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You trip over one fundamental idiocy of the 9/11 conspiracy nuts — – the ones who say Bush and Cheney masterminded the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon — in the first paragraph of the opening page of the book by one of their high priests, David Ray Griffin, The New Pearl Harbor. “In many respects,” Griffin writes, “the strongest evidence provided by critics of the official account involves the events of 9/11 itself… In light of standard procedures for dealing with hijacked airplanes… not one of these planes should have reached its target, let alone all three of them.”
The operative word here is “should”. One characteristic of the nuts is that they have a devout, albeit preposterous belief in American efficiency, thus many of them start with the racist premise that “Arabs in caves” weren’t capable of the mission. They believe that military systems work the way Pentagon press flacks and aerospace salesmen say they should work. They believe that at 8.14 am, when AA flight 11 switched off its radio and transponder, an FAA flight controller should have called the National Military Command center and NORAD. They believe, citing reverently (this is from high priest Griffin) “the US Air Force’s own website”, that an F-15 could have intercepted AA flight 11 “by 8.24, and certainly no later than 8.30”.
They appear to have read no military history, which is too bad because if they did they’d know that minutely planned operations – let alone responses to an unprecedented emergency — screw up with monotonous regularity, by reason of stupidity, cowardice, venality, weather and all the other whims of providence.
According to the minutely prepared plans of the Strategic Air Command, an impending Soviet attack would have prompted the missile silos in North Dakota to open, and the ICBMs to arc towards Moscow and kindred targets. The tiny number of test launches actually attempted all failed, whereupon SAC gave up testing. Was it badly designed equipment, human incompetence, defense contractor venality or… CONSPIRACY? (In that case, presumably, a Communist conspiracy, as outlined by ancestors of the present nuts, ever intent on identifying those who would stab America in the back.)
Did the British and French forces in 1940 break and flee a Wehrmacht capable of only one lunge, because of rotten leadership, terrible planning, epic cowardice, or … CONSPIRACY? Did the April 24, 1980 effort to rescue the hostages in the US embassy in Teheran fail because a sandstorm disabled three of the eight helicopters, because the helicopters were poorly made, because of a lousy plan or because of agents of William Casey and the Republican National Committee poured sugar into their gas tanks in yet another CONSPIRACY?
Have the US military’s varying attempts to explain why F-15s didn’t intercept and shoot down the hijacked planes stemmed from absolutely predictable attempts to cover up the usual screw-ups, or because of CONSPIRACY? Is Mr Cohen in his little store at the end of the block hiking his prices because he wants to make a buck, or because his rent just went up or because the Jews want to take over the world? August Bebel said anti-Semitism is the socialism of the fools. These days the 9/11 conspiracy fever threatens to become the “socialism” of the left, and the passe-partout of many libertarians.
It’s awful. My in-box overflows each day with fresh “proofs” of how the WTC buildings were actually demolished, often accompanied by harsh insults identifying me as a “gate-keeper” preventing the truth from getting out. I meet people who start quietly, asking me “what I think about 9/11”. What they are actually trying to find out is whether I’m part of the coven. I imagine it was like being a Stoic in the second century A.D. going for a stroll in the Forum and meeting some fellow asking, with seeming casualness, whether it’s possible to feed 5,000 people on five loaves of bread and a couple of fish.
Indeed, at my school in the 1950s the vicar used to urge on us Frank Morison’s book, Who Moved The Stone? It sought to demonstrate, with exhaustive citation from the Gospels, that since on these accounts no human had moved the stone from in front of Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, it must beyond the shadow of a doubt have been an angel who rolled it aside and let Jesus out, so he could astonish the mourners and then Ascend. Of course Morison didn’t admit into his argument the possibility that angels don’t exist, or that the gospel writers were making it up.
It’s the same pattern with the 9/11 nuts, who proffer what they demurely call “disturbing questions”, though they disdain all answers but their own. They seize on coincidences and force them into sequences they deem to be logical and significant. Like mad Inquisitors, they pounce on imagined clues in documents and photos, torturing the data –- as the old joke goes about economists — till the data confess. Their treatment of eyewitness testimony and forensic evidence is whimsical. Apparent anomalies that seem to nourish their theories are brandished excitedly; testimony that undermines their theories – like witnesses of a large plane hitting the Pentagon — is contemptuously brushed aside.
Anyone familiar with criminal, particularly death penalty defense – I had such an opportunity for a number of years – will know that there are always anomalies the prosecution cannot account for and that the defense teams can exploit, in hopes of swaying a jury either in the guilt or penalty phase of a trial. Time and again I would see the defense team spend days and weeks, even months, back-checking on a possibly vulnerable link in the evidentiary chain that could be attacked, at least to the all-important level of creating “reasonable doubt” in the mind of a juror. Expert witnesses would be imported at great expense –- unlike states such as Texas, the justice system of California is generous in the provision of money for death penalty defense — to challenge the prosecution’s forensic evidence. Such challenges weren’t hard to mount. Contrary to prosecutorial claims, there is far less instrinsic certainty in forensic evaluation than is commonly supposed, as regards fingerprints, landing marks on bullets and so forth.
But minute focus of a death penalty defense team on one such weak link often leads to a distorted view of the whole case. I remember more than one case where, after weeks of interviewing witnesses at one particular crime scene, the defense’s investigator had collected enough witness reports to mount a decent attack on this aspect of the prosecution’s overall case. At least this is what I thought, hearing the daily bulletins of the investigator. But when, in such instances, the camera pulled back, so to speak, and I saw the prosecution’s whole case – chain of evidence, cumulative witness statements, accused’s own movements and subsequent statements – it became clear enough to me and, in that case to the juries , that the accused were incontestably guilty. But even then, such cases had a vigorous afterlife, with the defense trying to muster up grounds for an appeal, on the basis of testimony and evidence withheld by the prosecution, faulty rulings by the judge, a prejudiced jury member and so on. A seemingly “cut and dried case” is very rarely beyond challenge, even though in essence it actually may well be just that, “cut and dried”.
Anyone who ever looked at the JFK assassination will know that there are endless anomalies and loose ends. Eyewitness testimony – as so often – is conflicting, forensic evidence possibly misconstrued, mishandled or just missing. But in my view, the Warren Commission, as confirmed in almost all essentials by the House Committee on Assassinations in the late 1970s, had it right and Oswald fired the fatal shots from the Schoolbook Depository. The evidentiary chain for his guilt is persuasive, and the cumulative scenarios of the conspiracy nuts entirely unconvincing. But of course – as the years roll by, and even though no death bed confession has ever buttressed those vast, CIA-related scenarios — the nuts keep on toiling away, their obsessions as unflagging as ever.
Naturally, there are conspiracies. I think there is strong evidence that FDR did have knowledge that a Japanese naval force in the north Pacific was going to launch an attack on Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt thought it would be a relatively mild assault and thought it would be the final green light to get the US into the war.
Of course it’s very probable that the FBI or US military intelligence, even the CIA, had penetrated the Al Qaeda team planning the 9/11 attacks; that intelligence reports – some are already known – piled up in various Washington bureaucracies pointing to the impending onslaught and even the manner in which it might be carried out.
The history of intelligence operations is profuse with example of successful intelligence collection, but also fatal slowness to act on the intelligence, along with eagnerness not to compromise the security and future usefulness of the informant, who has to prove his own credentials by even pressing for prompt action by the plotters. Sometime an undercover agent will actually propose an action, either to deflect efforts away from some graver threat, or to put the plotters in a position where they can be caught red-handed. In their penetrations of environmental groups the FBI certainly did this.
Long before the Yom Kippur war, a CIA analyst noted Egyptian orders from a German engineering firm, and deduced from the type and size of equipment thus ordered that Egypt was planning an attack across the Suez canal. He worked out the probable size of the Egyptian force and the likely time window for the attack. His superiors at the CIA sat on the report. When the Egyptian army finally attacked on October 6, 1973 the CIA high command ordered up the long-buried report, dusted it off and sent it over to the White House, marked “current intelligence”. Was there a “conspiracy” by the CIA high command to allow Israel to be taken by surprise? I doubt it.
Bureaucratic inertia and caution prevailed, until the moment came for decisive CYA acitvity. The nuts make dizzying “deductive” leaps. There is a one particularly vigorous coven which has established to its own satisfaction that the original NASA moon landing was faked, and never took place. This “conspiracy” would have required the complicity of thousands of people , all of whom have kept their mouths shut. The proponents of the “fake moon landing” plot tend to overlap with the JFK and 9/11 nuts.
One notorious “deductive” leap involves flight 77, which on 9/11 ended up crashing into the Pentagon. There are photos of the impact of the “object” — i.e., the Boeing 757, flight 77 — that seem to show the sort of hole a missile might make. Ergo, the nuts assert, it WAS a missile and a 757 didn’t hit the Pentagon. As regards the hole, my brother Andrew — writing a book about Rumsfeld and the DoD during his tenure — has seen photos taken within 30 minutes of Pentagon impact clearly showing outline of entire plane including wings. This was visible momentarily when the smoke blew away
And if it was a missile, what happened to the 757? Did the conspirators shoot it down somewhere else, or force it down and then kill the passengers? Why plan to demolish the towers with pre-placed explosives if your conspiracy includes control of the two planes that hit them. Why bother with the planes at all. Why blame Osama if your fall guy is Saddam Hussein? Why involve the Israeli “art students”.
The nuts simultaneously credit their targets – the Bush-Cheney “conspirators” — with superhuman ingenuity and grotesque carelessness. In Webster Griffin Tarpley’s book “9/11 Synthetic Terror Made in USA” he writes that “in an interview with Parade magazine, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld also referred to the object which hit the Pentagon as a ‘missile’. Was this a Freudian slip by the loquacious defense chief?” (And, a nut might add, is it mere coincidence that Webster Griffin Tarpley shares one of his names with David Ray Griffin?
The demolition scenario is classic who-moved-the-stonery. The WTC towers didn’t fall down because they were badly built as a consequence of corruption, incompetence, regulatory evasions by the Port Authority, and because they were struck by huge planes loaded with jet fuel. No, they fell because Dick Cheney’s agents methodically planted demolition charges in the preceding days. It was a conspiracy of thousands, all of whom –- party to mass murder –- have held their tongues ever since. The “conspiracy” is always open-ended as to the number of conspirators, widening steadily to include all the people involved in the execution and cover-up of the demolition of the Towers and the onsslaujght on the Pentagon, from the teams acquiring the explosives and themissile, inserting the explosives in the relevant floors of three vast buildings, (moving day after day among the unsuspecting office workers), then on 9/11 activating the detonators.
Subsequently the conspiracy includes the disposers of the steel and rubble, the waste recyclers in Staten Island and perhaps even the Chinese who took the salvaged incriminating metal for use in the Three Gorges dam, where it will submerged in water and concretye for ever. Tens of thousands of people, all silent as the tomb to this day.
Of course the buildings didn’t suddenly fall at a speed inexplicable in terms of physics unless caused by carefully pre-placed explosives, detonated by the ruthless Bush-Cheney operatives. High grade steel can bend disastrously under extreme heat. People inside who survived the collapse didn’t hear a series of explosions. As discussed in Wayne Barrett and Dan Collin’s excellent book Grand Illusion, about Rudy Giuliani and 9/11, helicopter pilots radioed warnings nine minutes before the final collapse that the South Tower might well go down and, repeatedly, as much as 25 minutes before the North Tower’s fall.
What Barrett and Collins brilliantly show are the actual corrupt conspiracies on Giuliani’s watch: the favoritism to Motorola which saddled the firemen with radios that didn’t work; the ability of the Port Authority to skimp on fire protection, the mayor’s catastrophic failure in the years before 9/11/2001 to organize an effective unified emergency command that would have meant that cops and firemen could have communicated; that many firemen wouldn’t have unnecessarily entered the Towers; that people in the Towers wouldn’t have been told by 911 emergency operators to stay in place; and that firemen could have heard the helicopter warnings and the final Mayday messages that prompted most of the NYPD men to flee the Towers.
That’s the real political world, in which Giuliani and others have never been held accountable. The nuts disdain the real world because, like much of the left and liberal sectors, they have promoted Bush, Cheney and the Neo-Cons to an elevated status as the Arch Demons of American history, instead of being just one more team running the American empire, a team of more than usual stupidity and incompetence (characteristics I personally favor in imperial leaders.) The Conspiracy Nuts have combined to produce a huge distraction, just as Danny Sheehan did with his Complaint, that mesmerized and distracted much of the Nicaraguan Solidarity Movement in the 1980s, and which finally collapsed in a Florida courtroom almost as quickly as the Towers.
* Footnote: I should add that one particular conspiracy nut, seeing that Roosevelt’s grandson Ford – a schoolteacher in Los Angeles – was for a while, some years ago, on the board of CounterPunch’s parent non-profit, the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity – wrote an enormous onslaught on CounterPunch a while ago, “proving” to his own satisfaction that CounterPunch was a pawn of the Democratic Party, the CIA and kindred darker forces. I suppose the fact that CounterPunch attacked the Democratic Party and the CIA on a weekly basis was just one more example of our cunning in deflecting suspicion away from our true sponsors. The fact that from time to time that we also quite regularly attacked FDR – and posited his foreknowledge of Pearl Harbor – should again be taken as evidence of our cunning in deflecting suspicion away from Ford’s supervisory roile in our affairs. In fact we’d put Ford on the board in the hopes (vain, as they turned out to be) that he would persuade film stars to give CounterPunch money. A much shorter, earlier version of the column ran in the print edition of The Nation that went to press last Thursday.