An Open Letter to Terry Allen, Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, David Corn, Chris Hayes, George Monbiot, Matthew Rothschild, and Matt Taibbi1

by David Ray Griffin
July 6, 2010
GlobalResearch.ca

According to several left-leaning critics of the 9/11 Truth Movement, some of its central claims, especially about the destruction of the World Trade Center, show its members to be scientifically challenged. In the opinion of some of these critics, moreover, claims made by members of this movement are sometimes unscientific in the strongest possible sense, implying an acceptance of magic and miracles.

After documenting this charge in Part I of this essay, I show in Part II that the exact opposite is the case: that the official account of the destruction of the World Trade Center implies miracles (I give nine examples), and that the 9/11 Truth Movement, in developing an alternative hypothesis, has done so in line with the assumption that the laws of nature did not take a holiday on 9/11. In Part III, I ask these left-leaning critics some questions evoked by the fact that it is they, not members of the 9/11 Truth Movement, who have endorsed a conspiracy theory replete with miracle stories as well as other absurdities.

I The Charge that 9/11 Truth Theories Rest on Unscientific, Even Magical, Beliefs

Several left-leaning critics of the 9/11 Truth Movement, besides showing contempt for its members, charge them with relying on claims that are contradicted by good science and, in some cases, reflect a belief in magic. By “magic,” they mean miracles, understood as violations of basic principles of the physical sciences.

For example, Alexander Cockburn, who has referred to members of the 9/11 Truth Movement as “9/11 conspiracy nuts,”3 quoted with approval a philosopher who, speaking of “the 9-11 conspiracy cult,” said that its “main engine . . . is . . . the death of any conception of evidence,” resulting in “the ascendancy of magic over common sense, let alone reason.”4 Also, Cockburn assured his readers: “The conspiracy theory that the World Trade Centre towers were demolished by explosive charges previously placed within them is probably impossible.”5 With regard to Building 7 of the World Trade Center, Cockburn claimed (in 2006) that the (2002) report by FEMA was “more than adequate.”6

Likewise, George Monbiot, referring to members of the 9/11 Truth Movement as “fantasists,” “conspiracy idiots,” and “morons,” charged that they “believe that [the Bush regime] is capable of magic.”7

Matt Taibbi, saying that the “9/11 conspiracy theory is so shamefully stupid” and referring to its members as “idiots,” wrote with contempt about the “alleged scientific impossibilities” in the official account of 9/11; about the claim that “the towers couldn’t have fallen the way they did [without the aid of explosives]”; of the view (held by “9/11 Truthers”) that “it isn’t the plane crashes that topple the buildings, but bombs planted in the Towers that do the trick”; and of “the supposed anomalies of physics involved with the collapse of WTC-7.” He had been assured by “scientist friends,” he added, that “[a]ll of the 9/11 science claims” are “rank steaming bullshit.”8

Chris Hayes, writing in The Nation in 2006, did not stoop to the kind of name-calling employed by Cockburn, Monbiot, and Taibbi. Also, he knew, he admitted, of “eyewitness accounts of [people] who heard explosions in the World Trade Center.” And he was aware that “jet fuel burns at 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit [whereas] steel melts at 2,500.” He asserted, nevertheless, that “the evidence shows [a 9/11 conspiracy] to be virtually impossible,” so that the 9/11 Truth Movement’s conspiracy theory is “wrongheaded and a terrible waste of time.”9

Noam Chomsky has also declared that the available facts, when approached scientifically, refute the 9/11 Truth Movement. Speaking of evidence provided by this movement to show that 9/11 “was planned by the Bush Administration,” Chomsky declared: “If you look at the evidence, anybody who knows anything about the sciences would instantly discount that evidence.”10 In spite of his dismissive attitude, however, Chomsky in 2006 gave some helpful advice to people who believe they have physical evidence refuting the official account:

“There are ways to assess that: submit it to specialists . . . who have the requisite background in civil-mechanical engineering, materials science, building construction, etc., for review and analysis. . . . Or, . . . submit it to a serious journal for peer review and publication. To my knowledge, there isn’t a single submission.”11

In These Times writer Terry Allen, in a 2006 essay entitled “The 9/11 Faith Movement,” assured her readers that “the facts [do not] support the conspiracists’ key charge that World Trade Center buildings were destroyed by pre-positioned explosives.”12

In an essay posted at AlterNet a few months after 9/11, David Corn used a purely a priori argument to demonstrate – at least to his own satisfaction – that 9/11 could not have been an inside job: “U.S. officials would [not have been] . . . good [capable] enough, evil enough, or gutsy enough.”13 In 2009, after having been silent about 9/11 for the intervening years, he addressed the issue again. Referring to “9/11 conspiracy silliness,” “9/11 conspiracy poison,” and “9/11 fabulists,” Corn declared:

“The 9/11 conspiracy . . . was always a load of bunk. You don’t have to be an expert on skyscraper engineering . . . to know that [this theory] make[s] no sense.”14

Corn thereby implied that, whereas anyone can know that the 9/11 Truth Movement’s conspiracy theory is false, those people who are “expert[s] on skyscraper engineering” would have even more certain knowledge of this fact.

As to how people (such as himself) who are not experts on such matters could know this movement’s conspiracy theory to be “a load of bunk,” Corn again employed his three-point a priori argument, as re-worded in a later essay, according to which the Bush administration was “not that evil,” “not that ballsy,” and “not that competent.”15 Corn even referred to his three-point argument as “a tutorial that should persuade anyone that the 9/11 theory makes no sense.” Although this “tutorial” does not, of course, convince members of the 9/11 Truth Movement, Corn explained this fact by saying: “I have learned from experience that people who believe this stuff are not open to persuasion.”16

In any case, although his argument against the inside-job theory was almost entirely a priori, he did make the above-mentioned suggestion that one’s a priori certitude would be reinforced by people, such as “expert[s] on skyscraper engineering,” who have relevant types of expertise to evaluate the empirical evidence.

A fuller statement of the general claim made by these authors – that the 9/11 Truth Movement is based on unscientific claims – was formulated by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive. In an essay entitled “Enough of the 9/11 Conspiracy Theories Already,” Rothschild wrote:

“Here’s what the conspiracists believe: 9/11 was an inside job. . . . [T]he Twin Towers fell not because of the impact of the airplanes and the ensuing fires but because [of] explosives. Building 7, another high-rise at the World Trade Center that fell on 9/11, also came down by planted explosives. . . . I’m amazed at how many people give credence to these theories. . . . [S]ome of the best engineers in the country have studied these questions and come up with perfectly logical, scientific explanations for what happened. . . . At bottom, the 9/11 conspiracy theories are profoundly irrational and unscientific. It is more than passing strange that progressives, who so revere science on such issues as tobacco, stem cells, evolution, and global warming, are so willing to abandon science and give in to fantasy on the subject of 9/11.”17
However, in spite of the confidence with which these critics have made their charges, the truth is the complete opposite: It is the official account of the destruction of the World Trade Center, which has been endorsed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), that is profoundly unscientific (partly because it ignores a massive amount of evidence pointing to use of explosives18 ), and it is precisely for this reason that the 9/11 Truth Movement has come up with an alternative explanation – namely, that the WTC buildings were brought down in the procedure known as “controlled demolition.”

II Miracles Implied by NIST’s Explanation of the WTC’s Destruction

The main reason why NIST’s theory of the destruction of the World Trade Center is profoundly unscientific is that it cannot be accepted without endorsing miracles, in the sense of violations of fundamental principles of physics and chemistry. I will demonstrate this point in terms of nine miracles implied by NIST’s accounts of the destruction of Building 7 of the World Trade Center (WTC 7) and the Twin Towers (WTC 1 and 2).

1. The Fire-Induced Collapse of WTC 7: An Apparent Miracle

WTC 7 was a 47-story building that, although it was not hit by a plane, came down at 5:21 PM that day. Unlike the collapse of the Twin Towers, the collapse of this building was not publicized. The 9/11 Commission Report, for example, did not even mention it.19 Many people have, accordingly, never heard of this building’s collapse. A Zogby poll in 2006, for example, found that 43 percent of the American people were still unaware that a third WTC building had collapsed, and even though NIST’s report on its collapse appeared in 2008, many people today still do not know that this building also came down.20 For the purposes of the present essay, in any case, the main point is that, insofar as people profess belief in the official account of this building’s collapse as articulated by NIST, they imply an acceptance of several miracles.

I begin with a fact about WTC 7’s collapse that at least appears to entail a miracle: that it was (according to the official account) the first steel-frame high-rise building in the known universe to be brought down solely by fire. The Twin Towers were hit by airliners, so the official account could attribute their collapses to the airplane impacts as well as to the ensuing fires. But WTC 7 was not hit by a plane, so its collapse apparently had to be attributed to fire alone.

The unprecedented nature of a fire-induced collapse of a steel-frame high-rise building was expressed a couple of months after 9/11 by New York Times reporter James Glanz. Calling the collapse of WTC 7 “a mystery,” Glanz reported that “experts said no building like it, a modern, steel-reinforced high-rise, had ever collapsed because of an uncontrolled fire.” Glanz also quoted a structural engineer as saying: “[W]ithin the structural engineering community, [WTC 7] is considered to be much more important to understand [than the Twin Towers],” because engineers had no answer to the question, “why did 7 come down”21

The mystery was not lessened in 2002 when FEMA issued the first official report on this building’s collapse. Saying that its “best hypothesis” was that flaming debris from the collapse of the North Tower had ignited diesel fuel stored in the building, resulting in large, steel-weakening fires that made the building collapse, FEMA admitted that this hypothesis had “only a low probability of occurrence”22 (although Alexander Cockburn years later, as we saw above, would declare this report to be “more than adequate”).

This cautionary statement by FEMA did not, however, prevent defenders of the official account from claiming that WTC 7’s collapse was not really very mysterious after all. In a 2006 book, Popular Mechanics told its readers what they could probably expect to find in the report on this building to be put out by NIST – which had taken over from FEMA the responsibility for issuing the official reports on the Twin Towers and WTC 7. Citing NIST’s “current working hypothesis,” Popular Mechanics said that WTC 7’s diesel fuel had probably fed the fires “for up to seven hours.”23

Also, using NIST’s then-current thinking in order to claim that “WTC 7 was far more compromised by falling debris than the FEMA report indicated,” Popular Mechanics argued that critics could not reject the official account on the grounds that it would make WTC 7 the first steel-frame high-rise to have failed “because of fire alone,” because, Popular Mechanics claimed, the causes of WTC 7’s collapse were analogous to the causes of the collapses of WTC 1 and WTC 2: “A combination of physical damage from falling debris [analogous to the damage caused in the Twin Towers by the airplane impacts] and prolonged exposure to the resulting [diesel-fuel-fed] fires [analogous to the jet-fuel-fed fires in the Twin Towers].”24

Popular Mechanics called this twofold explanation a “conclusion” that had been reached by “hundreds of experts from academia and private industry, as well as the government.” This claim evidently impressed many people, including Chris Hayes and Matthew Rothschild, both of whom said that Popular Mechanics had disproved the claims of the 9/11 Truth Movement. Rothschild, repeating Popular Mechanics’ twofold explanation, wrote:

“Building 7 . . . is a favorite of the conspiracy theorists, since the planes did not strike this structure. But the building did sustain damage from the debris of the Twin Towers. ‘On about a third of the face to the center and to the bottom – approximately ten stories – about 25 percent of the depth of the building was scooped out,’ Shyam Sunder, the lead investigator for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, told Popular Mechanics. What’s more, the fire in the building lasted for about eight hours, in part because there were fuel tanks in the basement and on some of the floors.”25
Hayes, saying that “Popular Mechanics assembled a team of engineers, physicists, flight experts and the like to critically examine some of the Truth Movement’s most common claims,” reported that these experts “found them almost entirely without merit.” This counter-claim by Popular Mechanics evidently settled the matter for Hayes.26

Also, although Terry Allen did not mention Popular Mechanics, her article was apparently dependent on it. Assuring her readers that she had found it “relatively easy” to undermine the “facts” employed by the 9/11 Truth Movement, she wrote:

“Many conspiracists offer the collapse of WTC Building 7 as the strongest evidence for the kind of controlled demolition that would prove a plot. Although not hit by planes, it was damaged by debris, and suffered fires eventually fueled by up to 42,000 gallons of diesel fuel stored near ground level.”27
Like Rothschild, therefore, she gave the same twofold explanation for WTC 7’s collapse that had been provided by Popular Mechanics.28

However, when NIST finally issued its WTC 7 report in 2008, it did not affirm either element in the twofold explanation that had been proffered by Popular Mechanics. With regard to the first element, NIST said: “[F]uel oil fires did not play a role in the collapse of WTC 7.”29 With regard to the second element, NIST said: “Other than initiating the fires in WTC 7, the damage from the debris from WTC 1 [the North Tower] had little effect on initiating the collapse of WTC 7.”30

This second point means that, contrary to what Popular Mechanics had claimed it would say, NIST actually asserted that WTC 7 was brought down by fire, at least primarily. In NIST’s words, the collapse of WTC 7 was “the first known instance of the total collapse of a [steel-frame] tall building primarily due to fires.”31

One ambiguity needs clearing up: Although in these just-quoted statements, NIST seemed to indicate that the debris damage had a “little effect” on initiating the collapse, so that this collapse was only primarily (rather than entirely) due to fire, NIST generally treated fire as the sole cause: Besides repeatedly speaking of a “fire-induced” collapse,32 Also, in a press release announcing its Draft for Public Comment in August 2008, NIST called the collapse of WTC 7 “the first known instance of fire causing the total collapse of a tall building.” This press release, moreover, quoted lead investigator Shyam Sunder as saying: “Our study found that the fires in WTC 7 . . . caused an extraordinary event.”33 The brief version of NIST’s final report said: “Even without the structural damage, WTC 7 would have collapsed from fires having the same characteristics as those experienced on September 11, 2001.”34 The long version said: “WTC 7 sustained damage to its exterior as a result of falling debris from the collapse of WTC 1, but this damage was found to have no effect on the collapse initiating event.”35

It is not wrong, therefore, to say that NIST portrayed WTC 7 as the first (and thus far only) steel-frame high-rise building to have come down because of fire alone. NIST said, in other words, precisely what Popular Mechanics, knowing that claims about unprecedented physical events are deeply suspect, had assured people it would not say.

In doing so, moreover, NIST contradicted both parts of Popular Mechanics’ explanation for WTC 7’s collapse, which, according to Rothschild and Allen, had provided the basis for discounting the 9/11 Truth Movement’s claims about this collapse. To review: Rothschild said that the official account was credible, contrary to the Truth Movement’s claims, because “the building did sustain damage from the debris of the Twin Towers” and the “fire in the building lasted for about eight hours,” due to the “fuel tanks in the basement and on some of the floors.” Allen likewise said the official account was believable because, although WTC 7 was not hit by a plane, “it was damaged by debris, and suffered fires eventually fueled by up to 42,000 gallons of diesel fuel stored near ground level.”36

But then, when NIST later denied that either the debris-damage or the diesel fuel played a role in the collapse of WTC 7, Rothschild and Allen did not retract their prior assurances. It seems that they, in effect, simply said – like Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Live in the 1970s – “Never mind.” Their attitude seemed to be, in other words, that whatever the government says, that is what they will believe. Whatever kind of journalism this is, it is certainly not truth-seeking journalism.

In any case, NIST’s claim that WTC 7 suffered an unprecedented, fire-induced collapse is made even more problematic by the fact that the fires in this building were relatively unimpressive, compared with fires in some other steel-frame high-rises. In 1991, a huge fire in Philadelphia’s One Meridian Plaza lasted for 18 hours and gutted eight of the building’s 38 floors. In Caracas in 2004, a fire in a 50-story building raged for 17 hours, completely gutting the building’s top 20 floors. In neither case, however, did the building, or even a single floor, collapse.37
In WTC 7, by contrast, there were long-lasting fires on only six of the building’s 47 floors, according to NIST, and by “long-lasting,” NIST meant only that they lasted up to seven hours.38 It would be exceedingly strange, therefore, if fire had produced a total collapse of this building. The claim becomes even stranger when one discovers that NIST had no evidence that the fires on any of the floors lasted for much over three hours.39

Accordingly, besides undermining the confident explanations of WTC 7’s collapse offered by Popular Mechanics, NIST’s conclusion about this building – that it was the first steel-frame high-rise building ever to be brought down by fire – appears to constitute a rather remarkable miracle-claim.

Click here for the rest of the article Left-Leaning Despisers of the 9/11 Truth Movement: Do You Really Believe in Miracles?