9/11 was the deadliest terrorist atrocity the world ever saw, but not everyone agrees on who the terrorists were that day. Many still believe that the US government, not al-Qaeda, were responsible for the attack. That the planes that collided with the Twin Towers were just a smokescreen for a controlled demolition of both buildings….
There’s enough material on 9/11 conspiracy theories to fill a library. Last year I wrote a blog about a particularly bizarre theory, namely that on September 11th 2001, no planes crashed. Yes, I saw you roll your eyes. This week I’m looking at something slightly more down-to-earth. Could this one hold any truth?
At 8.46am—exactly 15 years ago this Sunday—American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre in New York City. At 9.03am, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower. At 9.59am, the South Tower completely collapsed, followed by the North Tower at 10.28am. For those of us watching—in the thick of it in New York or at home on TV—it made sense. Horrible, appalling sense. If you crash a jumbo jet into a skyscraper, there’s a high chance it’s going to collapse.
Except that architect Richard Gage, physicist Steven E. Jones and a bunch of others disagree. They argue that the aircraft impacts and resulting fires couldn’t have weakened the buildings enough to cause them to collapse so catastrophically. They contend that neither building would have collapsed completely or at such high speeds.
Instead they argue that both buildings were rigged with explosives as part of a conspiracy inside the Bush administration. It was all an elaborate means of justifying the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq to advance US oil interests.
The case for demolition
A number of eyewitnesses reported seeing or hearing explosions before the Twin Towers collapsed. Neil deGrasse Tyson, watching the horror from his apartment six blocks away, recalled:
“I hear a second explosion in WTC 2, then a loud, low-frequency rumble that precipitates the unthinkable—a collapse of all the floors above the point of explosion.”
And Louie Cacchioli, one of the first firefighters to enter the South Tower as it was burning, recalled:
“I was taking firefighters up in the elevator to the 24th floor to get in position to evacuate workers. On the last trip up a bomb went off. We think there were bombs set in the building.”
Sudden puffs of smoke that looked like explosions inside the buildings were witnessed and captured on film, as in the following clip:
Molten metal was also seen pouring out of the sides of the South Tower prior to its collapse. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which investigated the collapse of the towers, documented this and concluded that it was molten aluminium from the planes.
But Steven E. Jones pointed out that molten aluminium would not have glowed orange like the metal pouring out of the South Tower. It should have been silvery-white. NIST argued that it was orange because it was mixed in with a bunch of combustible materials like furniture and computers from inside the building. However, Jones tested this hypothesis and proved NIST wrong—the combustible materials would not have ‘mixed in’ or produced an orange glow like the one observed.
Plus, NIST’s hypothesis was just that. It was an untested theory. They hadn’t properly investigated the molten metal pouring out of the building.
Steven E. Jones believes that the molten metal was in fact elemental iron, produced by a nano-thermite reaction, and that a number of carefully set nano-thermite explosions brought the towers down. He and his researchers analysed samples of dust from the WTC wreckage and found evidence of nano-thermite material. NIST responded saying that the evidence was not clear that Jones’s dust had come from the WTC site, but when Jones invited NIST to test their own samples, NIST failed to do so.
The case against demolition
NIST “found no corroborating evidence for alternative hypotheses suggesting that the WTC towers were brought down by controlled demolition using explosives planted prior to Sept. 11, 2001”. And the structural engineering community rejects the claims of conspiracy theorists, saying that the aircraft impacts and ensuing fires alone are responsible for the collapse of the Twin Towers.
This includes Brigham Young University, where Steven E. Jones worked. They basically hung him out to dry, putting him on paid leave and issuing a statement saying that the structural engineering faculty “do not support the hypotheses of Professor Jones”.
Regarding the loud noises, flashes and puffs of smoke seen and heard by eyewitnesses, it’s believed that they could have been a multitude of things—not necessarily explosions. Seismographic records do not show any evidence of explosions. And NIST attributed the puffs of smoke to bursts of high-pressure air forcing smoke and debris out of the windows, or to walls and portions of floor collapsing.
Chemist Frank Greening and metallurgist Christian Simensen aren’t entirely convinced by this, and do not believe NIST has answered every question about the collapse and the explosions satisfactorily. Instead, they argue that the melted aluminium from the planes might’ve come into contact with the buildings’ sprinkler systems. They argue that molten aluminium is highly explosive when mixed with water, and that coming into contact with the sprinklers could have set off a sequence of explosions that brought the towers down.
But, while there do seem to be holes in the NIST report and things they could and should have investigated, controlled demolition theory is far-fetched. Actually, that’s an understatement. You’d have to believe that thousands of pounds of explosives were sneaked past security and hidden in both towers without any of the tens of thousands of people working in the WTC noticing!
Psychology professor Stuart Vyse sums up my thoughts on this crock of nonsense nicely:
“How many hundreds of people would you need to acquire the explosives, plant them in the buildings, arrange for the airplanes to crash and, perhaps most implausibly of all, never breathe a single word of this conspiracy?”
Next week: story updates and how to write flashbacks