This paper appeared in 9/11 and the American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out, ed. David Ray Griffin and Peter Dale Scott (Northampton: Interlink Books, 2006).

Propping Up the War on Terror: Lies about the WTC by NIST and Underwriters Laboratories
by Kevin Ryan

“Already there is near-consensus as to the sequence of events that led to the collapse of the World Trade Center.”– Shankar Nair, as quoted in the Chicago Tribune September 19, 2001

Turn on C-Span, or “Meet The Press,” or any other media program presenting federal officials. Whatever the issue, it always comes back to the same thing. Our government really has nothing else to offer us but protection from another 9/11. It uses this painful story to cut public services, eliminate our basic rights, and plunder the national coffers. But for many of us, it is not entirely clear from whom we most need protection.[1] As our debt explodes and our freedoms diminish, it would be wise to maintain focus on the origins of our War on Terror. No matter where this war leads us, we will need to keep the beginning in mind if we ever hope to see an end.

The Point of Origin: The Collapse of the WTC
Many have found that the 9/11 Commission not only failed to help us understand what happened; it also omitted or distorted most of the facts.[2] But if we really want to zero in on the exact turning point around which we plunged into chaos, we need to focus in particular on the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings. This is where our hearts were wrenched and our minds were made ready for never-ending war, torture, and apparently the end of everything that was American. If we are ever to emerge from this insanity, we need to know how three tall buildings collapsed due to fire, all on the same day, when no such thing has ever happened before.

The Twin Towers and Why They Fell
It would help to begin with an accurate description of the WTC towers in terms of quality of design and construction. In July of 1971, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) presented a national award judging the buildings to be “the engineering project that demonstrates the greatest engineering skills and represents the greatest contribution to engineering progress and mankind.”[3] Others noted that “the World Trade Center towers would have an inherent capacity to resist unforeseen calamities.” This capacity stemmed from the use of special high-strength steels. In particular, the perimeter columns were designed with tremendous reserve strength whereby “live loads on these columns can be increased more than 2,000% before failure occurs.”[4]

One would expect that any explanation for the destruction of such buildings would need to be very solid as well. Four years after 9/11, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) finally did give us their version of “why and how” two of the buildings collapsed, but its explanation may be even less effective than the 9/11 Commission report.[5] Now that the official story has been given, however, we can see just how weak and ill-defined our basis for this War on Terror has been all along. Additionally, we can track the evolution of official comments about collapse and see who was involved.

Selling the Official Story: Some Key Players
Shankar Nair, whose statement quoted above is quite telling, was one of those “experts” on whom the government depended to support what turned out to be an ever-changing, but always flimsy, story. Many of the scientists involved in the investigation were asked to examine ancillary issues, like escape routes and other emergency response factors. But those few who attempted to explain what really needed explaining, the unique events of fire-induced collapse, appear to have engaged in what can only be called anti-science. That is, they started with their conclusions and worked backward to some “leading hypotheses.”

Not surprisingly, many of the contractors who contributed to the NIST investigation, like the company for which Nair works, just happen to depend on good relationships with the government in order to earn their living. What may be a surprise is just how lucrative these relationships can be. For example, Nair’s company, Teng & Associates, boasts of Indefinite Quantity Contracts, long-term relationships with federal government agencies, and federal projects worth in excess of $40 million.[6]

Others who worked so hard to maintain the official story included Gene Corley, a concrete construction expert listed by the National Directory of Expert Witnesses as a source for litigation testimony.[7] Corley was more than just a witness, however. He had led the Oklahoma City bombing investigation and then was asked to lead the initial ASCE investigation into the WTC disaster. Perhaps someone else, with less experience in bombings and more experience in fires, would have been a better choice. But without authority to save samples or even obtain blueprints, the ASCE investigation was ineffective anyway. Corley himself ended up being a very versatile resource, however, providing testimony supporting the pre-determined conclusions many times, and even posing as a reporter during an NIST media session.[8]

There was really no need for phony media coverage. As with The 9/11 Commission Report and the lead-up to the Iraq War, the major media simply parroted any explanations, or non-explanations, given in support of the official story. One example is from a television program called “The Anatomy of September 11th,” which aired on the History Channel. Corley took the lead on this one as well, but James Glanz, a New York Times reporter, was also interviewed and helped to spread what is probably the worst excuse for collapse given. He told us that the fires heated the steel columns so much (the video suggested 2500 F) that they were turned into “licorice.” Other self-proclaimed experts have been heard promoting similar theories.[9] They will probably come to regret it.

This is because the results of physical tests performed by NIST’s own Frank Gayle proved this theory to be a ridiculous exaggeration, as some people already knew. The temperatures seen by the few steel samples saved, only about 500 F, were far too low to soften, let alone melt, even un-fireproofed steel. Of course that result could have been calculated, knowing that 4,000 gallons of jet fuel[10]—not 24,000 gallons or 10,000 gallons, as some reports have claimed—were sprayed into an open-air environment over several floors, each comprised of more than 1,000 metric tons of concrete and steel.

Another expert who served on NIST’s advisory committee was Charles Thornton, of the engineering firm Thornton and Tomasetti. Thornton’s partner, Richard Tomasetti, was reported to be behind the unprecedented and widely criticized decision to destroy most of the steel evidence.[11] Early on Thornton said: “Karl, we all know what caused the collapse.” He was talking to Karl Koch, whose company erected the WTC steel. Koch attempted to clarify as follows. “I could see it in my mind’s eye: The fire burned until the steel was weakened and the floors above collapsed, starting a chain reaction of gravity, floor falling upon floor upon floor, clunk — clunk — clunk, the load gaining weight and momentum by the nanosecond, unstoppable. Once enough floors collapsed, the exterior walls and the core columns were no longer laterally supported and folded in.”[12] This is a description of what was called the Pancake Theory, the most widely accepted version of what happened.

The Pancake Theory was promoted by an influential 2002 NOVA video called “Why the Towers Fell,” in which Corley (yet again) and Thornton were the primary commentators. Both of them talked about the floors collapsing, and Thornton described how the perimeter columns buckled outward, not inward as Koch had described. The video made a number of false claims, including exaggeration of the temperatures (2000 F), remarks about melting steel, and the incredible statement that two-thirds of the columns in WTC1 (the North Tower) were completely severed. NIST’s report now indicates that only about 14% of the columns in WTC1 were severed, and in some photos we can count most of these for ourselves.[13]

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