uses this part to backhandedly promote the Pentagon Strike flash animation, which appears to serve the same function as this article: discrediting skepticism by associating it with sloppy research and easily disproven ideas.
Flight 77 Debris
Here the article drops a URL for Pentagon Strike a second time, in case the reader missed the first one. The lack of aircraft debris following the Pentagon crash has been noted by many people as suspicious, but it is not surprising, considering the nature of the crash. See ERROR: Aircraft Crashes Always Leave Large Debris
The White Jet
Here the article counters the idea that a small white jet reported by eyewitnesses had anything to do with the crash by relating a detailed account by the Director of Aviation of the company that owned the business jet, David Newell. According to Newell, the co-pilot of the jet, Yates Gladwell, was contacted by FAA's Cleveland Center to investigate the crash immediately after it happened. According to PM :
Gladwell confirmed the account but, concerned about ongoing harassment by conspiracy theorists, asked not to be quoted directly.
The far-flung debris field of the Flight 93 crash site along with the eyewitness accounts make a strong case that the plane was shot down. The article takes on this issue by first citing an article on Rense.com that makes the unsubstantiated claim that "the main body of the engine ... was found miles away from the main wreckage site." It then argues that engine parts being found 300 yards from the main site is reasonable for a simple crash, because airline accident expert Michael K. Hynes, who investigated the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996, states parts could bounce that far "when you have high velocities, 500 mph or more." This theory is at odds with the eyewitness reports that the plane plumetted almost straight down, such as the following:
He hears two loud bangs before watching the plane take a downward turn of nearly 90 degrees.
It makes a high-pitched, screeching sound. The plane then makes a sharp, 90-degree downward turn and crashes.
He hears a sound that "wasn't quite right" and looks up in the sky. "It dropped all of a sudden, like a stone."
The article devotes this point to the confetti seen over Indian Lake, which is about two miles from the main crash site. It explains that this distance is "easily within range of debris blasted skyward by the heat of the explosion from the blast."
In the final point, the article takes on the allegation by retired Army Col. Donn de Grand-Pre that the pilot that shot down Flight 93 was Major Rick Gibney. The article states that Gibney was flying an F-16 that day, but it was not on an intercept mission; rather it was to pick up Ed Jacoby Jr., the director of the New York State's Emergency Management Office, and fly him from Montana to Albany, NY.
PM delivers its closing ad-hominem attack on skeptics in the voice of Ed Jacoby:
I summarily dismiss [allegations that Givney shot down Flight 93] because Lt. Col. Gibney was with me at the time. It disgusts me to see this because the public is being misled. More than anything else it disgusts me because it brings up fears. It brings up hopes -- it brings up all sorts of feelings, not only to the victims' families but to all individuals throughout the country, and the world for that matter. I get angry at the misinformation out there.
"9/11 MYTHS DEBUNKED"
Having slayed the conspiracy theory army's centerpiece -- that poison-spewing 16-headed dragon of 9/11 LIES -- PM declares itself the winner and titles its final section "9/11 MYTHS DEBUNKED." On page 128, PM reveals its suit of armor -- a list of over 70 "experts" that it found "particularly helpful." The titles and names on this page are supposed to back the many assertions the article makes in the main section, but the article gives no indication of what experts or reports back up many of its key assertions.
The Lies Are Out There
Popular Mechanics | March 2005 Edition
BY JIM MEIGS
"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion," the great Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York was fond of saying. "He is not entitled to his own facts."
It has been 3-1/2 years since the September 11 attacks. In that time, the American people have questioned why we were caught off guard and have demanded to know the whole story behind the events of that terrible day. But as a society we accept the basic premise that a group of Islamist terrorists hijacked four airplanes and turned them into weapons against us.
Sadly, the noble search for truth is now being hijacked by a growing army of conspiracy theorists. A few of these skeptics make a responsible effort to sift through the mountain of information, but most ignore all but a few stray details they think support their theories. In fact, many conspiracy advocates demonstrate a maddening double standard. They distrust every bit of the mainstream account of 9/11, yet happily embrace the flimsiest evidence to promote their wildest notions: that Osama bin Laden attacked the United States with help from the CIA; that the hijacked planes weren't commercial jets, but military aircraft, cruise missiles or remote-control drones; that the World Trade Center buildings were professionally demolished.
These 9/11 conspiracy theories, long popular abroad, are gradually--though more quietly--seeping into mainstream America. Allegations of U.S. complicity in the attacks have become standard fare on talk radio and among activists on both the extreme left and the extreme right of the political spectrum.
ASSAULT ON THE TRUTH: Three and a half years after 9/11, conspiracy theorists are trying to rewrite history.
Don't get me wrong: Healthy skepticism is a good thing. Nobody should take everything they hear--from the government, the media or anybody else--at face value. But in a culture shaped by Oliver Stone movies and "X-Files" episodes, it is apparently getting harder for simple, hard facts to hold their own against elaborate, shadowy theorizing.
Fortunately, facts can be checked. For our special report , PM compiled a list of the 16 most common claims made by conspiracy theorists, assertions that are at the root of virtually every 9/11 alternative scenario. These claims all involve fields that are part of PM's core expertise--structural engineering, aviation, military technology and science.
We assembled a team of reporters and researchers, including professional fact checkers and the editors of PM, and methodically analyzed all 16 conspiracy claims. We interviewed scores of engineers, aviation experts, military officials, eyewitnesses and members of the investigative teams who have held the wreckage of the attacks in their own hands. We pored over photography, maps, blueprints, aviation logs and transcripts. In every single instance, we found that the facts used by conspiracy theorists to support their fantasies were mistaken, misunderstood or deliberately falsified.
Reasonable people are entitled to wish that our government had been better prepared and more alert. But those who peddle fantasies that this country encouraged, permitted or actually carried out the attacks are libeling the truth--and disgracing the memories of the thousands who died that day.
9/11: Debunking The Myths
Popular Mechanics | March 2005 Edition
PM examines the evidence and consults the experts
to refute the most persistent conspiracy theories of September 11.
From the moment the first airplane crashed into the
World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, the world has asked
one simple and compelling question: How could it happen?
Three and a half years later, not everyone is convinced
we know the truth. Go to Google.com, type in the search phrase "World
Trade Center conspiracy" and you'll get links to an estimated 628,000
Web sites. More than 3000 books on 9/11 have been published; many of them
reject the official consensus that hijackers associated with Osama bin Laden
and Al Qaeda flew passenger planes into U.S. landmarks.
Healthy skepticism, it seems, has curdled into paranoia.
Wild conspiracy tales are peddled daily on the Internet, talk radio and
in other media. Blurry photos, quotes taken out of context and sketchy eyewitness
accounts have inspired a slew of elaborate theories: The Pentagon was struck
by a missile; the World Trade Center was razed by demolition-style bombs;
Flight 93 was shot down by a mysterious white jet. As outlandish as these
claims may sound, they are increasingly accepted abroad and among extremists
here in the United States.
To investigate 16 of the most prevalent claims made
by conspiracy theorists, POPULAR MECHANICS assembled a team of nine researchers
and reporters who, together with PM editors, consulted more than 70 professionals
in fields that form the core content of this magazine, including aviation,
engineering and the military.
In the end, we were able to debunk each of these assertions
with hard evidence and a healthy dose of common sense. We learned that a
few theories are based on something as innocent as a reporting error on
that chaotic day. Others are the byproducts of cynical imaginations that
aim to inject suspicion and animosity into public debate. Only by confronting
such poisonous claims with irrefutable facts can we understand what really
happened on a day that is forever seared into world history.--THE EDITORS
The widely accepted account that hijackers commandeered and crashed the
four 9/11 planes is supported by reams of evidence, from cockpit recordings
to forensics to the fact that crews and passengers never returned home.
Nonetheless, conspiracy theorists seize on a handful of "facts" to argue a very different scenario: The jets that struck New York and Washington,
D.C., weren't commercial planes, they say, but something else, perhaps refueling
tankers or guided missiles. And the lack of military intervention? Theorists
claim it proves the U.S. government instigated the assault or allowed it
to occur in order to advance oil interests or a war agenda.
Where's The Pod?
CLAIM: Photographs and video footage shot just before United Airlines Flight
175 hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC) show an object underneath
the fuselage at the base of the right wing. The film "911 In Plane
Site" and the Web site LetsRoll911.org claim that no such object is
found on a stock Boeing 767. They speculate that this "military pod"
is a missile, a bomb or a piece of equipment on an air-refueling tanker.
LetsRoll911.org points to this as evidence that the attacks were an "inside
job" sanctioned by "President George Bush, who planned and engineered
FACT: One of the clearest, most widely seen pictures
of the doomed jet's undercarriage was taken by photographer Rob Howard and
published in New York magazine and elsewhere (opening page and at right).
PM sent a digital scan of the original photo to Ronald Greeley, director
of the Space Photography Laboratory at Arizona State University. Greeley
is an expert at analyzing images to determine the shape and features of
geological formations based on shadow and light effects. After studying
the high-resolution image and comparing it to photos of a Boeing 767-200ER's
undercarriage, Greeley dismissed the notion that the Howard photo reveals
a "pod." In fact, the photo reveals only the Boeing's right fairing,
a pronounced bulge that contains the landing gear. He concludes that sunlight
glinting off the fairing gave it an exaggerated look. "Such a glint
causes a blossoming (enlargement) on film," he writes in an e-mail
to PM, "which tends to be amplified in digital versions of images--the
pixels are saturated and tend to 'spill over' to adjacent pixels."
When asked about pods attached to civilian aircraft, Fred E. Culick, professor
of aeronautics at the California Institute of Technology, gave a blunter
response: "That's bull. They're really stretching."
No Stand-Down Order
CLAIM: No fighter jets were scrambled from any of the 28 Air Force bases
within close range of the four hijacked flights. "On 11 September Andrews
had two squadrons of fighter jets with the job of protecting the skies over
Washington D.C.," says the Web site emperors-clothes.com. "They
failed to do their job." "There is only one explanation for this,"
writes Mark R. Elsis of StandDown.net. "Our Air Force was ordered to
Stand Down on 9/11."
FACT: On 9/11 there were only 14 fighter jets on alert
in the contiguous 48 states. No computer network or alarm automatically
alerted the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) of missing planes. "They [civilian Air Traffic Control, or ATC] had to pick up the phone
and literally dial us," says Maj. Douglas Martin, public affairs officer
for NORAD. Boston Center, one of 22 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
regional ATC facilities, called NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS)
three times: at 8:37 am EST to inform NEADS that Flight 11 was hijacked;
at 9:21 am to inform the agency, mistakenly, that Flight 11 was headed for
Washington (the plane had hit the North Tower 35 minutes earlier); and at
9:41 am to (erroneously) identify Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 from Boston
as a possible hijacking. The New York ATC called NEADS at 9:03 am to report
that United Flight 175 had been hijacked--the same time the plane slammed
into the South Tower. Within minutes of that first call from Boston Center,
NEADS scrambled two F-15s from Otis Air Force Base in Falmouth, Mass., and
three F-16s from Langley Air National Guard Base in Hampton, Va. None of
the fighters got anywhere near the pirated planes.
Why couldn't ATC find the hijacked flights? When the
hijackers turned off the planes' transponders, which broadcast identifying
signals, ATC had to search 4500 identical radar blips crisscrossing some
of the country's busiest air corridors. And NORAD's sophisticated radar?
It ringed the continent, looking outward for threats, not inward. "It
was like a doughnut," Martin says. "There was no coverage in the
middle." Pre-9/11, flights originating in the States were not seen
as threats and NORAD wasn't prepared to track them.
Flight 175's Windows
CLAIM: On Sept. 11, FOX News broadcast a live phone interview with FOX employee
Marc Birnbach. 911inplanesite.com states that "Bernback" saw the
plane "crash into the South Tower." "It definitely did not
look like a commercial plane," Birnbach said on air. "I didn't
see any windows on the sides."
Coupled with photographs and videos of Flight 175 that
lack the resolution to show windows, Birnbach's statement has fueled one
of the most widely referenced 9/11 conspiracy theories--specifically, that
the South Tower was struck by a military cargo plane or a fuel tanker.
FACT: Birnbach, who was a freelance videographer with
FOX News at the time, tells PM that he was more than 2 miles southeast of
the WTC, in Brooklyn, when he briefly saw a plane fly over. He says that,
in fact, he did not see the plane strike the South Tower; he says he only
heard the explosion.
While heading a Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA) probe into the collapse of the towers, W. Gene Corley studied the
airplane wreckage. A licensed structural engineer with Construction Technology
Laboratories, a consulting firm based in Skokie, Ill., Corley and his team
photographed aircraft debris on the roof of WTC 5, including a chunk of
fuselage that clearly had passenger windows. "It's ... from the United
Airlines plane that hit Tower 2," Corley states flatly. In reviewing
crash footage taken by an ABC news crew, Corley was able to track the trajectory
of the fragments he studied--including a section of the landing gear and
part of an engine--as they tore through the South Tower, exited from the
building's north side and fell from the sky.
Intercepts Not Routine
CLAIM: "It has been standard operating procedures for decades to immediately
intercept off-course planes that do not respond to communications from air
traffic controllers," says the Web site oilempire.us. "When the
Air Force 'scrambles' a fighter plane to intercept, they usually reach the
plane in question in minutes."
FACT: In the decade before 9/11, NORAD intercepted
only one civilian plane over North America: golfer Payne Stewart's Learjet,
in October 1999. With passengers and crew unconscious from cabin decompression,
the plane lost radio contact but remained in transponder contact until it
crashed. Even so, it took an F-16 1 hour and 22 minutes to reach the stricken
jet. Rules in effect back then, and on 9/11, prohibited supersonic flight
on intercepts. Prior to 9/11, all other NORAD interceptions were limited
to offshore Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ). "Until 9/11 there
was no domestic ADIZ," FAA spokesman Bill Schumann tells PM. After
9/11, NORAD and the FAA increased cooperation, setting up hotlines between
ATCs and NORAD command centers, according to officials from both agencies.
NORAD has also increased its fighter coverage and has installed radar to
monitor airspace over the continent.
THE WORLD TRADE CENTER
The collapse of both World Trade Center towers--and the smaller WTC 7 a
few hours later--initially surprised even some experts. But subsequent studies
have shown that the WTC's structural integrity was destroyed by intense
fire as well as the severe damage inflicted by the planes. That explanation
hasn't swayed conspiracy theorists, who contend that all three buildings
were wired with explosives in advance and razed in a series of controlled
CLAIM: The first hijacked plane crashed through the 94th to the 98th floors
of the World Trade Center's 110-story North Tower; the second jet slammed
into the 78th to the 84th floors of the 110-story South Tower. The impact
and ensuing fires disrupted elevator service in both buildings. Plus, the
lobbies of both buildings were visibly damaged before the towers collapsed. "There is NO WAY the impact of the jet caused such widespread damage
80 stories below," claims a posting on the San Diego Independent Media
Center Web site (sandiego.indymedia.org). "It is OBVIOUS and irrefutable
that OTHER EXPLOSIVES (... such as concussion bombs) HAD ALREADY BEEN DETONATED
in the lower levels of tower one at the same time as the plane crash."
FACT: Following up on a May 2002 preliminary report
by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a major study will be
released in spring 2005 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology
(NIST), a branch of the U.S. Department of Commerce. NIST shared its initial
findings with PM and made its lead researcher available to our team of reporters.
The NIST investigation revealed that plane debris sliced
through the utility shafts at the North Tower's core, creating a conduit
for burning jet fuel--and fiery destruction throughout the building. "It's
very hard to document where the fuel went," says Forman Williams, a
NIST adviser and a combustion expert, "but if it's atomized and combustible
and gets to an ignition source, it'll go off."
Burning fuel traveling down the elevator shafts would
have disrupted the elevator systems and caused extensive damage to the lobbies.
NIST heard first-person testimony that "some elevators slammed right
down" to the ground floor. "The doors cracked open on the lobby
floor and flames came out and people died," says James Quintiere, an
engineering professor at the University of Maryland and a NIST adviser.
A similar observation was made in the French documentary "9/11," by Jules and Gedeon Naudet. As Jules Naudet entered the North Tower lobby,
minutes after the first aircraft struck, he saw victims on fire, a scene
he found too horrific to film.
CLAIM: "We have been lied to," announces the Web site AttackOnAmerica.net.
"The first lie was that the load of fuel from the aircraft was the
cause of structural failure. No kerosene fire can burn hot enough to melt
steel." The posting is entitled "Proof Of Controlled Demolition
At The WTC."
FACT:Jet fuel burns at 800° to 1500°F, not
hot enough to melt steel (2750°F). 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. "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.
But jet fuel wasn't the only thing burning, notes Forman
Williams, a professor of engineering at the University of California, San
Diego, and one of seven structural engineers and fire experts that PM consulted.
He says that while the jet fuel was the catalyst for the WTC fires, the
resulting inferno was intensified by the combustible material inside the
buildings, including rugs, curtains, furniture and paper. NIST reports that
pockets of fire hit 1832°F.
"The jet fuel was the ignition source," Williams
tells PM. "It burned for maybe 10 minutes, and [the towers] were still
standing in 10 minutes. It was the rest of the stuff burning afterward that
was responsible for the heat transfer that eventually brought them down."
Puffs Of Dust
CLAIM: As each tower collapsed, clearly visible puffs of dust and debris
were ejected from the sides of the buildings. An advertisement in The New
York Times for the book Painful Questions: An Analysis Of The September
11th Attack made this claim: "The concrete clouds shooting out of the
buildings are not possible from a mere collapse. They do occur from explosions."
Numerous conspiracy theorists cite Van Romero, an explosives expert and
vice president of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, who
was quoted on 9/11 by the Albuquerque Journal as saying "there were
some explosive devices inside the buildings that caused the towers to collapse."
The article continues, "Romero said the collapse of the structures
resembled those of controlled implosions used to demolish old structures."
FACT: FACT: Once each tower began to collapse, the
weight of all the floors above the collapsed zone bore down with pulverizing
force on the highest intact floor. Unable to absorb the massive energy,
that floor would fail, transmitting the forces to the floor below, allowing
the collapse to progress downward through the building in a chain reaction.
Engineers call the process "pancaking," and it does not require
an explosion to begin, according to David Biggs, a structural engineer at
Ryan-Biggs Associates and a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers
(ASCE) team that worked on the FEMA report.
Like all office buildings, the WTC towers contained
a huge volume of air. As they pancaked, all that 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 tells PM. Those clouds of dust may create the
impression of a controlled demolition, Sunder adds, "but it is the
floor pancaking that leads to that perception."
Demolition expert Romero regrets that his comments
to the Albuquerque Journal became fodder for conspiracy theorists. "I
was misquoted in saying that I thought it was explosives that brought down
the building," he tells PM. "I only said that that's what it looked
Romero, who agrees with the scientific conclusion that
fire triggered the collapses, demanded a retraction from the Journal. It
was printed Sept. 22, 2001. "I felt like my scientific reputation was
on the line." But emperors-clothes.com saw something else: "The
paymaster of Romero's research institute is the Pentagon. Directly or indirectly,
pressure was brought to bear, forcing Romero to retract his original statement."
Romero responds: "Conspiracy theorists came out saying that the government
got to me. That is the farthest thing from the truth. This has been an albatross
around my neck for three years."
CLAIM: 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. "The strongest jolts were all registered at the beginning of the collapses,
well before falling debris struck the earth," reports the Web site
A columnist on Prisonplanet.com, a Web site run by
radio talk show host Alex Jones, claims the seismic spikes (boxed area on
Graph 1, inset) are "indisputable proof that massive explosions brought
down" the towers. The Web 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."
FACT: "There is no scientific basis for the conclusion
that explosions brought down the towers," Lerner-Lam tells PM. "That
representation of our work is categorically incorrect and not in context."
The report issued by Lamont-Doherty includes various
graphs showing the seismic readings produced by the planes crashing into
the two towers as well as the later collapse of both buildings. WhatReallyHappened.com
chooses to display only one graph (Graph 1), which shows the readings over
a 30-minute time span.
On that graph, the 8- and 10-second collapses appear--misleadingly--as
a pair of sudden spikes. Lamont-Doherty's 40-second plot of the same data
(Graph 2, above) gives a much more detailed picture: The seismic waves--blue
for the South Tower, red for the North Tower--start small and then escalate
as the buildings rumble to the ground. Translation: no bombs.
WTC 7 Collapse
CLAIM: Seven hours after the two towers fell, the 47-story WTC 7 collapsed.
According to 911review.org: "The video clearly shows that it was not
a collapse subsequent to a fire, but rather a controlled demolition: amongst
the Internet investigators, the jury is in on this one."
FACT: Many conspiracy theorists point to FEMA's preliminary
report, which said there was relatively light damage to WTC 7 prior to its
collapse. With the benefit of more time and resources, NIST researchers
now support the working hypothesis that WTC 7 was far more compromised by
falling debris than the FEMA report indicated. "The most important
thing we found was that there was, in fact, physical damage to the south
face of building 7," NIST's Sunder tells PM. "On about a third
of the face to the center and to the bottom--approximately 10 stories--about
25 percent of the depth of the building was scooped out." NIST also
discovered previously undocumented damage to WTC 7's upper stories and its
NIST investigators believe a combination of intense
fire and severe structural damage contributed to the collapse, though assigning
the exact proportion requires more research. But NIST's analysis suggests
the fall of WTC 7 was an example of "progressive collapse," a
process in which the failure of parts of a structure ultimately creates
strains that cause the entire building to come down. Videos of the fall
of WTC 7 show cracks, or "kinks," in the building's facade just
before the two penthouses disappeared into the structure, one after the
other. The entire building fell in on itself, with the slumping east side
of the structure pulling down the west side in a diagonal collapse.
According to NIST, there was one primary reason for
the building's failure: In an unusual design, the columns near the visible
kinks were carrying exceptionally large loads, roughly 2000 sq. ft. of floor
area for each floor. "What our preliminary analysis has shown is that
if you take out just one column on one of the lower floors," Sunder
notes, "it could cause a vertical progression of collapse so that the
entire section comes down."
There are two other possible contributing factors still
under investigation: First, trusses on the fifth and seventh floors were
designed to transfer loads from one set of columns to another. With columns
on the south face apparently damaged, high stresses would likely have been
communicated to columns on the building's other faces, thereby exceeding
their load-bearing capacities.
Second, a fifth-floor fire burned for up to 7 hours. "There was no firefighting in WTC 7," Sunder says. Investigators
believe the fire was fed by tanks of diesel fuel that many tenants used
to run emergency generators. Most tanks throughout the building were fairly
small, but a generator on the fifth floor was connected to a large tank
in the basement via a pressurized line. Says Sunder: "Our current working
hypothesis is that this pressurized line was supplying fuel [to the fire]
for a long period of time."
WTC 7 might have withstood the physical damage it received,
or the fire that burned for hours, but those combined factors--along with
the building's unusual construction--were enough to set off the chain-reaction
At 9:37 am on 9/11, 51 minutes after the first plane hit the World Trade
Center, the Pentagon was similarly attacked. Though dozens of witnesses
saw a Boeing 757 hit the building, conspiracy advocates insist there is
evidence that a missile or a different type of plane smashed into the Pentagon.
Big Plane, Small Holes
CLAIM: Two holes were visible in the Pentagon immediately after the attack:
a 75-ft.-wide entry hole in the building's exterior wall, and a 16-ft.-wide
hole in Ring C, the Pentagon's middle ring. Conspiracy theorists claim both
holes are far too small to have been made by a Boeing 757. "How does
a plane 125 ft. wide and 155 ft. long fit into a hole which is only 16 ft.
across?" asks reopen911.org, a Web site "dedicated to discovering
the bottom line truth to what really occurred on September 11, 2001."
The truth is of even less importance to French author
Thierry Meyssan, whose baseless assertions are fodder for even mainstream
European and Middle Eastern media. In his book The Big Lie, Meyssan concludes
that the Pentagon was struck by a satellite-guided missile--part of an elaborate
U.S. military coup. "This attack," he writes, "could only
be committed by United States military personnel against other U.S. military
FACT: When American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon's
exterior wall, Ring E, it created a hole approximately 75 ft. wide, according
to the ASCE Pentagon Building Performance Report. The exterior facade collapsed
about 20 minutes after impact, but ASCE based its measurements of the original
hole on the number of first-floor support columns that were destroyed or
damaged. Computer simulations confirmed the findings.
Why wasn't the hole as wide as a 757's 124-ft.-10-in.
wingspan? A crashing jet doesn't punch a cartoon-like outline of itself
into a reinforced concrete building, says ASCE team member Mete Sozen, a
professor of structural engineering at Purdue University. In this case,
one wing hit the ground; the other was sheared off by the force of the impact
with the Pentagon's load-bearing columns, explains Sozen, who specializes
in the behavior of concrete buildings. What was left of the plane flowed
into the structure in a state closer to a liquid than a solid mass. "If
you expected the entire wing to cut into the building," Sozen tells
PM, "it didn't happen."
The tidy hole in Ring C was 12 ft. wide--not 16 ft.
ASCE concludes it was made by the jet's landing gear, not by the fuselage.
CLAIM: Many Pentagon windows remained in one piece--even those just above
the point of impact from the Boeing 757 passenger plane. Pentagonstrike.co.uk,
an online animation widely circulated in the United States and Europe, claims
that photographs showing "intact windows" directly above the crash
site prove "a missile" or "a craft much smaller than a 757" struck the Pentagon.
FACT: Some windows near the impact area did indeed
survive the crash. But that's what the windows were supposed to do--they're
"A blast-resistant window must be designed to
resist a force significantly higher than a hurricane that's hitting instantaneously,"
says Ken Hays, executive vice president of Masonry Arts, the Bessemer, Ala.,
company that designed, manufactured and installed the Pentagon windows.
Some were knocked out of the walls by the crash and the outer ring's later
collapse. "They were not designed to receive wracking seismic force,"
Hays notes. "They were designed to take in inward pressure from a blast
event, which apparently they did: [Before the collapse] the blinds were
still stacked neatly behind the window glass."
Flight 77 Debris
CLAIM: Conspiracy theorists insist there was no plane wreckage at the Pentagon. "In reality, a Boeing 757 was never found," claims pentagonstrike.co.uk,
which asks the question, "What hit the Pentagon on 9/11?"
FACT: Blast expert Allyn E. Kilsheimer was the first
structural engineer to arrive at the Pentagon after the crash and helped
coordinate the emergency response. "It was absolutely a plane, and
I'll tell you why," says Kilsheimer, CEO of KCE Structural Engineers
PC, Washington, D.C. "I saw the marks of the plane wing on the face
of the building. 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." Kilsheimer's eyewitness account is backed up by photos
of plane wreckage inside and outside the building. Kilsheimer adds: "I
held parts of uniforms from crew members in my hands, including body parts.
Cockpit recordings indicate the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93
teamed up to attack their hijackers, forcing down the plane near Shanksville,
in southwestern Pennsylvania. But conspiracy theorists assert Flight 93
was destroyed by a heat-seeking missile from an F-16 or a mysterious white
plane. Some theorists add far-fetched elaborations: No terrorists were aboard,
or the passengers were drugged. The wildest is the "bumble planes" theory, which holds that passengers from Flights 11, 175 and 77 were loaded
onto Flight 93 so the U.S. government could kill them.
The White Jet
CLAIM: At least six eyewitnesses say they saw a small white jet flying low
over the crash area almost immediately after Flight 93 went down. BlogD.com
theorizes that the aircraft was downed by "either a missile fired from
an Air Force jet, or via an electronic assault made by a U.S. Customs airplane
reported to have been seen near the site minutes after Flight 93 crashed."
WorldNetDaily.com weighs in: "Witnesses to this low-flying jet ...
told their story to journalists. Shortly thereafter, the FBI began to attack
the witnesses with perhaps the most inane disinformation ever--alleging
the witnesses actually observed a private jet at 34,000 ft. The FBI says
the jet was asked to come down to 5000 ft. and try to find the crash site.
This would require about 20 minutes to descend."
FACT: There was such a jet in the vicinity--a Dassault
Falcon 20 business jet owned by the VF Corp. of Greensboro, N.C., an apparel
company that markets Wrangler jeans and other brands. The VF plane was flying
into Johnstown-Cambria airport, 20 miles north of Shanksville. According
to David Newell, VF's director of aviation and travel, the FAA's Cleveland
Center contacted copilot Yates Gladwell when the Falcon was at an altitude "in the neighborhood of 3000 to 4000 ft."--not 34,000 ft. "They
were in a descent already going into Johnstown," Newell adds. "The
FAA asked them to investigate and they did. They got down within 1500 ft.
of the ground when they circled. They saw a hole in the ground with smoke
coming out of it. They pinpointed the location and then continued on." Reached by PM, Gladwell confirmed this account but, concerned about ongoing
harassment by conspiracy theorists, asked not to be quoted directly.
CLAIM: One of Flight 93's engines was found "at a considerable distance
from the crash site," according to Lyle Szupinka, a state police officer
on the scene who was quoted in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Offering no
evidence, a posting on Rense.com claimed: "The main body of the engine
... was found miles away from the main wreckage site with damage comparable
to that which a heat-seeking missile would do to an airliner."
FACT: Experts on the scene tell PM that a fan from
one of the engines was recovered in a catchment basin, downhill from the
crash site. Jeff Reinbold, the National Park Service representative responsible
for the Flight 93 National Memorial, confirms the direction and distance
from the crash site to the basin: just over 300 yards south, which means
the fan landed in the direction the jet was traveling. "It's not unusual
for an engine to move or tumble across the ground," says Michael K.
Hynes, an airline accident expert who investigated the crash of TWA Flight
800 out of New York City in 1996. "When you have very high velocities,
500 mph or more," Hynes says, "you are talking about 700 to 800
ft. per second. For something to hit the ground with that kind of energy,
it would only take a few seconds to bounce up and travel 300 yards." Numerous crash analysts contacted by PM concur.
CLAIM: "Residents and workers at businesses outside Shanksville, Somerset
County, reported discovering clothing, books, papers and what appeared to
be human remains," states a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article dated Sept.
13, 2001. "Others reported what appeared to be crash debris floating
in Indian Lake, nearly 6 miles from the immediate crash scene." Commenting
on reports that Indian Lake residents collected debris, Think AndAsk.com
speculates: "On Sept. 10, 2001, a strong cold front pushed through
the area, and behind it--winds blew northerly. Since Flight 93 crashed west-southwest
of Indian Lake, it was impossible for debris to fly perpendicular to wind
direction. ... The FBI lied." And the significance of widespread debris?
Theorists claim the plane was breaking up before it crashed. TheForbiddenKnowledge.com
states bluntly: "Without a doubt, Flight 93 was shot down."
FACT: Wallace Miller, Somerset County coroner, tells
PM no body parts were found in Indian Lake. Human remains were confined
to a 70-acre area directly surrounding the crash site. Paper and tiny scraps
of sheetmetal, however, did land in the lake. "Very light debris will
fly into the air, because of the concussion," says former National
Transportation Safety Board investigator Matthew McCormick. Indian Lake
is less than 1.5 miles southeast of the impact crater--not 6 miles--easily
within range of debris blasted skyward by the heat of the explosion from
the crash. And the wind that day was northwesterly, at 9 to 12 mph, which
means it was blowing from the northwest--toward Indian Lake.
Map by International Mapping
CLAIM: In February 2004, retired Army Col. Donn de Grand-Pre said on "The
Alex Jones Show," a radio talk show broadcast on 42 stations: "It
[Flight 93] was taken out by the North Dakota Air Guard. I know the pilot
who fired those two missiles to take down 93." LetsRoll911.org, citing
de Grand-Pre, identifies the pilot: "Major Rick Gibney fired two Sidewinder
missiles at the aircraft and destroyed it in midflight at precisely 0958."
FACT: Saying he was reluctant to fuel debate by responding
to unsubstantiated charges, Gibney (a lieutenant colonel, not a major) declined
to comment. According to Air National Guard spokesman Master Sgt. David
Somdahl, Gibney flew an F-16 that morning--but nowhere near Shanksville.
He took off from Fargo, N.D., and flew to Bozeman, Mont., to pick up Ed
Jacoby Jr., the director of the New York State Emergency Management Office.
Gibney then flew Jacoby from Montana to Albany, N.Y., so Jacoby could coordinate
17,000 rescue workers engaged in the state's response to 9/11. Jacoby confirms
the day's events. "I was in Big Sky for an emergency managers meeting.
Someone called to say an F-16 was landing in Bozeman. From there we flew
to Albany." Jacoby is outraged by the claim that Gibney shot down Flight
93. "I summarily dismiss that because Lt. Col. Gibney was with me at
that time. It disgusts me to see this because the public is being misled.
More than anything else it disgusts me because it brings up fears. It brings
up hopes--it brings up all sorts of feelings, not only to the victims' families
but to all the individuals throughout the country, and the world for that
matter. I get angry at the misinformation out there."
REPORTING: Benjamin Chertoff,
Davin Coburn, Michael Connery, David Enders, Kevin Haynes, Kristin Roth,
Tracy Saelinger, Erik Sofge and the editors of POPULAR MECHANICS.
PHOTOGRAPHY RESEARCH: Sarah Shatz.
SOURCES: For a list of experts consulted during the preparation of this