Thursday, January 17, 2008

Beyond The Mirror: The 9/11 Funhouse, Part I

Just before my recent loss of connectivity, I posted a piece called "Funhouse Mirror: Looking At America With The New York Times", which was much better received than I had expected. I had meant it as groundwork for a series of further pieces, some of which I had hoped might be fairly good. But I didn't think much of "Funhouse Mirror" itself, so I was very surprised at the reaction.

In that post I was saying (among other things): [1] Both the 2000 and the 2004 presidential elections were stolen by the Republicans and given away by the Democrats, [2] 9/11 was an inside job, the official tale of which is unworthy of serious consideration, and [3] The New York Times could and should report on both of these huge stories, but they won't even investigate either one of them.

I would have thought all three of these points were obvious. They form a tripod, so to speak, on which my understanding of modern America rests: Bogus elections, bogus terror, bogus news.

But I got unexpected praise for saying such things, and some unexpected disagreement as well, especially about the second point -- bogus terror in general and 9/11 as an inside job in particular. Some of the disagreement came from people who I thought would have seen these three points as obvious, long before I would see them myself.

These unexpected reactions -- and a week off-line to think about them -- tempted me to change my plan for the follow-up articles, in more than one way. Among other things, it has made me less reluctant to spell out arguments that seem obvious to me.

I decided to write a post -- or, more likely, a series -- dealing with arguments I consider horribly and transparently flawed, arguments which nevertheless are accepted by people who in my opinion ought to know better. It gives me no pleasure to do this because I will be quoting -- in the same breath, as it were -- people for whom I have no respect at all, and people whom I respect a good deal (provided of course that they're talking about something else).

But leaving murderous nonsense standing is not my style.

No Conspiracy That Big Could Be Kept Quiet

A clown on a long-lost comment thread made the argument this way [Apologies for the lost thread; I've added some space]:
On September 11, 2001, nineteen well-trained, highly motivated jihadists hijacked four planes and flew three of them into buildings. Two buildings, the Twin Towers at the WTC complex, collapsed from the impact of the planes, which dislodged critical amounts of fireproofing, and the resultant fires. The science has been laid out in the NIST Report, the Purdue simulations, and Dr. Seffen's paper, as well as in papers by independent researchers.

The hijackers were identified by an extremely comprehensive investigation conducted by several agencies acting in concert.

The imaginary conspiracy posited by America-hating fantasists would necessarily involve the FBI, the CIA, NIST, FEMA, the police and fire departments of NYC and Washington, D.C., all branches of government and the military, the FAA, air traffic controllers, forensic examiners, the Boeing Corporation, the Port Authority of NY/NJ, American Airlines, United Airlines, Purdue University, the networks that shot videos of the plane crashes, the eyewitnesses to the crash of Flight 77, the survivors of the collapses at the WTC complex -- the list goes on and the members of this preposterous cabal number in the thousands.

An average person has, let us say, a fifty percent chance of keeping a secret. Let's raise EVERYONE in our conspiracy to level of G. Gordon Liddy or James Bond and assign each of them a probability of ninety percent of never spilling the beans. Now, one hundred such types will leak the secret 99.97% of the time (use your calculator to raise .9 to the 100th power). The fantasists' conspiracy of thousands will crack 99.9999....% of the time (try raising .99 to the 1,000th power).
A bit later he added the following clarification:
Two normal humans, each with a fifty-percent probability of keeping a secret, will divulge a shared secret 1-(.5 x.5), or .75 -- three-quarters -- of the time.

If we select G. Gordon Liddy-types, raise their probability of keeping a secret to .9, and we notice something interesting: SEVEN of these guys have a better-than-even chance of spilling the beans: .9 raised to the seventh power is roughly .4783.

If we can find an advanced race from another planet and are able to determine that all of its members have a probability of .99 of keeping a secret, it requires sixty-nine of them before the probability of keeping the secret dips under fifty percent.

Of course, when we have five hundred of these remarkable beings sharing a secret, the probability that it gets out rises to .99935.

Your imaginary conspiracy does not consist of alien super-beings. It consists of ordinary earthlings whose probabilities of keeping a secret, when averaged, do not approach .99, or .9, or even .75. Your conspiracy, which numbers in the thousands, will spill the beans .99999999999.... of the time.
William Blum answers this sort of argument badly, in my opinion:
I don't think that 9-11 was an "inside job" ... But there's one argument those who support the official version use against the skeptics that I would question. It's the argument that if the government planned the operation there would have to have been many people in on the plot, and surely by now one of them would have talked and the mainstream media would have reported their stories. But in fact a number of firemen, the buildings' janitor, and others have testified to hearing many explosions in the towers some time after the planes crashed, supporting the theory of planted explosives. But scarce little of this has made it to the media.
Blum is quite right that the testimony he mentions casts doubt on the clown's line of thought. But they cast doubt on Blum's statement (" I don't think that 9-11 was an 'inside job'") as well. So let's make a few clarifications.

The people Blum mentions were not plotters but witnesses. Their testimony calls the official story into question (and hence has been excluded from that account), but it doesn't answer any of the points raised by the clown. That doesn't mean they are to be neglected. In fact, the testimony renders the clown's whole line of reasoning somewhat moot. But I want to focus more on that line itself.

We're really talking about two conspiracies here: one to commit the crime and another to cover it up. They are very different both in scope and duration, and conflating them leads to the sort of argument quoted above, after which the issues need serious disentanglement.

The conspiracy to commit the crime includes those who planned it and those who willfully executed it. I would not include in the conspiracy anyone who participated in the plot without his or her knowledge. Many of the people whose actions facilitated the attacks were merely following orders and therefore cannot be considered part of the conspiracy, even though they were part of the implementation. In fact, the conspiracy proper could have been quite small.

For example, the US invasion (and occupation) of Iraq was (and is) clearly illegal, and was done based on enormous lies. Many of the people who support that war do so because they have been taken in by the lies, not because they were part of any conspiracy.

The same is true of those who simply followed orders on 9/11. They couldn't spill the beans even if they wanted to, because they haven't got a clue where the orders came from or what else came with them. They just did what they were told and they know what they were told. The idea that there were thousands of people involved on the inside, any one of whom could have spilled the beans, is highly exaggerated.

In actual fact, the probability that anyone would talk depends on the individual. Most of the people involved in the conspiracy would have had top-secret clearances, which they would have earned by not divulging any secrets at all. And here we're talking about run-of-the-mill national security secrets. It would be insane to imagine that any of these people would willingly reveal information that incriminated them personally, especially for such a huge crime.

So instead of a huge conspiracy of people who are quite likely unable to keep secrets, the plot to commit the crime could just as easily have been a small group of people who were -- with a few exceptions -- almost certain not to talk at all. And if I were a plotter, these are the people I would be looking to recruit -- not people (incorrectly described as "normal") who are as likely to give a secret away as to keep it.

(The clown's description of Liddy and his invocation of Bond show the level of sophistication we're dealing with here. G. Gordon Liddy was not a super-spy but a chump, and James Bond is fiction -- but if Bond were real and he had only a 90% chance of keeping a secret, he'd have been dead a long time ago, so to speak.)

Some of those who were ordered to assist the plotters, or tricked into doing so, may still be unaware of their own roles in the attack, whereas others may have been so shocked and awed by the power and ferocity that they would never dream of opposing it from the inside, as it were.

And the people who assist with the coverup do so for all kinds of reasons, some of which have nothing to do with the conspiracy to hide the crime. (Some think it's their patriotic duty to shout down the America-haters, or some such thing. Others do it for other reasons.) In one way or another, they can all see what side of their bread is buttered, and it's not at all surprising that they "go with the program" -- especially since most of them have no idea what happened on 9/11 and couldn't spill the beans even if they wanted to!

The people who know a bit more might think about Steven Jones and Kevin Ryan and Kevin Barrett and others who have lost their jobs over their position on 9/11, and they might think more highly of feeding their families and paying their mortgages than spilling whatever beans they happen to have, after which their story is certain to be ignored by the mainstream press, while the retribution may be serious indeed. What is the motivation for an insider to speak? Our clown doesn't say.

In short, the lack of an insider confession would hardly be surprising, if it were the case that no insider had talked. But even that's not true. Both George W. Bush and Larry Silverstein have made statements that appear to be confessions (of foreknowledge, if not worse).

In contrast, the Manhattan Project involved thousands of people and remained absolutely quiet until the need for secrecy had passed. And clearly, it's just not correct to argue that such a thing is impossible, when it has already been done.

On the other hand, consider that CNN and BBC both reported the "collapse" of Building 7 before it happened. One might say that this fact alone requires a complete re-examination of the events of that day and the manner in which they were portrayed to the public.

For me, reading about it has jarred two memories which I haven't mentioned elsewhere, but which won't go away. The first was crazy -- laughter in the midst of the attack. Strange but true, I broke out laughing when I heard that the Pentagon had been hit.

The idea that outsiders could hit the headquarters of the US military, with anything as large as a jumbo jet -- ever! let alone at a time when the country was under attack -- was just so ludicrous and so totally absurd that I couldn't keep my lips together. I started snickering, and then I couldn't hold it, and I just laughed out loud. My wife didn't understand what was funny. I guess a lot of people didn't.

The second memory that won't go away isn't so funny. Rather than laughter, it injected the first shot of true horror -- horror beyond deception and carnage, horror beyond all the death and destruction, horror surpassing even the certainty that the attack, such as it was, would be used as a pretext for a bloody awful war.

It was a moment when the true face of the attacker showed itself, it seemed to me, and I shall never forget it.

I was changing channels all day long and I don't remember where I was when I heard the following exchange; but in my mind's ear I hear Tom Brokaw's voice.

The conversation had been about the attack -- the ferocity, the skill, the planning, Osama bin Laden -- and suddenly the host asked a different question:
Q: How much of our civil liberties are we going to have to give up because of this attack?

A: There's no way to know, but it's going to be substantial. It's clear that the Constitution doesn't protect us from an attack of this kind.
That's not verbatim, by the way; it's a paraphrase. But the original wording was very similar. I wish I could remember who said the words. I do remember clearly my reaction.

First of all, the question was wrong. It was loaded, and leading, and coming out of the blue like that, it seemed ... well ... scripted. An actual journalist asking an actual question might possibly have asked:
Q: Are any of our civil liberties in danger because of this attack?
That's neutral. It doesn't assume an answer. And up until the question was asked, it had never crossed my mind that any of our civil liberties were in danger. I assumed it was the government's fault that we had been attacked, not the Constitution's. I assumed it was the national security infrastructure that had failed us, not the founding principles. So the question stunk and it sent up a big red flag.

Then, the answer was wrong. The correct answer, assuming truth, justice and the so-called American Way, would have been:
A: None. If we give up any of our civil liberties because of this attack, the terrorists will have won.
That was the second red flag. Two in a row.

There was no more laughing from that point on. They could just as easily have written it on the wall ... or run it across the bottom of the screen as a crawler:
Speaking of scripted, how else could two news agencies know that Building 7 was coming down -- due to fire! -- and that there would be no fatalities associated with the so-called "collapse"? Who was handing out the scripts? How does it happen that two major news networks made the same "mistake"? And for that matter, how can Jerome Hauer's involvement be explained?


Some other transparently awful arguments against the inside job scenario have been floating around lately, and I plan to discuss them in an upcoming post -- or maybe more than one post.