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The Age of Irrationality

The 9/11 Conspiracists and the Decline of the Anmerican Left

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Where was the American left in the campaign that ended in recapture of both houses of Congress by the Democrats on November 7, 2006? Was it in the streets, fomenting opposition to the war in Iraq? Not at all. The antiwar movement has been inert for months. When I was asked to give the keynote speech at a rare antiwar rally in my local town of Eureka, northern California, in early October, three of my five fellow orators didn’t deign to mention the war at all. Instead they numbed the audience and sharply diminished its size with interminable dissections of the 9/11/2001 attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. Their aim? To argue that the attacks were an "inside job", organized by Bush and Cheney or (a frequent variation on the theme) darker powers, for whom Bush and Cheney are the mere errand boys.

Five years after the attacks, 9/11 conspiracism has now penetrated deep into the American left. It is also widespread on the libertarian and populist right, but that is scarcely surprising, since the American populist right instinctively mistrusts government to a far greater degree than the left, and matches conspiracies to its demon of preference, whether the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Black Helicopters or the Jews.

These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx via the small, mostly Trotskyist groupuscules. Into the theoretical and strategic void has crept a diffuse, peripatic conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, or the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale (the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos) or supposedly "rogue" agencies, with the CIA still at the head of the list. The 9/11 "conspiracy", or "inside job", is the Summa of all this foolishness.

One trips over a fundamental idiocy of the 9/11 conspiracists 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". A central characteristic of the conspiracists is that they have a devout, albeit preposterous belief in American efficiency. Many of them start with the racist premise–frequently voiced in as many words in their writings — that "Arabs in caves" weren’t capable of the mission. They believe that military systems should work they 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 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 by-the-book responses to an unprecedented emergency — screw up with monotonous regularity, by reason of stupidity, cowardice, venality and all the other failings, not excepting sudden changes in the weather.

History is generous with such examples. According to the minutely prepared plans of the Strategic Air Command, an impending Soviet attack would have prompted the missile siloes in North Dakota to open, and the ICBMs to arc towards Moscow and kindred targets. The four test launches actually attempted all failed, whereupon the SAC gave up testing. Was it badly designed equipment, human incompetence, defense contractor venality 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, or because the helicopters were poorly made, 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? Bebel said anti-Semitism is the socialism of the fools. These days the 9/11 conspiracy fever threatens to be the dominant politics of the left.

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 conspiracists, 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.

There are some 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, 757 didn’t hit the Pentagon. It WAS a missile. It wasn’t smoke in some photographs obscuring a larger rupture in the fortified Pentagon wall.
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On this last matter, Chuck Spinney, now retired after years of brilliant government service exposing the Pentagon’s budgetary outrages, tells me that "there ARE pictures taken of the 757 plane hitting Pentagon — they were taken by the surveillance cameras at Pentagon’s heliport, which was right next to impact point. I have seen themboth stills and moving pictures. I just missed seeing it personally, but the driver of the van I just got out of in South Parking saw it so closely that he could see the terrified faces of passengers in windows. I knew two people who were on the plane. One was ID’d by dental remains found in the Pentagon."

This won’t faze the conspiracists. They’re immune to any reality check. Spinney worked for the government They switched the dental records The Boeing 757 was flown to Nebraska for a rendez-vous with President Bush, who shot the passengers, burned the bodies on the tarmac and gave Spinney’s friend’s teeth to Dick Cheney to drop through a hole in his trousers amid the debris in the Pentagon.

In fact hundreds of people saw the plane — people who know the difference between a plane and a cruise missile. The wreckage of the plane was hauled out from the site. Why does the obvious have to be proved? Would those who were wounded or who lost friends and colleagues that day would assist in the cover up of a missile strike? Why risk using a missile, when you had a plane in the air and ­- to take the bizarre construct of the conspiracists — had successfully crashed (by remote control!) two into much more difficult targets–the Trade Towers?

How difficult is it to learn how to fly the jetliners if you didn’t have to land them on a runway? The short answer from commercial pilots is: not very difficult. In fact, you can learn about all you need to know from spending a few weeks in front of the Flight Simulator computer program.

What do we make of Osama taking credit for the attacks? That he’s still on the CIA payroll? And so it goes, on and on into the murk. But to what end? To prove that Bush and Cheney are capable of almost anything? Actually, what Bush and Cheney Bush haven’t proved is the slightest degree of competence to pull anything like this off. They couldn’t even manufacture weapons of mass destruction after US troops had invaded Iraq, and when any box labeled "WMD" would have been happily photographed by the embedded U.S. press as conclusive testimony.

At least what these recent elections may help to do is remind the left that Bush and Cheney are not that much different from the politicians and overlords of U.S. foreign policy who preceeded them or who will follow them. There was already a bi-partisan consensus about Israel, Iraq, et al.

Ultimately, the 9/11 conspiracists want us to believe that the Bush/Cheney gang is a new breed of evil. This might be the most dangerous deception of all, for it fosters the fantasy that a new adminstration, a Hillary or Gore administration, would pursue more humane policies

The WTC 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, shout the conspiracists, they "pancaked" because Dick Cheney’s agents–scores of them–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.

Michael Neumann, a philosopher, and CounterPunch contributor, at the University of Trent, in Ontario, remarked in a note to me:
"I think the problem of conspiracy nuttery has got worse, and is part of a general trend. There really were serious questions about the Kennedy assassination, an unusual number of them, and it wasn’t too crazy to come to the wrong conclusion. There wasn’t a single serious question about 9-11. But this is the age of angels, creationism, corpses all over Kosovo, Arabs suspiciously speaking Arabic, Satanic child abuse, nucular Eyraquees, and channeling. The main engine of the 9-11 conspiracy cult is nothing political; it’s the death of any conception of evidence.

"This probably comes from the decline of Western power. Deep down, almost everyone, across the political spectrum, is locked in a bigotry which can only attribute that decline to some irrational or supernatural power. The result is the ascendency of magic over common sense, let alone reason."

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 intrinsic 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 whenthe 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 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 conspiracists 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 conspiracists keep on toiling away, their obsessions as unflagging as ever.

Of course 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. It’s quite possible 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.

Indeed 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 eagerness 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 1973 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. Why else would the Egyptians suddenly be ordering bridging materials. From the amounts being purchased and shipped 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 "cover your ass" activities.

The conspiracists 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 crowds.

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 onslaught on the Pentagon, from the teams acquiring the explosives and the missile, 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 concrete for ever. Tens of thousands of people, all silent as the tomb to this day.

The conspiracists 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?"

The physicist and engineer Manuel Garcia Jr (whose explications furnish the bulk of our 9/11 file) reminds us that if the evidence allows for several explanations to a given problem then the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions is most probably correct. This principle is called Occam’s Razor, named after the 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar William of Occam.

There is not the slightest need to postulate pre-placed explosive charges to explain why the towers collapsed at near free fall speeds. Engineer Pierre Sprey–who designed the F-16 and A-10 — points out a few practical aspects of explosive demolitions that make the explosive charge hypothesis improbable to the point of absurdity:

"1. Any demolitions expert concocting a plan to hit a tall building with an airplane and then use pre-placed explosives to UNDETECTABLY ensure the collapse of the building would never place the explosives 20, 30 and 60 floors below the impact point. Obviously, he would put the explosives on one or more floors as close as possible to the planned impact level.

"2. It is inconceivable that our demolitions expert would time his surreptitious explosions to occur HOURS after the aircraft impact. He couldn’t possibly be absolutely certain that the impact fires would even last an hour. Quite the opposite: to mask the booster explosions, he’d time them to follow right on the heels of the impact.

"3. To ensure collapse of a major building requires very sizable demolition charges, charges that are large enough to do a lot more than emit the "puffs of smoke" cited as evidence for the explosives hypothesis. I’ve seen both live and filmed explosive building demolitions. Each explosion is accompanied by a very visible shower of heavy rubble and a dense cloud of smoke and dust. Just that fact alone makes the explosives hypothesis untenable; no demolitions expert in the world would be willing to promise his client that he could bring down a tall building with explosions guaranteed to be indistinguishable from the effects of an aircraft impact."

Herman Soifer, a retired structural engineer, summarize the collapse of Buildings 1 and 2 succinctly, in a letter to me, remarking that since he had followed the plans and engineering of the Towers during construction he was able to explain the collapses to his wife a few hours after the buildings went down.

"The towers were basically tubes, essentially hollow. Tubes can be very efficient structures, strong and economical. The Trade Center tubes effectively resisted vertical loads, wind loads and vibrations and could probably have done very well against earthquakes. However, the relatively thin skin of the hollow tube must be braced at intervals to prevent local buckling of the skin under various possible loads, otherwise the tube itself can go out of shape and lose its strength.

"For their interior bracing, the thin-walled tubes of the Trade Center towers depended primarily on the interior floors being tied to the outer wall shells. These floor beam structures were basically open web joists, adequate for the floor loads normally to be expected. These joist ends rested on steel angle clips attached to the outer walls.

"As the floors at the level of airplane impact caught fire, the open web joists, which could not be expected to resist such fires, softened under the heat, sagged and pulled away from their attachments to the walls. Their weight and the loads they were carrying, caused them to drop onto the next lower floor, which was then carrying double loads also becoming exposed to the heat. Then that floor collapsed, and so it went. But as the floors dropped, they no longer served as bracing for the thin-walled main tubes.

"This loss of bracing permitted the walls to buckle outward in successive sections and thus the house of cards effect.

"There was no other major bracing as would be encountered in a more conventional type of structure, or as might have been introduced in the design if one feared the potential loss of the floors. There were no stiff horizontal trusses in the perimeter to act as bracing ribs every few floors. There was no system of vertical trusses to provide any integrity, not was there anything that could be considered a frame or "skeleton" of columns and attached girders to keep the tube intact."

In our 9/11 file Manuel Garcia devastates with conspiracists’ theories with patient explanations as to why their schemas flout scientific laws and the observed facts of the disasters of that day.

The conspiracists’ last card is the collapse of WTC building number 7 some hours after the morning attacks. But here again, as with the other two buildings, the explanations offered by US government agencies (preeminently the National Institute of Standards and Technology and, for Building 7, FEMA) are more than adequate, as Manuel Garcia points out. The blast of hot debris from WTC 1 kindled fires in WTC 7 and caused an emergency power system to feed the burning to the point of building collapse.

One of the building’s major bridging supports was heated to the point of exhaustion by the burning of an abundant store of hydrocarbon (diesel) fuel, pumped from the sub-basement by the back-up system and spraying through a torn pipe into the fire next to two of the building’s three major structural truss. The types of steel used in the WTC Towers (plain carbon, and vanadium) lose steel lose half their strength when heated to about 570 C , and even more as temperatures rise, as they did in WTC 1 and 2, to 1100 C. In building 7, Garcia calculates that the diesel fuel spraying at a rate of 75 gallons a minute ultimately released energy equivalent to that of an explosion of 367 tons of TNT.

What is the goal of the 9/11 conspiracists? They ask questions, yes, but they never answer them. They never put forward an overall scenario of the alleged conspiracy. They say that’s not up to them. So who is it up to? Who do they expect to answer their questions? When answers are put forward, they are dismissed as fabrications or they simply rebound with another question.

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. 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 conspiracists disdain the real world because 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 conspiracists 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.

There are plenty of real conspiracies in America. Why make up fake ones? Every few years, property czars and city government in New York conspire to withhold fire company responses, so that enough of a neighborhood burns down for the poor to quit and for profitable gentrification to ensue. That’s a conspiracy to commit ethnic cleansing, also murder.

It’s happening today in Brooklyn, even as similar ethnic cleansing and gentrification is scheduled in San Francisco. Bayview Hunters Point is the last large black community in the Bay Area, sitting on beautiful bay front property. So now it’s the time to move the black folks out. As Willie Ratcliff, publisher of the Bay View newspaper writes, "If the big developers and their puppets, the mayor [Democrat Gavin Newsom] and his minions win this war, they’ll have made what may be the largest urban renewal land grab in the nation’s history: some 2,200 acres of San Francisco, the city with the highest priced land on earth."

That’s an actual conspiracy, even as many in the Bay Area left meander through the blind alleys of 9/11 conspiratorialism.

Machiavelli points out that every conspirator you add to the plot has less chance of preserving secrecy than the previous one. The 9/11 group in fact did tell people about their plans in various ways but the prevailing belief that Arabs couldn’t do it prevented any of the revelations from being taken seriously. The view that a bunch of Arabs with box cutters couldn’t do it was precisely the cover they needed.

The conspiracy virus is an old strand:

The Russians couldn’t possibly build an A bomb without Commie traitors. The Russians are too dumb. Hitler couldn’t have been defeated by the Red Army marching across Eastern Europe and half Germany. Traitors let it happen. JFK couldn’t have been shot by Oswald — it had to be the CIA. RFK couldn’t have been shot by Sirhan–it had to be the CIA. There are no end to examples seeking to prove that Russians, Arabs, Viet Cong, Japanese, etc etc couldn’t possibly match the brilliance and cunning of secret cabals of white Christians. It’s all pathetic but it does save the trouble of reading and thinking.

Yet some discover a silver lining in the 9/11 conspiracism. A politically sophisticated leftist in Washington, DC, wrote to me recently, agreeing with my ridiculing of the "inside job" scenarios, but adding, "To me the most interesting thing (in the US) is how many people are willing to believe that Bush either masterminded it [the 9/11 attacks] or knew in advance and let it happen. If that number or anything close to that is true, that’s a huge base of people that are more than deeply cynical about their elected officials. That would be the real news story that the media is missing, and it’s a big one."

"I’m not sure I see the silver lining about cynicism re government," I answered. "People used to say the same thing about the JFK conspiracy buffs and disbelief in the Warren Commission. Actually, it seems to demobilize people from useful political activity. If the alleged perpetrators are so efficiently devilish in their plots, all resistance is futile. As Michael Snedeker, a lawyer who spends much of his professional life trying to save accused murderers from the death penalty, wrote to me about the 9/11 conspiracists:

"I completely agree with your take on the 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Of course, it would be an outrage if such monstrous, complicated schemes were hatched and carried out so smoothly, but it would be somehow worse if no one at all was orchestrating the whole piece. There is definitely a theological motor driving that train–a need for Order and Design. The power of forces like Ineptitude, Sloth, Distraction & Resentment are routinely overlooked. We all know them in our own lives, but somehow, it is assumed by analysts of all stripes that office-holders and Boards of Directors, etc., are immune. Ha! At the risk of going all Freudian here, I think such theories are another reflection of the deep desire for an all-knowing Father, & the terror of being one of a band of brothers and sisters, with no one other than ourselves to guide us."

As for the theological motor, note that Griffin is a theologian, and his latest book put out by a publisher connected to the Presbyterian church–a fact which does not sit well with many Presbyterians, though 9/11 conspiracists have hailed the association as evidence that protestant America is rallying to their standard. Maybe the Heavenly Father decided to destroy Babel and start again. As Garcia wryly remarks at the end of second essay, on the thermodynamics of 9/11: "In the enormity of each rubble pile, with its massive quantity of stored heat, many effects were possible in small quantities, given time to incubate. It is even possible that in some little puddle buried deep in the rubble, warmed for months in an oven-like enclosure of concrete rocks, bathed in an atmosphere of methane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and perhaps a touch of oxygen, that DNA was formed."

9/11 conspiracism stems from despair and political infantilism. There’s no worthwhile energy to transfer from such kookery. It’s like saying some lunatic shouting to himself on a street corner has the capacity to be a great orator. As Garcia suggests, the nearest thing to it all is the Flying Saucer craze of the 1950s, born of fears of atomic war. It’s a Jungian thing.

Richard Aldrich’s book on British intelligence, The Hidden Hand (2002), describes how a report for the Pentagon on declassification recommended that "interesting declassified material" such as information about the JFK assassination "could be released and even posted on the Internet, as a ‘diversion,’" and used to "reduce the unrestrained public appetite for ‘secrets’ by providing good faith distraction material". Aldrich adds, "If investigative journalists and contemporary historians were absorbed with the vexatious, but rather tired, debates over the grassy knoll, they would not be busy probing into areas where they were unwelcome."

By the same token, I’m sure that the Bush gang, and all the conspirators of capital, are delighted at the obsessions of the 9/11 conspiracists. It’s a distraction from the 1,001 real plots of capitalism that demand exposure and political challenge.

"The tendency to occultism is a symptom of regression in consciousness", Adorno wrote in Minima Moralia. . "The veiled tendency of society towards disaster lulls its victims in a false revelation, with a hallucinated phenomenon. In vain they hope in its fragmented blatancy to look their total doom in the eye and withstand it The offal of the phenomenal world becomes, to sick consciousness, the mundus intelligibilis."

Footnote: I should add that one particular conspiracist, 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 stratagems in trying to obscure Ford’s supervisory role 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.

CounterPunch Special Report: Debunking the Myths of 9/11

ALEXANDER COCKBURN here assembles his two prime commentaries in a final, expanded essay, "The 9/11 Conspiracists and the Decline of the Left."

Manuel Garcia Jr, physicist and engineer, presents his three separate reports, undertaken for CounterPunch.

Part One is his report on the Physics of 9/11.

Part Two (published here for the first time) is his report on the Thermodynamics of 9/11.

Part Three, "Dark Fire", is his report on the collapse of the World Trade Center’s Building 7.

JoAnn Wypijewski wrote her essay "Conversations at Ground Zero" after a day spent with people at the site on 9/11/2006.