The 8 main conspiracy theories about the September 11 attacks dissected

The strange collapse of Tower No. 7, suspicious stock market movements, the absence of a trace of a plane on the Pentagon… Twenty years later, these attacks are still the subject of persistent conspiracy rumors. Yet, there are clear answers.

The strange collapse of Tower No. 7, suspicious stock market movements a few days before the attacks, the absence of a trace of a plane on the Pentagon site… For twenty years, the attacks of September 11, 2001, have been at the heart of many conspiracy theories. These doubts have profoundly marked the spirits and remain a major gateway into conspiracy theory, even if Covid-19 has since supplanted it in this area. We have taken up the eight most frequent questions, to try to put an end to them.

1. How could the United States not see anything coming?

2. Why weren’t the hijacked planes shot down?

3. Why did the towers collapse?

4. How was a terrorist’s passport found intact?

5. Why has no trace of a plane been found at the Pentagon?

6. Why did Tower Number 7 spontaneously collapse?

7. Don’t stock market movements prove insider trading?

8. Why did the tower operator insur the towers shortly before?

Did the CIA let it happen?

The headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in Langley, Virginia.

© Provided by Le Monde The headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in Langley, Virginia.

The secret services had clues, but incomplete

A few days after the attacks, George W. Bush said: “I never considered, even in a dream, that we would be attacked in this way.” Then FBI Director Robert Mueller also stated that “absolutely nothing said ‘something is going to happen.'”

The report of the Commission of Inquiry on 11 September draws a more nuanced reality. The agencies knew that an attack was being prepared, which may have suggested that the US secret services were complicit, at least by their inaction. In reality, they were never able to determine where, when, and how Al-Qaida would strike.

As early as June 1998, the United States intelligence services learned that Osama bin Laden planned to attack Washington or New York. Two months later, their foreign counterparts alerted them to a jihadist plan to hijack the World Trade Center. On December 31, 1999, Al-Qaida fomented about fifteen plans for attacks around the world, including the hijacking of an airliner in India and a bomb at the Los Angeles airport (one of those that could be thwarted in time).

The September 11 project took shape in a fragmentary way during 2001: in January, the French secret services learned of Al-Qaeda’s plan to strike on United States soil by hijacking civilian aircraft. In the spring, the central intelligence agency’s (CIA) anti-terror cell learns that Osama bin Laden’s followers are preparing for martyrdom. In August, a French member of al-Qaeda, Zacarias Moussaoui, was denounced by his flight school because of his suspicious behavior – he was obsessed with simulating the London-New York route in a Boeing 747. Finally, on September 10, an agent of the Federal Board of Investigation (FBI) alerted on the potential jihadist profile of aspiring pilots in Arizona. As the investigation report summarizes, in the summer of 2001, “all the signals were red,” contrary to what the Bush administration claimed.

So why wasn’t the attack prevented? In the spring of 2001, the FBI conducted seventy different investigations in parallel, but the clues collected were not sufficiently consistent to anticipate the scenario of September 11:

In many ways, September 11 is a failure of U.S. intelligence agencies, organized enough to measure the imminence of a threat, but not enough to pinpoint the details and defuse it. Many bureaucratic explanations will be given for this failure: competition between the CIA and the FBI; limited resources for monitoring domestic jihadist terrorism or the lack of an action plan in the face of an air attack by an internal flight. “Terrorists have exploited the deep institutional dysfunctions of our government,” the congressional committee concluded.

Why weren’t the hacked planes shot down?

Conspiracy theories claim that the United States let the attacks of September 11, 2001 take place.

© Provided by Le Monde Conspiracy theories claim that the United States let the attacks of September 11, 2001, take place.

General confusion prevented the U.S. military from intervening in time

This is one of the recurring criticisms directed at the American defense: a fighter jet at full throttle can reach two to three times the cruising speed of an airliner. Why weren’t they launched to intercept hijacked flights?

In reality, army jets took off: a hundred of them crisscrossed the sky at noon on September 11, 2001. But they all arrived too late, sometimes within a few minutes, for several reasons: slow transmission of information (the ambient confusion is noticeable in the call of the flight attendant Betty Ong, who, in shock, struggles to remember the flight number), the difficulty of locating the planes whose transponders have been cut off, but also the time needed to arm a military jet before take-off.

Moreover, the American authorities do not know the hackers’ project and do not know how to react. In their radio transmissions, the terrorists claim to want to land. Ground authorities believe a bomb is on board. “At the time, we were still at the hijackings of the 1970s. We didn’t think we could crash the plane,” said Lt. Col. Dawne Deskins, head of mission at Neads, the military air surveillance antenna in the northeastern quarter of the United States.

The complexity of the situation is best understood by reading the minute-by-minute report made on September 11: An Oral History, by historian Garrett M. Graff (Les Arènes, 2021). The air traffic control center in Boston (Massachusetts), which understands at 8:24 a.m. that a flight has been hijacked, has the information confirmed by another center, locates its altitude by calling the plane that follows it more closely, takes the news of the state of health of injured passengers via a flight attendant on board, listens to two announcements at the microphone of the hackers, before calling the Neads to ask it to intervene urgently.” September 11. An Oral History”, by Garrett M. Graff: the exclusive excerpts from the astonishing account of the day of September 11, 2001

These multiple transmissions will take, in all, thirteen minutes. To make matters worse, the Neads were then in the midst of an annual simulation of a Russian nuclear attack and initially believed that the call from the Boston center was part of the exercise. At 8:46 a.m., two F-15 fighter jets were finally ready to take off, but it was too late. At 8 hours 46 minutes and 40 seconds, American Airlines Flight 11 has already hit the north tower of the World Trade Center.

Faced with the same difficulties, the other F-15s launched will arrive about ten minutes late on other flights, sometimes without even knowing that their target has already crashed. George W. Bush expressly ordered the shooting down of United Airlines Flight 93, the last to be hacked, but the terrorists did not give him time: faced with the revolt of the forty-four passengers, they crashed voluntarily in the middle of Pennsylvania.

Why did the towers collapse?

The vertical collapse of the Twin Towers, supposed to withstand the impact of an airplane, was interpreted by proponents of an internal conspiracy as evidence that they had been laminated.

© Provided by Le Monde The vertical collapse of the Twin Towers, supposed to withstand the impact of an airplane, was interpreted by proponents of an internal conspiracy as evidence that they had been laminated.

The breach created by the crash increased the power of the fires

The collapse of the World Trade Center towers is probably the point that has raised the most questions, and not only from skeptics or conspiracy theorists. Even building engineers did not anticipate that the two structures would collapse on themselves. It was only after several years of investigation that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was able to explain the factors involved:

The impact (here of the first plane, on the north tower) created a large breach, through which the air rushed in, fueling fires of violence exceeding the expectations of the architects.

© Provided by Le Monde The impact (here of the first plane, on the north tower) created a large breach, through which the air rushed in, fueling fires of violence exceeding the expectations of the architects.

These combined factors allowed the fires to be fueled, reach very high temperatures, and weaken the respective central structures of the towers enough that they no longer support the weight above the damaged area. Numerous simulations have shown that, without the damage caused by the aircraft (the loss of thermal insulation being the most crucial), the two towers would have held the shock relatively well and would not have collapsed. The fires would have even quickly receded due to a lack of fuel.

Once the part hit by the planes could no longer support the weight of the building, the collapse of the entire structure followed. “Since the lower floors offered little resistance to the immense energy released by the mass of the falling building, the upper part of the towers essentially collapsed in free fall,” the report’s authors explain. The fall of the towers severely compressed the air located in the crushed floors, which caused the ejection of debris from the windows, as shown in several videos. Finally, the engineers claim to have found no physical evidence to support alternative hypotheses such as controlled demolition using explosives.

How could a terrorist’s passport be found intact?

More than 11,000 objects were found in the surrounding streets

“The fact that we find Mohammed Atta’s passport at the top of the pile of rubble, doesn’t that surprise you?” reacted host Thierry Ardisson in 2011, when asked on France 2 about conspiracy theories. The intact passport of Satam Al Suqami (and not Mohammed Atta), one of the five hijackers of American Airlines Flight 11, found on the ground by one of the policemen, is often cited as a “miraculous” and therefore shady discovery.

The document did survive the plane crash, but it was not exactly found in the rubble of the World Trade Center. It was further down the street, which was littered with debris and belongings belonging to the passengers of the first of the four hijacked planes. Like many other objects blown away by the wind, it was not exposed to the tower fire. In total, more than 11,000 personal items were found at Ground Zero – taking into account only the collection of the memorial that was inaugurated there.

Moreover, if the passport was placed in the file as evidence, its importance is minor, because the American authorities already knew the names of the Islamist pirates. They had indeed presented themselves under their true identity at the check-in of the flight and appeared in the computer files. For twenty-five minutes, as the plane was hijacked and the terrorists locked themselves in the cockpit, Betty Ong, a flight attendant, passed on to the ground staff everything she knew about the pirates, including their seat number. It is thanks to this information, and not thanks to this passport, that they could be identified.

Why haven’t traces of a plane been found at the Pentagon?

Since no cabin was found at the Pentagon crash site, some have the therefore argued that the impact was due to a missile launch.

© Provided by Le Monde Since no cabin was found at the Pentagon crash site, some have, therefore, argued that the impact was due to a missile launch.

Many pieces of debris from Flight 77 were found

What if it was a missile, rather than a plane, that targeted the U.S. Department of Defense? Again, the idea has been relayed by several successful conspiracy films, including the documentary Loose Change, in 2005. The three authors of the film believe that the damage to the Pentagon building is not extensive enough to match the impact of a Boeing 757 and its wings, and they deduce that the tragedy is rather the fact of a missile fired by the US Air Force itself.

This thesis is based on the extract of a remote surveillance camera installed in the gardens of the Pentagon, made public in 2005, precisely to show the impact. But many netizens interpreted these fleeting images as the slender fuselage of a missile rather than an airplane. An optical illusion: the camera uses a wide-angle lens, which has the particularity of compressing the proportions. This is the reason why the cabin appears so flat.

Other arguments were put forward at the time, such as the fact that no aircraft debris was found at the crash site, or that a witness claimed to have seen a missile. All these claims are false, since the debris of the Boeing 757 littered the premises, including the Pentagon lawn, photographed many times. Aircraft debris, such as the flight recorder, was found in an alley of the Pentagon at the exit point of the cabin, a piece of crumpled sheet metal on its lawn or debris of one of the titanium engines, to name just one of the many photos taken on the spot.

As for the witness quoted by CNN, Mike Walter, his quote is truncated. In fact, he said, “I looked out my window and saw this plane, an American Airlines plane, coming… I mean, it was like a missile with wings. »

A hundred witnesses saw an airliner hit the Pentagon that day. And DNA traces of almost all the passengers of Flight 77 were found in the building.

The missile thesis also contradicts the conclusions of the investigation conducted after the attack. The study of the debris and the exploitation of the flight data of the black box showed that the plane flew at such a low altitude over the last two hundred meters that it tore off five lampposts and that a wing hit an electric generator on the ground. The other wing did hit the thick reinforced façade of the building but did little damage. “A crashing plane does not leave a hole of its exact shape in a reinforced concrete structure like in cartoons,” Mete Sozen, a professor of structural engineering at Purdue University in Indiana, told Popular Mechanics magazine. Once the wings were broken, the cabin sank and passed through one of the five wings of the building.

Why did Tower No. 7 spontaneously collapse?

Tower No. 7 of the World Trade Center, separated from the rest of the complex by a footbridge, also collapsed, without having been hit by a plane.

© Provided by Le Monde Tower No. 7 of the World Trade Center, separated from the rest of the complex by a footbridge, also collapsed, without having been hit by a plane.

Projections of the No. 1 tower started fires

In addition to the Twin Towers, Building No. 7 of the World Trade Center (WTC7), an annex to the complex, was also destroyed. Still, it is a street apart and has not been hit. For the association Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, a collective made up of professionals with no real expertise in building structure, this would be proof that September 11 is a stunt of the American services.

After several years of analysis, specialists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology came to the conclusion that the collapse of WTC7 was caused by fires, themselves triggered by the fall of debris from Tower No. 1. “When WTC1 collapsed at 10 hours 28 minutes and 22 seconds, most of the debris landed in an area not much wider than the ground area of WTC1 itself. However, some fragments were ejected and traveled up to several hundred meters,” the NIST report explains. Several of them hit the west and especially south facades of WTC7, weakening its external colonage and starting fires internally.

One of the debris fractured the building’s water tank, preventing the firefighting mechanisms from going into action. The fire was, therefore, able to progress freely for seven hours, at temperatures that could exceed 1,000 ° C, and weaken the floors until they gave way. The collapse of these led to one of the load-bearing columns, then several other columns, in a domino effect, until the load-bearing structure cracked under the weight of the disintegrating building.

Moreover, note the engineers of the NIST, no trace of explosive was found, and no sound of detonation was heard by the witnesses, while the blasting should have made the equivalent of the noise of a Formula 1 circuit up to a kilometer around.

Why have there been suspicious stock market movements before?

Suspicious stock market movements stirred up the aviation and financial sectors, a few days before the attacks. They remain unexplained.

© Provided by Le Monde Suspicious stock market movements stirred up the aviation and financial sectors, a few days before the attacks. They remain unexplained.

Experts believe insider trading is likely

Most economists agree that the level of sales on Wall Street in the days before the attacks was unusually high, even “very rare”, especially for the shares of United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and KLM Airlines, but also of the insurance company Morgan Stanley, which occupied 22 floors of the World Trade Center. These elements suggest possible insider trading.

For example, options for sale on United Airlines (UAL) shares increased nearly a hundredfold: from 27 on September 5, 2001, to 2,000 the next day, Bloomberg reported at the time. For two professors at the University of Zurich, Marc Chesney and Loriano Mancini, respectively product specialists and econometrics, who studied these movements in-depth in 2007, “the probability that there has been insider trading is high for American Airlines, United Airlines, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan. This is not legal evidence but the result of statistical methods showing signs of irregularities.”

The Committee of Inquiry examined these anomalies. “Unusual stock market movements have indeed taken place, but each of them turns out to have a non-criminal explanation,” she defuses, estimating that the runaway aed was born from the purchase of 95% of UAL’s securities by a private investor with no known connection to Al-Qaida, on the basis of stock market advice from a financial newsletter.

An explanation considered naïve by the American economist and businessman James Rickards. In The Death of Money: The Coming Collapse of the International Monetary System (2014), an analysis of the ugly underside of the world of finance, he considers that the conspiracy theories making the United States responsible for the attack are “absurdity”, but confirms that these atypical stock market movements point to insider trading. After all, September 11 remains in the strict sense a conspiracy, that is, an action fomented in secret by a small group.

According to him, these atypical movements could have been triggered by investors close to Al-Qaida attracted by the lure of profit. For James Rickards, “Terrorist insider trading was not a plot by the U.S. government, but a mere extension of the terrorists’ main plan. It was despicable but, at the same time, banal.” These sudden and suspicious sales, while the market for aeronautical stocks is usually stable, would then have snowballed, dragging many other investors into a selling outbid, in a stock market environment by nature followed, quick to detect trends and amplify them.

Why did the tower operator insur the towers shortly before?

Real estate developer Larry Silverstein poses in front of 7 World Trade Center, August 2021.

© Provided by Le Monde Real estate developer Larry Silverstein poses in front of 7 World Trade Center, August 2021.

In fact, the twin towers were already insured before

After a three-year trial, American businessman Larry Silverstein, who operates (not owns) the twin towers, received $4.55 billion (just over €3.85 billion) from his insurance company because he had taken out anti-terrorism insurance. He even managed to obtain double compensation, arguing that the business complex had suffered two different attacks on the same day. According to a tenacious conspiracy theory, he took out this insurance only a few days before 11 September 2001, a coincidence that was disturbing, to say the least, especially since he himself was absent from his office on the day of the attack. Wouldn’t so many coincidences be proof that he was in cahoots with the perpetrators of the attack?

In fact, this insurance dates from June 2001 and was taken out when Larry Silverstein and the consortium he leads recovered in the form of a 99-year lease that came into effect in July 2001 the operating rights to towers 1, 2, 4, and 5 of the complex, previously managed by the New York Port Authority.

There is nothing wrong with taking out insurance against terrorism since the World Trade Center had already been the target of a bomb attack in 1993 and has since been considered a potential target. The complex was already insured against terrorism, and $ 510 million in compensation had then been paid to the port authority, recalls the verification site Snopes. By recovering the exploitation of the premises, Larry Silverstein therefore only contracted in his name insurance that already existed.

In passing, these rumors take up one of the most tenacious anti-Semitic clichés, that of the rich Jew plotting to enrich himself. What these slanderous accounts do not say is that Larry Silverstein was contractually required to rebuild the complex. About $1 billion paid by insurance companies has been spent on financing the construction of the One World Trade Center, which symbolically replaces, since 2012, the WTC1. These compensations were also used to pay for the reconstruction of other buildings replacing the original financial complex, some of which are still in the making.

The One World Trade Center was inaugurated in 2014. It was partly financed by insurance benefits.

© Provided by Le Monde The One World Trade Center was inaugurated in 2014. It was partly financed by insurance benefits.

Source:  William Audureau and Gary Dagorn

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