Monday, December 21, 2009

This is disturbing

I have always dismissed the 9-11 Truthers as a bunch of kooks on two grounds. First, their flagship claim -- that the WTC towers were intentionally demolished -- doesn't stand up to scrutiny. (Frankly, it doesn't even pass the laugh test, but I don't want to get into that.) And second, I have a general prejudice against grand conspiracy theories because I just don't believe that people are very good at keeping secrets, and large groups of people are particularly bad at it. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the more people are involved and more time goes by, the more likely that someone will spill the beans.

But now I just watched this video of David Ray Griffin, professor emeritus of Philosophy of Religion and Theology at the Clarement School of Theology, by the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) explaining how the official story about the cell phone calls from the flights hijacked on 9/11/01 couldn't possibly be true. He certainly doesn't sound like a kook, and the facts that he bases his conclusions on are all easily verified by third parties. They also pass my basic bullshit-o-meter. In particular, I believe it is true on both theoretical grounds and from firsthand experience that it is not possible to make a cell phone call from an airplane at altitude.

According to Griffin, the *official* story has quietly changed: the FBI now says that there were no (successful) calls from flight 93 or 77, which is plausible. But the problem with that is that it undermines the basis for the official story that the hijackers attacked with knives and box cutters. If there were no calls, there is no way to know what weapons were used, or indeed if any weapons were used at all, because those calls were the *only* information we had about how the attacks were carried out.

That the official story could change in such a fundamental way and not draw even passing notice from the mainstream media is very disturbing, particularly in light of the manifest failures and subsequent self-flagellation from the media about the handling of the buildup to the war in Iraq.

I am really beginning to think that there could have been a 9/11 conspiracy, not because the secret could be kept, but because the official story is so appealing -- it's such a powerful mythology -- that when inevitably the truth starts to leak no one cares.

24 comments:

Chris Ryland said...

Why do you think the intentional bringing down of the towers doesn't pass the laugh test?

Have you seen the amateur videos of the towers collapsing *from the bottom*? Hard to create from scratch.

Have you seen the web sites of professional engineers who've put their names on the line to question the whole story of how the towers came down?

I think the whole notion of a government lie so large scares people, because they simply don't want to believe that their government is so corrupt. But I think Bush (who was a dupe) and Cheney & Rummy (running the whole war-con) were quite corrupt, and it's not beyond them to pull off such a black-op.

Ron said...

> Why do you think the intentional bringing down of the towers doesn't pass the laugh test?

Because destroying a building is very hard to do and even harder to conceal. Who would undertake it? To what end? With what resources? In light of subsequent events, why would not a single person who participated have come forward?

> Have you seen the amateur videos of the towers collapsing *from the bottom*? Hard to create from scratch.

Which towers? Towers 1 and 2 clearly collapsed from the top, and the arguments that the collapse was "too fast" are utterly unconvincing. I have seen the videos of tower 7 supposedly collapsing from the bottom, but I find those likewise utterly unconvincing. Furthermore, why would anyone intentionally rig tower 7 for demolition? What would be the point?

In short, all of the arguments for intentional demolition sound to me just like the arguments for creationism: they are superficially plausible, but if you look into the details and try to put together a coherent end-to-end story they just fall apart.

> Have you seen the web sites of professional engineers who've put their names on the line to question the whole story of how the towers came down?

Yes. But questioning the story is not the same as putting together a plausible alternative theory.

> I think the whole notion of a government lie so large scares people, because they simply don't want to believe that their government is so corrupt.

The corruption isn't what would scare me. It is clear that our government is thoroughly and unashamedly corrupt. Just look at what's happening to the health care bill.

> But I think Bush (who was a dupe) and Cheney & Rummy (running the whole war-con) were quite corrupt, and it's not beyond them to pull off such a black-op.

Maybe, but the key issue is not corruption, it's competence. You can't have it both ways: Either Cheney & Rummy were competent, or they were not. They can't be competent just where it's convenient for the conspiracy theory and incompetent at all other times. If they were incompetent, then the conspiracy theory fails for that reason. And if they were competent then why were there so many obvious f*ck ups? To point out just one obvious flaw in the theory that they were competent, surely a team capable of destroying the WTC without anyone being the wiser is capable of planting a couple of WMDs in Iraq without anyone finding out? Or was making themselves look like idiots all part of the plan?

John Dougan said...

RF technology is way outside of my field, however an article in IEEE Spectrum seems to believe that calls are being successfully made.

Ron said...

Calls are being successfully made. But not from 35,000 feet.

Miles said...

Didn't people make calls with the sky phones? And aren't there records of people who received the calls?

You only source the guy as saying the FBI has changed its story, have you got any further evidence?

Miles said...

From Wikipedia:

"Two people on American Airlines Flight 77 made phone calls to contacts on the ground. At 09:12, flight attendant Renee May called her mother, Nancy May, in Las Vegas.[21] During the call, which lasted nearly two minutes, May said her flight was being hijacked by six individuals and they had been moved to the rear of the plane.[17][21] May also asked her mother to contact American Airlines, which she and her husband promptly did.[17] American Airlines was already aware of the hijacking. Between 09:16 and 09:26, passenger Barbara Olson called her husband, United States Solicitor General Ted Olson, and reported that the plane had been hijacked and that the assailants had box cutters and knives.[17][25] She reported that the passengers, and possibly the crew, had been moved to the back of the plane and that the hijackers were unaware of her call. A minute into the conversation, the call was cut off. Theodore Olson contacted the command center at the Department of Justice, and tried unsuccessfully to contact Attorney General John Ashcroft.[17] About five minutes later, Barbara Olson called again, told her husband that the pilot had announced the flight was hijacked, and asked "what do I tell the pilot to do?"[26] "

"Phone calls

After 9/11, cellular experts said that calls were able to be placed from the hijacked planes, and that they were surprised that they lasted as long as they did. They said that the only reason that the calls went through in the first place is that the aircraft were flying so close to the ground.[98] Alexa Graf, an AT&T spokesperson said it was almost a fluke that the calls reached their destinations.[99] Other industry experts said that it is possible to use cell phones with varying degrees of success during the ascent and descent of commercial airline flights.[100] Marvin Sirbu, professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University said on September 14, 2001, that "The fact of the matter is that cell phones can work in almost all phases of a commercial flight."[100]

According to the 9/11 Commission Report, 13 passengers from Flight 93 made a total of over 30 calls to both family and emergency personnel (twenty-two confirmed air phone calls, two confirmed cell phone and eight not specified in the report). According to Debunk911myths.org, all but two calls from Flight 93 were made on air phones, not cell phones, and both calls lasted about a minute before being dropped.[101] Brenda Raney, Verizon Wireless spokesperson, said that Flight 93 was supported by several cell sites.[99] There were reportedly three phone calls from Flight 11, five from Flight 175, and three calls from Flight 77. Two calls from these flights were recorded, placed by flight attendants Madeleine Sweeney and Betty Ong on Flight 11."

It sounds like there's absolutely nothing here.

It's easy to get carried away in a lecture when someone sounds convincing... it's caught me out a number of times. But it's usually from a lack of information or a skewed look at the information.

Ron said...

> Didn't people make calls with the sky phones?

If Griffin is to be believed, there weren't any on flight 93.

Miles said...

There are recordings of some of the phone calls made on those flights.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Airlines_Flight_93#Hijacking

No doubt some of the information is faulty, but if the "no phone call" thing is to be believed, a LOT of people are lying about receiving phone calls, and in fact they've gone to the trouble of fabricating phone calls... but to what purpose?

The fact that phone calls occurring somehow makes sense with what happened, that there seems to be little reason for faking it, that the suppositions about it not being possible are just that and not fact, and that when I try to google for contrary evidence all I get is whacky conspiracy sites, consider me so far unconvinced.

Ron said...

> There are recordings of some of the phone calls made on those flights.

Yes. That misses the point.

There is no dispute that calls were made. There are at least two ways that calls could have been (and were) made: from cell phones at low altitudes (below 5000 feet or so) and from seat-back airphones.

Griffin's claim is very specific: that Barbara Olson's call from flight 77 mentioning box cutters -- the only call that mentioned box cutters -- was not made, and could not have been made (because the plane was at high altitude when the call was supposed to have been made, and there were no airphones on flight 77), and that THE FBI CHANGED ITS OFFICIAL VERSION OF EVENTS for the Moussaoui trial, and that IT NOW CONCURS that THIS ONE CALL was not made.

The reason I find this disturbing is that there are only two possibilities: either Griffin's claim is true, which is disturbing in and of itself, or it is false, and an apparently legitimate scholar has just torpedoed his reputation for no apparent reason, and it will now be that much harder to know who to believe going forward. This is not a claim about the events of 9/11, it is a claim about the record, and as such it is easily verified or refuted. Either outcome bothers me.

Miles said...

Wait, what?

You originally said he said "the official story about the cell phone calls from the flights hijacked on 9/11/01 couldn't possibly be true." - which okay, there may have been some calls, if only looking at this statement.

But then you say:

"According to Griffin, the *official* story has quietly changed: the FBI now says that there were no (successful) calls from flight 93 or 77, which is plausible. But the problem with that is that it undermines the basis for the official story that the hijackers attacked with knives and box cutters. If there were no calls, there is no way to know what weapons were used, or indeed if any weapons were used at all, because those calls were the *only* information we had about how the attacks were carried out."

And now you've gone to saying that there was no call mentioning box cutters... so you've switched up what you're discussing.

Okay, so let's say there was no call about box cutters, what then? Is such a detail really that massive?

Ron said...

> You originally said he said "the official story about the cell phone calls from the flights hijacked on 9/11/01 couldn't possibly be true."

I probably should have said, "The ORIGINAL official story (which everyone still believes) isn't true, and could not possibly have been true." Or something like that.

> And now you've gone to saying that there was no call mentioning box cutters... so you've switched up what you're discussing.

Well, I'm discussing Griffin's claim as presented by him in the video. I may have misrepresented it slightly, but that has been the topic all along.

> Okay, so let's say there was no call about box cutters, what then? Is such a detail really that massive?

This particular detail is of singular importance because it is one of the foundational facts underpinning the official theory of how the hijackings were accomplished. If that fact turns out not to be true then one has to go back and ask: how *was* the hijacking accomplished? How do we know? And what else about the official account might not be true?

Jimothy said...

Finding your blog incredibly interesting... keep posting!

Jacob said...

Ron, I've been a lurker for a long time, but thought I'd finally throw my two cents in. I've had a similar conflict on this issue. I'm an unabashed skeptic and cynic, and find the truther theories ridiculous. That said, It seems whenever this debate comes up, you have to be on one extreme end or the other; the government is either completely clean or completely dirty. I think it's more gray than that.

Case in point, those passports.

"Two were recovered from the crash site of United Airlines flight 93 in Pennsylvania. One belonged to a hijacker on American Airlines flight 11. A passerby picked it up and gave it to a NYPD detective."

There is not a single plausible explanation that could make me think they legitimately found the passports that were in the hijackers pockets while they were in the cockpit during the crash. The only explanation I can take away from that is the government lied. This is nothing revolutionary, the government has been caught in the past doctoring information or deceiving us on some scale. As for their motivations, I can’t be positive, but it seems reasonable to me that they were trying to regain some level of control over the chaos. The country was pretty much shut down, and people were in a panic. By saying “we know who did this, and we’re on it” (however dishonest or misleading it may be) goes a long way of restoring control and order to the public.

So has the government mislead us about 9/11? Almost certainly. Does it prove the truther conspiracies? Absolutely not. The problem is the polarizing nature of the debate. Anybody who asks reasonable questions gets mocked as a nut. I'm encouraged by Griffin and hope others follow his lead.

bbot said...

Linked here from HN.

Considered subscribing to your blog, until I saw you posting about 9/11 coverup conspiracy theories.

Plus, the voting things at the end of every post are annoying.

concretebeton said...

Considered subscribing to your blog, until I saw you posting about 9/11 coverup conspiracy theories.

Then I decided to subscribe to your blog. I don't hold degrees in physics, engineering, mathematics or architecture but I've seen and heard enough from different experts in the last decade to make me think that SOMETHING was covered up on 9/11.

Guantanamo and sundry other military ops have shown us that the US government is capable of perpetrating unspeakable crimes against citizens of the world. How far a leap would it be to assume it would be prepared to commit a mass-murder of US citizens?

I think conspiracies have evolved and raced out of control about the events of 9/11 because all we have to cling to are questions.

I'm prepared to accept that there is no massive whitewash that incriminates half of the US population as some people have postulated, but I think it's more than likely that dark dealings were afoot within the Pentagon in order to orchestrate those attacks. At best, the US govt was happy to sweep it's own lax recruitment policies under the carpet and pin the blame entirely on funny-lookin' foreigners. 'At worst' hardly bears contemplation.

What we really need right now are more people being vocal about the fact that it doesn't take a card-carrying troofer to see that the facts of 9/11 don't add up.

operator said...

What is your opinion about the collapse of WTC7? Have you seen video of the Madrid Tower or Mandarin Oriental Hotel burning?

Ron said...

> What is your opinion about the collapse of WTC7?

I answered that in an earlier comment.

> Have you seen video of the Madrid Tower or Mandarin Oriental Hotel burning?

Yes. Why do you think that's relevant?

operator said...

Can you tell me your specific criticism of the timing analysis of WTC7's collapse -- the one that supposedly shows that WTC7 fell at free-fall speeds for nearly 2 seconds? I'm referring to the one done by David Chandler. Here's the original video analysis he posted. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POUSJm--tgw

I don't have a physics or science background, so I don't really have any foothold to critically analyze this.

operator said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron said...

I don't doubt that WTC7 collapsed at free fall speed, but that doesn't prove controlled demolition. See for example:

http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/military_law/1227842.html?page=5

Also, the explosives from controlled demolitions make very distinctive and impossible-to-miss noise:

http://www.debunk911myths.org/topics/Controlled_demolition

I have no idea why people have such a bee in their bonnet about WTC7 collapsing at freefall speed. It proves nothing.

operator said...

Are you referring to the section entitled, "WTC 7 Collapse" with the subheading "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."? It references the NIST report, but I didn't catch anything about freefall speed.

So how does a building collapse in freefall? Doesn't *everything* below it have to be out of the way in order not to impede freefall speed? In other words, doesn't it provide resistance to itself, making a freefall-speed collapse impossible? This is what I don't understand.

In this video, Chandler is able to pose this question to NIST at a press conference for the release of the WTC7 draft report. Here the representative says that freefall would mean that there are no structural elements below the object, so that can't be, because in the case of WTC7, there were structural elements. Chandler also claims that for a building to fall through itself, it has to use some of it's potential energy to knock some of the lower structure out of the way. That would slow it down from a free-fall collapse. Is this correct?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vz43hcKYBm4&feature=related

Also, what noises are these? They don't have the fire-cracker quality of the video you link, but the explosion sound sounds the same to me.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_A9X_8flGeM

Is it the fire-crackers quality that is distinctive mark of controlled demolition? I don't think it can be, because at about 0:44, this video shows a controlled demolition ( that fails ) with a single 'boom' sound. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3898962504721899003&ei=jYFeS_jABYz-qALH_v3cCA&q=controlled+demolition&hl=en&client=firefox-a#

Ron said...

> So how does a building collapse in freefall? Doesn't *everything* below it have to be out of the way in order not to impede freefall speed?

No. All that is necessary is that the structural integrity of the lowest supports be able to provide negligible upward force relative to the weight of the building above. If the beams have buckled, that is quite plausible, especially in the early stages of the collapse when almost the entire weight of the building is bearing down on the failed lower portion.

> for a building to fall through itself, it has to use some of it's potential energy to knock some of the lower structure out of the way. That would slow it down from a free-fall collapse. Is this correct?

No. A steel-frame building is mostly empty space. You don't have to knock anything "out of the way". The whole thing can just fold up like an accordion.

Yes, it takes some energy to buckle the steel beams. But if the beams have been softened by fire the amount of energy it takes to buckle them could easily be negligible relative to the amount of potential energy stored in the building.

BTW, the bulk of WTC (above floor 7) was on cantilevers. It's not surprising at all that once those failed the building fell unimpeded.

> Also, what noises are these?

I have no idea, but I also have no idea when or where any of these scenes were shot. Without provenance you can't conclude anything. I do not doubt that all manner of things were blowing up on 9/11 -- gas lines, steam lines, God only knows.

operator said...

I guess what seems counter-intuitive to me is the rapid 'phase transition' (I realize I may not be using that term correctly) from a standing building to a pile of rubble. If a steel-frame building is mostly empty space and can just "fold up like an accordian", why doesn't that happen more often?

So what you're saying is that a steel-frame building is just stuff stacked on steel frames, with no other integrity? If the frames go, it's a pile?

Why didn't the Windsor Tower or the Mandarin Oriental fold up like an accordian? Their fires burned over a much greater area for a lot longer time.

Ron said...

> If a steel-frame building is mostly empty space and can just "fold up like an accordian", why doesn't that happen more often?

Because this experiment isn't performed very often. Steel-frame buildings are not often subject to the kinds of stresses that cause the steel to lose its structural integrity.

> So what you're saying is that a steel-frame building is just stuff stacked on steel frames, with no other integrity? If the frames go, it's a pile?

Pretty much. It's a bit of an oversimplification. There can be other structural elements in a steel-frame building. But mostly it's just, as you say, stuff stacked on (more like hanging off of) a steel frame. And steel can get very soft when it's heated.

BTW, not all steel-frame buildings are built this way. But WTC 1, 2 and 7 were. 7 was particularly vulnerable because of the cantilever trusses.

> Why didn't the Windsor Tower or the Mandarin Oriental fold up like an accordian?

Obviously because something about those situations was different. Not having prior structural damage from having two other buildings collapse next to them would be high on my list of possibilities.

> Their fires burned over a much greater area for a lot longer time.

So what? All that proves is that the area and time of the fire are not the deciding factors. Maybe they used a higher grade steel. Maybe they had more design redundancy. Maybe it's because their fires weren't stoked with 50 tons of kerosene nor prepped by the aforementioned prior structural damage. Maybe it was just luck. Who knows? It is not a given that a steel-frame building will collapse if it burns. But obviously it can happen (unless you think all three WTC buildings were controlled demolitions, in which case you have lost all grip on reality).

Enough already. There are more important things to worry about.