4 July 2008
It wasn't only the Twin Towers that collapsed on
September 11. A third World Trade Center tower that wasn't hit by the planes
also fell. As a report into Tower 7
to publish its findings, Mike Rudin considers how this conspiracy
theory got to be so big.
9/11 is the conspiracy theory of the internet age. Put "9/11 conspiracy"
into Google and you get 7.9 million hits. Put in "9/11 truth" and you get
more than 22 million. Opinion polls in the US have picked up widespread
doubts among the American people.
A New York Times/CBS News poll in 2006 found that 53% of those
questioned thought the Bush administration was hiding something.
Another US poll found a third of those questioned thought government
officials either assisted in the 9/11 attacks or allowed them to happen.
In the UK a survey by the BBC's The Conspiracy Files, carried out by
GfkNOP in 2006, found that 16% of those questioned thought there was a
"wider conspiracy that included the American government".
This summer will be a key moment for those who question the official
explanation of what happened on 9/11, the self-styled "9/11 truth movement".
Nearly seven years after the terrible events of that September day, the US
authorities are due to publish the final report on a third tower that also
collapsed on 9/11. Unlike the Twin Towers, this 47-storey, 610-foot
skyscraper was not hit by a plane.
And Tower 7 has become a key issue for "truthers" like Dylan Avery,
the director of the internet film about 9/11 called Loose Change.
"The truth movement is heavily centered on
Building 7 and for very good reason a lot of people are very suspicious
about what went down that day," he says.
World Trade Center 7's
Avery points out that Tower 7 housed some
unusual tenants: the CIA, the Secret Service, the Pentagon and the very
agency meant to deal with disasters or terrorist attacks in New York - the
Office of Emergency Management. And some people think Tower 7 was the
place where a 9/11 conspiracy was hatched.
The official explanation is that ordinary fires were the main reason for the
collapse of Tower 7. That makes this the first and only tall skyscraper in
the world to have collapsed because of fire. Yet despite that all the
thousands of tonnes of steel from the building were carted away and melted
The way official bodies have investigated Tower 7 at the World Trade
Center has made some people think they're hiding something. Its
destruction was never mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report.
An inquiry by the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the
building collapsed because intense fires had burned for hours, fed by
thousands of gallons of diesel stored in the building for emergency
generators. But its report said this had "only a low probability of
occurrence" and more work was needed. That was in May 2002.
The task has now fallen to the National Institute of Standards and
Technology (NIST) based at a sprawling campus near Washington DC.
For more than two-and-a-half years, scientists there have been studying
Inevitably the officials have been criticized for being slow and even of
being frightened to publish.
But the lead investigator at NIST, who heads up their World Trade Center
inquiry, Dr Shyam Sunder, says that two-and-a-half years is typically
how long an airplane crash investigation takes.
He added that only in the last few years did
they begin to hear criticism from the "truth" movement.
"It's only at the very end in 2005 that this
group became more vocal and we found them coming to some of our
meetings. But for a long time they were not even present. It wasn't the
delay that really caused them, they just woke up one morning and decided
to take this on as an issue."
In April 2005, the first thousand DVDs of Dylan Avery's
Loose Change movie
were pressed. It cost just $2,000 to make. It was a critical moment for the
development of the movement. The makers of Loose Change claim it has now
been viewed by more than a hundred million people.
Steven Jones, a former physics professor at Brigham Young University,
who has become the leading academic voice in the movement, first watched a
collapse of Tower 7 in the spring of 2005. But when he did, he said he was
taken aback as a physicist.
Will the theories ever be laid to rest?
The American architect Richard Gage's conversion came in 2006 when driving
along he heard an independent radio station interviewing the theologian
David Ray Griffin.
"I had to do some real soul searching and
some research. And the more I discovered the more disturbed I became and
realized I was looking for... the architects and the engineers."
Finding that they hadn't really entered the fray
by then, Gage decided he had to act.
"It just came to me, I had to start an
organization Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth."
The fifth anniversary of 9/11 was a huge moment
for "truthers". Under the media spotlight protests intensified, websites
were spawned and internet films proliferated.
With the publicity also came the "debunkers", challenging the "truthers" at
After Loose Change came a website called Screw Loose Change.
9/11 Mysteries was followed by Screw 9/11 Mysteries.
And the "truthers" have fought back. When the US technology magazine Popular
Mechanics launched a book called Debunking 9/11 Myths, it was countered with
a book by David Ray Griffin called Debunking 9/11 Debunking.
Over time the scale of the alleged conspiracy has grown and grown,
encompassing not just sections of the Bush administration, intelligence, but
also the fire service, the police, first responders, official investigators,
experts, the building's owner, and the media, and, oh yes, even the BBC.
George Bush is hiding something, says the 9/11 truth movement
And over time schisms have opened up in the 9/11 "truth" movement. So-called
"no-planers" believe that commercial airplanes did not actually crash into
the Twin Towers, the Pentagon or a field in Pennsylvania. Some have
suggested lasers from outer space were used.
"Planers" believe airplanes were used but argue that only controlled
demolitions can explain the collapses of the World Trade Center towers.
Then there are the LIHOPs and MIHOPs. Most "truthers" are MIHOPs - they
think the government Made It Happen On Purpose, planning and orchestrating
the 9/11 attacks. But LIHOPs believe the government just Let It Happen On
Purpose, to allow them to justify wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and a
clampdown on civil liberties.
Into this febrile atmosphere comes the final official report on 9/11.
This summer we will find out whether NIST's report has answered the many
questions that have been raised, or whether it will suffer the same fate
as the Warren Commission on the assassination of President John F Kennedy
and merely add fuel to the conspiracy theories.