9/11: The Myth and the Reality


Although I am a philosopher of religion and theologian, I have spent most of my time during the past three years on 9/11—studying it, writing about it, and speaking about it. In this lecture, I will try to make clear why I believe this issue worthy of so much time and energy. I will do this in terms of the distinction between myth and reality.

I am here using the term "myth" in two senses. In one sense, a myth is an idea that, while widely believed, is false, failing to correspond with reality.

In a deeper sense, which is employed by students of religion, a myth serves as an orienting and mobilizing story for a people, a story that reminds them who they are and why they do what they do. When a story is called as a myth in this sense—which we can call Myth with a capital M—the focus is not on the story’s relation to reality but on its function. This orienting and mobilizing function is possible, moreover, only because Myths with a capital M have religious overtones. Such a Myth is a Sacred Story.

However, although to note that a story functions as a Myth in the religious sense is not necessarily to deny its truth, a story cannot function as a Sacred Myth within a community or nation unless it is believed to be true. In most cases, moreover, the truth of the Myth is taken on faith. It is not a matter of debate. If some people have the bad taste to question the truth of the Sacred Story, the keepers of the faith do not enter into debate with them. Rather, they ignore them or denounce them as blasphemers.

According to the official story about 9/11, America, because of its goodness, was attacked by fanatical Arab Muslims who hate our freedoms. This story has functioned as a Sacred Myth for the United States since that fateful day. And this function appears to have been carefully orchestrated. The very next day, President Bush announced his intention to lead "a monumental struggle of Good versus Evil."1 Then on September 13, he declared that the following day would be a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the Victims of the Terrorist Attacks. And on that next day, the president himself, surrounded by Billy Graham, a cardinal, a rabbi, and an imam, delivered a sermon in the national cathedral, saying:

Our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of Evil. War has been waged against us by stealth and deceit and murder. This nation is peaceful, but fierce when stirred to anger. . . . In every generation, the world has produced enemies of human freedom. They have attacked America, because we are freedom’s home and defender. And the commitment of our fathers is now the calling of our time. . . . [W]e ask almighty God to watch over our nation, and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come. . . . And may He always guide our country. God bless America.2

Through this unprecedented event, in which the president of the United States issued a declaration of war from a cathedral, French author Thierry Meyssan observed in 2002, "the American government consecrated . . . its version of events. From then on, any questioning of the official truth would be seen as sacrilege."3

That attitude has remained dominant in the public sphere until this day, as the official account has continued to serve as a Sacred Story. When people raise questions about this story, they are either ignored, ridiculed as conspiracy theorists, or—as Charlie Sheen has recently experienced—attacked personally. When anyone asks what right the administration has to invade and occupy other countries, to imprison people indefinitely without due process, or even to ignore various laws, the answer is always the same: "9/11." Those who believe that US law and international law should be respected are dismissed as having "a pre-9/11 mind-set."

Given the role the official account of 9/11 has played and continues to play, the most important question before our country today is whether this account, besides being a Myth in the religious sense, is also a myth in the pejorative sense—that is, whether it is simply false.

As a philosopher of religion, I would emphasize that the fact that a story has served as a Myth in the religious sense does not necessarily mean that it fails to correspond with reality. Many religious accounts contain at least a kernel of truth that can be defended in terms of a rational examination of the relevant evidence.

In many cases, however, stories that have served as religious Myths cannot stand up to rational scrutiny. When such a story is stripped of its halo and treated simply as a theory, rather than an unquestionable dogma, it cannot be defended as the best theory to account for the relevant facts. The official account of 9/11 is such a theory. When challenges to it are not treated as blasphemy, it can easily be seen to be composed of a number of ideas that are myths in the sense of not corresponding with reality. Using the word "myth" from now on only in this pejorative sense, I will discuss nine of the major myths contained in the official story about 9/11. I will thereby show that the official account of 9/11 cannot be defended, in light of the relevant evidence, against the main alternative account, according to which 9/11 was an inside job, orchestrated by people within our own government. I will begin with a few myths that prevent many people from even looking at the evidence for this alternative account.


Myth Number 1: Our political and military leaders simply would not do such a thing.

This idea is widely believed. But it is undermined by much evidence. The United States, like many other countries, has often used deceit to begin wars—for example, the Mexican-American war, with its false claim that Mexico had "shed American blood on the American soil,"4 the Spanish-American war, with its "Remember the Maine" hoax,5 the war in the Philippines, with its false claim that the Filipinos fired first,6 and the Vietnam war, with its Tonkin Gulf hoax.7 The United States has also sometimes organized false flag terrorist attacks—killing innocent civilians, then blaming the attacks on an enemy country or group, often by planting evidence. We have even done this in allied countries. As Daniele Ganser has shown in his recent book NATO’s Secret Armies, NATO, guided by the CIA and the Pentagon, arranged many such attacks in Western European countries during the Cold War. These attacks were successfully blamed on Communists and other leftists to discredit them in the eyes of the voting public.8

Finally, in case it be thought that US military leaders would not orchestrate such attacks against US citizens, one needs only to read the plan known as Operations Northwoods, which the Joint Chiefs of Staff worked up in 1962, shortly after Fidel Castro had overthrown the pro-American dictator Batista. This plan contained various "pretexts which would provide justification for US military intervention in Cuba." American citizens would have been killed in some of them, such as a "Remember the Maine" incident, in which: "We could blow up a U.S. ship in Guantánamo Bay and blame Cuba."9

At this point, some people, having seen evidence that US leaders would be morally capable of orchestrating 9/11, might avoid looking at the evidence by appeal to

Myth Number 2: Our political and military leaders would have had no motive for orchestrating the 9/11 attacks.

This myth was reinforced by The 9/11 Commission Report. While explaining why al-Qaeda had ample motives for carrying out the attacks, this report mentions no motives that US leaders might have had. But the alleged motive of al-Qaeda—that it hated Americans and their freedoms—is dwarfed by a motive held by many members of the Bush-Cheney administration: the dream of establishing a global Pax Americana, the first all-inclusive empire in history.

This dream had been articulated by many neoconservatives, or neocons, throughout the 1990s, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union made it seem possible. It was first officially articulated in the Defense Planning Guidance of 1992, drafted by Paul Wolfowitz on behalf of then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney—a document that has been called "a blueprint for permanent American global hegemony"10 and Cheney’s "Plan . . . to rule the world."11

Achieving this goal would require four things. One of these was getting control of the world’s oil, especially in Central Asia and the Middle East, and the Bush-Cheney administration came to power with plans already made to attack Afghanistan and Iraq. A second requirement was a technological transformation of the military, in which fighting from space would become central. A third requirement was an enormous increase in military spending, to pay for these new wars and for weaponizing space. A fourth need was to modify the doctrine of preemptive attack, so that America would be able to attack other countries even if they posed no imminent threat.

These four elements would, moreover, require a fifth: an event that would make the American people ready to accept these imperialistic policies. As Zbigniew Brzezinski explained in his 1997 book, The Grand Chessboard, the American people, with their democratic instincts, are reluctant to authorize the money and human sacrifices necessary for "imperial mobilization," and this refusal "limits . . . America’s . . . capacity for military intimidation."12 But this impediment could be overcome if there were "a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat"13 —just as the American people were willing to enter World War II only after "the shock effect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor."15 This same idea was suggested in 2000 in a document entitled Rebuilding America’s Defenses, which was put out by a neocon think tank called the Project for the New American Century, many members of which—including Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz—became central members of the Bush administration. This document, referring to the goal of transforming the military, said that this "process of transformation . . . is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor."15

When the attacks of 9/11 occurred, they were treated like a new Pearl Harbor. Several members of the Bush administration spoke of 9/11 as providing opportunities. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said that 9/11 created "the kind of opportunities that World War II offered, to refashion the world."16 It created, in particular, the opportunity to attack Afghanistan and Iraq; to increase the military budget enormously; to go forward with military transformation; and to turn the new idea of preemptive warfare into official doctrine. This doctrinal change was announced in the 2002 version of the National Security Strategy, which said that America will "act against . . . emerging threats before they are fully formed."17

So, not only did the Bush administration reap huge benefits from 9/11. These were benefits that it had desired in advance. The idea that it would have had no motives for orchestrating 9/11 is a myth. But there is one more myth that keeps many people from looking at the evidence. This is

Myth Number 3: Such a big operation, involving so many people, could not have been kept a secret, because someone involved in it would have talked by now.

This claim is based on a more general myth, which is that is impossible for secret government operations to be kept secret very long, because someone always talks. But how could we know this? If some big operations have remained secret until now, we by definition do not know about them. Moreover, we do know of big some operations that were kept secret as long as necessary, such as the Manhattan Project to create the atomic bomb, and the war in Indonesia in 1957, which the United States government provoked, participated in, and was able to keep secret from its own people until a book about it appeared in 1995.18 Many more examples could be given.

We can understand, moreover, why those with inside knowledge of 9/11 would not talk. At least most of them would have been people with the proven ability to keep secrets. Those who were directly complicit would also be highly motivated to avoid public disgrace and the gas chamber. Those people who had knowledge without being complicit could be induced to keep quiet by means of more or less subtle threats—such as: "Joe, if you go forward with your plans to talk to the press about this, I don’t know who is going to protect your wife and kids from some nutcase angered by your statement." Still another fact is that neither the government nor the mainstream press has, to say the least, shown any signs of wanting anyone to come forward.

I come now to

Myth Number 4: The 9/11 Commission, which has endorsed the official account, was an independent, impartial commission and hence can be believed.

One needs only to look at the reviews of The 9/11 Commission Report on Amazon.com to see that this assumption is widely accepted. Perhaps this is partly because in the Preface, the Commission’s chairman and vice chairman tell us that the Commission sought "to be independent, impartial, thorough, and nonpartisan." But these terms do not describe the reality. The Commission’s lack of impartiality can be partly explained by the fact that Chairman Thomas Kean, most of the other commissioners, and at least half of the members of the staff had conflicts of interest.19

The most serious problem, however, is that the executive director, Philip Zelikow, was essentially a member of the Bush-Cheney administration. He had worked with Condoleezza Rice on the National Security Council in the administration of the first President Bush. When the Republicans were out of office during the Clinton administration, Zelikow and Rice wrote a book together. Rice then, as National Security Advisor for the second President Bush, had Zelikow help make the transition to the new National Security Council. After that, Zelikow was appointed to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Zelikow was, therefore, the White House’s man inside the 9/11 Commission.

And yet, as executive director, he guided the staff, which did virtually all the work of the Commission.20 Zelikow was in position, therefore, to decide which topics would be investigated and which ones not. One disgruntled member reportedly said at the time, "Zelikow is calling the shots. He’s skewing the investigation and running it his own way."21

Accordingly, insofar as the Commission was supposed to be investigating the failure of the Bush administration to prevent the attacks, the Commission was no more independent and impartial than if Dick Cheney had been running it. (The only difference is that no one got shot.)

Zelikow’s ideological and personal closeness to the Bush administration is shown by one more fact that has until now not been widely known, even within the 9/11 truth movement. I mentioned earlier the Bush administration’s National Security Strategy statement of 2002, in which the new doctrine of preemptive warfare was articulated. The primary author of this document, reports James Mann in Rise of the Vulcans, was none other than Philip Zelikow. According to Mann, after Rice saw a first draft, which had been written by Richard Haass in the State Department, she, wanting "something bolder," brought in Zelikow to completely rewrite it.22 The result was a very bellicose document that used 9/11 to justify the administration’s so-called war on terror. Max Boot described it as a "quintessentially neo-conservative document."23

We can understand, therefore, why the Commission, under Zelikow’s leadership, would have ignored all evidence that would point to the truth: that 9/11 was a false flag operation intended to authorize the doctrines and funds needed for a new level of imperial mobilization.

The suggestion that 9/11 was a false flag operation brings us to:

Myth Number 5: The Bush administration provided proof that the attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda terrorists under the direction of Osama bin Laden.

One of the main pieces of alleged proof involved the claim that the baggage of Mohamed Atta, called the ringleader of the hijackers, was discovered at the Boston airport, from which Flight 11 departed. This baggage, besides containing Atta’s passport and driver’s license, also contained various types of incriminating evidence, such as flight simulator manuals, videotapes about Boeing airliners, and a letter to other hijackers about preparing for the mission. But the bags also contained Atta’s will. Why would Atta have intended to take his will on a plane that he planned to fly into the World Trade Center? There are also many other problems in this story.24 We appear to have planted evidence.

Another element of the official story about the alleged hijackers is that they were very devout Muslims. The 9/11 Commission Report said that Atta had become very religious, even "fanatically so."25 The public was thereby led to believe that these men would have had no problem going on this suicide mission, because they were ready to meet their maker. Investigative reporter Daniel Hopsicker, however, discovered that Atta loved cocaine, alcohol, gambling, pork, and lap dances.26 Several of the other alleged hijackers, the Wall Street Journal reported, had similar tastes.27 The Commission pretends, however, that none of this information was available. While admitting that Atta met other members of al-Qaeda in Las Vegas shortly before 9/11, it says that it saw "no credible evidence explaining why, on this occasion and others, the operatives flew to or met in Las Vegas."28

Another problem in the official account is that, although we are told that four or five of the alleged hijackers were on each of the four flights, no proof of this claim has been provided. The story, of course, is that they did not force their way onto the planes but were regular, ticketed passengers. If so, their names should be on the flight manifests. But the flight manifests that have been released contain neither the names of the alleged hijackers nor any other Arab names.29 We have also been given no proof that the remains of any of these men were found at any of the crash sites.

One final little problem is that several of these 19 men, according to stories published by the BBC and British newspapers, are still alive. For example, The 9/11 Commission Report named Waleed al-Shehri as one of the hijackers and reproduced the FBI’s photograph of him. It even suggested that al-Shehri stabbed one of the flight attendants shortly before Flight 11 crashed into the north tower.30 But as BBC News had reported 11 days after 9/11, al-Shehri, having seen his photograph in newspapers and TV programs, notified authorities and journalists in Morocco, where he works as a pilot, that he is still alive.31

But if there are various problems with the government’s story about the hijackers, surely it presented proof that Osama bin Laden was behind the operation? Insofar as this belief is widely held, it also is a myth. Secretary of State Colin Powell promised to provide a white paper providing proof that the attacks had been planned by bin Laden, but this paper was never produced. British Prime Minister Tony Blair did provide such a paper, which was entitled "Responsibility for the Terrorist Atrocities in the United States." But it begins with the admission that it "does not purport to provide a prosecutable case against Usama Bin Laden in a court of law."32 (So, evidence good enough to go to war, but not good enough to go to court.) And although the Taliban said that it would hand bin Laden over if the United States presented evidence of his involvement in 9/11, Bush refused.33

This failure to provide proof was later said to be unnecessary because bin Laden, in a video allegedly found in Afghanistan, admitted responsibility for the attacks. This "confession" is now widely cited as proof. However, the man in this video has darker skin, fuller cheeks, and a broader nose than the Osama bin Laden of all the other videos.34 We again seem to have planted evidence.

There are, moreover, other problems in the official account of Osama bin Laden. For one thing, in June of 2001, when he was already America’s "most wanted" criminal, he reportedly spent two weeks in the American Hospital in Dubai, at which he was treated by an American doctor and visited by the local CIA agent.35

Also, after 9/11, when America was reportedly trying to get bin Laden "dead or alive," the US military evidently allowed him to escape on at least four occasions, the last one being the "battle of Tora Bora," which the London Telegraph labeled "a grand charade."36 Shortly thereafter, Bush said: "I don’t know where he [bin Laden] is. . . . I just don’t spend that much time on him. . . . I truly am not that concerned about him."37 (Sometimes the truth slips out.)

In any case, the idea that the Bush administration has provided proof for its claims about Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda hijackers is a myth. I turn now to:

Myth Number 6: The 9/11 attacks came as a surprise to the Bush administration.

Nothing is more essential to the official story than this idea. About 10 months after 9/11, for example, FBI Director Robert Mueller said: "To this day we have found no one in the United States except the actual hijackers who knew of the plot."38 There is much evidence, however, that counts against this claim.

The Put Options: One type of evidence involves an extraordinarily high volume of "put options" purchased in the three days prior to 9/11. To buy put options for a particular company is to bet that its stock price will go down. These extraordinary purchases included two, and only two, airlines–United and American–the two airlines used in the attacks. They also included Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, which occupied 22 stories of the World Trade Center. The price of these shares did, of course, plummet after 9/11, resulting in enormous profits for the purchasers. These unusual purchases, as the San Francisco Chronicle said, raise "suspicions that the investors . . . had advance knowledge of the strikes."39 It would appear, in other words, that those who made the purchases knew that United and American airliners were going to be used in attacks on the World Trade Center.

The 9/11 Commission tried to show these suspicions to be unfounded. It claimed, for example, that the purchases for United Airlines do not show that anyone other than al-Qaeda had foreknowledge of the attacks, because 95 percent of these options were purchased by "[a] single U.S.-based institutional investor with no conceivable ties to al Qaeda."40 But the Commission thereby simply begged the question at issue, which is whether some organization other than al-Qaeda was involved in the planning.

Also, the Commission ignored the other crucial point, which is that US intelligence agencies closely monitor the stock market, looking for any anomalies that might provide clues about untoward events in the works.41 Therefore, regardless of who orchestrated the attacks, the US government would have had intelligence suggesting that United and American airliners were to be used for attacks on the World Trade Center.

Bush and the Secret Service: Further evidence of advance knowledge is shown by the behavior of President Bush and his secret service agents during the photo-op at the school in Florida that morning. According to the official story, when Bush was first told that a plane had struck one of the Twin Towers, he dismissed the incident as merely a "horrible accident," which meant that they could go ahead with the photo-op.42 News of the second strike, however, would have indicated—assuming that the strikes were unexpected—that terrorists were using planes to attack high-value targets. And what could have been a higher-value target than the president of the United States?

His location at the school had been highly publicized. The Secret Service agents should have feared, therefore, that a hijacked airliner might have been bearing down on the school at that very minute, ready to crash into it. It is standard procedure for the Secret Service to rush the president to a safe location when there is any sign that he may be in danger. And yet these agents allowed the president to remain another half hour, even permitting him to deliver an address on television, thereby announcing to the world that he was still at the school.

Would not this behavior be explainable only if the head of the Secret Service detail knew that the planned attacks did not include an attack on the president?

The 9/11 Commission, of course, did not ask this question. It was content to report that "[t]he Secret Service told us they . . . did not think it imperative for [the president] to run out the door."43 Maintaining decorum, in other words, was more important than protecting the president’s life. Can anyone seriously believe that highly trained Secret Service agents would act this way in a situation of genuine danger?

Mineta’s Report about Cheney: The attack on the Pentagon, as well as the attack on the World Trade Center, was said to be a surprise, even though it occurred over a half hour after the second strike on the Twin Towers. A Pentagon spokesperson, in explaining why the Pentagon was not evacuated before it was struck, claimed that "[t]he Pentagon was simply not aware that this aircraft was coming our way."44 The 9/11 Commission claimed that there was no warning about an unidentified aircraft heading towards Washington until 9:36 and hence only "one or two minutes" before the Pentagon was struck at 9:38.45

But this claim is contradicted by Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta’s testimony about an episode that occurred in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center under the White House. In open testimony to the 9/11 Commission, Mineta gave this account:

During the time that the airplane was coming in to the Pentagon, there was a young man who would come in and say to the Vice President, "The plane is 50 miles out." "The plane is 30 miles out." And when it got down to "the plane is 10 miles out," the young man also said to the Vice President, "Do the orders still stand?" And the Vice President . . . said, "Of course the orders still stand. Have you heard anything to the contrary?"46

Mineta said that that this final exchange occurred at about 9:25 or 9:26.47 According to Mineta’s account, therefore, Cheney knew about an approaching aircraft more than 12 minutes before 9:38, when the Pentagon was struck. Assuming that Cheney would not have kept this information from his good friend Donald Rumsfeld, Mineta’s testimony contradicts the claim of the Pentagon and the 9/11 Commission that there was no advance knowledge, at least not sufficient advance knowledge to have evacuated the Pentagon, which would have saved 125 lives.

This example gives us one of the clearest examples of the fact that the Zelikow-led 9/11 Commission cannot be trusted. Having claimed that there was no knowledge that an aircraft was approaching the Pentagon until the last minute or so, it simply omitted Mineta’s testimony to the contrary, which had been given in open testimony to the Commission itself, from its final report. Then, to rule out even the possibility that the episode reported by Mineta could have occurred, it claimed that Cheney did not even arrive in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center until almost 10:00 o’clock, hence about 20 minutes after the Pentagon was struck.48 But this claim, besides contradicting Mineta’s eyewitness testimony that Cheney was already there when Mineta arrived at 9:20, also contradicts all other reports as to when Cheney had arrived there, including a report by Cheney himself.49

In light of this information about the put options, the Secret Service, and Mineta’s testimony, we can reject as a myth the idea that the attacks were unexpected. However, even if the attacks had been unexpected, should they not have been intercepted? This brings us to:

Myth Number 7: US officials have explained why the hijacked airliners were not intercepted.

Actually, there is a sense in which this statement is true. US officials have explained why the US military did not prevent the attacks. The problem, however, is that they have given three explanations, each of which is contradicted by the others and none of which is a satisfactory explanation. I will explain.

According to standard operating procedures, if an FAA flight controller notices anything that suggests a possible hijacking, the controller is to contact a superior. If the problem cannot be fixed quickly (within about a minute), the superior is to ask NORAD—the North American Aerospace Defense Command—to send up, or "scramble," jet fighters to find out what is going on. NORAD then issues a scramble order to the nearest air force base with fighters on alert.

The jet fighters at NORAD’s disposal could respond very quickly: According to the US Air Force website, F-15s can go from "scramble order" to 29,000 feet in only 2.5 minutes, after which they can fly over 1800 miles per hour.50 Therefore–according to General Ralph Eberhart, the head of NORAD—after the FAA senses that something is wrong, "it takes about one minute" for it to contact NORAD, after which, according to a spokesperson, NORAD can scramble fighter jets "within a matter of minutes to anywhere in the United States."51 These statements were, to be sure, made after 9/11, so we might suspect that they reflect a post-9/11 speed-up in procedures. But an Air Traffic Control document put out in 1998 warned pilots that any airplanes persisting in unusual behavior "will likely find two [jet fighters] on their tail within 10 or so minutes."52

If these procedures had been carried out on the morning of 9/11, AA Flight 11 and UA Flight 175 would have been intercepted before they could have reached Manhattan, and AA Flight 77 would have been intercepted long before it could have reached the Pentagon.

Such interceptions are routine, being carried out about 100 times a year. A month after 9/11, the Calgary Herald reported that in the year 2000, NORAD had scrambled fighters 129 times. Do these scrambles regularly result in interceptions? Just a few days after 9/11, Major Mike Snyder, a NORAD spokesperson, told the Boston Globe that "[NORAD’s] fighters routinely intercept aircraft."53 Why did such interceptions not occur on 9/11?

During the first few days, the public was told that no fighter jets were sent up until after the strike on the Pentagon at 9:38. However, it was also reported that signs of Flight 11’s hijacking had been observed at 8:15. That would mean that although interceptions usually occur within "10 or so" minutes after signs of trouble are observed, in this case 80 or so minutes had elapsed before fighters were even airborne. This story suggested that a "stand-down" order had been issued.

Within a few days, however, a second story was put out, according to which NORAD had sent up fighters but, because notification from the FAA had been very slow in coming, the fighters arrived too late. On September 18, NORAD made this second story official, embodying it in a timeline, which indicated when NORAD had been notified by the FAA about each airplane and when it had scrambled fighters in response.54

Critics showed, however, that even if the FAA notifications had come as late as NORAD’s timeline indicated, NORAD’s jets would have had time to make the interceptions.55 This second story did not, therefore, remove the suspicion that a stand-down order had been given.

Hoping to overcome this problem, The 9/11 Commission Report provided a third account, according to which, contrary to NORAD’s timeline of September 18, 2001, the FAA did not notify NORAD about Flight 175 until after it had struck the south tower or about Flight 77 until after it had struck the Pentagon. But there are serious problems with this third story.

One problem is the very fact that it is the third story. Normally, when a suspect in a criminal investigation keeps changing his story, we get suspicious. Let’s say that the police ask Charlie Jones where he was Saturday night. He says he was at the movie theater, but they say, "No, the movie theater has been closed all week." Then Charlie says, "Oh, that’s right, I was with my girl friend." But, the police say, "No, we checked with her and she was home with her husband." If at that point Charlie says, "Oh, now I remember, I was home reading my Bible," you are probably not going to believe him. And yet that’s what we have here. The military told one story right after 9/11, another story a week later, and a third story through The 9/11 Commission Report in 2004.

A second problem with this third story is that it contradicts several features of the second story, which had served as the official story for almost three years.

For example, NORAD’s timeline of September 18, 2001, had indicated that the FAA had notified it about Flight 175 exactly 20 minutes before it hit its target and about Flight 77 some 14 minutes before the Pentagon was struck. The 9/11 Commission maintains that both of these statements were "incorrect"—that, really, there had been no notification about these flights until after they hit their targets. This, it claims, is why the military had failed to intercept them.56 But if NORAD’s timeline was false, as the Commission now claims, NORAD must have been either lying or confused. But it is hard to believe that it could have been confused one week after 9/11. So it must have been lying. But if the military’s second story was a lie, why should we believe this third one?

Further scepticism about this third story arises from the fact that it is contradicted by considerable evidence. For example, the Commission’s claim that the military did not know about Flight 175 until it crashed is contradicted by a report involving Captain Michael Jellinek, a Canadian who on 9/11 was overseeing NORAD’s headquarters in Colorado. According to a story in the Toronto Star, Jellinek was on the phone with NORAD as he watched Flight 175 crash into the south tower. He then asked NORAD: "Was that the hijacked aircraft you were dealing with?"–to which NORAD said "yes."57

The 9/11 Commission’s claims about Flights 175 and 77 are also contradicted by a memo sent to the Commission by Laura Brown of the FAA. Her memo stated that at about 8:50 the FAA had set up a teleconference, in which it started sharing information with the military about all flights. She specifically mentioned Flight 77, indicating that the FAA had been sharing information about it even before the formal notification time of 9:24. Her memo, which is available on the Web,58 was discussed by the 9/11 Commission and read into its record on May 23, 2003.59 But Zelikow’s 9/11 Commission Report fails to mention this memo.

Because of these and still more problems, which I have discussed in my book on the 9/11 Commission’s report and also in a lecture called "Flights of Fancy",60 this third story does not remove the grounds for suspicion that a stand-down order had been issued.

There is, moreover, ear-witness testimony for this suspicion. An upper management official at LAX, who needs to remain anonymous, has told me that he overheard members of LAX Security–including officers from the FBI and LAPD—interacting on their walkie-talkies shortly after the attacks. In some cases, he could hear both sides of the conversation. At first, the LAX officials were told that the airplanes that attacked World Trade Center and the Pentagon had not been intercepted because the FAA had not notified NORAD about the hijackings. But later, he reports, they were told that NORAD had been notified but did not respond because it had been "ordered to stand down." When LAX security officials asked who had issued that order, they were told that it had come "from the highest level of the White House."61

Accordingly, the idea that the attacks could not have been prevented is a myth. I turn now to:

Myth Number 8: Official Reports have explained why the Twin Towers and Building 7 of the World Trade Center collapsed.

This claim suffers from the same problem as the previous one: We have had three explanations, each of which contradicts the others and none of which is anywhere close to adequate. The first explanation, widely disseminated through television specials, was that the buildings collapsed because their steel columns were melted by the jet-fuel-fed fires. But this explanation contained many problems, the most obvious of which is that steel does not begin to melt until about 2800 degrees F, while open fires based on hydrocarbons such as kerosene—which is what jet fuel is—cannot under the most ideal circumstances rise above 1700 degrees.

A second explanation, endorsed by The 9/11 Commission Report, is a "pancake" theory, according to which the fires, while not melting the steel, heated it up sufficiently to cause the floors weakened by the airplane strikes to break loose from the steel columns—both those in the core of the building and those around the outside. All the floors above the strike zone hence fell down on the floor below the strike zone, causing it to break free, and this started a chain reaction, so the floors pancaked all the way down. But this explanation also suffered from many problems, the most obvious of which was that it could not explain why the buildings collapsed into a pile of rubble only a few stories high. The core of each of the Twin Towers consisted of 47 massive steel columns. If the floors had broken loose from them, these columns would have still been sticking up a thousand feet in the air. The 9/11 Commission Report tried to cover up this problem by claiming that the core of each tower consisted of "a hollow steel shaft."62 But those massive steel columns could not be wished away.

The definitive explanation was supposed to be the third one, issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, often simply called NIST. The NIST Report claimed that when the floors collapsed, they, rather than breaking free from the columns, pulled on them, causing the perimeter columns to become unstable. This instability then increased the gravity load on the core columns, which had been weakened by tremendously hot fires in the core, which, NIST claims, reached 1832°F, and this combination of factors resulted in "global collapse."63

But, as physicists Jim Hoffman and Steven Jones have shown, this account is riddled with problems. One of these is that NIST’s claim about tremendously hot fires in the core is completely unsupported by evidence. NIST’s own studies found no evidence that any of the core columns had reached temperatures of even 482°F (250°C).64 A second problem is that, even if this sequence of events had occurred, NIST provided no explanation as to why it would have produced global—that is, total—collapse. The NIST Report asserts that "column failure" occurred in the core as well as the perimeter columns. But this remains a bare assertion. There is no plausible explanation of why the core columns would have broken, or even buckled, so as to produce global collapse.65

And this is only to begin to enumerate the problems in NIST’s theory, all of which follow from the fact that it, like the previous two theories, is essentially a fire theory, according to which the buildings were brought down primarily by fire. In the case of the Twin Towers, of course, the impact of the airplanes is said to have played a role. But most experts who support the official theory attribute the collapses primarily to the fires. NIST, for example, says that the main contribution of the airplanes, aside from providing jet fuel, was to dislodge a lot of the fire-proofing from the steel, thereby making it vulnerable to the fires.66 But these fire-theories face several formidable problems.

First, the fires in these three buildings were not very hot, very big, or very long-lasting, compared with fires in some steel-frame high-rises that did not collapse. A 1991 fire in Philadelphia burned 18 hours, and a 2004 fire in Caracas burned 17 hours, without causing even a partial collapse.67 By contrast, the fires in the north and south towers burned only 102 and 56 minutes, respectively, before they collapsed, and neither fire, unlike the Philadelphia and Caracas fires, was hot enough to break windows.

Second, total collapses of steel-frame high-rise buildings have never—either before or after 9/11—been brought about by fire alone, or fire combined with externally produced structural damage. The collapse of Building 7 has been recognized as especially difficult to explain. It was not hit by a plane, so the explanation has to rely on fire alone, and yet, because there was no jet fuel to get a big fire started, this building had fires on only two or three floors, according to several witnesses68 and all the photographic evidence.69 FEMA admitted that the best explanation it could come up with it had "only a low probability of occurrence."70 The 9/11 Commission Report implicitly admitted that it could not explain the collapse of Building 7 by not even mentioning it. The NIST Report, which could not claim that the fire-proofing had gotten knocked off the steel of this building, has yet to offer an explanation as to why it collapsed.

And NIST, like the 9/11 Commission, evidently did not want citizens asking why Building 7 collapsed even though it was not hit by a plane. On its Website, it says that one of its objectives is to determine "why and how World Trade Center buildings 1, 2, and 7 collapsed after the initial impact of the aircraft"—thereby implying that building 7, like the Twin Towers, was hit by a plane.71

In any case, a third problem with the official account of the collapse of these three buildings is that all prior and subsequent total collapses of steel-frame high-rises have been caused by explosives in the procedure known as "controlled demolition." This problem is made even more severe by the fact that the collapses of these three buildings manifested many standard features of the most difficult type of controlled demolition, known as implosion. I will mention seven such features.

First, the collapses began suddenly. Steel, if weakened by fire, would gradually begin to sag. But as one can see from videos available on the Web,72 all three buildings are completely motionless up to the moment they begin to collapse.

Second, if these huge buildings had toppled over, they would have caused enormous death and destruction. But they came straight down. This straight-down collapse is the whole point of the type of controlled demolition called implosion, which only a few companies in the world can perform.73

Third, these buildings collapsed at virtually free-fall speed, which means that the lower floors, with all their steel and concrete, were offering no resistance to the upper floors.

Fourth, as mentioned earlier, the collapses were total collapses, resulting in piles of rubble only a few stories high. This means that the enormous steel columns in the core of each building had to be broken into rather short segments—which is what explosives do.

Fifth, great quantities of molten steel were produced, which means that the steel had been heated up to several thousand degrees. Witnesses during the clean-up reported, moreover, that sometimes when a piece of steel was lifted out of the rubble, molten metal would be dripping from the end.74

Sixth, according to many fire fighters, medical workers, journalists, and World Trade Center employees, many explosions went off before and after the collapses. For example, Fire Captain Dennis Tardio, speaking of the south tower, said: "I hear an explosion and I look up. It is as if the building is being imploded, from the top floor down, one after another, boom, boom, boom."75 Firefighter Richard Banaciski said: "It seemed like on television [when] they blow up these buildings. It seemed like it was going all the way around like a belt, all these explosions."76 Thanks to the release in August of 2005 of the oral histories recorded by the Fire Department of New York shortly after 9/11, dozens of testimonies of this type are now available. I have published an essay on them, which will be included—along with an essay on "The Destruction of the World Trade Center," which I am here summarizing—in a forthcoming book on 9/11 and Christian faith.77

A seventh feature of controlled implosions is the production of large quantities of dust. In the case of the Twin Towers, virtually everything except the steel—all the concrete, desks, computers—was pulverized into very tiny dust particles.78

The official theory cannot explain one, let alone all seven, of these features—at least, as Jim Hoffman and Steven Jones have pointed out, without violating several basic laws of physics.79 But the theory of controlled demolition easily explains all these features.

These facts are inconsistent with the idea that al-Qaeda terrorists were responsible. Foreign terrorists could not have obtained access to the buildings for the hours needed to plant the explosives. Terrorists working for the Bush-Cheney administration, by contrast, could have gotten such access, given the fact that Marvin Bush and Wirt Walker III—the president’s brother and cousin, respectively—were principals of the company in charge of security for the World Trade Center.80 Al-Qaeda terrorists would also probably not have had the courtesy to ensure that these huge buildings came straight down, rather than falling over onto other buildings. They also would not have had the necessary expertise.

Another relevant fact is that evidence was destroyed. An examination of the buildings’ steel beams and columns could have shown whether explosives had been used to slice them. But virtually all of the steel was removed before it could be properly examined,81 then put on ships to Asia to be melted down.82 It is usually a federal offense to remove anything from a crime scene. But here the removal of over 100 tons of steel, the biggest destruction of evidence in history, was carried out under the supervision of federal officials.83

Evidence was also apparently planted. The passport of one of the hijackers on Flight 11 was allegedly found in the rubble, having survived the fire caused by the crash into the north tower and also whatever caused everything else in this building except the steel to be pulverized.84 As a story in the Guardian said, "the idea that [this] passport had escaped from that inferno unsinged would [test] the credulity of the staunchest supporter of the FBI’s crackdown on terrorism."85

To sum up: The idea that US officials have given a satisfactory, or even close to satisfactory, explanation of the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings is a myth. And they have implicitly admitted this by refusing to engage in rational debate about it. For example, Michael Newman, a spokesman for NIST, reportedly said during a recent interview that "none of the NIST scientists would participate in any public debate" with scientists who reject their report. When Newman was asked why NIST would avoid public debate if it had confidence in its report, Newman replied: "Because there is no winning in such debates."85 In that same interview, Newman had compared people who reject the government’s account of the collapses with people who believe in Bigfoot and a flat earth.86 And yet he fears that his scientists would not be able to show up these fools in a public debate!

In any case, I come now to the final myth, which is:

Myth Number 9: There is no doubt that Flight 77, under the control of al-Qaeda hijacker Hani Hanjour, struck the Pentagon.

There are, in fact, many reasons to doubt this claim.

We have, in the first place, reasons to doubt that the aircraft that hit the Pentagon was under the control of Hani Hanjour. For one thing, the aircraft, before striking the Pentagon, reportedly executed a 270-degree downward spiral, and yet Hani Hanjour was known as a terrible pilot, who could not safely fly even a small plane.87 Russ Wittenberg, who flew large commercial airliners for 35 years after serving in Vietnam as a fighter pilot, says that it would have been "totally impossible for an amateur who couldn’t even fly a Cessna to maneuver the jetliner in such a highly professional manner."88

Moreover, as a result of that very difficult maneuver, the Pentagon’s west wing was struck, but terrorists brilliant enough to get through the US military’s defense system would have known that this was the worst place to strike, for several reasons: The west wing had been reinforced, so the damage was less severe than a strike anywhere else would have been. This wing was still being renovated, so relatively few people were there; a strike anywhere else would have killed thousands of people, rather than 125. And the secretary of defense and all the top brass, whom terrorists would presumably have wanted to kill, were in the east wing. Why would an al-Qaeda pilot have executed a very difficult maneuver to hit the west wing when he could have simply crashed into the roof of the east wing?

A second major problem with the official story: There are reasons to believe that the Pentagon was struck only because officials at the Pentagon wanted it to be struck. For one thing, Flight 77 allegedly, after making a U-turn in the mid-west, flew back to Washington undetected for 40 minutes. And yet the US military, which by then clearly knew that hijacked airliners were being used as weapons, has the best radar systems in the world, one of which, it brags, "does not miss anything occurring in North American airspace."89 The idea that a large airliner could have slipped through, especially during a time of heightened alert, is absurd.

Also, the Pentagon is surely the best defended building on the planet.90 It is not only within the P-56-A restricted air space that extends 17 miles in all directions from the Washington Monument, but also within P-56-B, the three-mile ultra-restricted zone above the White House, the Capitol, and the Pentagon. The Pentagon is only a few miles from Andrews Air Force Base, which has at least three squadrons with fighter jets on alert at all times. (The claim by The 9/11 Commission Report that no fighters were on alert the morning of 9/11 is wholly implausible, as I have explained in my critique of this report.91) The Pentagon, moreover, is reportedly protected by batteries of surface-to-air missiles, so if any aircraft without a US military transponder were to enter the Pentagon’s airspace, it would be shot down.92 Even if the aircraft that hit the Pentagon had been Flight 77, therefore, it could have succeeded only because officials in the Pentagon turned off its missiles as well as ordering the fighters from Andrews to stand down.

A third major problem with the official story is that there is considerable evidence that it could not have been Flight 77 because it was not a Boeing 757. For one thing, the strike on the Pentagon, unlike the strikes on the Twin Towers, reportedly did not create a detectable seismic signal.93

Also, according to several witnesses and many people who have studied the available photographs, both the damage and the debris were inconsistent with a strike by a large airliner. That issue, however, is too complex to discuss here, as is the issue of the what should be inferred from the conflicting eyewitness testimony.

Deferring those topics to another time, I will conclude by pointing out that the suspicion that the Pentagon was not struck by a 757, as the government claims, is supported by the fact that evidence was destroyed. Shortly after the strike, government agents picked up debris and carried it off.94 Then the entire lawn was covered with dirt and gravel, so that any remaining forensic evidence was literally covered up.95

Also, the videos from security cameras on the nearby Citgo gas station and Sheraton Hotel, which would show what really hit the Pentagon, were immediately confiscated by agents of the FBI, and the Department of Justice has to this day refused to release them.96 If these videos would prove that the Pentagon was really hit by a 757, most of us would assume, the government would release them.

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