Conspiracy Theories

Eleven years ago today a world-changing event occurred. A year ago, on the ten-year dark anniversary, I wrote a post about how we’d changed, about how profoundly our view of the world changed.

Today, at the eleven-year mark I want to write about something else. I want to write about how some people believe it was more than what it was. I want to write about how some people believe we did this to ourselves. About how some believe that our own government was behind the sudden, terrifying, mass murder of nearly 3000 Americans.

I want to write about conspiracy crazies.

And make no mistake, that is exactly what they are: crazy.

(click for big image)

It is common for humans to see patterns. We’re very good at seeing patterns in things. The brain is an amazing pattern-detecting machine. It’s why we see shapes in clouds. It is why we know pines and palms are both trees, but telephone poles are not. It’s how we can pick out a loved one in a crowd of hundreds even when their back is to us. Some believe it is why we see God(s) in nature.

Our human minds want to connect the dots. We want to understand the connections, the meanings, and the reasons. We want to believe that life is purposeful and directed, not random and chaotic.

And some very much want not to believe that a small band of men from a third world country—armed only with a plan and box cutters—could manage to hurt us so badly. We would rather believe in dark and powerful hidden forces manipulating our lives behind the scenes.

But a small crack can bust a dam; a snowflake can cause an avalanche; a straw can break a camel’s back. It is a basic fact of physics that complex systems can be perturbed by small inputs. A single pebble falling on a steep pile of gravel can start a landslide.

So that’s the first thing. It doesn’t require a massive conspiracy to drive big events. Sometimes it just takes a few determined, suicidal maniacs. (It’s actually a little ironic considering our culture is filled with stories about the lone hero taking down armies.)

Which leads directly to the second thing. As I’ll discuss in detail below, it would have required the collusion of many hundreds of people—if not thousands—to pull off such a plan. When have you ever known a group of hundreds to all keep a secret that big? (Benjamin Franklin famously thought two people could keep a secret… if one of them was dead.) It’s been eleven years, and not one soul has had a crisis of conscience, not one soul has made a death-bed confession. This fact alone should prove the poverty of conspiracy theories.

I first encountered 9/11 conspiracy crazies about five years ago. I was curious enough that I did some research. I downloaded and read over 800 megabytes of NIST PDF files (35 of them). These comprised their final report on the analysis of how the three buildings collapsed. Those reports include the work of hundreds of scientists doing a wide variety of analysis including computer models and physical simulations. That researched convinced me beyond any doubt as to how events unfolded.

There seem to be several somewhat overlapping views held by conspiracy crazies. One view is that the real target was evidence damaging to our government held in WTC7, the third building that collapsed. The more common idea is that 9/11 was designed by our government for the exact result it ultimately had: to give our government unprecedented power and to pave the way for war in Iraq. Many hold that the two planes could not possibly have caused the collapse of both towers, so therefore both towers were rigged for demolition.

Another view is that it was really American or Israeli operatives that flew the planes. Some hold that the four flights were secretly landed and the citizens off-loaded and vanished somehow. Either way you have to believe we would risk one of the most evil plots in world history to accomplish our goals. If one single person were to let the secret slip, if one single person were to change their mind, the plot fails and the government falls. And when have you ever known any government to pull of such a complicated plot successfully?

Let me start with WTC7, since that one is trivially easy to debunk. To believe that the actual target was a building damaged incidentally to the plane crashes, you have to believe in a plan so carefully worked out that the planners knew that the collapse of WTC2 and WTC1 would damage WTC7 enough to cause its destruction. Even if you believe that planned demolition was involved in all three buildings (which some do), you have to believe that the collapse of the Towers would explain the eventual collapse of WTC7.

When you consider the myriad other, far easier, far cheaper, ways to get at and destroy the supposed documents—ways that also leave no trace of deliberate theft—it buggers the imagination to think it was done the 9/11 way. It is utterly preposterous.

Have you ever watched any of the documentaries concerning professional building demolition? It takes considerable time and on site personnel to rig a building for demo. The process involves attacking the structure with metal-cutting torches and saws to weaken it so that the explosives will work. Even so, in some cases, the building doesn’t fall, which requires the incredibly dangerous process of trying to bring down a highly unstable structure.

J.L. Hudson Building
(© Don Coles)

At the time (and perhaps still), the largest building ever demoed was the J.L. Hudson Building in Detroit. That building was 26 stories and it took 24 days with a crew of 12 just to load the explosives. WTC7 was 47 stories, and the Towers were 110 stories each. That’s ten times the number of stories of the biggest demo ever done. If the Hudson Building required 2300 man hours, 9/11 would have required 23,000 man hours! It would take a crew of 100 nearly a month (no weekends off) just to hang the explosives.

J.L. Hudson demolition
(© Don Coles)

And all done covertly. Thousands of pounds of explosives smuggled into three public buildings covertly. A large crew of workers sneaking in day after day covertly. And a huge amount of work to prepare the buildings; (very loud) work that would weaken and make them progressively more unstable. Once a building is ready for the actual explosion, it is extremely dangerous to enter.

If you watched demolition shows, you know that the explosives are wired to explode in a carefully calculated sequence so as to create the desired effect (making the building collapse in place or to one side as needed). So you also need to believe that all three buildings were filled with connecting wires that lead to… where? Some have suggested radio control, which implies hundreds or thousands of clear, reliable radio channels. Or if each building was wired internally to some control point (miles of wire!), then at least three good radio channels.

And then there’s the “nano-thermite” crowd. They seek to get around the sheer volume of explosives required and the vast amount of prep work by inventing a new kind of explosive, nano-thermite. Firstly, thermite is nearly “nano” to begin with. It’s a mixture of metal oxides and metal powder (usually iron oxide and aluminum powder). Making the particles “nano” isn’t likely to make a big change in how it works. Secondly, it doesn’t explode so much as burn (very, very hotly). Thirdly, it burns downwards, which makes using it on vertical beams something of a trick. Finally, it takes a fairly hot spark to ignite the stuff—a battery won’t do the trick.

They also like to point to supposed evidence of “unburned thermite” found in the ruins. Given that thermite is iron oxide and (usually) aluminum power, what are the odds of finding those in the wreckage of builds built of iron and aluminum? It actually undercuts their own theory of nano-thermite, since apparently what was found wasn’t nano.

Thermite simply wouldn’t work as a demolition explosive. That requires high-energy, very fast explosives. It is the high-energy explosive shock front that cuts through the already weakened beams to collapse a building. In a Mythbusters episode, it took 1000 pounds of thermite about a minute to cut through an SUV—which is mostly just sheet steel, not beams of steel.

Another plank in the conspiracy theories involves the burning jet fuel, which wasn’t hot enough to melt steel. It’s not even hot enough to make it terribly malleable. But as it turns out, it wasn’t steel melting or even softening that caused the collapse. It was something much more everyday, something nearly all of us have experienced.

This has gotten long, so if you’re interested in the true story of the collapse, read the next post. There were two 110-story Towers plus the 47-story WTC7 building, so today there are two tall posts plus a shorter one.

In the meantime, you can watch that Mythbusters 1000 pounds of thermite SUV burn:

See you in the next Tower (or later, if you’ve had enough of this).

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

7 responses to “Conspiracy Theories

  • dianasschwenk

    I’ve decided that you are quite the thinker and analyzer!

  • reocochran

    I was surprised at this whole blog, but felt it was very fact-driven. I am more of an ethereal person that I just like to think that it was bad people who did this and that a lot of good people died. I think less of the why but the after effects and how we can somehow prevent this. Also, how one party took this to mean we needed to get into a war when it had nothing to do with that country. Oil has always been the driving force in the Bush’s
    choices of involvement.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      That was definitely a big part of getting into Iraq. The country was also really in the mood to kick someone’s ass; we were looking for any excuse. When I first saw the news and realized what had happened, the first words out of my mouth were, “Oh, oh! Someone’s gonna get their ass kicked.” Yep. Foolish to mess with the “Sleeping Giant.” Japan found that out after Pearl Harbor. Never poke a hibernating bear; we’re really, really cranky if you do manage to wake us up.

      I wasn’t terribly interested in the mechanics myself until I ran into the nut jobs claiming it was a conspiracy. My gut told me it was logically and logistically impossible, but I needed the facts to effectively (at least try) to debate the crazies. (Once I did start reading into it, my engineering interests took over, and I found a lot of the material fascinating in the abstract, if horrify in the reality.)

  • Beams of Steel « Logos con carne

    […] the sibling post I wrote about the conspiracy crazies who believe the Towers and WTC7 were brought down deliberately […]

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