David Corn has been called a CIA operative and a member of a conspiracy to cover up the truth about 9/11. The reason? He's questioned the arguments (and sanity) of those 9/11 "alternative explanation" adherents—the ones claiming the U.S. government carried out the attack. But Corn's not alone in his conspiracy-against-the-conspiracy leanings, an investigative piece in Popular Mechanics found. Here, the cartoonish and convoluted story.
David Corn writes The Loyal Opposition twice a month for TomPaine.com. Corn is also the Washington editor of The Nation and is the author of The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers).
Did you know that I'm a CIA plant? That's what a few folks in Internetland seem to think. It all began three years ago when I wrote a column for this site in which I expressed skepticism regarding the burgeoning conspiracy theories about the horrific September 11 attacks. That article outraged people who were pushing "alternative" explanations of 9/11, which mainly fell into one of two categories: either the Bush administration knew the attacks were coming and did nothing to thwart them, or George W. Bush and/or his minions actually orchestrated the attacks. In response to the subsequent anger that came the 9/11 conspiracists, I probed the theories more deeply and generally found them even more problematic. (Click here for that story.)
The high point—or low point—came when I discovered that one of the chief peddlers of 9/11 conspiracy theories was reporting that Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan had sent two bottles of poisoned wine to this conspiracy-monger's primary source. This source was a fugitive in Canada with a criminal record stretching almost twenty years who claimed he was a supersecret agent with foreknowledge of 9/11. (All this sounds unbelievable? Click here.) For the conspiracy crowd, I was on the wrong side of the line that divides people into those who believe that Greenspan would indeed personally try to assassinate a con man in Canada to keep the big secret of 9/11 under wraps and those who find such talk absolutely bonkers. And for challenging such nonsense, I was branded by some 9/11 conspiracy activists as a CIA operative. (Yes, the CIA was especially keen on infiltrating www.TomPaine.com.)
The matter, though, faded—until recently. After the November election, I wrote several pieces questioning those who were declaring (prematurely in my view) that Bush had rigged voting machines and stolen the election from John Kerry. In response, conspiracists on the left revived the notion that I was a mole. (How clever of me to write a book calling the president a liar.) And now I am happy to report that I have been joined in ignominy by that dastardly publication, Popular Mechanics . It turns out that this magazine, which usually focuses on how best to retrofit your plumbing at home or what's in Jay Leno's garage, is also part of the anti-conspiracy conspiracy.
In its current issue, PM asked numerous experts in engineering and other fields to assess 16 of the most popular conspiracy claims related to 9/11. Lo and behold, the magazine found that each of these notions were either not based on facts or could be explained away. The article is rather useful—and not only because it debunks many of the more hyperbolic claims. It shows how detailed conspiracy theories—or "alternative" explanations, if you like—cooked up by armchair analysts (with access to the Internet) can be rather selective and flimsy. By no means do I intend to disparage or discourage journalists and researchers who strive to get behind the official story. That is a noble task. But the ones who deserve attention and support are those who dig deep and who are careful with facts and conclusions. According to the PM team, many 9/11 conspiracy theorists do not meet these standards.
Anyone interested in this topic ought to read the entire article. But let me point out a few examples. Some conspiracists argue that one photograph of United Airlines Flight 175, which hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center, shows that underneath this airliner was a large pod-shaped object that is not routinely found on Boeing 757s. That, they argue, can only mean the airliner was carrying a missile or bomb or that the aircraft was not a civilian airliner but a military airplane. PM sent this photo to the director of the Space Photography Laboratory at Arizona State University, a leading photo analyst. He said the "pod" was nothing but a regular piece of a Boeing 757 highlighted by glare.
One conspiracy theory holds that the World Trade Towers could not have been brought down by two airliners and that explosives were set off within the buildings after the planes hit. This sounds silly. If you were able to covertly rig all those buildings with bombs, why would you not skip the airliners and simply blow up the World Trade Center and find a way to pin that type of attack on Al Qaeda? In any event, PM, citing several studies, notes that "the WTC's structural integrity was destroyed by intense fire as well as the severe damage inflicted by the planes."
My favorite—if I can use that word—conspiracy theory concerns the attack at the Pentagon. Several conspiracists in books and videos have claimed that the holes at the Pentagon—including the 75-foot entry hole--were too small to have been created by a plane with a 125-foot wingspan. French author Thierry Meyssan had a bestseller with a book in which he alleged the Pentagon was struck by a missile as part of plot mounted by one US military cabal against another. I know someone who works in an office near the Pentagon with a woman who saw Flight 77 heading toward the Pentagon. That's good enough for me. But the PM gang quotes a professor of structural engineering at Purdue who explains why, as the magazine puts it, "a crashing jet doesn't punch a cartoon-like outline of itself into a reinforced cartoon building." One wing hit the ground first; the other was sheared off. To reinforce the there-was-no-airliner-at-the-Pentagon theory, conspiracy advocates have claimed no plane wreckage was found at the site. Yet blast expert Allyn Kilsheimer, the first structural engineer to arrive at the Pentagon after the crash, told PM that he held parts of the plane, parts of uniforms from crew members and body parts in his own hand.
The PM team also evaluated the allegation that Flight 93—the fourth plane—did not crash due to the heroic intervention of passengers but was shot down over Pennsylvania. Proponents of this notion have maintained that one of its engines was found far from the crash site and that human remains and debris were located in a lake miles from the crash scene. According to PM, experts on the scene told the magazine that a fan from an engine was located 300 yards away. But this part of the plane could have easily been hurled there by the force of the crash. And the local coroner informed the magazine that no body parts were discovered in that lake, which is less than 1.5 miles from the crash crater. PM notes that the light debris that was retrieved from the lake could have been carried there by the winds that day.
I have no illusion that this article will convince anyone who has invested time and energy in "alternative" 9/11 explanations. No doubt the 300-plus experts consulted by Popular Mechanics are all part of the coverup. As I am for writing about the piece. (That CIA check should be arriving any day now.) Ultimately, the problem with the sort of conspiracy theorizing undermined by the Popular Mechanics investigation is that such activity does distract people from the real wrongdoing. The CIA, the FBI, the FAA and NORAD botched their jobs. Fo example, the CIA had a bead on two of the 9/11 hijackers-to-be and failed to notify the FBI in a timely manner. And in its first nine months, the Bush White House, despite the efforts of counterterrorism aide Richard Clarke, put off addressing the threat posed by Al Qaeda. The known record is pretty damn awful. Heads should have rolled. The public should have demanded full accountability. But that did not happen. The screw-ups were tragic. Unfortunately, no hyperbole or exaggeration is required to make this tale of government failure more terrible than it is.