Common a priori objections by “debunkers,” including arguments from authority and the “someone would have talked” and “too many people” arguments
Every now and then I get a wave of “debunkers” visiting this blog. They’re welcome to post here; I’ve learned a lot from them. But, in the future, I would like to try to avoid certain repetitious arguments, or at least confine those particular arguments to relevant threads such as this one.
There are some a priori arguments they almost always bring up in an effort to prove that there could not have been any government complicity in the attacks of 9/11. In recent debates here, those arguments got jumbled together with other, meatier issues in comment threads.
To avoid such jumbling in the future, I’ve decided to devote this post to the more common a priori arguments. I’ll then add a rule to my comment policy requiring that, in the future, these and similar a priori arguments be discussed only in comments below this post (or other posts on these same topics), rather than jumbled together with other, more substantive discussions.
In this post I’ll also provide a brief review of my debates with “debunkers” in general, for the benefit of “debunkers” visiting this blog for the first time. Some of the discussions we’ve had here have been very worthwhile.
- The most common a priori arguments
- One type of complicity hypothesis, defended here
- Letting the hijackers do their thing: People DID talk!
- Air defense failures: Hiding any interference?
- WTC: Hiding the planting of explosives, incendiaries, etc.?
- WTC: Why were no devices found in the rubble?
- Structural engineers and arguments from authority
- The most likely main motive for complicity, by high officials, in the 9/11 attacks
- But why destroy WTC 7?
The most common a priori arguments
The most common a priori argument is a claim that the culprits could not have gotten away with it.
The usual form of this is the “someone would have talked” argument. Related to this is the “too many people” argument, the claim that too many people would have to have been in on the plot, or at least would have noticed something strange going on, thereby making it impossible to keep a secret.
Also common are arguments from authority, It is claimed that we should not question the experts who say that WTC 1, 2, and 7 all collapsed as a result of nothing more than two jet crashes and the resulting fires.
Also it is often claimed that there were no likely motives, either for government complicity in the 9/11 attacks in general or for the destruction of WTC 7 in particular. And, in my opinion, many 9/11 Truth activists don’t do the best possible job of stating the likely motives. I will try to remedy what I see as some deficiencies in that regard.
One type of complicity hypothesis, defended here
In this post I’ll be defending the feasibility of one particular type of hypothesis about possible government complicity in the 9/11 attack. The type of hypothesis outlined below would be categorized by Nicholas Levis as “LIHOP plus”:
There were real hijackers. Al Qaeda is a real organization, but heavily infiltrated by the FBI, the CIA, and intelligence agencies from various other countries around the world. The infiltrators likely include agent provocateurs as well as just plain spies. At least a few high U.S. officials had very specific and detailed foreknowledge, which might have come to them not only via the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, etc., but also via warnings from foreign governments, plus informal high-level channels such as, perhaps, the Bush / bin Laden family friendship. The attacks were aided and supplemented in various ways by one or more high officials and a handful of other people, e.g. by preventing FBI interference in the hijackers’ plot, slowing down the air defense system to allow the hijackers to reach their targets, and possibly by either demolishing the WTC buildings or at least supplementing the attack on the WTC buildings via bombs or arson.
I do not necessarily believe that any particular hypothesis along the above lines actually happened, but I do believe it to be a real possibility, one of many possible scenarios that might lie behind the 9/11 coverup. The point of this post is not to prove that anything in particular actually did happen, but merely to show that hypotheses of the above type are possible.
Could this sort of thing have actually happened? Or would it have entailed too many people, who would have talked? I’ll explore these questions below.
But first, I should note that not everyone in the 9/11 Truth movement agrees with hypotheses of the above type. Not everyone in the 9/11 Truth movement advocates the WTC demolition idea. Some focus only on air defense issues, warnings and foreknowledge, etc. On the other hand, there are many other people in the 9/11 Truth movement who hold a pure “MIHOP” view, according to which there were no hijackers, and the planes were just remote-controlled, or something. I will not be defending the latter view here.
I’m currently agnostic on the question of what was done to the WTC buildings. In this post, I will defend the possibility that the collapses of WTC 1, 2, and 7 could have been something other than purely natural consequences of the two jet crashes. (In this post, I won’t discuss the arguments against the purely natural collapse idea. I’ll discuss those in future posts.)
Letting the hijackers do their thing: People DID talk!
In my opinion, the only parts of the above “LIHOP plus” scenario that would need to have been known by more than a handful of people would have been (1) the foreknowledge by the FBI and by the intelligence agencies, and (2) the prevention of FBI and airport-security interference in the hijackers’ plot.
On these matters, lo and behold, there are people who have talked, such as FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds and others listed on this page of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition site. The Jersey Girls have reported that they were approached by quite a few other whistleblowers who wanted to be called to testify before the 9/11 Commission, but who were never called, for whatever reason.
Also there has been quite a bit of talk about Able Danger, a military intelligence program which is said to have identified at least some of the 9/11 hijackers over a year before 9/11/2001.
FAA whistleblower Bogdan Dzakovic has remarked, “Since 9/11, I learned to have less contempt for the terrorists than I do for the bureaucrats and politicians who could have prevented 9/11 but didn’t.
They served in very pivotal positions of influence but due to gross incompetence or the fear of actually fulfilling their oaths of office to defend this country or possibly even something a bit more sinister, they failed to take any action. … Many of the FAA bureaucrats that actively thwarted improvements in security prior to 9/11 have been promoted by FAA or the Transportation Security Administration.” (Flying the deadly skies: Whistle-blower thinks the state of U.S. aviation security invites another attack by Bill Katovsky, San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, July 9, 2006.)
Alas, whistleblowers too often don’t get listened to, as discussed in 9/11 whistleblowers ignored, retaliated against by Michael Hampton, who concludes, “It’s clear now to anyone paying the least bit of attention that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were completely preventable.”
One could argue that the problems here were (and still are) just incompetence, negligence, and cronyism. Perhaps. Then again, that very same incompetence, negligence, and cronyism, on the part of the relevant bureaucracies as a whole, could also have enabled a few people at the top to get away with a whole lot worse. More about this below.
Air defense failures: Hiding any interference?
Was something done to slow down NORAD’s response? Was something done to prevent the hijacked planes from being even intercepted, let alone shot down? If so, how many people would have been needed to accomplish that?
Not very many. On a matter such as air defense, where every second counts, it takes only a few lackadaisical people in top positions to slow everything to a crawl.
According to Chapter 1 of the 9/11 Commission Report:
The FAA, the White House, and the Defense Department each initiated a multiagency teleconference before 9:30. Because none of these teleconferences – at least before 10:00 – included the right officials from both the FAA and Defense Department, none succeeded in meaningfully coordinating the military and FAA response to the hijackings.
Why were “the right officials” unavailable for so long? It was already obvious, by the time the second plane hit WTC 2 at 9:03 AM, that “America is under attack,” as Andrew Card informed George Bush at 9:05 AM. By that time it was already known that American Airlines Flight 77 had been hijacked too.
It is hard to believe that “the right officials” could genuinely have been that incompetent. Even if they really were just that incompetent, they should have been at least fired, if not prosecuted for negligence.
Everyone can see that “the right officials” were, at the very least, criminally negligent. That obvious fact cannot be hidden. The only question is whether their crime was something worse than mere negligence.
Had NORAD succeeded in intercepting any of the planes, there were only two people who could then authorize a shoot-down: the President and the Secretary of Defense. Both Bush and Rumsfeld were less than diligent about making themselves available for consultation on such an every-second-counts decision. (See my posts Bush at Booker School on the morning of 9/11 George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Myers: Their whereabouts on 9/11, and see the comment threads below these posts for more details.)
An even more important question is why no planes were even intercepted in the first place. Some people in the 9/11 Truth movement have speculated that someone may have deliberately created extra confusion for NORAD/NEADS, e.g. via false blips on their radar screens. If indeed something like that was done, it probably would not have been difficult to hide. It could have been done by just one person plus whoever gave that person access.
In any case, we do know that we’ve been lied to about the air defense failures. (See the section The lack of air defense in my post My main reasons for being suspicious about 9/11.) We just don’t know exactly what was covered up.
WTC: Hiding the planting of explosives, incendiaries, etc.?
Many people in the 9/11 Truth movement believe that other things were deliberately done to World Trade Center buildings 1, 2, and 7, besides just crashing planes into the Twin Towers.
A common objection to this idea, by “debunkers,” is that the perpetrators’ activities could not have gone unnoticed.
But it seems to me that their work could easily have been disguised as some sort of maintenance or upgrade, provided that their entry into the building was authorized by someone in a position of authority at the WTC complex.
Six weeks before 9/11/2001, Larry Silverstein became the new leaseholder for the entire WTC complex (except for WTC 7, which he already owned). Given the change in management, it was only to be expected that there might be some new contractors as well, or perhaps some special maintenance consultants. So, the entry of some new and unusual (but authorized) contractors would not have raised any eyebrows on the part of the security staff.
Any work involving the core columns could easily have been disguised as some sort of elevator work.
The perimeter spandrels could perhaps have been accessed via crawlspaces (ceiling chambers).
Any work involving perimeter columns would have been a bit more difficult to hide, because it would have required going into offices, meaning that the tenants would have known that there was some sort of work being done in their offices. But it could have been disguised as some sort of maintenance that required drilling holes in walls, such as electrical work, and it could have been done late at night when the office staff was absent.
I will assume that it was not necessary to access perimeter columns on every floor, but only on a minority of the floors, if indeed that was done at all. Thus the workers could easily have avoided those relatively few offices that were open 24 hours a day.
Whatever was done, it need not have required anywhere nearly as much work as a standard controlled demolition. The perpetrators need not have concerned themselves with various safety issues that are of concern to commercial demolition contractors. The collapse of the Twin Towers, and to a lesser extent WTC 7 too, spewed debris all over the place, damaging surrounding buildings, which is something a standard controlled domolition aims to avoid.
So I think it’s possible that the work could have done by as few as three or four people, maybe at most six or so.
(Reminder to “debunkers”: The point of the above is only to defend the possibility that the WTC collapses may have had a little extra help. I’m aware that my speculation does not prove that any such thing was actually done. Actual evidence for any such scenario is a separate topic, to be discussed in other posts.)
(P.S., 3/6/2008: The above is a summary of my replies to westprog99, originally in the comment thread following my post He oughta know better: Mark Roberts and the iron spherules, recently transplanted to my new post Hiding the planting of incendiaries, explosives, or whatever? Response to a common a priori objection. Comments on this topic should be posted underneath the latter post rather than here on this page.)
WTC: Why were no devices found in the rubble?
Another common objection by “debunkers” is that no remnants of explosive or incendiary devices were found in the rubble. Or, at least, no such remnants were noticed and publicly commented on.
In the first place, any such devices would most likely have gotten pulverized, along with nearly everything else.
Of course, they might not have all gotten pulverized.
Perhaps some remnants of devices were found, but people might have assumed that they were something else. A lot would depend on exactly what these devices looked like.
Another thing to consider is that the CIA was openly involved in the cleanup. The CIA had had an office in WTC 7 and searched the rubble during the cleanup, presumably to ensure that no classified documents went astray. (See the New York Times article The Intelligence Agency: Secret C.I.A. Site in New York Was Destroyed on Sept. 11 by James Risen, November 5, 2001. A copy of the printed version of this article is shown in the WTC 7 section of the video Loose Change Final Cut.)
If, by any chance, the CIA was in any way involved in the destruction of the WTC buildings, then, in addition to searching for classified documents, the same CIA agents could have searched for other things too, preventing those other things, too, from falling into the hands of other people. Those other things could have included … well, who knows what. Whatever the CIA agents might have been searching for besides papers, they had a perfect excuse to search the rubble thoroughly. And most likely they were around during pretty much the entire cleanup. How else could they have ensured that no classified documents fell into the wrong hands?
The CIA agents who searched the rubble might not, themselves, have known exactly what these mysterious objects were that they were searching for. They might have just been shown pictures and told to retrieve any objects that looked like thus-and-so, without being told exactly what those objects were. In that case, they would simply have accepted that they didn’t need to know what the objects were. I would expect that kind of compartmentalization to be commonplace in intelligence agencies.
Then again, the above hypothesis about CIA involvement in the cleanup might not have been necessary, if the devices themselves were sufficiently well-disguised.
Likewise, residues may or may not have been easily detectable, depending on what was used. For example, thermite leaves a residue consisting mostly of iron and aluminum oxide, both of which would have been present in the rubble anyway. So, to detect thermite residue, one would also need to look for other evidence, e.g. evidence that sufficiently high temperatures were reached in at least a few places.
(Reminder to “debunkers”: Again, the point of the above is only to defend only the possibility of an inside-job hypothesis regarding the destruction of the WTC buildings. I don’t claim to know what actually happened to the WTC buildings, or whether the CIA was in any way involved.)
Structural engineers and arguments from authority
A common response to WTC demolition hypotheses is: “Not a single structural engineer in the entire world agree with you! Every structural engineer in the entire world says that the WTC buildings collapsed solely due to jet impacts and resulting fires.”
First, that’s not true. There are some structural engineers who are members of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. Admittedly, not very many yet, but we’ll see who else joins.
When that’s pointed out, a “debunker” will usually reply, “Well, every single one of the world’s other structural engineers, besides the very few listed on the AE911T website, agrees that the WTC buildings collapsed solely due to jet impacts and fire.”
Well, that’s probably not accurate either.
First, the majority of the world’s structural engineers have probably not studied the WTC collapses themselves, beyond reading the pronouncements of mainstream experts. Most structural engineers probably have not even read the entire NIST report, for example. And, as the “debunkers” themselves are fond of pointing out in other contexts (e.g. in response to the argument that no steel-frame skyscraper has ever collapsed due to fire), every building is unique, with its own strengths and vulnerabilities. So, a structural engineer would have to have studied the WTC buildings oneself in order to have an informed opinion about them.
If one is going to do a numbers comparison, it would be fair to compare only those on both sides who have actually studied the WTC buildings and the WTC collapses on their own, rather than just reading summary reports in trade journals.
Furthermore, it’s likely that there exist at least a few structural engineers who agree with AE911T but who hesitate to join, out of fear of having their full legal names published on a controversial website. (I myself have not joined AE911T for that very reason. I’m playing it safe in that regard, given how some 9/11 Truth activists here in New York have been personally harassed. I’m not a structural engineer, but I do have a different kind of engineering background. It wouldn’t surprise me if at least a few structural engineers preferred to support the 9/11 Truth movement in more anonymous ways too.)
However, as far as I am aware, the “debunkers” are indeed correct that the purely-natural collapse hypothesis is the unanimously accepted orthodoxy in structural engineering journals.
So the question now is whether the consensus in structural engineering journals should be considered infallible – or, at least, sufficiently close to infallible that no one, and especially no one outside the field of structural engineering itself, should ever presume to question it.
(P.S., 2/28/2008: The remainder of this section is mis-stated. See the P.S. after this section, and see the discussion in comments below this thread.)
Well, let’s consider what kind of a field structural engineering is. In their more honest moments, structural engineers will admit that their field is on a somewhat less sound scientific experimental footing than most other kinds of engineering. For example, this post in the JREF forum, by Newton’s Bit, ends with the following quote:
“Structural Engineering is the art of molding materials we do not wholly understand into shapes we cannot precisely analyze so as to understand forces we cannot really assess in such a way that the community at large has no reason to suspect the extent of our own ignorance.” James E Amrhein
The problem is this: In almost any other kind of engineering, complete prototypes of any given product are built and thoroughly tested before the product is mass-produced and sold. If structural engineering were like almost every other kind of engineering, complete prototypes would be built and thoroughly built and tested, not necessarily for every single building, but at least for every building of a new and unusual design. Alas, that would be prohibitively expensive. For skyscrapers, it’s common to build and test prototype floor assemblies, but not a prototype for the entire building.
If structural engineering were like almost every other kind of engineering, there would be frequent experiments in which buildings, of various different kinds, were built for the purpose of setting them on fire to see whether and how they collapse. Such experiments have been done occasionally (e.g. Cardington Fire Test: The Behaviour of a Multi-storey Steel Framed Building Subjected to Fire Attack), but not very often. There’s just not enough funding for such experiments.
Ditto for experiments involving other kinds of damage to buildings. Also, there has not been much experimental study of the phenomenon of progressive collapse, which is said to have brought down WTC 1, 2, and 7. (Regarding the rarity of such study, see, for example, The science of how buildings fall down by Colin Nickerson, Boston Globe, December 3, 2007.)
For more about this matter, please see my post Engineers were surprised by the WTC collapses, December 7, 2007.
Another problem is this: In a field with relatively little hard scientific data (compared to what one might expect in other engineering disciplines that have been around for a long time), there’s lots of wiggle room for as-yet-unfalsified hypotheses. And, given whatever wiggle room they may have, most people will wiggle in a direction which they see as beneficial to their careers, and which avoids any boat-rocking. This factor might well have inflated the consensus in favor of the official story.
Even one of the most knowledgeable and articulate “debunkers,” Frank Greening, has acknowledged that institutional bias can be a problem. He’s a co-author of the latest Bazant paper, but he is nevertheless highly critical of the NIST report. (See his fascinating post Confessions of a 9/11 Agnostic, on page 6 of the thread Debate! What debate? in the JREF forum.) As far as I can tell, he suspects a coverup, not of 9/11 being an inside job, but of possible flaws in the design of the WTC buildings. (See also this post of his in the JREF forum thread Another engineer criticizes NIST & FEMA.)
So, an orthodoxy in the field of structural engineering should not be regarded as beyond question.
At the same time, those of us who question that consensus should certainly not regard ourselves as infallible either. The collapses of the WTC buildings involved many factors that need to be examined cautiously and in quantitative detail, and on which too many people in the 9/11 Truth movement have jumped to premature conclusions. (See my post Demolition of WTC: Let’s not overstate the case, please.) We should not simply dismiss the orthodox view; we should at least try to understand it, to the best of our ability. And we should recognize that we ourselves do not have the final word. If we ourselves do not have the expertise needed to resolve the issues, we should encourage those challengers of the official story who do have at least some relevant expertise, but we should not endorse their views without question either. We should be willing to wait and see.
(P.S., 2/28/2008: In this and subsequent comments, westprog99 argues that structural engineering is, in fact, a “mature discipline.” See the ensuing discussion. It might have been more accurate for me to say, as I do in this comment, that the field of structural engineering is probably “mature” on the question of what is needed to ensure the safety of buildings under normal conditions, but perhaps not quite so “mature” on the question of how buildings of various different kinds perform under various extreme conditions.)
The most likely main motive for complicity, by high officials, in the 9/11 attacks
In my long-ago post Reply to some folks at Screw Loose Change, one objection I did not respond to very well was this one:
4. If your whole plan is to attack Iraq, why not blame the attacks on Saddam? Wouldn’t that actually help to further your goals, instead of the nonsensical “frame Osama to attack a country that has nothing to do with our target” scheme?I still stand by most of what I said in reply to that objection:
Perhaps because Al Qaeda already existed, and perhaps because making use of Al Qaeda was both easier and less suspicious-looking than cooking up a totally new CIA-front Iraqi “terrorist group” from scratch. Also, the point of the 9/11 attacks, from the point of view of the American perpetrators, probably wasn’t just to justify a short-term war against Iraq or Afghanistan, but to justify a century of “war on terror,” with a variety of targets. That would explain why the attacks had to be so exceedingly massive and dramatic, as well as explaining why the exact nationality of the terrorist group wasn’t too important, as long as they were Islamist and thus could be tied, in the American popular imagination, to just about any Muslim country that the administration might choose to go to war with for whatever reason.But I would now add the following:
The most likely main motive probably had to do with Afghanistan, the country which was invaded almost immediately after 9/11. Before 9/11/2001, there were actual military preparations, not just a plan, to invade Afghanistan. However, if 9/11 had not happened, it would have been extremely difficult to sell the American public on the idea of invading Afghanistan, given what a meat grinder Afghanistan had been for the Soviet Union back in the 1980’s. (For documentation on the preparations for an invasion of Afghanistan, see the section on The war in Afghanistan in my post My main reasons for being suspicious about 9/11.)
This, the need to justify an invasion of Afghanistan is a likely motive for complicity in the 9/11 attacks, regardless of the reasons why the Bush administration wanted to invade Afghanistan in the first place. Most likely there were several different motives for the invasion. The relative importance of these motives can be debated.
One topic that has been debated quite a bit is the role of oil (and other energy sources such as natural gas) in U.S. foreign policy. Some interesting information on this topic can be found on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations. (See especially this collection of pages on “energy security.”)
The Bush administration got lots of mileage out of 9/11, on more matters than just Afghanistan. It provided an excuse for the Iraq war too, and for torture, and for various curtailments of civil liberties. These other things could perhaps be seen as secondary motives, but the most likely primary motive was to provide an excuse for invading Afghanistan.
But why destroy WTC 7?
Various “debunkers” have asked what the motive could have been for destroying WTC 7 in particular.
Some people in the 9/11 Truth movement have speculated that the motive might have been the destruction of records. WTC 7 had a lot of interesting tenants, including the CIA, the FBI, the EEOC, and the SEC, any one of which might have had something that the perpetrators wanted destroyed.
To this, “debunkers” have had two responses: (1) If the point is to destroy papers, why not just use a shredder? (2) All but the most recent records were likely backed up somewhere anyway, so could not be destroyed.
My reply is that there’s a difference between (a) actually destroying records and (b) having a good excuse to lose records that one isn’t supposed to lose. The destruction of WTC 7 might have been good for the latter purpose, if not the former. Furthermore, in the event that the CIA was involved, they might have had something other than just records that they wanted destroyed.
Anyhow, there’s also another possible motive for the destruction of WTC 7. My guess is that, from the point of view of those who planned the destruction of the WTC buildings, there might have been a lot of unknowns, and that these unknowns were dealt with via redundancy.
The planners might not have known, for sure, whether the hijackers would succeed in hijacking the planes, and, if so, whether they would succeed in crashing into the buildings, and, if so, whether the resulting damage and fires (plus whatever devices might have been planted in the Towers, if any) would succeed in bringing the Towers down. In case the above did not fully succeed, then perhaps the collapse of a third skyscraper might provide the desired melodrama.
Given how WTC 7 was hit by flying debris, the planners may have decided, on the fly, to use that as an excuse for an allegedly “natural” collapse, and to time their remote-controlled devices accordingly, e.g. by first setting off incendiary devices on floors 7 and above to start the fires, and then waiting 7 hours to destroy the building by setting off incendiaries or explosives further down, say, on floor 5. But, in the event that WTC 7 had not been hit by flying debris, I’m assuming here that the planners would have had some sort of backup excuse for the collapse of WTC 7 – perhaps even bombs (or incendiaries) planted by a “terrorist.” But the collapse of WTC 1 and 2 provided a much better excuse, so they went with that one.
In addition, if the planners also wanted to destroy one or more specific offices in WTC 7, for whatever reason, they would have done so by two redundant means: First, by just setting the specific office(s) on fire. But the planners could not have known in advance whether fire fighters would succeed in putting out the fires in WTC 7. To deal with that uncertainty, demolishing the entire building might have been a backup means of destroying whatever offices the planners wanted to destroy.
Disclaimer: This entire discussion about WTC 7 is hypothetical, since I don’t claim to know what happened to the WTC buildings, let alone what the motives were.