Reexamining the Evidence on the 9/11 Attacks

Last Updated on May 10, 2023.

This article is intended to be an exploration of the events of September 11, 2001. The apparent events which led up to and followed the fall of the World Trade Centers are each considered based on their relevance to that collapse and not to be taken as commentary on any governmental organization. In particular, the following is not intended to make any claims on the rightfulness of actions taken by the United States government regarding 9/11 or the War on Terror. I would advise to all other U.S. citizens to investigate the history of their country, especially as it pertains to current events. I ask that all who read this come with an open mind to understand the events of that day. I can’t claim to have taken into consideration every possible account of 9/11 as there have been over 3,000 books published on the subject with numerous conflicting accounts. My main considerations are how the World Trade Center Towers 1 and 2 fell, the records we have of that day, and the popular theories about this information.

It’s healthy to have some amount of skepticism toward popular accounts. If someone wasn’t a witness to an event, then they are considerably less reliable than someone who was. Details can be misunderstood or changed as they go from the first source to the second. Video footage can be misunderstood, and with some effort, edited. Even first-hand accounts aren’t totally reliable. This is especially true in chaotic and emotional situations wherein one cannot obtain a full picture of the events at hand. These obstacles each prevent a clear picture of reality, but there’s a general understanding of how to counteract them. I cannot fully explain or restate every measure that can be taken here as that is a vast topic, but I will state a few relevant tactics. First, having multiple witnesses leads to a more reliable account as different observational limits are evened out and biases are reduced in the agreed-upon bigger picture. Second, finding consistent accounts from each witness leads to an understanding of what they were able to clearly observe and minimizes suppositions that may come about due to their individual biases or limitations.

My Stance

It is the opinion of this author that there is little room for confusion left in the record surrounding the 9/11 attacks. For a detailed explanation of the events, see the 9/11 Commission Report. [1] 9/11 “truthers” offer different narratives about the events and claim that the Report is based on falsified or erroneous information. Their narrative about the events requires a conspiracy that is both unsupported by all physical records and also unnecessarily complicated. The goals which they claim the U.S. government and the Bush family had would have been more easily accomplished with actions that didn’t involve numerous eye witnesses, airlines, and countless records. Simply put, the amount of falsification that would be required is implausible and unheard of.

9/11 “truthers” insist that this is exactly why perpetrators would go out of their way, expending untold resources, to fabricate events like the 9/11 attacks. They claim that it is because it is unbelievable and nearly impossible to accomplish that 9/11 was fabricated. I would urge anyone who believes this to reconsider. If one comes up with a personal explanation for every possible detail, then the facts of the matter bear no relevance. This results in an ignorance toward reality. With the help of the internet, one doesn’t even have to supply all of the details with their own imagination. Any information presented before one’s eyes can be safely disregarded when one finds an alternate account. There is no shortage of alternate accounts for well-known events like 9/11 so anyone who is willing to ignore Occam’s razor and all evidence can safely cherry-pick the details which appeal to them most.

A History Worthy of Conspiracy

There are many reasons why someone would want to believe that 9/11 was fabricated. The Bush administration was unpopular. We are a very media-driven society which wants to hear fantastical stories and not grim realities. The events were also especially horrifying to Islamic people as it is discomforting to understand that someone claiming to worship the same God – in the same ways – could be capable of something so terrible. For many Americans, picturing the motives of the 9/11 attackers is an impossible feat. It is not common for any of us, U.S. citizens, to have a deep understanding of the destabilization of the middle East. It’s much easier for us to imagine how our government could have disregarded the lives of its own people. Thanks to our freedom we are allowed to present our theories on that, however much that chagrins our government.

The current state of the American imagination is in part a product of U.S. history. For instance, the infamous Project MKUltra involved the CIA attempting to develop mind control techniques through testing on American people at research facilities. Inhumane programs like that have primed us to assign blame to the U.S. government. However, the scope and demands of programs like that one are nothing compared to the efforts it would take to stage 9/11. I would challenge any “truther” to find a well-documented case of U.S. action that required coordination of that caliber. Programs of the Cold War were also the product of a unique atmosphere. There was a deep and abiding concern that the Soviet Union, North Korea, and China were each experimenting with mind control which motivated the director of the CIA, Allen Dulles, to see that we do the same. [2] It takes a real and consistent threat of war between major nations for resources to be allocated to programs like that. The zeitgeist before 9/11 wasn’t quite the same. While it can be a bad actor to its people at times, the U.S. government isn’t behind every major harmful event that happens in U.S. territory. The record shows that it wasn’t the case for 9/11.

Expert Analysis

In 2006, an analysis of the destruction of the World Trade Centers was published on Implosion World, a site for news relating to explosive demolition. [3] The author, Brent Blanchard, wrote this analysis while representing Protec, a consultation company for explosive demolitions. Due to Protec’s role in monitoring construction sites, seismographic data from Ground Zero of the 9/11 attack was available to them. Blanchard consulted this data. Protec also had access to thousands of photographs and hundreds of hours of footage of the debris due to its role in documenting deconstruction and cleanup at Ground Zero. Blanchard lists several construction companies who cooperated in this effort. Protec also had unedited footage of the collapses. I’d like to note that there is a vast body of footage of 9/11 both from amateurs and news cameras, especially of the second tower being hit. Much of this can be found online. At that time many cameras were already rolling due to the damage to the first tower. In general, all of this footage shows the same scene and it’s unlikely that it was all tampered.

Planted Bombs

Blanchard goes on to address the popular theory that the fall of the towers was assisted by internal explosives. His primary reason against this is based on looking at how and where the towers collapsed. Normally, when a building is demolished in a controlled environment the base is blown out first. By destroying the foundation, you can safely bring down the whole building. It’s impractical to start from anywhere higher in a building. You can watch footage of buildings being imploded to see this in action. The towers didn’t blow out from the bottom. You would see the bottom floors folding in due to explosive charges placed around the center of the building. This is not apparent in their collapse. What you can see is the top falling down. This is plainly evident in footage of the North Tower collapsing as you can see the radio tower on the top falling down toward the ground.

The structural integrity of the building failed exactly where the plane had struck it. The floors below remained largely intact until they were destroyed by the floors falling from above. You can see dust and debris billowing out from some of the floors moments before they were totally crushed, but this is in line with what we can expect from such a collapse. The heat and pressure from the weight and fire moving down was more than enough to jettison office equipment and pieces of the building before the rest of the floor was pinned under the weight. The floors added up to thousands of tons. Since the collapse started in each building where the planes hit, for explosive charges to have been involved it would have been necessary for them to be planted where the planes hit. This would mean that either dozens of explosive charges survived the impact and heat from a jet full of fuel crashing into the building or that someone planted charges while the heat of the plane crash was burning. As Blanchard explains, both scenarios are impossible. There was no need for explosive charges to aid this collapse. It would have been highly impractical for anyone to plant any before the impact and they couldn’t have expected them to survive the crash.

The Footprint Myth

There is a myth that has made “truthers” more obstinate in believing that the towers were demolished via explosives, which is that the towers fell into their own footprint. Protec’s statement is that this is wrong and that hundreds of construction workers involved in cleanup can tell where the building really fell. The towers fell into the path of least resistance. This was in general a downward motion but a great deal of debris was ejected from the buildings. Most of the building landed in the same area due to its own weight pancaking it, but much of it landed on WTC 6 and 7. Footage of the collapse shows the debris billowing outward in a mushroom cloud fashion. Blanchard explains that a “tall office building cannot be made to tip over like a tree.”[4It is simply not a rigid and solid object like a tree. It’s a complex object full of nuance in its construction and blasters have to take this into consideration when demolishing buildings. Furthermore, even if the towers were tree-like, they wouldn’t have tipped over from the sort of damage they took. Each of them had a plane fully embedded inside of it. The layers of concrete and steel prevented the planes from completely coming out the other side. This left higher floors highly unstable as the floors with the planes steadily gave way. Due to where the damage occurred and the sort of buildings they were, the towers were bound to fall downward and not over like a tree.

Studies on the Collapse

“Truthers” are understandably curious why the buildings didn’t collapse immediately and would like to know how the buildings gave way gradually. The NIST did extensive research on the collapse, including simulations of the fires. [5] They took into consideration the construction materials of the towers and the planes – in particular, their stress curves were considered. This gave an estimate for when and how the collapses could occur. What they found is that the buildings wouldn’t collapse immediately due to the strength of the steel. Much of the insulation would be torn away, however, and some columns would be damaged. In their simulation, the plane would be shredded by the interior components of the building and its jet fuel would immediately combust. The temperature would rise quickly and then even out just in excess of 600°C around where the plane and office equipment were burning. However, the hottest part of the fire could continue to rise up to an excess of 1,000°C. [6] This is due to the hot gas accumulating around the ceiling. The tile system could remain intact long enough on a given floor for the heat to build up before burning through to the next layer above. This temperature is well in excess of what is required to weaken the structural integrity of steel. In this simulation, the joist beams would have given way, forcing the columns to support weight in excess of what they could bear.

Another study by Purdue University and the American Society of Civil Engineers later supported these findings through a computer simulation. [7] You can see a summary of the simulation from National Geographic. [8] You can see core columns being damaged in this simulation. What likely happened is that their bolts gave out. It’s also worth noting that a Boeing 747 isn’t 100% aluminum. Parts of it are steel and titanium. These simulations were made with consideration of the strength of the steel, the structure of the tower, and the materials of the jets. They were not made based on presupposed occurrences.

What a Collapse Looks Like

The next point I’d like to address is the appearance of the collapse, namely the plumes of smoke which were ejected from the falling towers. “Truthers” take this as an indication of explosive charges. I won’t deny that explosive charges could look like this. However, so can the ejection of air and debris from collapsing towers. This is not an indication of explosive charges. Blanchard points out that the majority of a human-inhabited building is composed of air and when a pressure is applied on that space, the air has to go somewhere. As the floors gave way before the exterior columns, interior furnishings and debris were forced outward. Exactly where and how the pressure built up varied based on the contents of the building and so these contents ‘exploded’ out of the building at variable places and rates. What can be seen of this from footage doesn’t resemble a controlled demolition, which is usually marked by evenly spaced explosions meant to weaken a structure, generally with minimal smoke and debris involved. Plumes of smoke come out of the building from below where the planes struck, starting with the floors nearest the crash. While there may be ways to make a controlled demolition look like this, what we actually see in footage matches what we would expect from an uncontrolled collapsing tower.

Skyscrapers Are Not Indestructible

A central point to the “truther” debate is that the World Trade Center towers were built to withstand the collision of an aircraft. Popular Mechanics addresses this point. [9] To summarize, the buildings were constructed to withstand a collision from a 707 traveling at low speeds with a nearly empty fuel tank, not a 747 traveling at 500 mph. For reference, the Boeing 747 has 145% the wingspan of the 707 and about three times the thrust. I would like to add to this. It’s a bold claim that the buildings would survive such an impact anyway as there are many variables involved. Some of these variables are known now, such as how the design of the building leads to the trapping of heat. The World Trade Center towers were supposedly built to specifications that would allow them to survive the collision of a smaller aircraft, but this is not something that’s been tested in reality.

Granted, it is possible that the engineers in charge of constructing the Twin Towers ran the numbers correctly, used the best information, and reported accurately what the buildings could withstand – and in that case they should have survived the impact of a low-speed, low-fuel aircraft. We should be able to run accurate simulations to tell us as much today. Aside from the aforementioned institutions, there are a few more individuals, Frank Greening and Christian Simonson, who have run simulations to give a full understanding of how the towers collapsed. [10] They also found that the towers collapsed in much the manner we saw, but had more to add to it. The 9/11 commission report didn’t specifically address how the floors collapsed in the investigative manner that was taken up by Purdue University, Greening and Simonson, and other groups. With the exploration of these scientists, we now have a clearer picture of exactly how the buildings collapsed.

The Composition of Falling Debris

In particular, what Greening and Simonson found addresses the common complaint among “truthers” that there were numerous eye witnesses who saw molten metal coming off of the buildings and who heard explosions. The Boeing 747s were mostly made of aluminum, which has a low enough melting point to have melted in the ensuing combustion. All simulations support this account. It is likely that any metal dripping off of the building was largely composed of aluminum. Some “truthers” claim that aluminum can’t look like the metal seen dripping off the building. The appearance of aluminum can vary based on what it comes into contact with and it is also possible for other molten materials to have been present at the time. An office building isn’t composed entirely of one material, such as steel, but is rather like a heterogeneous mixture, with pipes, furnishings, and windows of various materials. As for the explosions heard by witnesses, it is without a doubt that they heard many loud and sharp noises that day. As previously mentioned, most of this sound would have been from the air being ejected from the collapsing building. In a normal demolition, windows would have been removed as well. These bystanders would have heard the windows burst as air was ejected. Part of what Greening and Simonson propose is that the molten aluminum came into contact with water from the sprinkler systems. This would have also resulted in explosions.

Blanchard further addresses the possibility of thermite-based explosives being used inside the World Trade Center. The short answer is that there is no evidence supporting this theory. A standard thermite-based explosive would have shown up on at least one of the several seismographs that were active at the time in Manhattan. There’s been a proliferation of supposed evidence about the presence of molten steel. No one was in a position to look for this immediately after the collapse. The evidence which Blanchard was able to review was found to be inaccurate at best. The pictures tend to show standard excavators digging into molten steel, which in reality would have resulted in the destruction of the excavators. Other hot metallic compounds were extracted from the site but only with an understanding that they weren’t likely to destroy the equipment. It’s important to note that numerous companies were involved in this cleanup, none of which had equipment melted by molten steel at the site. Nor did any of them report signs of thermite.

Nano-Thermite is What I'd Call a Likely Excuse

There are many compounds which could, in theory, have been used to weaken the supports of the Twin Towers. Nano-thermite is now the popular theory among conspiracists as this substance would have potentially not shown up on seismographs. Any explosive would have generally required the removal of insulation or, as some theorists have claimed, installation in the building during its construction. This would have required either an inexplicable act of subterfuge at the time of construction and/or the cooperation of New York and New Jersey with some branch of the United States government as the construction was overseen by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Note that nano-thermite wasn’t invented until the 1990s, twenty years after this construction. Setting up these sorts of explosives during maintenance, as some claim happened, would have been prohibitive due to the need to remove insulation. Many eye witness accounts of 9/11 which are mentioned by “truthers” are taken out of context and used for misleading portrayals. Most sorts of flashes, explosions, and debris make sense in the context of a collapsing skyscraper. For instance, some firemen who were near the towers at the time recognized that flashes they saw could have been electrical in nature. [11]

Steven Jones and Neil Harrit claim that they found traces of thermite in samples taken from around ground zero. [12] The peer review process for this article is in question. [13] In the paper, they state that they have samples collected very shortly after the attack. They state in the abstract that there are “red/gray chips in all the samples we have studied of the dust” and that they tested four of the samples. I would like to point out that the presence of notable red/gray chips in all of their samples implies that either a large portion of the dust present that day contained these chips or that there may have been a bias in the collection process. If thermite had been used to weaken columns, it wouldn’t have been likely to represent more than a very small portion of the dust present on that day. I am not an expert on demolitions nor do I have specifics about the samples outside of their paper, so I will grant the possibility that explosive dust happens to disperse very evenly among debris. There is ongoing discussion about whether what Jones and Harrit found could constitute any kind of explosive material, including questions about its DSC peak (a measure of a material’s response to being heated) and whether it could be considered nano-technology. [14

As far as I know, there are no other peer-reviewed papers to date that consider the properties of nano-thermite and whether samples from WTC contain it. I would expect that identifying nano-technology of this variety would depend on expert analysis so I would regard various investigations online as inconclusive at best. In any case, the same problems with the narrative persist whether or not there was nano-thermite present.

An Inconvenient Plane

“Truthers” also must explain what happened to United Airlines Flight 93. Flight 93 crash-landed far away from its intended target long after the first three flights had hit theirs. This was due to a revolt from the crew against the hijackers. Voice recordings from cellular phone calls of those passengers were recorded. These recordings indicated an attempt to overthrow the hijackers. Flight data was also received. The identities of the passengers was generally known prior to its crash and confirmed by DNA evidence after its crash-landing. [15] This identification was conducted by a coroner local to Somerset County with the aid of the FBI. The passengers were a disparate group of people. [16If the flights were all destroyed just to provide a pretext for war, then this flight would have been the most unnecessary. If government officials had wanted to convince the American people that war was necessary, they wouldn’t have had a flight crash-land in the middle of nowhere. Rather than have any planes, they could have simply set off bombs instead. Having all information about the planes fabricated would have been an immense and unnecessary conspiracy involving United Airlines for no particular reason. Convoluted plans are generally not better than simple ones. The evidence for a terrorist attack is generally robust while alternative accounts tend to be imaginative and paint Flight 93 as a distraction.

An Unsuspecting President

One popular “truther,” David Ray Griffin, mentions that in an emergency like 9/11 the president should leave their location immediately. [17

Since Bush remained in the classroom for approximately another half-hour he must have known he was safe where he was, Griffin claims. It’s rare for the U.S. to be attacked directly so there may not have been a set precedent that demanded the president relocate immediately. I’ll give Griffin the benefit of the doubt and assume that there was some standard protocol in place for how and when the president should vacate during an emergency. This is still one of the weakest and most inadmissible pieces of evidence for 9/11 being an inside job as it doesn’t show any direct indication as to how or why it happened. It could be considered corroborating if there was already a bulk of solid evidence, in much the same way that facts which don’t contradict a theory can be considered to support that theory. Which is to say, it would be very weakly corroborating.

What I’d consider just as likely is that Bush knew he might be in danger and failed to act or purposely chose not to relocate. I believe this is in line with what we know of Bush. He also didn’t know exactly what had happened at that time nor did his staff. It wasn’t until after the second plane hit that Chief of Staff Andrew Card told Bush that it was a terrorist attack. Card had suspected Al Qaeda before an investigation confirmed their involvement. [18] This attack blindsided the American people as it wasn’t public information that Al Qaeda could present this sort of threat. Their previous attacks had never reached this level of destruction. One CNN reporter thought it could still be some sort of “navigational equipment failure...or quirk.” [19] I think it’s fair to say that among those who knew two planes had hit the towers, the majority knew it wasn’t likely to have been a coincidence. However, it wasn’t until later on that documents were declassified allowing all American citizens detailed information about Al Qaeda.

Endless Theories

There are far more theories surrounding the 9/11 attack which I haven’t covered. Some claim that the planes were full of explosives and that the passengers were displaced or killed elsewhere. [20There are several recordings of phone calls from the planes that run contrary to this theory. Other theorists point toward Israel or others as behind the attack. There is no intelligence confirming these theories. There are several theories about WTC 7 and the plane that hit the Pentagon. Much of the discrepancies there revolve around second-hand accounts distorting the details. Pieces of the plane that hit the Pentagon were photographed as well as the bodies. Additionally, eye witnesses saw the plane hit the building. WTC 7 caught fire and the building’s owner gave his opinion that the firefighters shouldn’t risk their lives for that building. He supposedly said to “pull it.” What words he used don’t really matter as it was ultimately up to the firefighters involved as to how they would address the situation. The opinions of private citizens are not typically considered when putting out fires.

Understanding the Context

It bears mentioning that the 9/11 attack is part of a history of conflict which has touched many people. Al Qaeda was a known organization for years prior to the 9/11 attack. The destabilization of the middle East and the proliferation of militant anti-American regimes was already underway. Terrorist attacks were occurring and the CIA was learning about these threats from confidants such as al-Fadl. [21] The World Trade Center was included in lists of potential targets for Al Qaeda and had undergone an attack before. The North Tower was the subject of a truck bombing in 1993. That attack was intended to bring down the North Tower and send it crashing into the South Tower but it failed to do so.

             This history presents a burden of proof on 9/11 “truthers” to explain how this attack was actually conducted by the U.S. government and not by a terrorist cell. The common assertion among “truthers” is that the Bush administration wanted a pretext for war so as to protect the oil interests of the Bush family. I say it’s the common assertion – and I think it is the most common – but assertions do vary. Some don’t say that it was to protect oil interests and others don’t specify that the Bushes were involved in particular. In all cases, the claim is that some governmental body acted in bad faith so as to go to war. According to the popular theories, the Bush administration had secret agents planting bombs inside the towers some time before the planes hit. I think this account is riddled with problems. If the U.S. government orchestrated the collapse of the towers to go to war, then why would there need to be planes hitting the buildings to show that we were attacked by Al Qaeda? Al Qaeda had already tried to bring down the towers through bombs in the past. Wouldn’t it be simple enough to say that they’d succeeded on a second try? Maybe 9/11 “truthers” would argue that there had to be planes to make it convincing and dramatic enough for war, but frankly there’s no need. The people of our nation surmise that war is necessary whensoever there is a mass casualty attack. The U.S. government would have no need to make arrangements for a mock attack with United Airlines, American Airlines, the FAA, or any of the other numerous bodies implicated in these conspiracy theories.

Putting Together the Evidence

Motivations for why anyone would stage 9/11 are hard to place whereas motives for an attack by Al Qaeda are well documented. The one element which may seem implausible is that this occurred to the U.S., which has one of the strongest militaries in the world, and the source wasn’t even another nation. The attackers did have funding from other nations though. What's even more surprising is that that some of the hijackers received their flight training in the U.S. as is detailed in the 9/11 Commission Report. It’s understandable to think that the U.S. would be better prepared for this sort of attack. Many conspiracists claim that we were. Having a plane hit the Pentagon is especially troubling since that's supposed to be an important center of intelligence. However, it is by no means a secret facility. James Bennet goes into detail about the plausibility of it being attacked. [22] There was an attempt to scramble jets after the first few planes hit, but the three that reached their targets came in too suddenly for any reaction. It is likely that the only way 9/11 could have been avoided is if there had been more follow-up on certain intelligence about Al Qaeda. The unfortunate truth is that that didn't happen. This could be considered an embarrassment for both the intelligence community and for the airlines involved. In every way it was in their best interest to prevent 9/11. The motives don't add up and there is no evidence, so it is highly unlikely that anyone staged 9/11.

Jay Chambers, October 30 2018