Thursday, October 25, 2007

The 9/11 Conspiracy

One theme that I have kept in this blog is that not all bad ideas are religious (and not all religious ideas are equally bad). If we focus too much on religious bad ideas, we give other bad ideas a pass that they do not deserve.

One bad idea that is getting a pass that it does not deserve is the conspiracy theory that the Bush Administration planned and executed the 9-11 attacks. It is quite reasonable for somebody to offer this as a hypothesis that best explains the observed data. It is quite another for people to become so infatuated with the idea that they would take up heckling on a live television show.

As a hypothesis explaining the events of 9-11, the conspiracy theory fails. It requires an explanation that is so elaborate and complex that it needs to be thrown out in favor of a simpler theory – 19 Jihadists hijacked 4 airplanes, flew 2 into the World Trade Center buildings, 1 into the Pentagon, and crashed 1 into a field in Pennsylvania.

One of the pieces of evidence is that Building 7 at the World Trade Center also collapsed. Conspiracy theorists would have us believe that this was due to a controlled explosion.

Okay, I can just imagine this going on at the planning session.

Planning Officer: Then, we rig Building 7 over here with controlled explosions so that it will collapse apparently on its own without any real cause several hours after the original attack.

Andy (one of the planners): Why?

PO: To make the attack even more dramatic!

Andy: Having the two World Trade Center towers collapse is not dramatic enough?

PO: No! No! Not at all. This will be better, you see.

Andy: But, we’re already allegedly rigging the two towers to collapse using controlled explosions. The idea is to bring them straight down. Then, all of the sudden, another building, with might not even get damaged in the original attack, is supposed to collapse. Don’t you think that this might look a bit suspicious?

P.O.: Okay, obviously we have to rig the Towers to do damage to Building 7, so that we can at least have something that we can blame the collapse on. Good job, Andy. I’ll tell the demolition team now.

Andy: But, sir, why go to all this work, adding layers of complexity and significantly increasing the chance of discovery? Why not just crash the airplanes into the buildings and let the concrete fall where it may.

PO: Because that is not how we do things around here. Even though the possibility of a leak or of people discovering our plans would be catastrophic, what we really need to do is to make this as complex as possible, involve more and more people, all of which must be sworn into secrecy.

Then there is the idea that the government (1) Hijacked an airplane, (2) Took it somewhere where it would not be found, (3) Destroyed it, and (4) Launched a missile at the Pentagon.

PO: Yes, Andy?

Andy: Look. We have an airplane. We need to get rid of it anyway. Why go to all of the extra effort of moving it somewhere, making sure we can hide where it went, destroy it without any trace, kill all of the passengers, and fire a missile at the Pentagon. Why not just crash the airplane into the Pentagon, when we don’t have to worry about destroying it.

PO: Because we have to use a missle.

Andy: Why?

PO: Because that’s the way we do things! Listen, Andy, do you want to be a part of this project or not? You can be replaced. Quit questioning things!

If it was an inside job, the planners would have wanted it to look just like it was an outside job. The simplest way to simulate a bunch of terrorists hijacking 4 airplanes and crashing them into 4 buildings is to take 19 people all willing to die for the greater glory of the Republican Party, hijack 4 airplanes, and crash them into 4 buildings. Adding even one complexity would have been insanely stupid. Adding the layers and layers of complexity and involving all of the people that the conspiracy theory needs carries insane stupidity to new heights.

When Hitler wanted something to increase his power by simulating a terrorist attack, he knew the virtue of keeping things simple and keeping the number of people who knew about it to a minimum. He aimed for the simple arson of the German parliament building. When he wanted an excuse to start World War II, he took some prisoners out near a radio station, shot them, broadcast a simple message, and launched the invasion of Poland. Neither plan required the help of more than a half dozen people, none of whom had to die in the process.

That is how you simulate an attack against the country.

Having said this, I have no doubt that the Bush Administration wanted a reason to start a war in the Middle East preferably through the invasion of Iraq. Feeding this desire into the principle that people always act so as to fulfill the more and stronger of their desires, given their beliefs, it follows that this desire would have affected their decisions. However, the most likely affect would have been a virtually subconscious decision to lower the priority of defending the United States from a terrorist attack. Because they did not really want to fight terrorism, when they had to set priorities for the day, ‘fighting terrorism’ simply slipped a couple of notches on the priority index. This increased the terrorist’s chance of success.

This doesn’t require a conspiracy theory. This does not even require making a plan.

What it requires is a group of people who have a lot of work to do who need to prioritize their daily tasks. In doing so, they look at their pile of work and move to the top of the list those that ‘feel’ like they are the most important. Fighting terrorism simply does not ‘feel’ that important, particularly when compared to rewarding those who invested in the campaign with tax cuts and banning abortion and homosexual marriage. If asked, these agents would probably say that terrorism does not feel important because they do not see it as much of a threat. In practice, it doesn’t feel important because the agent is acting so as to fulfill a desire to invade Iraq.

I am not saying that this agent is lying. I am saying that this agent is basing his conclusions on what to believe on his feelings, and he is giving his feelings the interpretation that is best for his ego. He does not want to see himself as somebody who would allow the deaths of thousands of people in order to find an excuse to invade Iraq, so he denies – to himself as much as to others, that his desire for such a war is what motivates him to set aside the ‘fight terrorism’ project.

I am not even saying that they did not have good intentions. They wanted a war in the Middle East so that the could sew a crop of democracy that would spread through the area like a weed and make the whole region safe for people in their oil-industry friends. I am only saying that desires affect the ‘level of urgency’ that one feels over certain external threats, and the neo-con desires made the prospect of a terrorist attack on American soil unworthy of serious consideration. Not without hard evidence.

The real problem here is not that there are people who believe this nonsense. The real fault is that the personality traits that allow people to adopt these foolish ideas allow them to adopt other foolish ideas. The fault is a culture that does not teach people how to reason and, in neglecting this skill, must continually endure the waste of people acting on foolish ideas.

We could be a better country if the people who are wasting their time, effort, and talent on conspiracy theories would instead invest them on things that actually made sense.


anticant said...

I'm not a natural conspiracy theorist, but I think we need to dig deeper than your post before we can be quite so dismissive of the notion that there was more behind 9/11 than meets the eye.

Have you looked at Yankee Doodle's blog 'Stop Islamic Conquest'? He has some very interesting theories which I find very compelling if not yet totally convincing.

Anonymous said...

If the official theory regarding the collapse of WTC 7 were true, then, in order to get buildings to fall just the way WTC 7 did, demolition companies need simply to smash one side of a building with a wrecking ball, pour diesel fuel on a few floors of it, and then ignite it, instead of preparing explosives like they normally do.

But given that no high-rise steel building had collapsed due to fire, I would have expected the fires in WTC 7 to burn out after they consumed the flammable materials in the building, and leave the steel framework standing. Or, if there were a collapse due to damage from the towers, it would occur in the direction of the damaged side, not straight down.

Compare videos of WTC 7 with See especially Southwark Towers and the Philips Building

Why did the collapse resemble a controlled demolition?

* The onset of the collapse was sudden.
* The whole building fell straight down rather quickly.
* Huge dust clouds were raised at the bottom.
* No structural steel or concrete elements were left standing.

The implications of a controlled demolition, that someone had to have access to set all this up in advance, are unsettling. However, the idea of people placing explosives in buildings seems perfectly plausible to President Bush:

"During questioning, KSM also provided many details of other plots to kill innocent Americans. For example, he described the design of planned attacks on buildings inside the United States, and how operatives were directed to carry them out. He told us the operatives had been instructed to ensure that the explosives went off at a point that was high enough to prevent the people trapped above from escaping out the windows."

I don't have a theory as to who is responsible. All I contend is that the official explanation does not adequately describe the crime.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Actually, my response to your points is going to be the same as my response to people who complain that natural selection could not actually have created the diversity of life we see today.

If you can provide peer-reviewed research in journals of physics, architecture, and structural engineering that support your conclusions, then I will say that it has merit.

If, instead, what you have is the evidence of what seems to be the case to a layman, or the testimony of scientists and engineers who cannot get their findings into a peer-reviewed journal, then I have no reason to accept it.

Kevin said...

The idea that the collapse of the buildings was a controlled demolition is nothing less than profound ignorance of how controlled demolitions work. It takes weeks of prep work weakening the structure and planting explosives at just the right area. You cannot accomplish this without people noticing, and having the building fully at business right up until that day would have very likely led to premature destruction. But then, conspiracy theories rarely like to let facts get in the way of a good story

Regarding the Reichstag fire, it's pretty widely held (to my understanding) that Hitler and crew had nothing to do with the fire itself and merely used it as a political tool. The Nazi's put out propaganda that the arson was the result of a whole communist gang, while the communists spread rumors that it was a Nazi operation. Most likely, it was Van Der Lubbe alone, and everything said beyond that was merely seizing an opportunity to smear one's enemies.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Actually, I think that there is some disutility in amateurs debating what is and is not within the laws of physics. If we went by mere appearances, then the earth is flat and it is standing still, because it certainly does not appear to be spherical, nor do I have the sense that it is moving.

However, I confess that I also find it to be fun.

For example:

If the official theory regarding the collapse of WTC 7 were true, then, in order to get buildings to fall just the way WTC 7 did, demolition companies need simply to smash one side of a building with a wrecking ball, pour diesel fuel on a few floors of it, and then ignite it, instead of preparing explosives like they normally do.

This is a poor analogy. Building 7 was hit with something that was several times more massive than a wrecking ball going at a significantly higher spead. Inertia is a product of mass and velocity. This was a sudden shock that tore away part of the building and probably twisted fractured the rest of it - something wrecking balls do not do.

Or, if there were a collapse due to damage from the towers, it would occur in the direction of the damaged side, not straight down.

Again, acceleration requires force and time. The more massive something is, the harder it is to push it it to the side. Where does the force come from to push that much mass to the side? Smaller, lighter structures fall to the side. Larger, more massive structures fall straight down.

* The onset of the collapse was sudden.

Yes. Catasrophic failure works that way. Blow up a baloon nice and tight, then poke it with a pin. The failure spreads across the surface of the baloon at the speed of sound.

Another example is the Christmas Earthquake of 2004 - the one that caused the Tsunami. Once the failure started, the fracture ripped across the ocean floor at over 700 miles per hour.

* The whole building fell straight down rather quickly.

Yes. As it should

* Huge dust clouds were raised at the bottom.

At the bottom, you had chunks of concrete hitting an immovable object at over 100 miles per hour. Of course this will create clouds of dust. Also, the downward building creates a downdraft (air fills the vacuum above the building and flows down), pushing all other dust to the ground and out.

* No structural steel or concrete elements were left standing.

The stuff on top fell a huge distance before they hit the ground - they would not have likely survived the impact. The stuff on the bottom is what the stuff on top landed on. So, one should be surprised if something was left standing.

As to whether the government had motive and the personality to act on that motive, I do not know. I do know that if it were to act on that motive, the wise thing to do is 'keep it simple'. Any complexity - anything that leaves evidence inconsistent with the story or that increases the number of people in the know, is simply nuts.

AS I said, the best way to simulate 19 people hijacking 4 airplanes and crashing them into 4 buildings is to have 19 people hijack 4 airplanes and try to crash them into 4 buildings, and let the rubble fall where it may.

Sheldon said...

"Actually, my response to your points is going to be the same as my response to people who complain that natural selection could not actually have created the diversity of life we see today."

This is actually a very appropriate analogy, because both ID/creationism and this notion about controlled demolitions is based on the samd simplistic reasoning of superficial appearnces.
"It looks like this, so it must be like this."

Uber Miguel said...

9/11 conspiracists are completely.. let me say it again for emphasis.. completely nuts. I'll grant that we do not know and should find out the intentions, precise intelligence, and actions of the Bush administration before and after this event - but I suspect something more along the lines of Fyfe's presumption is much more likely to be the case.

Actually, I wanted to post a comment constructively criticizing the hypothetical dialog and the undercutting the imagination of conspiracy theorists. Not that it deserves creedance or they don't deserve to be undercut.. but when dealing with nutjobs, the most important task must be to "hear them out" and try to remove any possible sense of "dismissal". I was not at all surprised to see the first 2 comments given the treatment in the post.

For example, I've never heard a "Truthist" claim that complexity was likely the goal of destroying building 7 or flying a global hawk into the pentagon. There are lots of contrived BS explanations and to just use the most absurd of your own contrivance probably won't do anything to shake the fleas. And I'd further argue that if your goal was not to address the "Truthists" (or others from falling into their illogical trappings), then why did you even bother to write the blog in the first place?

Especially given the latest barrage of guerrilla tactics on the media and internet, it's all the more important to take better care explaning how rationalists, such as yourself, are not swayed after looking very closely at the alternative claims proposed.

Bravo on the explanations.. and a rotten tomato on the delivery.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

miguel picanco

Actually, my reason for writing this post had little to do with convincing conspiracy theorists of anything.

It had to do with convincing those who read my post (mostly atheists) that there were irrational ideas outside of religion worth criticizing.

I think that there is a danger in focusing too heavily on religion, and that it is useful to recognize that one can have irrational beliefs outside of religion.

In fact, religion itself is just one manifestation of a much larger problem - an inability to think criticially about any number of complex issues. By focusing on the more general problem, we can criticize religion, while at the same time citicizing a lot of non-religious nonsense as well.

thepeopleschum said...

The physical evidence that 911 was an inside job is overwhelming. However there are real obstacles to believing this truth: 1.the callousness of the perpetrators is almost too horrible to consider; 2 the realisation brings daunting responsibilities; 3 it also requires one to alter ones view of reality to accommodate mass deceptions, the mechanics of which are hard to imagine; 4, it is likely to place you in an unpopular belief minority, which you never wanted to be in.

Unknown said...

Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth

check it out - more idiots?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

In any sufficiently large population, you can find a percentage that will believe just about anything. This can come from a number of causes. One cause is simply an emotional attachment to a conspiracy theory. They see what they want to see.

There are people who WANT to believe in a conspiracy the same way that there are people who WANT to believe in a young (< 10,000 years) earth, who are so eager to see what they want to see that they find 'evidence' where none exists, and which no reputable body of professionals would accept.

This site is no different than 'creationist' sites like the Discovery Institute consisting of members posting 'evidence' of creation. It is, instead, 'evidence' of a group of people emotionally attached to an idea who then 'see' evidence wherever possible that confirms their view.

You will need to show me professional quality research in peer-reviewed journals if you want to convince me that you have real evidence.

thepeopleschum said...

the idea that I believe 911 to be an inside job because I want to believe it, is profoundly offensive to me. Actually the opposite is true. I think this boot is on the other foot, and many people are in fact in denial, such that they are willing to be convinced that building 7 came down due to fire, because this is comforting because it conforms to the official theory. Unfortunately anyone with moral fibre knows this is a monsterous lie. Not to mention countless others. It would seem that some basis laws of physics are now official secrets.