Another Look at 9/11

Against the Current, No. 114, January/February 2005

Jack Ceder

The New Pearl Harbor
Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11.
by David Ray Griffin.
Olive Branch Press (Interlink Publishing Group), updated edition, 2004. 256 pages, $15 paper.
9/11 In Plane Site
DVD/VHS video
Dave von Kleist,
65 minutes,, $20.

THERE ARE TWO conflicting conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attacks, each of which appear implausible and mind-boggling to many people. One is the official story as spun by the government and the media,and largely seconded by the 9/11 Commission: Nineteen Arab terrorists were able to hijack four planes without U.S. Intelligence’s knowledge, and to penetrate the air defense systems to hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

In essence this is a story of incredible official incompetence and of improbable coincidences juxtaposed with an equally incredible skill and luck of the 19 hijackers armed with box cutters and with little, if any, piloting experience.

The official story is so full of holes that it has spawned an alternative revisionist story which I will call the scam theory instead of the more polite term, complicity theory. The minimal version of this alternative theory is that the government was complicit and let it happen, whereas the maximal version is that the government organized and executed it using the alleged hijackers as patsies; that is, it was an inside job.

My discussion of the scam theory is based upon Griffin’s The New Pearl Harbor and von Kleist’s DVD/Video “9/11: In Plane Site” as the main reference points. These will be abbreviated NPH and IPS in the sequel. Other references come from various website sources.(1)

The NPH book is a superbly written analysis of the various criticisms of the official story made by many independent researchers. Griffin presents the arguments for the official story as well as the arguments for the scam theory in an academic, objective way. It is clear, however, that he is on the side of the scam theorists.

His title comes from the desire expressed by neo-conservatives connected to the Project for a New American Century to have “a new Pearl Harbor” so as to galvanize American people to support their plans, specifically in order to provide the public backing for its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the Patriot Act.(2)

The author of NPH, David Ray Griffin, is a professor of the Philosophy of Religion at the Claremont School of Theology and a well-known and respected scholar. He came to his conclusions rather reluctantly, like many other researchers. In his words:

“Until the spring of 2003, I had not looked at any of the evidence. I was vaguely aware that there were people, at least on the Internet, who were offering evidence against the official account of 9/11 and were suggesting a revisionist account, according to which U.S. officials were complicit. But I did not take the time to try to find their websites….

“I assumed that those who were claiming otherwise must be ‘conspiracy theorists’ in the derogatory sense in which this term is usually employed — which means, roughly, ‘crackpots.’ I knew that if they were right, this would be very important. But I was so confident that they must be wrong — that their writings would consist merely of loony theories based on wild inferences from dubious evidence — that I had no motivation to invest time and energy in tracking these writings down.

“I fully sympathize, therefore, with the fact that most people have not examined the evidence. Life is short and the list of conspiracy theories is long, and we all must exercise judgment about which things are worth our investment of time. I had assumed that conspiracy theories about 9/11 were below the threshold of possible credibility.” (xvii-xviii)

The Scam Theory

The main theses of the maximal-scam theorists are the following:

(1) US Intelligence knew of the exact plans of the alleged al Qaeda terrorists.

(2) The air defense system was sabotaged from above.

(3) The hijacked airliners did not hit their alleged targets. Instead, the Twin Towers were hit by controlled remotely military planes. The Pentagon was hit by some missile and/or a small military drone plane.

(4) The Twin Towers and World Trade Center Building #7 were destroyed not by fire, but by controlled demolition.

Outrageous as these initially sound, they are backed up by some solid evidence as will be seen below. I will only discuss in any length the last two assertions, (3) and (4). The reason is twofold. First, if any version of (3) or (4) were true then it follows that it was an inside job so that the validity of (1) and (2) follows automatically. Secondly, to do justice to the first two assertions would require enormous space.

Griffin covers one side in detail while the other side is, for example, covered by the 9/11 Commission report. The critics claim that the 9/11 Commission report is a whitewash and cover-up. In fact, Griffin has just published a book responding to it, The 911 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions.(3)

The “monstrous” claims of the scam theorists could be easily marginalized in a confusing stew of disputed evidence and claims and dismissed by ridicule — except for the fact there are photos and videos strongly supporting them. The visual material is abundantly shown in various websites (see footnotes below).

The clearest source that I have found is in IPS. The visual proof is so compelling that the critics of the scam theory, both left and right, studiously avoid confronting it. For example the 9/11 Commission totally ignored both the Pentagon damage, which appears to be incompatible with the official account, and the collapse of WTC #7.

Did Military Planes Hit the Towers?

For some time there have been on the Internet fuzzy video clips purporting to show that United Airlines Flight 175, which allegedly hit the South tower, was in fact a substitute military plane. (The North tower was hit 17 minutes earlier.)

NPH does not deal with this possibly because it wasn’t clear at the time of writing. In IPS, which just came out in late summer of 2004, these clips taken from the networks’ film are much clearer and they show a large and long “pod” under the right front part of the fuselage. Moreover, just before impact there is a flash emitted from the area of this pod.

There are network film shots from four angles so it couldn’t be a reflection of the sun. There exists a very brief video of the first plane just before impact, in which the same flash appears, but the images are too unclear to discern the existence of a pod.

In addition, in IPS there is an audio clip of a Fox News employee saying that he got a good look at the plane and declaring that the plane had a strange blue logo, had no windows and certainly was no airliner. Conclusion: Since commercial planes have no such pods or need of such, it had to be a military plane with a missile pod with the ostensible purpose of maximizing the damage.

The WTC Buildings’ Collapse

All seven buildings of the World Trade Center collapsed one way or another. The smaller buildings #3, 4 and 5 seem to have collapsed by being hit by debris from the Twin Towers. Building #6, the Custom House, however, seems to have been blown up from the inside.

There is a brief CNN shot of a gigantic plume of smoke from Building #6 shown in IPS. At the time the Twin Towers presumably hadn’t fallen yet, and the plume was on the other side of the impact side of the nearest tower. So whatever happened seemed independent of the Twin Tower hits.

Aerial photos on the Internet show a huge circular crater in the middle of the mangled shell of the building. Therefore it was not a controlled demolition job. No researcher has been able to as yet discover what, how and why. In any case it is incompatible with the official story. There is some controversy in the revisionist camp about the status of this plume as well as about other facets of the whole inside-job theory.

The Twin Towers, according to the official conspiracy story, collapsed from fire damage. Indeed a federal agency, FEMA, investigated and so concluded. As expected, this was hotly contested by the critics, who claim it was brought down by explosives.

For one thing critics say that no steel building has ever collapsed due to fires. Buildings are severely damaged with massive and prolonged fires but never collapse in the manner that the Twin Towers did. Indeed hydrocarbon fires normally generate a maximum temperature of 1700 degrees Fahrenheit whereas a temperature of 2770 is required to melt steel.

There is a revealing statement by Mayor Guiliani to ABC’s Peter Jennings, which gives credence to the demolition theory. “We were operating out of there (i.e .the emergency command center in Building #7) when we were told that the World Trade Center (meaning the South Tower) was gonna collapse, and it did collapse before we could get out of the building.”

Yet according to the official story, the collapse was a totally unprecedented occurrence and the experienced fire fighters didn’t know or expect that it was going to collapse. Moreover, on another video I have seen there is a clip of Dan Rather interviewing a FEMA official dressed in his work uniform and stating “we arrived on Monday evening,” i.e. 9/10 — a rather suspicious coincidence, exemplary of many others!(4)

The situation with Building #7, a 47-story structure, is much clearer and is the cornerstone of the scam theory. It was not hit by any plane or debris and had small fires on the 7th and 12th floors, yet it collapsed late in the afternoon. FEMA confessed that it had no idea why Building #7 collapsed.

In IPS there is a video clip of Larry Silverstein, the lease holder of the World Trade Center, saying “we decided to pull it.” “We” meant he and the fire department head, and “pull it” meant demolish it. The implication of this confession is enormous.

From the films and other evidence it appears like a controlled demolition job. However, to set up a controlled demolition requires countless hours of planning and work — far too many to have been done that day. This raises countless questions of how, when and why. It is no wonder that the 9/11 Commission Report doesn’t even mention Building #7.

As Griffin sums up the evidence, the collapse of the buildings of the World Trade Center, besides occurring at almost free-fall speed, exhibited other signs of being controlled demolitions: molten steel, seismic shocks, and fine dust were all produced. The video and physical evidence suggesting that controlled demolition was the cause of the Twin Towers co-exists with testimony from people in these buildings that they heard, felt and saw the effects of explosions.

What Hit the Pentagon?

According to the scam account, the Pentagon was not hit by the hijacked UA Flight 77 but by some missile or a drone. Here are some of the many facts which help contradict the official story and support this claim.

Flight 77 left Washington at 8:20. At 8:46 it went off course; at 8:50 it got back on course but lost its radio and at 8:56 its transponder went off. But reportedly no jets were scrambled. It disappeared from the radar screens in Indianapolis at 9:09.

At 9:25 air controllers in Washington detected a fast moving plane headed towards the White House. Then at 9:33 it veered towards the Pentagon. “(S)tarting from 7000 feet, the aircraft made a difficult ‘downward spiral, turning almost a complete circle, dropping the last 7000 feet in two and a half minutes.’

“The speed, maneuverability, the way he turned, we all thought in the radar room, all experienced air controllers, that that was a military plane” reported one air traffic controller. Other witnesses report: “I was convinced it was a missile. It came in so fast it sounded nothing like an airplane.” “It was like a cruise missile with wings.” (Eyewitnesses quoted in NPH, 25-26)

On the other hand other witnesses claim they saw a plane; some said a small plane; more said a large one. Theorists handle this division of opinion by conjecturing a large decoy plane flying over the Pentagon and a smaller drone or missile actually hitting it.

The Pentagon was hit at 9:38. Again no jet interceptors were sent up in time even though it was over an hour since the first reported hijacking occurred. In the words of Gore Vidal, “Certainly the hour-twenty- minute failure to put fighter planes in the air could not have been due to a breakdown throughout the entire Air Force along the East Coast. Mandatory operating procedures had been told to cease and desist.”

Moreover, both the Pentagon and the White House have elaborate and sophisticated anti-missile defenses, which were not activated, possibly because they are programmed not to respond to military craft.

Most damaging to the official story is the photographic evidence, which convincingly belies the official story. NPH contains no photos, but IPS does.

First, there are photos taken before the firemen were deployed and the wall collapsed, which show a hole on the ground floor about 18 feet in diameter with little damage to the sides and top. Nor are there any skid marks on the lawn.

Yet the alleged aircraft weighed about 100 tons and had a wing span of 125 feet together with two huge engines and a tail of 40 feet in height. Although the cabin could conceivably fit into that hole it is impossible for the whole plane to do so.
The photographic evidence shows no pieces of plane, baggage, passengers, etc. except some small metal pieces, which could have come from an alleged “missile/ drone.” In addition, the Pentagon structure consists of a series of rings; on the inner wall of the third ring there is a circular exit hole of seven feet diameter, which is incompatible with the possible damage from the fragile nose of an airliner.

Some debunkers of the inside job hypothesis claim that the plane disintegrated upon impact and its wings and tail conveniently folded up so as to enter the hole.
The Pentagon released a series of four photographic frames purporting to show their version: The last three show a fireball at the impact, while the first shows a billowing white exhaust trail of something covered up by an object in the parking lot foreground.

The problem with this is that planes don’t emit visible exhausts, and that Flight 77 was far too big to be obscured by the foreground object.

The military refuses to release the complete set of photos to support their version. Moreover, the FBI confiscated surveillance photos at a nearby gas station (reportedly five minutes afterwards) and a nearby hotel. Certainly the Pentagon is honeycombed with surveillance cameras, so why don’t they show their photos to prove their case?

Some additional problems for the official story are: The alleged Saudi terrorist who flew Flight 77 was described by his flight school trainers as being completely incompetent. When the government finally released the flight control transcript, the last 20 minutes was missing.

The alleged attacking craft made a difficult 270 degree descent to fly horizontally a few feet above the ground to hit the most fortified and least populated portion of the Pentagon. Wouldn’t it make more sense and be easier for the alleged terrorists to directly dive into a weaker section which was heavily populated with big brass?

Again the 9/11 Commission avoids addressing these anomalies altogether.

Inside Job?

Griffin’s book together with various similar books and videos give strong supporting evidence for the claim that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job. As Griffin points out, however, the evidence is not a chain of events linked together so that the disproof or invalidity of one link would destroy the whole theory. Indeed the pieces of evidence are largely independent, each suggestive of an official complicity.

I agree with Griffin that the cumulative evidence is overwhelmingly supportive of the scam theory. But the corporate media and the loyal opposition party won’t dare touch the case and so far only a handful of “conspiracy nuts” have questioned the official myths.

The debunkers of the scam theory simply can’t explain the anomalies. Obviously there are many mysteries remaining, like what happened to the planes and passengers. One would hope that further independent research would be able to answer the many remaining unresolved questions.

An Irrational Theory?

There are other objections which are not based upon disputing the material evidence of the scam, but rather upon the irrationality or implausibility of the scam as a whole. Let me summarize some of these objections (see Griffin, 134-141 for a fuller discussion).

Generally, if the Bush regime wanted a “new Pearl Harbor,” why choose the particular set of events of the 9/11 attack, which were too complicated, too costly, too risky of being exposed, and too ineptly organized and covered up? In short, acceptance of scam theory also implies massive incompetence of the authorities. Specifically:

(1) This had to be a massive conspiracy involving the CIA, FBI, the White House, the Justice Department and the Military. Possibly, thousands of honest people in the government had an unwilling hand in the execution and covering up of the scam; they might know a piece of the puzzle and know it doesn’t fit the official story. There is the risk that somebody, even though bound by loyalty and secrecy oaths, would dare risk one’s job and even life by leaking an incriminating document.

(2) The damage of the 9/11 attacks seems wildly excessive to be commensurate with the alleged goal of instilling the amount of fear and anger necessary for promoting the new world order of imperialism and repression. In particular, why demolish Building #7? Why hit the Pentagon?

(3) Why not organize a careful, coherent cover story to be told by everyone, devoid of blatant lies and foolish statements which were actually made? (You must read Griffin to appreciate this point.)

(4) If one of the specific aims was to prepare the public for the invasion of Iraq, why not concoct evidence to blame Iraq or even Iran for the attacks?

Addressing these kind of rhetorical objections, Griffin says:

“The fact that there are questions they (the revisionist critics) cannot answer…should not be taken to mean that we are simply left with a toss-up between two hypotheses, each of which is subject to equally serious questions. Instead, the questions they have raised about the official account are based on conflicts between this account and known facts, whereas the questions just now raised about the complicity theory are rhetorical questions, implying that no answers could be given to any of them. But perhaps answers can be given to at least some of them.” (139)

My response would add the following. First, we shouldn’t dismiss the theory because it doesn’t conform to what we think a rational scam would be. I think we need to proceed directly from the fact that the so- called anomalies can’t be accounted for in the official conspiracy theory. We have to try to make sense of it in that context.

Second, I think the motives of the alleged inside conspirators have to be interpreted in a larger sense beyond Afghanistan, Iraq and Patriot Act — namely a long term drive for “full spectrum” economic and military dominance of the world, not just of the Middle East.

There is another important aspect to consider, namely the projected militarization of space. This would help justify the inclusion of the Pentagon as target, and the 9/11 air attacks (as opposed to some sort of ground attack) would underscore the need for a “Missile Defense Shield.” These hypotheses, I think, would render the scam much less implausible.

I agree that if we clever leftists were to devise such a scam it would be a lot simpler and less damaging, while still accomplishing the goal of galvanizing the people for Pax Americana. And I bet we could blame it on Iraq, Iran and gay marriage to boot.

Anyway, who said the planners have to be rational? What difference would it make if the alleged inside job was more rational and managed to implicate Saddam Hussein? After all, about half the population still believes that Iraq was behind 9/11, that Iraq had WMDs and that they have been found!

For example, I always thought that they could have planted a couple of WMDs in Iraq. Why not — but why even bother when the media and the Democratic Party are totally subservient?

Implicit in these various objections is a certain amount of wishful thinking that a critical mass of people will wake up, and that there will arise sufficient whistleblowers to expose the system. The neocons, on the other hand, in their contempt of truth and democracy, believe they can rule forever by blatant deception and intimidation.

The Bush regime is arrogant and thinks it can get away with almost anything and they are masters of the psychology of the Big Lie. Never underestimate the power of the Big Lie: The complexity and irrationality of the alleged scam is one of its bulwarks in the sense that the bigger the lie the more apt it is to be believed.

The Left vs. Conspiracy Theory

In view of the solid evidence in support of the scam theory, I think it behooves the respectable Left to take Griffin and other researchers more seriously. However, the attitude of the Left towards conspiracy theory is a stumbling block, forgetful that history is full of examples of “conspiracies” turning into accepted truth.

Heretofore the attitude of the orthodox left towards the “conspiracy” purveyors is to ignore them, for two interrelated reasons. First, conspiracy theorists are generally not involved in grounded political and economic projects. Second, speculating on “what really did happen” distracts from the serious political analysis, education and organizing needed for building a new society.

In addition, conspiracy scenarios attract some genuine nuts whose outrageous speculations tend to discredit any serious inquiry.

In my discussions with various people on the left I have encountered a variety of responses, which would serve to make a good psychological study.

I have encountered many archetypes: the eager believer, delighted to reconfirm the perfidy of the authorities; the obsessive debunker; the hardcore intellectual who reaches for his (intellectual) gun at the mention of the word “conspiracy,” etc.

In particular, the faint-hearted liberals generally recoil in horror that the government could be so diabolical and corrupt; it undermines their whole world view to the point they turn off their reasoning faculties.

Some progressives, despite being aware of the manifold atrocities/scams of recent history, simply can’t believe that the U.S. government would deliberately kill some 3000 innocent Americans and destroy billions dollars worth of property.

In response to such skepticism, an Afro-American comrade exclaimed “Gimme a break, Black folks would have no trouble believing such a scam.”

There is another interesting psychological aspect. I have discerned a division in attitudes among the Left on this question, which roughly corresponds to the “anarchist/ socialist” dichotomy. The former, with their aversion to “authority” tend to gravitate towards the scam theory, whereas the “socialists” with their attachment to analysis and organizing face a troublesome dilemma.

Since socialists believe that all big events are grounded in solid material causes, they can’t accept easily a theory based upon incompetence and coincidence. But on the other hand; any theory that doesn’t conform to rational analysis is suspicious. So the usual way out of this indecision is either to reject the theory out of hand, or to ignore the whole thing because it is a waste of valuable time to sift through all the evidence and arguments on the subject.

The Left Press Response

So far, to my knowledge the orthodox left press has only uniformly either ignored or ridiculed the scam theorists and done it in the most superficial and sectarian way.
For instance, The Nation of September 27, 2004 had a review by Robert Baer, an ex-CIA case officer, which essentially ridiculed Griffin. He endorsed the official conspiracy theory of incompetence and coincidence, embellishing it with tales of incompetence from his experience in governmental service.

Baer did mention Griffin’s theses and called them “monstrous,” while offering no discussion on them at all, and then vilified Griffin by inference by labeling a French researcher, Meyssan, a “crackpot” again without any supporting evidence.

Another critic of Griffin on the left is Chip Berlet, a veritable “professional” debunker who, however, never debunks official conspiracies. In a Z Magazine (September 2004) interview on conspiracy theory in general, Berlet dismisses the scam version of the Pentagon attack by merely asserting that there were many witnesses who saw an airliner approach the Pentagon.

However, the validity of the scam claim can’t possibly rest upon a poll of witnesses but rather upon the concrete physical evidence of the available photos of the Pentagon damage. Elsewhere Berlet does criticize Griffin extensively but with incessant petty nitpicking and avoidance of the photographic evidence. There is an interesting and revealing exchange between Berlet and Griffin on Berlet’s website.(5)

Here in Santa Barbara, as throughout the country, more and more progressive as well as mainstream people are being exposed to the various books and videos offering some version of the revisionist story, with the predictable variety of responses.

Even the liberal mayor and a local Democratic candidate for the House have taken a favorable view of the scam theory. Obviously the inside-job scam theory, if it could ever gain more validity and acceptance, would be a potent radicalization tool.

I think therefore it is high time the Left transcend our incredulity and suspicions, and honestly confront the challenges of the scam theory. The evidence, especially the photographic material is glaring in our faces, demanding answers. Sticking our heads in the sand no longer suffices.


  1. The title, New Pearl Harbor, suggests the analogy of a horrific attack to spur the population to war. Curiously Griffin doesn’t mention another obvious analogy with Pearl Harbor namely, the widespread belief that the U.S. government cracked the Japanese code and knew all the parameters of the attack and did nothing about it, knowing it would galvanize the public for supporting war.
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  2. There are a great many web sites devoted to 9/11, even ones run by libertarians and other right-wing mavericks. For more background reading on 9/11 events with lots of revealing photos I suggest the following. However, some of these sources must be taken with the proverbial dose of salt because they are full of wild speculations:;;;; Another useful source is Painful Deceptions, both a book and a DVD/VHS by Eric Hufschmid. See
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  3. The 911 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions, by David Ray Griffin. Olive Branch Press (Interlink Publishing Group), 2005, 352 pp.,$18 paper.
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  4. Another noteworthy coincidence is the sudden large “put options” on both American and United Airlines’ stock just before 9/11. This means betting that the stock prices will fall abruptly. It strongly indicates foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. Still another suspicious coincidence is the existence of multiple war games going on the morning of 9/11, which confused the air defense system. A full discussion of this is found in See also Griffin, The 911 Commission Report, op.cit.
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ATC 114, January-February 2005