Sun, Sep 10, 2006 - Page 17 News List

The plot thickens

As the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11 nears, academics query the official version of events and claim the US government was complicit in the attacks

By Christina Asquith  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The twin towers must, they say, have been brought down by explosives -- hence the container of dust on Jones's desk, sent to him unsolicited by a woman living in lower Manhattan. He is using X-ray fluorescents to test it for explosive materials.

What's more, the nearby World Trade Center 7 also collapsed later that afternoon. The building had not been hit by a plane, only damaged by fire. WTC 7 housed a clandestine CIA station, which the scholars believe was the command center for the planning of Sept. 11.

"The planes were just a distraction," says James Fetzer, 65, a recently retired philosopher of science at the University of Minnesota. "The evidence is so overwhelming, but most Americans don't have time to take a look at this."

But Jonathan Barnett, professor of fire protection engineering at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, calls such claims "bad science." Barnett was a member of the World Trade Center Building Performance Study, one of the government groups that investigated the towers' collapse.

Reluctantly, he has familiarized himself with the scholars' claims -- many of them have emailed him. Yes, it is unusual for a steel structure to collapse from fire, Barnett agrees. However, his group and others argue that the planes' impact weakened the structures and stripped off the fireproofing materials. That caused the top floors of both towers to collapse on to the floors below. "A big chunk of building falling down made the next floor fall down, and then they all came down like a deck of cards," Barnett says.

The collapse of WTC 7 was also unusual, he admits. However, firefighters do not usually let a fire rage unabated for seven hours as they did on the morning of Sept. 11, because they had prioritized the rescue of victims. "The fact that you don't have evidence to support your theory doesn't mean that the other theory is true," Barnett says. "They just made it up out of the blue."

Since the attacks, the US government has issued three reports into the events of the day, all of which involved hundreds of professors, scientists and government officials. The 9/11 Commission, a bipartisan group, issued a 500-page, moment-by-moment investigation into the hijackers' movements, concluding that they were connected to Osama bin Laden. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, a government agency, filed 10,000 pages of reports examining the towers' collapse. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency weighed in, examining the response to the attacks.

"To plant bombs in three buildings with enough bomb materials and wiring? It's too huge a project and would require far too many people to keep it a secret afterwards," says Christopher Pyle, professor of constitutional law at Mt Holyoke College. "After every major crisis, like the assassinations of JFK or Martin Luther King, we've had conspiracy theorists who come up with plausible scenarios for gullible people. It's a waste of time."

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