Readers are asking me to adjudicate the September 11 debate sponsored by "Democracy Now!" between "Loose Change" producers Dylan Avery and Jason Bermas, and Popular Mechanics editors James Meigs and David Dunbar, who have just published a Popular Mechanics book, Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts.
This is not my role. First of all, I am not an expert on 9/11. Second, I didn't see the debate. Third, I don't think it matters who won the debate.
I have read the transcript of the debate, but written words do not convey the same impression as a visual presentation. As many, if not most, people who have been on debate teams will tell you, debates are not always won by who has the best facts and analysis. How one handles oneself, one's demeanor, how one approaches the audience, and the audience's predisposition can have more to do with the outcome of a debate than facts.
My opinion of "Loose Change" and Popular Mechanics is independent of who won the debate. The "Loose Change" producers are more to be admired than the Popular Mechanics editors for the simple reason that the former are committed to opening a debate and the latter are committed to closing debate down. Indeed, Popular Mechanics was early on the scene trying to close off debate by defending the government line. Why?
If I had been in the debate, I would have asked Meigs and Dunbar what's conspiratorial about a thorough hearing and examination of an event that has been used to justify illegal invasions that are war crimes and have destroyed two countries and killed tens of thousands of people.
The Popular Mechanics editors are convinced that any explanation other than the government's explanation is a conspiracy theory. However, the title of their new book applies equally to their view, as there is no more fantastic conspiracy theory than the view championed by the Popular Mechanics editors. How, for example, can it be possible that on one short morning of September 11, 2001, multiple failures occurred not only in airport security but also in FAA and NORAD procedures? The probability of any one of these failures is low. The probability of all of these failures occurring on one morning is very low indeed. How is it possible that essentially all US security failures of the last 5 or 10 years occurred on one morning? What probability do independent statisticians assign to such an event?
The probability is also extremely low that the only three steel columned buildings believed to have collapsed from fire all failed on the same day from three separate fires.
There are many problems with the 9/11 debate. Many different interests are using 9/11 to advance their agendas. Security interests use fear generated by 9/11 to erode civil liberties and establish the foundations of a police state. Federalist Society members in pursuit of a stronger executive use 9/11 to justify concentrating power in the White House, power that violates the separation of powers in the US Constitution. Anti-immigration groups use 9/11 as evidence for closing US borders and deporting Muslims who currently reside in the US. Foreign policy experts use 9/11 as an example of "blowback" from misguided and ill-considered US foreign policy. Discussion blogs are crowded with people who want to demonstrate that they are too sophisticated to fall for a conspiracy theory or too patriotic to believe that their government could be complicit. On the other side are those who are convinced that the US government has long been the epitome of evil and that 9/11 is just the latest example in a long history of US government false flag operations.
But the main problem with the 9/11 debate is that there has not really been a debate. Instead, we have had a report from a political commission run by a Bush administration insider, Philip Zelikow. In place of a real independent investigation, we have a collection of Washington players reassuring the public by defending the government's story line.
Studies, such as those referred to by the Popular Mechanics editors, are in fact not forensic studies of evidence but what the editor-in- chief of "Fire Engineering" called "paper- and computer-generated hypotheticals."
The explanation that the three WTC buildings collapsed as a result of damage and fire is a mere assertion. The assertion is not backed up with scientific calculation to demonstrate that the energy from the airliners, fire, and gravity were sufficient to collapse the buildings. A number of independent authorities believe that there is a very large energy deficit in the official account of the collapse of the buildings. Until this issue is resolved, the official explanation is merely an assertion no matter who believes it.
The Canadian scientist Frank R. Greening has made the only independent scientific attempt of which I am aware to show that a gravity driven collapse of one of the buildings, WTC 1, was sustainable. His paper is published in the Journal of 9/11 Studies, Vol. 3 (September 2006) and is available online. It is a reply to earlier calculations by Gordon Ross, who concluded otherwise, and is answered in the same issue by Ross, who shows that Greening's work actually demonstrates the existence of an energy deficit.
It is instructive to read this exchange between competent authorities. Few readers will be able to follow the application of scientific principles and the calculations of the required and available energy. However, it will be clear that the issue is a scientific matter that is over the heads of members of a political commission, pundits, and bloggers, and that it is inappropriate for a pundit, who himself is incapable of following such a discussion, to call those participating in it "conspiracy nuts."
Perhaps Greening is preparing an answer to Ross that will rescue the government's story from scientists' skepticism. There are many more skeptics than Ross and Professor Steven Jones. Frank Legge, for example, has shown problems with NIST's explanation that fire caused the buildings to fail.Perhaps more scientists will find the independence, time and energy to become involved. But until scientists can come up with an explanation of where the energy came from to account for the total collapse of the buildings and an explanation of how the energy was evenly distributed so as to produce sudden symmetrical collapse, there is no more evidence for the official conspiracy theory than there is for the unofficial conspiracy theories.
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Paul Craig Roberts [email him] was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan Administration. He is the author of Supply-Side Revolution : An Insider's Account of Policymaking in Washington; Alienation and the Soviet Economy and Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy, and is the co-author with Lawrence M. Stratton of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice. Click here for Peter Brimelow's Forbes Magazine interview with Roberts about the recent epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct.