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9/11, the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, in the United States, and the associated events and impact of those attacks.
The attacks, which were carried out by agents of Al Qaeda (a militant Islamic terrorist group led by Osama bin Laden) used three hijacked commercial jet aircraft to destroy the World Trade Center in New York City and severely damage the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. A fourth hijacked plane crashed in Shanksville, Pa., when its passengers attempted to seize the plane from the hijackers. Some 3,000 persons died or were missing as a result of the most devastating terrorist episode in U.S. history.
9/11 was a turning point in the presidency of George W. Bush and U.S. foreign policy, leading directly to U.S. support for the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda was based. The attacks were also used to justify in part the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq (see also Persian Gulf Wars) despite the lack of any clear evidence linking the Iraqi government to Al Qaeda, but the impact of 9/11 contributed to strong American public support for the invasion. The Bush administration, which had already insisted on strong presidential powers, asserted that the United States was at war (a response not echoed by the Spanish and British government in the wake of subsequent significant terror attacks in Madrid and London) and that legal restrictions did not exist on the president's powers to defend the country, a position subsequently questioned in part by the Supreme Court.
As a result of the attacks and of the subsequent reports issued by a joint Congressional investigation and by the 9/11 Commission (see below), a number of significant changes to the federal government were made, including the establishment of the Dept. of Homeland Security, which consolidated 22 nonmilitary government security agencies and assumed responsiblity for U.S. air travel security through its Transportation Security Administration, and the establishment of the cabinet-level post of director of national intelligence, who became responsible for overseeing and coordinating all U.S. intelligence agencies. Other far-reaching effects include the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001 and building-code changes proposed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2005.
The 9/11 Commission, officially known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, was established by law in 2002 to prepare a full account of the attacks and make recommendations on how to guard against future attacks. Headed by Thomas H. Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, and consisting of a panel of a five Democrats and five Republicans, it first convened in 2003, interviewed more than 1,000 persons in 10 countries, and issued its report the following year. The commission faced resistance from the White House and the House Intelligence Committee over access to documents and individuals (including the president and vice president), but access to those improved mainly through public pressure brought by the families of the victims of the attacks; the group was not permitted, however, to question directly the detainees at Guantánamo.
The commission held both public and private hearings and issued a report with both public and classified sections. With the benefit of insights dependent on hindsight, it detailed the terror plot's origins, which dated to 1996, and its development, and also identified failures of various U.S. agencies that might have alerted officials to the impending attack or could have led to actions that might have prevented it. Its work revealed problems with U.S. intelligence gathering and interpretation and with law enforcement concerning terrorist threats against the United States, especially with regard to the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and to cooperation between the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency. (It also found no evidence of collaboration between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi government.) Many of its recommendations, which focused on preventing another similar attack against the United States, were subsequently adopted, but thoughtful critics have pointed out that its proposals were limited both by its focus on the hijackings and by an emphasis on centralization of responsibility and control as a solution to overcoming the failures of 9/11.
See the 9/11 Commission's report (2004), the commission staff reports and other materials, ed. by S. Strasser (2004), and the account of the commission's work by T. H. Kean and L. H. Hamilton (2006); P. Shenon, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission (2008); studies of the events of 9/11 by L. Wright (2006) and J. Farmer (2009); C. B. Strozier, Until the Fires Stopped Burning: 9/11 and New York City in the Words and Experiences of Survivors and Witnesses (2011); J. Margulies, What Changed When Everything Changed (2013).
For the vast majority of Americans, it seems unthinkable that our own government could have had a hand in orchestrating the awful events of 9/11, but conspiracy theorists argue that the evidence for such terrible complicity continues to mount.
We all know what happened on September 11, 2001, and how the events of that day have changed America forever. We have seen the terrible video footage of the World Trade Center’s twin towers collapsing and the aftermath of the crashes into the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania again and again, indelibly burning the images into our psyches so powerfully that even now, years later, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health workers report treating millions for traumas related to the horror of 9/11.
Here is a timeline of how the awful morning began:
7:58 A.M.: United Airlines Flight 175 departs Boston for Los Angeles carrying two pilots, seven flight attendants, and fifty-six passengers. Shortly after takeoff, the Boeing 767 is hijacked and diverted to New York.
7:59 A.M.: American Airlines Flight 11 departs Boston for Los Angeles carrying two pilots, nine flight attendants, and eighty-one passengers. This Boeing 767 is also hijacked and turned toward New York.
8:01 A.M.: United Airlines Flight 93, a Boeing 757, carrying two pilots, five flight attendants, and thirty-eight passengers, leaves Newark, New Jersey, for San Francisco.
8:10 A.M.: American Airlines Flight 77, carrying two pilots, four flight attendants, and fifty-eight passengers, leaves Dulles International Airport for Los Angeles. Also a Boeing 757, Flight 77 is hijacked after takeoff.
8:46 A.M.: Flight 11 crashes into the North Tower at the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York.
9:03 A.M.: Flight 175 slams into the South Tower.
9:45 A.M.: Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon.
10:05 A.M.: The South Tower collapses.
10:10 A.M.: A large section of the Pentagon collapses.
10:10 A.M.: Flight 93 crashes in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers rush hijackers.
10:28 A.M.: The North Tower collapses.
There are many conspiracy theorists who do not accept the events of that terrible day as millions of people around the world saw them transpire and as our nation’s leaders encourage us to believe. Perhaps the various conspiracy theories are fed by the greatest one of all, which declares that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the CIA, and other agents of the New World Order in order to begin a war against Iraq that would allow them to seize that country’s oil fields.
Here are a number of the most common conspiracy claims and the arguments rebutting them:
Conspiracy Claim: The jets that struck the WTC and the Pentagon weren’t commercial planes but refueling tankers or guided missiles.
Conspiracy Denial: If the planes that struck the WTC and the Pentagon were tankers or missiles, then what happened to United flights 175 and 93 and American flights 11 and 77? Where are the airplanes, the passengers, and the crew members of those flights? The fact that Islamic terrorists took over the four airplanes is supported by mountains of evidence, including cockpit recordings and forensics.
Conspiracy Claim: Photographs and video taken of Flight 175 just before it struck the South Tower clearly show an object under the fuselage at the base of the right wing. This “pod” is most likely a missile or a bomb.
Conspiracy Denial: Photo experts who have carefully examined the image and compared it with other photos of a Boeing 767 have concluded that the “pod” that conspiracy theorists see is nothing more than sunlight glinting off the fairing that contains the landing gear thus exaggerating its size.
Conspiracy Claim: There are twenty-eight air force bases within close range of the alleged four hijacked flights, and Andrews AFB had two squadrons of fighter planes protecting the skies over Washington. Yet there was no military interference with the suicide flights because the air force was ordered to stand down. Someone at the highest level of authority had prior knowledge of the attacks and allowed them to take place.
Conspiracy Denial: The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) was not prepared to perceive as threats any flights originating in the United States. Beginning at 8:37 A.M., NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was called three times to report that Flight 11 was hijacked, but at 9:21 A.M. they were erroneously given Washington, rather than New York, as its destination. Flight 11 struck the North Tower at 8:46 A.M. NEADS was notified of Flight 175’s hijacking at 9:03 A.M., the precise time that the airplane crashed into the South Tower. Two F-16s had been scrambled from Otis Air Force Base in Falmouth, Massachusetts, and three from Langley Air National Guard, but none of them got near the hijacked planes. Regarding Flights 93 and 77, once the terrorists had shut off the planes’ transponders, it became impossible to sort out the hijacked planes from the 4,500 other blips on radar screens at some of the nation’s busiest air lanes.
Conspiracy Claim: The first hijacked plane crashed into floors 94 through 98 of the WTC’s 110-story North Tower. The second jet impacted floors 78 to 84 of the 110-story South Tower. There is no way that these two planes, even though loaded with fuel, could have destroyed the structural integrity of the WTC towers. Demolitions had to have been placed throughout the towers before the crashes occurred.
Conspiracy Denial: According to initial findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), plane wreckage plowed through utility shafts at the North Tower’s core, creating a conduit for burning jet fuel throughout the building. On October 19, 2004, federal investigators released a five-hundred-page document stating that the twin towers failed “because the structural columns at the buildings’ core, damaged by the impact of the airliners, buckled and shortened as the fires burned, gradually shifting more load to the towers’ exterior pinstripe columns [which] ultimately suffered such extraordinary stress and heat that they gave way” (New York Times, October 20, 2004).
Conspiracy Claim: Jet fuel cannot burn hot enough to melt steel.
Conspiracy Denial: Although it is true that jet fuel burns at only 1,517 degrees F. and steel melts at 2,777 degrees F., experts agree that the steel frames of the twin towers didn’t need to melt to collapse; their loss of structural strength would have been enough. Thomas Eagar, engineering professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explains that steel loses 50 percent of its strength at 1,200 degrees F., and with 90,000 liters of jet fuel continuing to ignite other combustible materials, the temperature would continue to rise.
Conspiracy Claim: The collapse of the twin towers resembled controlled implosions, such as those used to demolish old buildings.
Conspiracy Denial: The weight of all the floors above the collapsed zones of the towers would begin to smash down with massive force on the floors below, creating a kind of chain reaction. Experienced engineers term the process “pancaking,” and they say that it need not require an explosion to begin.
Conspiracy Claim: Seismographs at Columbia University Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, indicate that the strongest jolts were registered before the collapsing towers struck the earth, thereby proving that massive explosions brought them down.
Conspiracy Denial: Seismologists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades state that their work was misrepresented. Their graphs show only seismic readings produced by the two planes crashing into the towers and by the collapse of the buildings.
Conspiracy Claim: The forty-seven-story WTC 7 building fell seven hours after the collapse of the twin towers, the result of controlled demolition. The buildings fell straight down through themselves, maintaining radial symmetry. Witnesses to the collapse of the towers claim to have heard demolition blasts and seen clouds of dust and smoke shooting out of the towers. The towers came down suddenly and completely with the rubble falling at the same speed inside and outside the former buildings’ profile. This is an impossibility unless the towers fell by controlled demolition.
Conspiracy Denial: According to the NIST, there was one basic reason for the WTC 7 collapse: Because of an unusual design, the columns were assigned exceptionally heavy loads, approximately 2,000 square feet of floor area for each floor. Shyam Sunder of the NIST states that preliminary analysis has shown 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.”
Conspiracy Claim: The two crash holes visible in the Pentagon are much too small to have been made by a Boeing 757.
Conspiracy Denial: Mete Sozen, a professor of structural engineering at Purdue University, reminds people that a crashing jet airplane doesn’t leave a cartoon cutout outline of itself on the ground or on a building. In Sozen’s opinion, what was left of the Boeing 757 flowed into the reinforced concrete building in a state “closer to a liquid than a solid mass.”
Conspiracy Claim: There was no plane wreckage found at the Pentagon, thereby proving that a missile or a bomb was responsible for the damage.
Conspiracy Denial: Allyn E. Kilsheimer, a blast expert and CEO of KCE Structural Engineers PC, Washington, D.C., was the first structural engineer to arrive on the scene. He states that he saw the marks of the plane wing on the building, picked up parts of the plane with airline markings on them, held the tail section, and found the black box. There is no mistake, he says, that it was an airplane that struck the Pentagon.
Conspiracy Claim: Flight 93 was brought down by a heat-seeking missile from an F-16 fighter.
Conspiracy Denial: There were no F-16s in the area, but a Dassault Falcon 20 business jet owned by the VF Corporation of Greensboro, North Carolina, was on a descent into the Johnstown-Cambria airport when the FAA contacted them and asked them to investigate. The Falcon 20 pinpointed the location of a hole in the ground and smoke rising out of it, then continued on to its destination.
Conspiracy Claim: One of Flight 93’s engines was found a considerable distance from the crash site with damage consistent to that which a heat-seeking missile would cause.
Conspiracy Denial: Investigators on the scene reported a fan from one of the engines in a catchment basin about 300 yards south of the crash site. Experts say there is nothing extraordinary about an engine tumbling that distance from the crash site, especially when it is considered that the plane probably hit traveling at 500 mph, moving 700 to 800 feet per second.
Conspiracy Claim: After take-off, the four doomed aircraft were ordered by secret government agents to a deserted airbase where the passengers from Flights 11, 77, and 175 were placed aboard Flight 93, which was electronically controlled and programmed to crash in Pennsylvania, eliminating all witnesses. The three aircraft that struck the WTC and the Pentagon were empty, controlled by implanted electronic systems from afar. The frantic calls from cellphones, allegedly from passengers, were all prerecorded by trained actors. The shadow government then used the phony attack by “foreign terrorists” as an excuse to declare war on Iraq.
Conspiracy Denial: This “scenario reconstruction” was suggested by retired University of Western Ontario professor A. K. Dewdney. Reactions to his theory range from total agreement to profound disgust.
Conspiracy Claim: Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York banned all independent investigators and civilians from ground zero so that any physical evidence of explosives among the rubble would be hauled away before it was detected.
Conspiracy Denial: Mayor Giuliani recognized that ground zero was a historic scene, but it was also a crime scene, and he didn’t want people getting hurt while trying to take pictures of the destruction or destroying any evidence that might be useful to federal investigators.
Conspiracy theories about 9/11 continue to grow. Days after the horrible events of that September morning, William Rodriguez was proclaimed a hero for saving numerous lives at ground zero and being the recipient of a miracle for himself. Not many people have heard his story, conspiracy theorists maintain, because it tends to expose the 9/11 investigation as a sham and indicates that the government is involved in a cover-up about the truth of the WTC disaster.
Rodriguez was a janitor on duty the morning of September 11, and he heard and felt explosions shudder the basement sublevels of the North Tower beneath his feet just seconds before the jetliner struck the top floors. The walls cracked around him, and he pulled a severely burned man from the basement. Rodriguez asked then, and he asks today the same question that many conspiracy theorists have posed: How could a jetliner slam into the tower ninety floors above the ground and burn a man’s arms and face to a crisp in the sublevels within seconds of impact?
According to Rodriguez, NBC News spent a full day at his house interviewing him about the serious allegations that he had made. His eyewitness account is backed up by fourteen people who were on the scene with him and felt the explosions go off. At the last minute, he says, NBC dropped the story, and some reporters told him to keep quiet or his life would be in danger.
Conspiracy theorists state that Rodriguez’s testimony clearly demonstrates that the WTC towers were brought down by controlled demolition. Rodriguez says that he lost two hundred friends when the towers collapsed and that he is now their voice speaking out for the truth.
On September 11, 2011, the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, it was readily observed by even the most objective individuals that conspiracy theories revolving around the terrorist attack had not abated—if anything, they had increased.
Numerous happenings suggestive of conspiratorial activity can be culled by perusing such sites as www.prisonplanet.com, www.jeffrense.com, and www.davidicke.com and discovering such theories as the following:
- A top-secret U.S. agency eavesdropped on a conversation before September 11 between an individual later suspected to be the terrorist commander of the 9/11 attacks and the chief hijacker, but it took no action.
- An Iranian deportee called police from his jail cell and warned of the planned attack on the WTC. No action was taken.
- The National Security Agency intercepted a conversation in Arabic in which the participants discussed something big about to happen in the U.S. very soon.
- U.S. intelligence intercepted two messages on September 10 that a terrorist attack would take place on the next day: “Zero Hour is tomorrow.”
Individuals Who Received Advance Warnings about the Attacks
- Mayor Rudolph Giuliani admitted to Peter Jennings that he received a warning that the South Tower was about to collapse.
- Newsweek magazine learned that top Pentagon officials were warned not to fly after September 10.
- A former U.S. senator warned Condoleeza Rice on September 6 not to travel in the next several days because a terrorist attack inside the United States was imminent.
- The FBI learned that some Middle Easterners in the New York area were warned not to go to lower Manhattan on September 11.
Perhaps the most persistent aspect of that day of tragedy that baffles the largest number of the general population is the unexpected free-fall of WTC 7, a forty-seven-story office tower. To this day no one can give a satisfactory argument that will appease both the conspiracy buffs and the curious as to why the tower just seemed to collapse in upon itself, looking very much like it was the target of a controlled demolition. It wasn’t struck by any planes or burned with any jet fuel, the so-called magic formula that was said to have brought down the twin towers. And a very small percentage of the skeptics will accept the speculation that sprays of burning diesel fuel could liquefy structural steel.
Over one hundred distinguished university professors, together with over fifty senior government officials, over a hundred pilots and aviation professionals, plus hundreds of architects and engineers, have gone on record to state that the 9/11 Commission Report with its explanation of the terrorist act is flawed.
The National Institute for Standards and Technology’s 10,000-page report named “collapse initiation” (the loss of several floors’ vertical support) as an explanation for the “free-fall” of the WTC structures. Later, the NIST was forced to admit that the total free-fall collapse of the twin towers could not be explained after an “exhaustive scientific study.” The only explanation for the means by which the buildings could have come down at free-fall speed, the NIST acknowledged, was controlled demolition. In addition, NIST confirmed that virtually none of the steel in the towers reached temperatures hotter than 500 degrees. By NIST’s own statements, the point at which steel weakens is 1,000 degrees and its melting point is 1,500 degrees.