There are many conspiracy theories that attribute the planning and execution of the September 11 attacks against the United States to parties other than, or in addition to, al-Qaeda including that there was advance knowledge of the attacks among high-level government officials. Government investigations and independent reviews have rejected these theories. Proponents of these theories claim there are inconsistencies in the commonly accepted version, or evidence that was either ignored or overlooked.
The most prominent conspiracy theory is that the collapse of the Twin Towers and 7 World Trade Center were the result of a controlled demolition rather than structural failure due to impact and fire. Another prominent belief is that the Pentagon was hit by a missile launched by elements from inside the U.S. government or that a commercial airliner was allowed to do so via an effective stand-down of the American military. Possible motives claimed by conspiracy theorists for such actions include justifying the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (even though the U.S. government concluded Iraq was not involved in the attacks) to advance their geostrategic interests, such as plans to construct a natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan. Other conspiracy theories revolve around authorities having advance knowledge of the attacks and deliberately ignoring or assisting the attackers.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the technology magazine Popular Mechanics have investigated and rejected the claims made by 9/11 conspiracy theorists. The 9/11 Commission and most of the civil engineering community accept that the impacts of jet aircraft at high speeds in combination with subsequent fires, not controlled demolition, led to the collapse of the Twin Towers, but some groups disagree with the arguments made by NIST and Popular Mechanics, including Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth.
9/11 conspiracy theorists reject some or all of the following facts about the 9/11 attacks:
- Al-Qaeda suicide operatives hijacked and crashed United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 11 into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. The impact and resulting fires caused the collapse of the Twin Towers and the destruction and damage of other buildings in the World Trade Center complex. The Pentagon was severely damaged by the impact of the airliner and the resulting fire. The hijackers also crashed a fourth plane into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania after the passengers and flight crew attempted to regain control of the aircraft.
- Pre-attack warnings of varying detail of the planned attacks against the United States by al-Qaeda were ignored due to a lack of communication between various law enforcement and intelligence personnel. For the lack of interagency communication, the 9/11 report cited bureaucratic inertia and laws passed in the 1970s to prevent abuses that caused scandals during that era, most notably the Watergate scandal. The report faulted both the Clinton and the Bush administrations with "failure of imagination."
This consensus view is backed by various sources, including:
- The reports from government investigations – the 9/11 Commission Report (that incorporated intelligence information from the earlier FBI investigation (PENTTBOM) and the Joint Inquiry of 2002), and the studies into building performance carried out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
- Investigations by non-government organizations that support the accepted account – such as those by scientists at Purdue University.
- Articles supporting these facts and theories appearing in magazines such as Popular Mechanics, Scientific American, and Time.
- Similar articles in news media throughout the World, including The Times of India, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the BBC,Le Monde,Deutsche Welle, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), and The Chosun Ilbo of South Korea.
Since the attacks, a variety of conspiracy theories have been put forward in Web sites, books, and films. Many groups and individuals advocating 9/11 conspiracy theories identify as part of the 9/11 Truth movement. Within six hours of the attack, a suggestion appeared on an Internet chat room suggesting that the collapse of the towers looked like an act of controlled demolition. "If, in a few days, not one official has mentioned anything about the controlled demolition part," the author wrote, "I think we have a REALLY serious problem." The first theories that emerged focused primarily on various perceived anomalies in the publicly available evidence, and proponents later developed more specific theories about an alleged plot. One false allegation that was widely circulated by e-mail and on the Web is that not a single Jew had been killed in the attack and that therefore the attacks must have been the work of the Mossad, not Islamic terrorists.
The first elaborated theories appeared in Europe. One week after the attacks, the "inside job" theory was the subject of a thesis by a researcher from the French National Centre for Scientific Research published in Le Monde. Other theories sprang from the far corners of the globe within weeks. Six months after the attacks, Thierry Meyssan's piece on 9/11, L'Effroyable Imposture, topped the French bestseller list. Its publication in English (as 9/11: The Big Lie) received little attention, but it remains one of the principal sources for "trutherism". 2003 saw the publication of The CIA and September 11 by former German state minister Andreas von Bülow and Operation 9/11 by the German journalist Gerhard Wisnewski; both books are published by Mathias Bröckers, who was at the time an editor at the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung.
While these theories were popular in Europe, they were treated by the U.S. media with either bafflement or amusement, and they were dismissed by the U.S. government as the product of anti-Americanism. In an address to the United Nations on November 10, 2001, United States PresidentGeorge W. Bush denounced the emergence of "outrageous conspiracy theories [...] that attempt to shift the blame away from the terrorists, themselves, away from the guilty."
The 9/11 conspiracy theories started out mostly in the political left but have broadened into what New York Magazine describes as "terra incognita where left and right meet, fusing sixties countercultural distrust with the don’t-tread-on-me variety".
By 2004, conspiracy theories about the September 11 attacks began to gain ground in the United States. One explanation is that the rise in popularity stemmed more from growing criticism of the Iraq War and the newly re-elected President George W. Bush than from any discovery of new or more compelling evidence or an improvement in the technical quality of the presentation of the theories.Knight Ridder news theorized that revelations that weapons of mass destruction did not exist in Iraq, the belated release of the President's Daily Brief of August 6, 2001, and reports that NORAD had lied to the 9/11 Commission, may have fueled the conspiracy theories.
Between 2004 and the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks in 2006, mainstream coverage of the conspiracy theories increased. The U.S. government issued a formal analysis by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) of the collapse of the World Trade Center. To address the growing publicity of the theories, the State Department revised a webpage in 2006 to debunk them. A 2006 national security strategy paper declared that terrorism springs from "subcultures of conspiracy and misinformation," and that "terrorists recruit more effectively from populations whose information about the world is contaminated by falsehoods and corrupted by conspiracy theories. The distortions keep alive grievances and filter out facts that would challenge popular prejudices and self-serving propaganda." Al-Qaeda has repeatedly claimed responsibility for the attacks, with chief deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri accusing ShiaIran and Hezbollah of denigrating Sunni successes in hurting America by intentionally starting rumors that Israel carried out the attacks.
Some of the conspiracy theories about the September 11 attacks do not involve representational strategies typical of many conspiracy theories that establish a clear dichotomy between good and evil, or guilty and innocent; instead, they call up gradations of negligence and complicity. Matthias Bröckers, an early proponent of such theories, dismisses the commonly accepted account of the September 11 attacks as being itself a conspiracy theory that seeks "to reduce complexity, disentangle what is confusing," and "explain the inexplicable".
Just before the fifth anniversary of the attacks, mainstream news outlets released a flurry of articles on the growth of 9/11 conspiracy theories, with an article in Time stating that "[t]his is not a fringe phenomenon. It is a mainstream political reality." Several surveys have included questions about beliefs related to the September 11 attacks. In 2008, 9/11 conspiracy theories topped a "greatest conspiracy theory" list compiled by The Daily Telegraph. The list was ranked by following and traction.
In 2010, the "International Center for 9/11 Studies," a private organization that is said to be sympathetic to conspiracy theories, successfully sued for the release of videos collected by NIST of the attacks and aftermath. According to the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the videos that were published shortly before the ninth anniversary of the attacks provide "new food for conspiracy theorists." Many of the videos show images of 7 World Trade Center, a skyscraper in the vicinity of the WTC towers that also collapsed on September 11, 2001. Eyewitnesses have repeatedly reported explosions happening before the collapse of both of the towers, while experts consider these theories to be unreasonable.
9/11 truth figures Steven E. Jones and Mike Berger have further added that the death of Osama bin Laden did not change their questions about the attacks, nor provide closure.
According to writer Jeremy Stahl, since Bush left office, the overall number of believers in 9/11 conspiracy theories has dipped, while the number of people who believe in the most "radical" theories has held fairly steady.
The most prominent conspiracy theories can be broadly divided into three main forms:
- LIHOP ("Let it happen on purpose") – suggests that key individuals within the government had at least some foreknowledge of the attacks and deliberately ignored it or actively weakened United States' defenses to ensure the hijacked flights were not intercepted.Similar allegations were made about Pearl Harbor.
- MIHOP ("Make/Made it happen on purpose") – that key individuals within the government planned the attacks and collaborated with, or framed, al-Qaeda in carrying them out. There is a range of opinions about how this might have been achieved.
- Others – who reject the accepted account of the September 11 attacks are not proposing specific theories, but try to demonstrate that the U.S. government's account of the events is wrong. This, according to them, would lead to a general call for a new official investigation into the events of September 11, 2001. According to Jonathan Kay, managing editor for comment at the Canadian newspaper National Post and author of the Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America's Growing Conspiracist Underground, "They feel their job is to show everybody that the official theory of 9/11 is wrong. And then, when everybody is convinced, then the population will rise up and demand a new investigation with government resources, and that investigation will tell us what actually happened."
See also: U.S. military response during the September 11 attacks and United States government operations and exercises on September 11, 2001
Conspiracy theorists claim that action or inaction by U.S. officials with foreknowledge was intended to ensure that the attacks took place successfully. For example, Michael Meacher, former British environment minister and member of Tony Blair's Cabinet said that the United States knowingly failed to prevent the attacks.
Some conspiracy theorists maintain that just before 9/11, an "extraordinary" amount of put options were placed on United Airlines and American Airlines stocks and speculate that insiders may have known in advance of the coming events of 9/11 and placed their bets accordingly. An analysis into the possibility of insider trading on 9/11 concludes that:
A measure of abnormal long put volume was also examined and seen to be at abnormally high levels in the days leading up to the attacks. Consequently, the paper concludes that there is evidence of unusual option market activity in the days leading up to September 11 that is consistent with investors trading on advance knowledge of the attacks. —Allen M. Poteshman, The Journal of Business
This study was intended to address the "great deal of speculation about whether option market activity indicated that the terrorists or their associates had traded in the days leading up to September 11 on advance knowledge of the impending attacks."
In the days leading up to 9/11, analysis shows a rise in the put to call ratio for United Airlines and American Airlines, the two airlines from which planes were hijacked on 9/11. Between September 6 and 7, the Chicago Board Options Exchange recorded purchases of 4,744 "put" option contracts in UAL and 396 call options. On September 10, more trading in Chicago saw the purchase of 4,516 put options in American Airlines, the other airline involved in the hijackings, with a mere 748 call options in American purchased that day. No other airline companies has unusual put to call ratio in the days leading up to the attacks. The 9/11 Commission concluded that all these abnormal patterns in trading were coincidental.
Insurance companies saw anomalous trading activities as well. Citigroup Inc., which has estimated that its Travelers Insurance unit may pay $500 million in claims from the World Trade Center attack, had about 45 times the normal volume during three trading days before the attack for options that profit, if the stock falls below $40. Citigroup shares fell $1.25 in late trading to $38.09. Morgan Stanley, which occupied 22 floors at the World Trade Center, experienced bigger-than-normal pre-attack trading of options that profited when stock prices fell. Other companies directly affected by the tragedy had similar jumps.
Raytheon, a defense contractor, had an anomalously high number of call options trading on September 10. A Raytheon option that makes money, if shares are more than $25 each had 232 options contracts traded on the day before the attacks, almost six times the total number of trades that had occurred before that day.
The initial options were bought through at least two brokerage firms, including NFS, a subsidiary of Fidelity Investments, and TD Waterhouse. It was estimated that the trader or traders would have realized a five million dollar profit. The Securities and Exchange Commission launched an insider trading investigation in which Osama bin Laden was a suspect after receiving information from at least one Wall Street Firm.
The 9/11 Commission Report concluded that "Exhaustive investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission, FBI, and other agencies have uncovered no evidence that anyone with advance knowledge of the attacks profited through securities transactions." The report further stated:
Highly publicized allegations of insider trading in advance of 9/11 generally rest on reports of unusual pre-9/11 trading activity in companies whose stock plummeted after the attacks. Some unusual trading did in fact occur, but each such trade proved to have an innocuous explanation. For example, the volume of put options — investments that pay off only when a stock drops in price — surged in the parent companies of United Airlines on September 6 and American Airlines on September 10 — highly suspicious trading on its face. Yet, further investigation has revealed that the trading had no connection with 9/11. A single U.S.-based institutional investor with no conceivable ties to al Qaeda purchased 95 percent of the UAL puts on September 6 as part of a trading strategy that also included buying 115,000 shares of American on September 10. Similarly, much of the seemingly suspicious trading in American on September 10 was traced to a specific U.S.-based options trading newsletter, faxed to its subscribers on Sunday, September 9, which recommended these trades. These examples typify the evidence examined by the investigation. The SEC and the FBI, aided by other agencies and the securities industry, devoted enormous resources to investigating this issue, including securing the cooperation of many foreign governments. These investigators have found that the apparently suspicious consistently proved innocuous.
Air defense stand down theory
A common claim among conspiracy theorists is that the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) issued a stand down order or deliberately scrambled fighters late to allow the hijacked airplanes to reach their targets without interference. According to this theory, NORAD had the capability of locating and intercepting planes on 9/11, and its failure to do so indicates a government conspiracy to allow the attacks to occur. Conspiracy theorist Mark R. Elsis says: "There is only one explanation for this ... Our Air Force was ordered to Stand Down on 9/11."
One of the first actions taken by the hijackers on 9/11 was to turn off or disable each of the four aircraft's on board transponders. Without these transponder signals to identify the airplane's tail number, altitude, and speed, the hijacked airplanes would have been only blips among 4,500 other blips on NORAD’s radar screens, making them very difficult to track.
On 9/11, only 14 fighter jets were on alert in the contiguous 48 states. There was no automated method for the civilian air traffic controllers to alert NORAD. A passenger airline had not been hijacked in the U.S. since 1979. "They had to pick up the phone and literally dial us," says Maj. Douglas Martin, public affairs officer for NORAD. Only one civilian plane—a chartered Learjet 35 with golfer Payne Stewart and five others on board—was intercepted by NORAD over North America in the decade prior to 9/11, which took one hour and 19 minutes.
Rules in effect at that time, and on 9/11, barred supersonic flight on intercepts. Before 9/11, all other NORAD interceptions were limited to offshore Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ). "Until 9/11 there was no domestic ADIZ," says FAA spokesman Bill Schumann. After 9/11, the FAA and NORAD increased cooperation. They set up hotlines between command centers while NORAD increased its fighter coverage and installed radar to watch airspace over the continent.
The longest warning NORAD received of the hijackings was some eight minutes for American Airlines Flight 11, the first flight hijacked. The FAA alerted NORAD to the hijacked Flight 175 at just about the same time it was crashing into the World Trade Center's South Tower. The FAA notified NORAD of the missing – not hijacked – Flight 77 three minutes before it struck the Pentagon. NORAD received no warning of the hijack of United Flight 93 until three minutes after it had crashed in Pennsylvania.
See also: September 11 attacks advance-knowledge conspiracy theories: Israel
It has been claimed that Israeli agents may have had foreknowledge of the attacks. Four hours after the attack, the FBI arrested five Israelis who had been filming the smoking skyline from the roof of a white van in the parking lot of an apartment building, for "puzzling behavior." The Israelis were videotaping the events, and one bystander said they acted in a suspicious manner: "They were like happy, you know ... They didn't look shocked to me. I thought it was very strange." While The Forward, a New York Jewish news magazine, reported that the FBI concluded that two of the men were Israeli intelligence operatives, a spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in the United States said that they had not been involved in any intelligence operation in the United States. The FBI eventually concluded that the five Israelis had no foreknowledge of the attacks.
World Trade Center
See also: World Trade Center controlled demolition conspiracy theories
The plane crashes and resulting fires caused the collapse of the World Trade Center. Controlled demolition conspiracy theories say the collapse of the North Tower, South Tower, or of 7 World Trade Center was caused by explosives installed in the buildings in advance.
Demolition theory proponents, such as Brigham Young University physicist Steven E. Jones, architect Richard Gage, software engineer Jim Hoffman, and theologian David Ray Griffin, argue that the aircraft impacts and resulting fires could not have weakened the buildings sufficiently to initiate a catastrophic collapse, and that the buildings would not have collapsed completely, nor at the speeds that they did, without additional factors weakening the structures.
In the article "Active Thermotic Material Discovered in Dust from the 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe", which appeared in the Open Chemical Physics Journal, authors Niels Harrit of the University of Copenhagen's Department of Chemistry, Jeffrey Farrer of Brigham Young University's Department of Physics and Astronomy, Steven E. Jones, and others state that thermite and nano-thermite composites in the dust and debris were found following the collapse of the three buildings, which they conclude to be proof that explosives brought down the buildings. The article contained no scientific rebuttal and the editor in chief of the publication subsequently resigned.
Jones has not explained how the amount of explosive needed to do this could have been positioned in the two buildings without drawing attention, but mentioned efforts to research the buildings' maintenance activity in the weeks prior to the event. Federal investigators at the National Institute of Standards and Technology state that enormous quantities of thermite would have to be applied to the structural columns to damage them, but Jones disputed this, saying that he and others were investigating "superthermite". Brent Blanchard, author of "A History of Explosive Demolition in America", who corresponded with Jones, states that questions about the viability of Jones' theories remain unanswered, such as the fact that no demolition personnel noticed any telltale signs of thermite during the eight months of debris removal following the towers' collapse. Blanchard also said that a verifiable chain of possession needs to be established for the tested beams, which did not occur with the beams Jones tested, raising questions of whether the metal pieces tested could have been cut away from the debris pile with acetylene torches, shears, or other potentially contaminated equipment while on site, or exposed to trace amounts of thermite or other compounds while being handled, while in storage, or while being transferred from Ground Zero to memorial sites.
Jones also said that molten steel found in the rubble was evidence of explosives, as an ordinary airplane fire would not generate enough heat to produce this, citing photographs of red debris being removed by construction equipment, but Blanchard said that if there had been any molten steel in the rubble any excavation equipment encountering it would have been immediately damaged. Other sampling of the pulverized dust by United States Geological Survey and RJ Lee did not report any evidence of thermite or explosives. It has been theorized the "thermite material" found was primer paint. Dave Thomas of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, noting that the residue in question was claimed to be thermotic because of its iron oxide and aluminum composition, pointed out that these substances are found in many items common to the towers. Thomas said that in order to cut through a vertical steel beam, special high-temperature containment must be added to prevent the molten iron from dropping down, and that the thermite reaction is too slow for it to be practically used in building demolition. Thomas pointed out that when Jesse Ventura hired New Mexico Tech to conduct a demonstration showing nanothermite slicing through a large steel beam, the nanothermite produced copious flame and smoke but no damage to the beam, even though it was in a horizontal, and therefore optimal position.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) concluded the accepted version was more than sufficient to explain the collapse of the buildings. NIST and many scientists refuse to debate conspiracy theorists because they feel it would give those theories unwarranted credibility. Specialists in structural mechanics and structural engineering accept the model of a fire-induced, gravity-driven collapse of the World Trade Center buildings without the use of explosives. As a result, NIST said that it did not perform any test for the residue of explosive compounds of any kind in the debris.
Soon after the day of the attacks, major media sources published that the towers had collapsed due to heat melting the steel. Knowledge that the burning temperatures of jet fuel would not melt the steel support structure of the WTC contributed to the belief among skeptics that the towers would not have collapsed without external interference (something other than the planes). NIST does not claim that the steel was melted, but rather that the weakened steel, together with the damage caused by the planes' impacts, caused the collapses. NIST reported that a simulation model based on the assumption that combustible vapors burned immediately upon mixing with the incoming oxygen showed that "at any given location, the duration of [gas] temperatures near 1,000 °C was about 15 to 20 [minutes]. The rest of the time, the calculated temperatures were 500 °C or below."
The ability of an uncontrolled blaze to cause the collapse of a steel-framed high-rise building was demonstrated by the destruction of the Plasco Building in Tehran, Iran on January 19, 2017.[original research?]
Political activist Thierry Meyssan and filmmaker Dylan Avery claim that American Airlines Flight 77 did not crash into the Pentagon. Instead, they argue that the Pentagon was hit by a missile launched by elements from inside the U.S. government. Some claim that the holes in the Pentagon walls were far too small to have been made by a Boeing 757: "How does a plane 125 ft. wide and 155 ft. long fit into a hole which is only 60 ft. across?" Meyssan’s book, L’Effroyable Imposture (published in English as 9/11: The Big Lie) became available in more than a dozen languages. When released, the book was heavily criticized by both the mainstream French and American press, and later, from within the 9/11 Truth movement. The French newspaper Liberation called the book "a tissue of wild and irresponsible allegations, entirely without foundation."
In response to the conspiracy theorists' claim of a missile hitting the Pentagon, Mete Sozen, a professor of civil engineering at Purdue University argues that: "A crashing jet doesn't punch a cartoon-like outline of itself into a reinforced concrete building. When Flight 77 hit the Pentagon, one wing hit the ground and the other was sheared off by the Pentagon's load-bearing columns." According to ArchitectureWeek, the reason the Pentagon took relatively little damage from the impact was because Wedge One had recently been renovated. (This was part of a renovation program which had been begun in the 1980s, and Wedge One was the first of five to be renovated.)
Evidence contradicting some conspiracy theorists' claim of a missile hitting the Pentagon have been described by researchers within the 9/11 Truth Movement, such as Jim Hoffman, in his essay "The Pentagon Attack: What the Physical Evidence Shows", and by others broadly refuting the role of other conspiracies in the attacks. The evidence refuting missile claims includes airplane debris including Flight 77's black boxes, the nose cone, landing gear, an airplane tire, and an intact cockpit seat were observed at the crash site. The remains of passengers from Flight 77 were indeed found at the Pentagon crash site and their identities confirmed by DNA analysis. Many eyewitnesses saw the plane strike the Pentagon. Further, Flight 77 passengers made phone calls reporting that their airplane had been hijacked. For example, passenger Renee May called her mother to tell her that the plane had been hijacked and that the passengers had been herded to the back of the plane. Another passenger named Barbara Olson called her husband (U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson) and said that the flight had been hijacked, and that the hijackers had knives and box cutters. Some conspiracy theories say the phone calls the passengers made were fabricated by voice morphing, the passengers' bodies disposed of, and a missile fired at the Pentagon.
The pressure group Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act request on December 15, 2004, to force the government to release video recordings from the Sheraton National Hotel, the Nexcomm/Citgo gas station, Pentagon security cameras and the Virginia Department of Transportation. On May 16, 2006, the government released the Pentagon security camera videos to Judicial Watch. The image of American Airlines Flight 77 which appears in the videos has been described as "[a] white blob" and "a white streak" (by the BBC), "a thin white blur" (by The Associated Press), and "a silver speck low to the ground" (in The Washington Post). A sequence of five frames from one of the videos already appeared in the media in 2002. Some conspiracy theorists believe the new video does not answer their questions.
The fourth plane hijacked on 9/11, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed in an open field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after the passengers revolted. Out of the four planes hijacked on that day, Flight 93 was the only one not to reach its target.
One of the popular conspiracy theories surrounding this event is that Flight 93 was actually shot down by a U.S. fighter jet. David Ray Griffin and Alex Jones say that large parts of the plane including the main body of the engine landed miles away from the main wreckage site, too far away for an ordinary plane crash. Jones says that planes usually leave a small debris field when they crash, and that this is not compatible with reports of wreckage found farther away from the main crash site. One person claimed that the main body of the engine was found miles away from the main wreckage site with damage comparable to that which a heat-seeking missile would do to an airliner.
According to some theories, the plane had to be shot down by the government because passengers had found out about the alleged plot.
According to Phil Molé of Skeptic magazine, "[this] claim rests largely on unsupported assertions that the main body of the engine and other large parts of the plane turned up miles from the main wreckage site, too far away to have resulted from an ordinary crash. This claim is incorrect, because the engine was found only 300 yards from the main crash site, and its location was consistent with the direction in which the plane had been traveling." Michael K. Hynes, an airline accident expert who investigated the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996, says that, at very high velocities of 500 mph or more, it would only take a few seconds to move or tumble across the ground for 300 yards.
Reports of wreckage discovered at Indian Lake by local residents are accurate. CNN reported that investigators found debris from the crash at least eight miles away from the crash site, including in New Baltimore. However, according to CNN, this debris was all very light material that the wind would have easily blown away, and a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article from September 14, 2001, describes the material as "mostly papers", "strands of charred insulation", and an "endorsed paycheck". The same article quotes FBI agent Bill Crowley that, "Lighter, smaller debris probably shot into the air on the heat of a fireball that witnesses said shot several hundred feet into the air after the jetliner crashed. Then, it probably rode a wind that was blowing southeast at about 9 m.p.h." Also, the distance between the crash site and Indian Lake was misreported in some accounts. According to the BBC, "In a straight line, Indian Lake is just over a mile from the crash site. The road between the two locations takes a roundabout route of 6.9 miles—accounting for the erroneous reports."
Some conspiracy theorists believe a small white jet seen flying over the crash area may have fired a missile to shoot down Flight 93.[dubious– discuss] However, government agencies such as the FBI assert this small plane was a Dassault Falcon business jet asked to descend to an altitude of around 1,500 ft to survey the impact. Ben Sliney, who was the FAA operation manager on September 11, 2001, says no military aircraft were near Flight 93.
Some internet videos, such as Loose Change, speculate that Flight 93 safely landed in Ohio, and a substituted plane was involved in the crash in Pennsylvania. Often cited is a preliminary news report that Flight 93 landed at a Cleveland airport; it was later learned that Delta Flight 1989 was the plane confused with Flight 93, and the report was retracted as inaccurate. Several websites within the 9/11 Truth Movement dispute this claim, citing the wreckage at the scene, eyewitness testimony, and the difficulty of secretly substituting one plane for another, and claim that such "hoax theories ... appear calculated to alienate victims' survivors and the larger public from the 9/11 truth movement". The editor of the article has since written a rebuttal to the claims.
Valencia McClatchey, a local woman who took the only photograph of the mushroom cloud from the impact of Flight 93 seconds after it hit the ground, says she has been harassed over the telephone and in person by conspiracy theorists, who claim she faked the photo. The FBI, the Somerset County authorities, the Smithsonian, and the National Park Service’s Flight 93 National Memorial staff have all individually examined the photograph as well as the film negatives and all four agencies consider the photo to be authentic.
While some conspiracy theorists have claimed that passengers of Flight 93 and/or Flight 77, were murdered or that they were relocated, with the intent that they never be found, others within the 9/11 Truth Movement, such as Jim Hoffman and Scholars for 9/11 Truth & Justice, repudiate such claims.
See also: Hijackers in the September 11 attacks and Blocked al-Qaeda investigations
During the initial confusion surrounding the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the BBC published the names and identities of what they believed to be some of the hijackers. Some of the people named were later discovered to be alive, a fact that was seized upon by 9/11 conspiracy theorists as proof that the hijackings were faked. The BBC explained that the initial confusion may have arisen because the names they reported back in 2001 were common Arabic and Islamic names. In response to a request from the BBC, the FBI said that it was confident to have identified all nineteen hijackers, and that none of the other inquiries had raised the issue of doubt about their identities.The New York Times also acknowledged these as cases of mistaken identity.
According to John Bradley, the former managing editor of Arab News in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the only public information about the hijackers was a list of names issued by the FBI on September 14, 2001. When the FBI released photographs four days after the cited reports on September 27, the mistaken identities were quickly resolved. According to Bradley, "all of this is attributable to the chaos that prevailed during the first few days following the attack. What we're dealing with are coincidentally identical names." In Saudi Arabia, says Bradley, the names of two of the allegedly surviving attackers, Said al-Ghamdi and Walid al-Shari, are "as common as John Smith in the United States or Great Britain."
According to Thomas Kean, chair of the 9/11 Commission, "Sixteen of the nineteen shouldn't have gotten into the United States in any way at all because there was something wrong with their visas, something wrong with their passports. They should simply have been stopped at the border. That was sixteen of the nineteen. Obviously, if even half of those people had been stopped, there never would have been a plot."
Khalid al Mihdhar and Nawaf al Hazmi had both been identified as al-Qaeda agents by the CIA, but that information was not shared with the FBI or U.S. Immigration, so both men were able to legally enter the U.S. to prepare for the 9/11 attacks.
See also: Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda link allegations and Foreign government foreknowledge
There are allegations that individuals within the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) may have played an important role in financing the attacks. There are also claims that other foreign intelligence agencies, such as the Israeli Mossad, had foreknowledge of the attacks, and that Saudi Arabia may have played a role in financing the attacks. General Hamid Gul, a former head of ISI, believes the attacks were an "inside job" originating in the United States, perpetrated by Israel or neo-conservatives.Francesco Cossiga, former President of Italy from 1985 until his 1992 resignation over Operation Gladio, said that it is common knowledge among the Italian center-left that the 9/11 attacks were a joint operation of the CIA and the Mossad. Subsequent reports indicated that he did not actually believe this.
See also: September 11 attacks advance-knowledge conspiracy theories: Israel
A conspiracy theory documented by the Anti-Defamation League, Thom Burnett and others is that the state of Israel was involved in the attacks, and may have planned them. A variety of motives are suggested, including: to cause the United States to attack enemies of Israel; to divert public attention away from Israel's treatment of Palestinians; to help Zionists take control of world affairs; and to persuade Americans to support Israel. Variants of the theory contend that the attack was organized by Ariel Sharon, Mossad, or the government of Israel. Kevin Barrett, a former lecturer at the University of Wisconsin, is a leading advocate for the theory that Mossad orchestrated the attacks.
Some proponents of this believe that Jewish employees were forewarned by Israeli intelligence to skip work on September 11, resulting in no Jewish deaths at the World Trade Center. According to Cinnamon Stillwell, some 9/11 conspiracy theorists put this number as high as 4,000 Jewish people skipping work. This was first reported on September 17 by the LebaneseHezbollah-owned satellite television channel Al-Manar and is believed to be based on the September 12 edition of The Jerusalem Post that said "The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem has so far received the names of 4,000 Israelis believed to have been in the areas of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon at the time of the attacks."
The number of Jews who died in the attacks is variously estimated at between 270 and 400. The lower figure tracks closely with the percentage of Jews living in the New York area and partial surveys of the victims' listed religion. The U.S. State Department has published a partial list of 76 in response to claims that fewer Jews/Israelis died in the WTC attacks than should have been present at the time. Five Israeli citizens died in the attack.
Antisemitism in conspiracy theories
In 2003, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published a report attacking "hateful conspiracy theories" that the 9/11 attacks were carried about by Israelis and Jews, saying they had the potential to "rationalize and fuel global anti-Semitism." It found that such theories were widely accepted in the Arab and Muslim world, as well as in Europe and the United States.
The ADL's report found that "The Big Lie has united American far-right extremists and white supremacists and elements within the Arab and Muslim world". It asserted that many of the theories were modern manifestation of the 19th century Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which purported to map out a Jewish conspiracy for world domination. The ADL has characterized the Jeff Rense website as carrying anti-Semitic materials, such as "American Jews staged the 9/11 terrorist attacks for their own financial gain and to induce the American people to endorse wars of aggression and genocide on the nations of the Middle East and the theft of their resources for the benefit of Israel".
Pedro A. Sanjuan, a former United Nations diplomat, alleged that antisemitic 9/11 conspiracy theories were quite common at high levels of the organization following the attacks.
British investigative journalists Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan claimed in their 2011 book The Eleventh Hour that the Saudi Royal Family provided material and financial support to the hijackers and that the Bush Administration covered this up as well as their own alleged incompetence. The authors claim the 9/11 Truth movement helped this coverup by deflecting attention away from these actions. In September 2011 a "Lloyd's insurance syndicate" began legal action against Saudi Arabia demanding the repayment of £136m it paid out to victims of the 9/11 attacks. A number of prominent Saudi charities and banks as well as a leading member of the al-Saud royal family were accused of being "agents and alter egos" for the Saudi state that "knowingly" provided funding to al-Qaeda and encouraged anti Western sentiment.
Such theories revolve around the putative content of the 28 pages of the 2002 report of the U.S. Congress Joint Inquiry that are withheld from publication.
Former Florida Senator Bob Graham, co-chairman of the Joint Inquiry, as well as other former officials who did read the entire version of the Joint Inquiry's report, still partly classified, believe there is a U.S. government's coverup on the Saudi government officials' substantial aid provided to the perpetrators of the 9/11 act, notably the role of Fahad al-Thumairy, a diplomat at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles.
Nico Haupt and former chief economist within the Labor Department under the Bush administration, Morgan Reynolds, argue that no planes were used in the attacks. Reynolds claims it is physically impossible that the Boeing planes of Flights 11 and 175 could have penetrated the steel frames of the Towers, and that digital compositing was used to depict the plane crashes in both news reports and subsequent amateur video. "There were no planes, there were no hijackers", Reynolds insists. "I know, I know, I'm out of the mainstream, but that's the way it is". According to David Shayler, 'the only explanation is that they were missiles surrounded by holograms made to look like planes', he says, which would be well beyond the capabilities of contemporaneous hologram technology. "Watch footage frame by frame and you will see a cigar-shaped missile hitting the World Trade Center". Most no-planes researchers including Thierry Meyssan and Reynolds assert that either CGI of a passenger plane was overlaid onto a winged cruise missile or military aircraft, or that computer-generated images of a passenger plane were inserted into the video footage and plane-shaped explosive cut-outs were planted in the buildings in order to create the impression of plane impact. Some truth movement veterans have repeatedly refuted the "no-plane" claims. In fact, discussion of no-plane theories has been banned from certain conspiracy theory websites and advocates have sometimes been threatened with violence by posters at other conspiracy theory websites.
Paul Zarembka, in his book, The Hidden History of 9/11, states that the debris from ground zero was removed without a proper forensic investigation.
It’s the conspiracy theory to dwarf all conspiracy theories. A smorgasbord of every other intrigue under the sun, the Illuminati are the supposed overlords controlling the world’s affairs, operating secretly as they seek to establish a New World Order.
But this far-fetched paranoia all started with a playful work of fiction in the 1960s. What does this tell us about our readiness to believe what we read and hear – and what can the Illuminati myth reveal about the fake news and stories we continue to be influenced by today?
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When most people try to look into the secret society’s history, they find themselves in Germany with the Enlightenment-era Order of the Illuminati. It was a Bavarian secret society, founded in 1776, for intellectuals to privately group together and oppose the religious and elitist influence over daily life. It included several well-known progressives at the time but, along with the Freemasons, they found themselves gradually outlawed by conservative and Christian critics and the group faded out of existence.
View image of Still from Angels and Demons film (Credit: Alamy)
That is, until the 1960s. The Illuminati that we’ve come to hear about today is hardly influenced by the Bavarians at all, as I learned from author and broadcaster David Bramwell, a man who has dedicated himself to documenting the origins of the myth. Instead, an era of counter-culture mania, LSD and interest in Eastern philosophy is largely responsible for the group’s (totally unsubstantiated) modern incarnation. It all began somewhere amid the Summer of Love and the hippie phenomenon, when a small, printed text emerged: Principia Discordia.
The book was, in a nutshell, a parody text for a parody faith – Discordianism – conjured up by enthusiastic anarchists and thinkers to bid its readers to worship Eris, goddess of chaos. The Discordian movement was ultimately a collective that wished to cause civil disobedience, practical jokes and hoaxes.
The text itself never amounted to anything more than a counter-culture curiosity, but one of the tenets of the faith – that such miscreant activities could bring about social change and force individuals to question the parameters of reality – was immortalised by one writer, Robert Anton Wilson.
It’s an idealistic means of getting people to wake up to the suggested realities that they inhabit – David Bramwell, author
According to Bramwell, Wilson and one of the authors of the Principia Discordia, Kerry Thornley, “decided that the world was becoming too authoritarian, too tight, too closed, too controlled”. They wanted to bring chaos back into society to shake things up, and “the way to do that was to spread disinformation. To disseminate misinformation through all portals – through counter culture, through the mainstream media, through whatever means. And they decided they would do that initially by telling stories about the Illuminati.”
At the time, Wilson worked for the men’s magazine Playboy. He and Thornley started sending in fake letters from readers talking about this secret, elite organisation called the Illuminati. Then they would send in more letters – to contradict the letters they had just written.
View image of Jay-Z (Credit: Alamy)
“So, the concept behind this was that if you give enough contrary points of view on a story, in theory – idealistically – the population at large start looking at these things and think, ‘hang on a minute’,” says Bramwell. “They ask themselves, ‘Can I trust how the information is presented to me?’ It’s an idealistic means of getting people to wake up to the suggested realities that they inhabit – which of course didn’t happen quite in the way they were hoping.”
The chaos of the Illuminati myth did indeed travel far and wide – Wilson and another Playboy writer wrote The Illuminatus! Trilogy which attributed the ‘cover-ups’ of our times – such as who shot John F Kennedy – to the Illuminati. The books became such a surprise cult success that they were made into a stage play in Liverpool, launching the careers of British actors Bill Nighy and Jim Broadbent.
Today, it’s one of the world’s most widely punted conspiracy theories
British electronic band The KLF also called themselves The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, named after the band of Discordians that infiltrate the Illuminati in Wilson’s trilogy as they were inspired by the religion’s anarchic ideology. Then, an Illuminati role-playing card game appeared in 1975 which imprinted its mystical world of secret societies onto a whole generation.
Today, it’s one of the world’s most widely punted conspiracy theories; even celebrities like Jay-Z and Beyoncé have taken on the symbolism of the group themselves, raising their hands into the Illuminati triangle at concerts. It’s hardly instigated the mind-blowing epiphany – the realisation that it’s all fake – which the proponents of Discordianism had originally intended.
The 60s culture of mini-publishers and zines seems terrifically distant now from today’s globalised, hyper-connected internet, and it has undeniably been the internet’s propensity to share and propagate Illuminati rumours on websites like 4chan and Reddit that has brought the idea the fame it has today.
But we live in a world that is full of conspiracy theories and, more importantly, conspiracy theory believers; in 2015, political scientists discovered that about half of the general public in the USA endorse at least one conspiracy theory. These include anything from the Illuminati to the Obama ‘birther’ conspiracy, or the widely held belief that 9/11 was an inside job carried out by US intelligence services.
View image of US dollar bill (Credit: Alamy)
“There’s no one profile of a conspiracy theorist,” says Viren Swami, professor of social psychology at Anglia Ruskin University. “There are different perspectives of why people believe in these theories, and they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive – so the simplest form of explanation is that people who believe in conspiracy theories are suffering from some sort of psychopathology.”
Another conclusion researchers have drawn to is that these theories could provide rational ways of understanding events that are confusing or threatening to self esteem. “They give you a very simple explanation,” adds Swami, who published research in 2016 that found believers in conspiracy theories are more likely to be suffering from stressful experiences than non-believers. Other psychologists also discovered last year that people with higher levels of education are less likely to believe in conspiracy theories.
The big change now is that politicians, particularly Donald Trump, are starting to use conspiracies to mobilise support – Viren Swami, Anglia Ruskin University
The picture that this paints of modern America is a dark one, especially for Swami who has seen a change in who normally promotes conspiracy material. “Particularly in South Asia, conspiracy theories have been a mechanism for the government to control the people. In the West, it’s typically been the opposite; they’ve been the subject of people who lack agency, who lack power, and it’s their lacking of power that gives rise to conspiracy theories to challenge the government. Like with 9/11. If people lack power, conspiracy theories can sow the seeds of social protest and allow people to ask questions.
“The big change now is that politicians, particularly Donald Trump, are starting to use conspiracies to mobilise support.”
The 45th President of the United States was a notorious “birther”, regularly speaking to the media about how President Obama wasn’t really born in Hawaii. He also accused various US states of voter fraud after the 2016 election and his campaign team were responsible for propagating now debunked fabricated stories such as Pizzagate and the Bowling Green Massacre.
I asked Swami if he thought that this shift in conspiracy theory usage could affect politics long term. “People could become disengaged with mainstream politics if they believe in conspiracy theories,” said Swami. “They’re much more likely to engage with fringe politics. They’re also much more likely to engage with racist, xenophobic and extremist views.”
View image of US President Donald Trump (Credit: Alamy)
The idea of an untouchable, secretive elite must resonate with people that feel left behind and powerless; Trump said he wanted to represent these people, especially the once-powerful industrial landscape of America’s Rust Belt. Yet instead of feeling better represented in the halls of power by a non-politician like themselves – and theoretically being less likely to feel powerless and vulnerable to conspiracies – it seems like some in America are more likely to believe in stories like the Illuminati more than ever before.
“If Wilson was alive today, he’d be part delighted, part shocked”, says David Bramwell. “As far as they thought in the 60s, culture was a little too tight. At present, it feels like things are loose. They’re unravelling.
“Perhaps more stability will come as people fight against ‘fake news’ and propaganda. We’re starting to understand how social media is feeding us ideas we want to believe. Echo chambers.”
Between internet forums, nods in popular culture and humankind’s generally uninhibited capacity for imagination, today’s truth-finders and fact checkers might debunk the Illuminati myth for good.
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