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Hit Piece: The Ground Zero Grassy Knoll

New York Magazine | September 11, 2007
Mark Jacobson

1. 11/22 and 9/11
They keep telling us 9/11 changed everything. But even in this Photoshopped age of unreliable narrators, much remains the same. The assassination of President John Kennedy, the Crime of the Last Century, occurred in plain sight, in front of thousands—yet exactly what happened remains in dispute. The Warren Commission found that Lee Harvey Oswald, fellow traveler of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, shot Kennedy with a cheap Mannlicher-Carcano rifle from a sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository. The commission found that Oswald, who two days later would be murdered by nightclub owner Jack Ruby, acted alone.

Yet, as with so many such events, there is the sanctioned history and the secret history—players hidden from view. In the Kennedy murder, the involvement of shadowy organizations like the Mafia and the CIA came into question. This way of thinking came to challenge the official narrative put forth by the Warren Commission. It is not exactly clear when the grassy knoll supplanted the sixth-floor window in the popular mind-set. But now, four decades after Dallas, it is difficult to find anyone who believes Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman.

But if Oswald didn't kill the president, who did? So 11/22 remains an open case, an open wound.

Now here we are again, contemplating the seemingly unthinkable events of September 11. An official explanation has been offered up: The nation was attacked by the forces of radical Islam led by Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda jihadists. Again, this narrative has been accepted by many.

But not all.

2. War Without End
“Just your average wild-eyed, foaming-at-the-mouth conspiracy nuts,” Father Frank Morales told me as he surveyed the 200 or so graying beatniks and neighborhood anarchist punks sporting IS IT FASCISM YET? buttons who had assembled in the basement of St. Mark's Church for the weekly Sunday-night meeting of the New York 9/11 Truth Movement to hear a lecture by Webster Tarpley, author of 9/11 Synthetic Terror: Made in USA .

Saying he was in New York “to debunk the outrageous myth . . . the absurd fairy tale” that the tragic events of September 11, 2001, were the work of nineteen fanatics with box cutters sent by a bearded man in a cave, the 60-year-old Tarpley projected a slide designated “State-Sponsored False Flag Terrorism,” depicting a Venn diagram of three interconnected circles.

Circle one was labeled patsies, comprising “dupes,” “useful idiots,” “fanatics,” “provocateurs,” and “Oswalds.” Included here were the demonized bin Laden and alleged lead hijacker Mohammad Atta. The second ring, marked MOLES, contained “government officials loyal to the invisible government,” such as Paul Wolfowitz, Tony Blair, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and, of course, George W. Bush. The third circle, PROFESSIONAL KILLERS, encompassed “technicians,” “CIA special forces,” “old boys”—the unnamed ones who did the dirty work and kept their mouths shut.

September 11 was the true face of corporatized terror, said Tarpley, graduate of Flushing High School, class of 1962 (also Princeton), and author of an “unauthorized” biography of George Herbert Walker Bush. The book paints the Bush-family patriarch, Senator Prescott Bush, as knowingly profiting from Hitler's Third Reich in his role as a director of the Union Banking Corporation, where, Tarpley's book says, the Nazis kept their money.

According to Tarpley, this, roughly, is how it went down on September 11: Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the Pet Goat –engrossed president played their assigned roles enabling the strange events of the day, including the wholesale “stand-down” of the multi-trillion-dollar American air-defense system. Cued by fellow mole Richard Clarke, the main players made sure the CIA-owned-and-operated Osama and his alleged 72-virgin-craving crew got the blame, the towers collapsing not from fire, as reported by the brainwashed mainstream media, but thanks to a well-planned “controlled demolition.”

Laying out his scenario, Tarpley touched on many of the “unanswered questions” that make up the core of the 9/11 Truth critique of the so-called Official Story.

Like: How, if no steel-frame building had ever collapsed from fire, did three such edifices fall that day, including 7 World Trade Center, which was not hit by any airplane?

And why, if hydrocarbon-fueled fire maxes out at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit and steel melts at 2,700 degrees, did the towers weaken sufficiently to fall in such a short time—only 56 minutes in the case of the South Tower?

And why, if the impact destroyed the planes' supposedly crash-proof flight-recorder black boxes, was the FBI able to find, in perfect condition, the passport of Satam al Suqami, one of the alleged American Airlines Flight 11 hijackers?

And how to explain the nonperformance of the FAA and NORAD?

How could they, an hour after the first World Trade Center crash, allow an obviously hostile airplane to smash into the Pentagon, headquarters of the entire military-industrial complex, for chrissakes? And why did the Defense Department choose to stage an extraordinary number of military exercises on 9/11—occupying matériel and spreading confusion about who was who on that day?

Sky commander : The fact that Bush spent much of 9/11 in the air while Cheney was in de facto control in the White House leads some to suggest the VP was ringleader.    AP)

And why was it so important, as decreed by Mayor Giuliani, to clear away the debris, before all the bodies were recovered?

And what about the short-selling spree on American and United airlines stock in the days before the attacks? Betting on the stocks to go down—was this real sicko Wall Street insider trading?

There were so many questions. But when it came to the big “why” of 9/11, there was only the classic conspiratorial query: “Who benefits?”

For Tarpley and others, this was a slam dunk: September 11 was a holocaust-as-ordered by the neocon cabal Project for the New American Century, which, like its Svengali, Leo Strauss, recognized the U.S. masses to be meth-addled, postliterate, post-logical lard-asses, a race of “sheeple” that would never rise to inherit the mantle of post–Cold War world-dominators without “some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.” In other words, a new Pearl Harbor like the old Pearl Harbor, which Roosevelt was supposed to have known about and used as an excuse to get us into World War II.

Pearl Harbor, the Reichstag fire, take your pick. What mattered was that 3,000 human beings were dead, freeing Manchurian Candidate Bush to decree his fraudulent War on Terror, a Social Darwinian/Hobbesian/with-us-or-against-us struggle to corner the planet's dwindling bounty—a global conflict without end in which only the strong, the white, and the Republican would survive.

3. Your “HOP” Level
In his paper “What Is Your ‘HOP' Level?” Nick Levis, who co-coordinates the N.Y. 9/11 Truth meetings with Father Morales and Les Jamieson, categorizes the basic narrative theories about September 11. The options essentially boil down to four.

(A) The Official Story (a.k.a. “The Official Conspiracy Theory”). The received Bushian line: Osama, nineteen freedom-haters with box cutters, etc. As White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said, there was “no warning.”

(B) The Incompetence Theory (also the Stupidity, Arrogance, “Reno Wall” Theory). Accepts the Official Story, adds failure by the White House, FBI, CIA, NSA, etc. to heed ample warnings. This line was advanced, with much ass-covering compensation, in The 9/11 Commission Report.

(C) LIHOP (or “Let It Happen on Purpose”). Many variations, but primarily that elements of the U.S. government and the private sector were aware of the hijackers' plans and, recognizing that 9/11 suited their policy goals, did nothing to stop it.

(D) MIHOP (“Made It Happen on Purpose”). The U.S. government or private forces planned and executed the attacks.

Tarpley's conception of a far-flung, supragovernmental alliance of intelligence agencies (he reserves a key spot for Britain's MI6) and military forces is only one of many MIHOPs floating around 9/11 Truth circles. Popular are various configurations of a Cheney-Bush MIHOP, with most asserting that the vice-president, who appeared to be in charge on 9/11, was the main actor in the plot. Also ambient is the ecodoomsday Peak Oil MIHOP, the idea that the “peaking” of petroleum reserves required a false provocation to start an “oil war” in the Middle East.

More controversial is Mossad MIHOP: the conjecture that Israeli intelligence (and kowtowing by the U.S. to the “Israel lobby”) played a crucial role, attempting to draw the U.S. into a prolonged struggle with Israel's enemies. Notable in this is the “white van” story: Five men observed filming the attacks from Liberty State Park were later pulled over by cops near Giants Stadium. One man was found to have $4,700 in his sock. “We are Israelis,” the men reportedly told the cops. “We are not your problem.” The men were quickly deported to Israel, after which the Forward claimed that the company that owned the van, Urban Moving Systems, was a Mossad front.

Mossad MIHOP dovetails with the baseless rumor, widely believed in Arab countries, that 4,000 Jewish World Trade Center workers were told to stay home that day, showing that conspiracy theory can be tricky terrain. Mossad MIHOP easily morphs into Zionist MIHOP or Jewish MIHOP, leading to the charges of anti-Semitism that have dogged the 9/11 Truth movement. “Do I believe Israel has undue influence over U.S. foreign policy?” asks one activist. “Absolutely. But there are people in this movement who are fucking Nazis. You have to draw the line at Holocaust denial.”

Deeper into late-night-talk-radio, Da Vinci Code territory are numerous incarnations of the New World Order MIHOP, defined by Nick Levis as the work of “a global ruling elite seeking greater control of the world Zeitgeist.” Ever elastic, NWO MIHOPs often date back to secret societies like the Knights Templar, founded in 1118 during the First Crusade. (Bush's alleged slip of calling the terror war a “crusade” was a key hint to the real, if surreal, agenda.) The continuity is clear to any student of the hidden history. The Templars begat the Freemasons (look at the pyramid-meeting-the-eye on every dollar in your pocket, fool!), from whom emerged the nefarious Illuminati, and onward to current standard-bearers like Yale's Skull and Bones society (both Bushes are Bonesmen; John Kerry, too), the Council on Foreign Relations, and the blue-helmeted armies of the United Nations.

Cave man : Fundamental to the theorists' worldview is that bin Laden, living in primitive conditions half a world away, could not have orchestrated such a complex plot.    AP)

Less-cited scenarios include Sino MIHOP, claiming the attack was a first strike in the inevitable conflict between China and the West. Scientologists have suggested a Shrink MIHOP, imagining evil Thetan psychologists as culprits. In the postmodern battle of paranoid narratives, we get to choose our terror dream, identify our own evil genius.

4. Inevitable MIHOP
“For me, MIHOP was inevitable, because the more you know, the more you know,” says Les Jamieson, a friendly, eminently reasonable 51-year-old from Brooklyn who remembers the moment the scales of Official Story hallucination fell from his eyes.

“I read a story in Newsweek , which said these generals were told earlier that week not to fly. Obviously, someone knew. My reaction was, ‘Holy shit.' This process has been one holy shit after another.”

Father Frank Morales's conversion was more dramatic. Raised in the Jacob Riis Projects, Morales, who if not for his priest collar could be mistaken for an East Village hipster, is a longtime Lower East Side hero, primarily for his work with local squatter communities. The day after 9/11, the diocese asked if he'd go to ground zero to perform last rites. “They said be prepared, because ‘we're not talking bodies, Frank, we're talking body parts.' ”

“I could feel myself getting madder and madder, not the way a priest is supposed to feel,” says Morales. Sitting with a fireman, Morales called out, “If I had somebody in this mess, I'd wanna get those motherfuckers.” It was then, Morales says, that the fireman whispered, “Hey, that's not it. You wanna know something? Bush and bin Laden have the same banker.”

It was everything that happened afterward, the Patriot Act and Iraq, that turned him into a 9/11 Truth activist, says Morales, who likewise sees little alternative to MIHOP.

“To me,” Morales says, “this is about history. History and truth, the nature of truth in a not particularly truthful age.”

“We're like the minutemen of Revolutionary times, prosecutors in the discovery phase for a trial that is sure to come,” says Jamieson, who on Saturday afternoons can often be found at ground zero holding up a banner proclaiming that 9/11 was AN INSIDE JOB.

As 9/11 Truth advocates know well, the veracity they seek is unlikely to meet the ontological standards of Saint Anselm. They've got people on their side like the “WebFairy,” who runs a site “proving” the towers were not hit by planes but holograms, or “ghost planes.” Still, the truth movement wields one irrefutably puissant weapon in its struggle. As Nick Levis says, “Would you believe anything George W. Bush told you?”

5. A Fast-Moving Meme
Google “911 conspiracy” and the bytes bury you. The first great conspiracy theory of the Internet Age—imagine JFK assassinationology with the Web!—9/11 Truth is a fast-moving meme. The thicket of “truth” sites is myriad. There is “911truth.org,” 911forthetruth.com,” “911truthla.org,” “nakedfor911truth.com,” “911truthemergence.com,” “911citizenswatch.org,” “911research.wtc7.net,” “911review.com,” and hundreds more.

It can be argued that a whole new kind of politics is being waged in the 9/11 Truth assault. Apocalyptical survivalists and extreme Bush-haters are equally attracted to the movement's blanket J'accuse. Be you a Starbucks-window breaker or John Bircher, you don't need a weatherman to know which way Thomas L. Friedman and his globalist windbaggery blows.

This is not a movement that takes its Nagra tape recorders to document Dealey Plaza acoustics to ascertain which bullet came from what angle. When 9/11 Truth “researchers” cite “the physical evidence,” they usually mean the referred reality of photographs or videos posted on the Net. Paul Thompson, whose 9/11 timeline has become the undisputed gold standard of Truth research, does all his work on the Net. “I don't have to be any particular place to do this,” says Thompson, who for a while moved to New Zealand so it would be easier for him to concentrate.

Yet it is difficult to deny the allure of this movement. The conspiracist has always relied on a degree of magical thinking. As Marshall McLuhan would swear if he weren't dead, there has never been a more conspiracy-ready medium than the Net. It is an exhilarating serendipity that every surfer has felt: the glorious synchronicity in the way one link handshakes the next, the sensation of not knowing how you got there but being sure this is the right place. Such miraculous methodology cannot simply be random. For the moment, it feels like Truth.

Coincidences are rife. What is to be made of reports that prior to September 11, parties unknown purchased the domain names “nycterrorstrike.com,” “horrorinnewyork.com,” and “tradetowerstrike.com.” Was this Mohammad Atta's idea of a cyberjoke?

Consider Pammy Wynant, protagonist of the novel Players , by Don DeLillo. Published in 1977, the book describes how Pammy, working for a firm called Grief Management Council, which has its offices in the World Trade Center, at first thought the WTC was “an unlikely headquarters for an outfit such as this. But she changed her mind as time passed. Where else would you stack all this grief?” Later, DeLillo writes, “to Pammy the towers didn't seem permanent. They remained concepts, no less transient for all their bulk than some routine distortion of light.”

Mystery Plane : The plane that hit the Pentagon isn't seen in any photographs. Some ask if it existed at all.  

Even dismissing numerological smut—like how 9+1+1=11 and there are eleven letters in both George W. Bush and The Pentagon, for which ground was broken September 11, 1941, exactly 155 (=11) years after the Masonic-dominated Founding Fathers opened the Constitutional Convention on September 11, 1786, not to mention, for CIA MIHOP fans, that Kissinger and the Langley boys chose September 11, 1973, to overthrow Chilean socialist president Salvador Allende—we appear to have entered the realm of the precognitively strange.

Does it matter that the pilot for the conspiracy-themed Lone Gunmen (a short-lived Fox knockoff of The X-Files ), which aired on March 4, 2001, tells the story of a U.S. government agency's plot to crash a remote-controlled 727 into the World Trade Center as an excuse to raise the military budget and then blame the attack on a “tin-pot dictator” who was “begging to be smart-bombed”?

And why does every 9-year-old know how to fold a $20 bill so it forms a likeness of the burning Pentagon on one side and the Trade Center on the back? (See clydelewis.com/twenty.html.)

German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen may have been roundly chastised for calling 9/11 “the greatest work of art ever.” Yet what is the conspiracist's obsessive attempt to make sense where there is no sense but a kind of (paranoid) art? No wonder Jungian shrinks, who churn out copious papers on the topic, are so crazy about 9/11. It's got so much archetype. Perhaps one of these learned men will pen a monograph on mandala-like smoke patterns (wwnet.fi/users/veijone/satan.htm) in the burning South Tower, which seem to form a likeness of Lucifer?

6. Inside the Truth Vacuum
“People are always coming up with stuff about holograms and planes shooting pods. That's what happens when the truth is systematically suppressed,” says Monica Gabrielle, whose husband, Richard, was killed in the attacks.

Monica, who describes herself as being “a completely normal housewife paying my taxes, raising my children” before 9/11 and who now lives on Long Island “with my dog, my alarm, and some plants,” testified before the 9/11 Commission. She ended her statement saying she hoped “this commission understands the need to leave a legacy of truth, accountability, and reform as a tribute to all of the innocent victims . . . We look to you for leadership.”

Asked if she ever expected to get a “legacy of truth,” Monica, who manifests an endearingly New Yorkish manner, laughs. “I must be an idiot because, yeah, I did. I was brought up to believe in things like the U.S. government. But we got screwed. The commission was whitewash, a stonewall. Maybe 3,000 people dead wasn't enough to do the right thing. Did they need 5,000, or 10,000?

“They had these people come in, made them promise to do better next time, and gave them medals. Rich was dead, and nobody was at fault. To me, that's a sin . . . With them, everything is fake. The government gave out ceremonial urns to the victims' families. It had beach sand inside. From Coney Island or somewhere. They could have at least used the dust from the Trade Center. Something real.”

Asked about 9/11 Truth, Monica laughs again. “You want tinfoil-hat-wearing nutters? I get these e-mails from this woman. She's nice, supportive. Then she says to be careful because ‘our thoughts, feelings, and bodily functions are being controlled 100,000 percent by electromagnetic waves.' But I write back. I know she means well. Everyone needs a friend.”

“Conspiracy theories,” says Lorie Van Auken with a sigh. She's one of the “Jersey girls” who pushed the Bush administration to convene the 9/11 Commission. Her husband, a Cantor Fitzgerald employee, was killed in the North Tower. She says, “That's why we demanded the commission, so there wouldn't be any conspiracy theories.

“Now, when I hear Philip Zelikow [the 9/11 Commission's executive director] wrote a book with Condi Rice or was seen with Karl Rove, it drives me crazy. I feel like I'm trapped in a truth vacuum.”

One thing that has changed over Lorie's “career as a 9/11 widow” is that she's come to appreciate “these conspiracy nuts, or whatever you want to call them.

“At first, we widows didn't want to be seen with conspiracy people. But they kept showing up. They cared more than those supposedly doing the investigating. If you ask me, they're just Americans, looking for the truth, which is supposed to be our right.”

7. Why 7 WTC Fell
Talking to these women was not unlike watching the Zapruder film, I thought. The famous 8-mm. movie shot by ladies'-garment manufacturer Abraham Zapruder has been used to justify any number of Kennedy-assassination theories. Think the driver of the limo was the actual shooter, as a few nutbags have postulated? It's in the Zapruder film, if you're stoned and squint enough.


Hot Zone : The fact that people, like the woman in this picture, could survive near the impact zone suggests the fires weren't hot enough to melt structural steel.    AP)

However, you always get to the part where the president's head explodes in a flash and shower of blood. It remains a horrible, frozen moment. One look and I am back in geometry class at Francis Lewis High School, the principal's voice on the loudspeaker saying that the president had been shot, that he was “dead.”

Speaking with the widows, or simply walking by a firehouse, was a teleportation back to the raw unspun brutality of the Day. This isn't as much of a stretch as it sounds, since I was there on September 11.

I'd just walked right into what would come to be called ground zero. No one stopped me. I knew the towers had fallen, seen it on TV. Still, I didn't expect things that big to totally disappear, as if the ground had swallowed them up.

“Where are the towers?” I asked a fireman. “Under your foot” was the reply.

Hours later, I sat down beside another, impossibly weary firefighter. Covered with dust, he was drinking a bottle of Poland Spring water. Half his squad was missing. They'd gone into the South Tower and never come out. Then, almost as a non sequitur, the fireman indicated the building in front of us, maybe 400 yards away.

“That building is coming down,” he said with a drained casualness.

“Really?” I asked. At 47 stories, it would be a skyscraper in most cities, centerpiece of the horizon. But in New York, it was nothing but a nondescript box with fire coming out of the windows. “When?”

“Tonight . . . Maybe tomorrow morning.”

This was around 5:15 p.m. I know because five minutes later, at 5:20, the building, 7 World Trade Center, crumbled.

“Shit!” I screamed, unsure which way to run, because who knows which way these things fall. As it turned out, I wasn't in any danger, since 7 WTC appeared to drop straight down. I still have dreams about the moment. Even then, the event is oddly undramatic, just a building falling.

Now the 9/11 Truth movement tells me I saw much more. According to Jim Hoffman, a software engineer and physicist from Alameda, California, where he authors the site 911research.wtc7.net, what I saw was a “classic controlled demolition.” This was why, Hoffman contends, 7 WTC dropped so rapidly (in about 6.6 seconds, or almost at the speed of a free-falling object) and so neatly, into its “own footprint.”

For 7 WTC to collapse unaided at that speed, Hoffman says, would mean “its 58 perimeter columns and 25 central columns of structural steel would have to have been shattered at almost the same instant, so unlikely as to be impossible.”

What happened at 7 WTC might be the key to the entire mystery of September 11, contends Hoffman. The $500 million insurance profit made by Larry Silverstein is a garden-variety motive, but the list of 7 WTC tenants sets conspiracy heads spinning.

To wit: The IRS, the Department of Defense, and the CIA kept offices on the 25th floor. The Secret Service occupied the ninth and tenth. The Securities and Exchange Commission (home to vast records of bank transactions) was on floors 11 through 13. The 23rd floor was home to Rudy Giuliani's Office of Emergency Management, his crisis center. If this wasn't enough, the mortgage of 7 WTC was held by the Blackstone Group, headed by Pete Peterson, chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, stalwart players in any NWO MIHOP.

In the 9/11 Truth cosmology, the destruction of 7 World Trade Center is akin to Jack Ruby's shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. Seven WTC was the home of secrets. It had to go. Central to the scenario is a comment made by Silverstein in a 2002 PBS documentary.

“We've had such a terrible loss of life,” he quotes himself as saying on 9/11. “Maybe the smartest thing to do is pull it.”

Pull it ,” as Truth people never tire of repeating, is the term usually used for controlled demolition.

These were vexing questions, especially since 7 WTC is not even mentioned in The 9/11 Commission Report. Nor is the building given much shrift in the subsequent “Final Report on the Collapse of World Trade Center Towers,” compiled by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

And there I was, thinking all I saw was a building falling down.

8. The Magician and the Expert
A few days after the St. Mark's meeting, I went to a Community Board No. 1 forum where the NIST report would be discussed. The meeting was in the Woolworth Building, the world's tallest structure when it was completed in 1913. Since it was still standing, it seemed a good place to talk about the only former world's tallest building(s) to fall down. I was with William Rodriguez, who, as he always does, brought along his video camera, “so they know I'm watching them.”


Smoke Bomb : Could this puff of smoke be evidence of an internal explosion consistent with controlled demolition?    AP)

As a boy shining shoes in Puerto Rico, William dreamed of being wrapped in a straitjacket and suspended upside down from a flaming rope. “That was going to be my big trick. It was my goal to become a magician, the greatest illusionist in the Caribbean basin.”

Later, Rodriguez met James Randi, a.k.a. the Amazing Randi, the magician best known as a debunker of supernatural claims, offering the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge to anyone able to demonstrate verifiable evidence of psychic powers.

“Randi was my mentor,” said William. “I admired him for his tricks but also because he never said they were anything but tricks. He separated the truth from the phony.”

William moved to New York, but beyond some gigs at Mostly Magic, his career did not take off. He started working for a cleaning company in the World Trade Center. He'd stay there twenty years.

On 9/11, William was late. Instead of mopping the stairwells on the 110th floor, where he almost certainly would have died, he was chatting with the maintenance crew on level B-1 in the basement. “I heard this massive explosion below, on level B-2 or 3. I saw this guy come up the stairs. The skin on his arms was peeled away . . . hanging. Then I heard another explosion, from above. That was the first plane, hitting the building.”

In possession of one of the few master keys in the building, William led firemen up the stairwells. He was responsible for getting at least a dozen people out of the towers. Trying to escape as the North Tower fell, he found himself beneath a half-buried fire engine.

“I told myself this is going to be a slow death, but I should make it last as long as I could. My training as an escape artist helped me. I knew to be calm. They found me just in time. I understood my whole life had been pointing to this moment.”

Acclaimed as “the last man pulled from the rubble,” William became a hero of 9/11. “I was at the White House. They took my picture with President Bush.”

Four years later, after repeatedly being rebuffed in his attempts to tell officials his story about the basement explosion, William is suing the U.S. government under the rico statute, legislation drafted to prosecute Mafia families. The suit reads like an Air America wet dream, with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft, George Tenet, Karl Rove, and others (the Diebold Company is thrown in for good measure) listed as defendants.

“They say I'm a conspiracy theorist; I call them conspirators, too,” William says.

“It is like Randi said. There's reality, and there's illusion. When illusion becomes reality, that's a problem. Nine-eleven is a giant illusion. Besides, what can they do to me? I'm a national hero, Bush told me so himself.”

“That's him, the NIST guy,” William said, indicating Dr. S. Shyam Sunder, head of the institute's Trade Center report.

An elegantly attired man in his fifties, Dr. Sunder, holder of degrees from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi and MIT, took his seat beside Carl Galioto, a partner at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, architects of the new $700 million replacement for 7 WTC. Behind them was a slide of “the new downtown skyline,” dominated by another Skidmore project, the Freedom Tower, which, at an iconic 1,776 feet, is next in line to be the world's tallest building. Like the new 7 WTC, which Galioto said featured a “two-foot-thick vertical core encasing the elevators, utility infrastructure, and exit stairs,” the Freedom Tower will be “among the safest buildings ever built.” This was important, the architect said, because “constantly building and rebuilding” was what New York was all about.

After Dr. Sunder's presentation (planes and fire did it), a woman from N.Y. 9/11 Truth stood up and said she hadn't been able “to sleep at night” since her best friend had died at the WTC. She had hoped NIST would clear up doubts, but this was not the case. “I have here a report which contradicts much of what you say.”

The woman put a paper by Steven E. Jones, a physics professor from Brigham Young University, in front of Dr. Sunder. Jones makes the case for controlled demolition, claiming the persistence of “molten metal” at ground zero indicates the likely presence of “high-temperature cutter-charges . . . routinely used to melt/cut/demolish steel.”

“I hope you read this; perhaps it will enable you to see things a different way,” the woman said.

“Actually, I have read it,” Dr. Sunder said with a sigh.

Later, asked if such outbursts were common, Dr. Sunder said, “Yes. I am sympathetic. But our report . . . it is extensive. We consulted 80 public-sector experts and 125 private-sector experts. It is a Who's Who of experts. People look for other solutions. As scientists, we can't worry about that. Facts are facts.”

Brother Act : One of many eerie 9/11 coincidences is that Marvin Bush, the president's brother, worked for a firm that handled security for the WTC, and United and American airlines.    AP)

I asked Dr. Sunder about 7 WTC. Why was the fate of the building barely mentioned in the final report?

This was a matter of staffing and budget, Sunder said. He hoped to release something on 7 WTC by the end of the year.

NIST did have some “preliminary hypotheses” on 7 WTC, Dr. Sunder said. “We are studying the horizontal movement east to west, internal to the structure, on the fifth to seventh floors.”

Then Dr. Sunder paused. “But truthfully, I don't really know. We've had trouble getting a handle on building No. 7.”

9. Can 49.3 Percent of the People Be Crazy?
Late in the summer of 2004, as the Republicans in Madison Square Garden extolled George Bush's staunch protection of the homeland, a Zogby poll asked New Yorkers if they believed that “some of our leaders knew in advance attacks were planned on or around September 11, 2001, and consciously failed to act.”

Of city residents, 49.3 percent said yes.

A year and a half later, doubt had increased, at least according to my own informal canvassing. Per Nick Levis's “HOP” paper, I offered four choices: (A) the Official Story; (B) the Official Story plus incompetence; (C) LIHOP; (D) MIHOP.

Of the 56 respondents, 28 said C, 23 picked B, with 4 (including two Muslim cabdrivers) opting for MIHOP.

Almost every white person with a straight job said B. Many disliked Bush but said they couldn't bring themselves to believe the U.S. government would take part in the death of 3,000 of its countrymen.

Typical was the opinion offered by an investment banker at a downtown bar. “I can see them wishing it would happen, secretly happy it did. But on purpose? Look at the way they've managed Iraq. They're boobs. They couldn't have pulled off 9/11 without getting caught. Not possible.”

Uptown, responses were different. “Yeah, they knew,” said a retired transit worker on 116th Street, one of the 17 of 22 black people questioned who picked C. He said he'd heard Marvin Bush, the president's younger brother, was a director of Securacom, a firm that on 9/11 was in charge of security not only at the World Trade Center but also for United and American airlines as well as at Dulles airport, where Flight 77 took off.

“That true?” he asked.

Yeah, I said. That's what I heard.

“There anywhere he ain't got no brother?”

“Bush's cousin, Wirt Walker III, worked there, too.”

“Wirt? The third? You're shitting me.”

This was pretty much the opinion. If Katrina proved the government was willing to let people die, right there on TV, why should 9/11 have been any different? Only one person picked A, the official story. This was a fireman, who was smoking a cigarette outside a downtown engine company. Truth be told, I wasn't keen on quizzing firemen about 9/11 Truth, but I knew the guy's brother from high school.

“Not answering that,” he said, warning not to ask others in the company, which had lost men on 9/11. This didn't mean he wasn't of the opinion that if he lived to be a million he'd never “see anything as corrupt, bullshit, and sad as what happened at the WTC.

“They got their gold and shipped us to Fresh Kills,” he said. Call it one more conspiracy theory, but many uniformed firefighters believe the powers that be cared more about finding the gold reserves held in vaults beneath the Trade Center than the bodies of their fallen brothers.

Still, the fireman said, if he had to pick a letter in my poll, it would be A.

“Osama fucking bin Laden, like Bush says. If I thought it was someone else, then I'd have to do something about it. And I don't want to think about what I'd do.”

10. Disinformation
It weighs on you, thinking about 9/11, the day and the unremitting aftermath. Being a supposedly unflappable New Yorker offers little solace. The wound remains unhealed, emotions close to the surface.

Certainly there was an urgency as activists gathered at the Veselka restaurant after the Tarpley meeting.

With all the saber-rattling about Iran, this was no time to decrease vigilance, said Nick Levis, proposing a toast: “That in 2006, we will crack the Official Story so we can stop being 9/11-heads and return to normality.” A classically hermetic New York conversation ensued, quickly moving from snickers about bin Laden's supposed CIA code name, “Tim Osmond . . . as in Donny and Marie,” to speculation about the role of Jerry Hauer, Giuliani's former OEM guy, in the post-9/11 anthrax threats.

Talk came to a halt, however, with the mention of whether it was American Airlines Flight 77 that hit the Pentagon on 9/11.


For New York Magazine)

Broached in 2002 by Thierry Meyssan in his French best-seller L'Effroyable Imposture (The Appalling Fraud), the idea that the Pentagon was struck by a missile instead of a 757 is the most controversial tenet of 9/11 Truth–iana. The claim is based on Meyssan's reading of photographs (“Hunt the Boeing” at asile.org/citoyens/numero13/pentagone/erreurs_en.htm) supposedly showing the hole in the building to be no more than fifteen to eighteen feet wide—far too small to fit a plane with a 125-foot wingspan.

But there are problems, such as the many eyewitnesses who saw a plane flying low near the Pentagon shortly before impact. Disputing the no-crash theory, Jim Hoffman has argued, “This is just the sort of wackiness defenders of the Official Story harp on to show how gullible and incompetent we conspiracy theorists are supposed to be.” In other words, Meyssan and other no-plane believers were either wrong, unknowing dupes or spreaders of disinformation.

The D-word is nothing to take lightly in conspiracy circles. For, as Thomas Pynchon notes in his “Proverbs for Paranoids,” if they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.

At Veselka, the question was, if Flight 77 did not crash, what happened to the 56 people on the plane? This query did not sit well with Nico Haupt, a thin, black-clad man from Cologne, Germany, compiler of the 9/11 Encyclopedia (911review.org/Wiki/Sept11Topics.shtml).

“Gassed,” he hissed. “Have you ever heard of gassing? It is very easy. You open the door of the plane, and it spreads.”

“You think they gassed them?” Would even the Illuminati stoop this low?

Haupt cast a withering look. “That, or some other method of murder. Assholes!”

“Nico, calm down,” said Tarpley. “This is tactics. There's no reason to make an enormous moral issue out of everything.”

But Haupt was past consoling. “You are motherfuckers. Stupid motherfuckers.” Slamming the tabletop, he gathered his things and stormed out.

“Nico is so emotional,” said one activist, returning to her plate of pierogi.

11. 250 Greenwich Street
After dinner, I stopped at ground zero. Before the towers were built, my father took me here when the area was called Radio Row and sold tubes cheap. After 9/11, I spent many nights watching the great plume of water, shining in the vapor lamps, raining onto the smoking pit.

Now I was in front of the replacement for 7 WTC, Silverstein's $700 million baby, a nifty parallelogram with a stainless-steel finish like a Viking stove in a Soho loft. According to the Web brochure, 7 WTC collapsed “probably” as a result of “the ignition of Con Edison diesel stored in the base.” To “avoid this hazard in the new building, the diesel is stored under the new plaza across from the reopened Greenwich Street.”

Another change is the offering of an alternative address, 250 Greenwich Street. Apparently, Silverstein felt this would play better in “the trendy Tribeca neighborhood.” Call it real-estate MIHOP.

When the new 7 WTC opens, N.Y. 9/11 Truth plans a demonstration here. Now, however, it being late Sunday night, the place looked like a neutron-bomb landscape, lights on in the finished lobby, gleaming card-reading security gates in place, but no sign of humanity anywhere.

A giant LCD screen scrolled various alphabetical fonts, one after another. It was numbing watching this, thinking that time was moving on, new fortunes would be made here, and like 11/22, it would never be known who did what on 9/11.

A cop car pulled up. They wanted me to move on. Cops always want you to move on. Not that I was in any hurry. Larry Silverstein didn't own the sidewalk. I had as much right to the disaster as anyone.

Then I remembered one more factoid. David Cohen, who headed the CIA office at 7 WTC on September 11, was the same guy hired by Ray Kelly as deputy commissioner of Intelligence. It was Cohen who instituted the subway bag search, one more chimera of security in the post-9/11 world. Who knew what a guy like that might be up to? So I moved on. Can't trust anyone nowadays.

The Plane Truth
9/11 conspiracy theories, from nuts to soup.

Mossad Did It
A common theory, especially in the Arab world, holds that Israel orchestrated the attacks in order to bring the U.S. into conflict with Israel's enemies. Evidence cited ranges from the arly spurious and deeply anti-Semitic (the oft-heard, oft-refuted canard that Jews were told to leave the towers before the attacks) to the apparently true but unexplainable. (Five men who were seen filming the attacks in Liberty Park were later apprehended and found by the Forward to have ties to Mossad.)

Oilmen Did It
A theory based on the idea that worldwide oil production, having reached its peak, is beginning a long decline, leading to surging energy prices and global economic collapse. The 9/11 attacks, goes this scenario, were orchestrated by Cheney, Bush, and their friends in the oil industry and government, in order to begin a process that would secure further reserves in Iraq and increase the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf.

Bush and Cheney Did it
The most basic of conspiracy theories. Bush and Cheney orchestrated the attacks , for much the same reason Roosevelt was sometimes said to have orchestrated Pearl Harbor: in order to begin the conflict that would allow them to realize their global ambitions.

The New World Order Did It
After winning a long struggle against the old Kissingerian pragmatists and balance-of-power devotees, neocon idealists centered at the Council on Foreign Relations initiated the conflict in order to establish the United States as the sole global power.

A Rogue Network Did It
A secret government used Bush and Cheney as patsies in carrying out the attacks. Bush was kept on the run in Air Force One (code-named “Angel”) by an anonymous call saying, “Angel is next.” Bin Laden and his henchmen were CIA plants and double agents. Britain's MI6 intelligence service was involved. The towers were blown up from inside, by teams of secret government assassins. Even Bush and Cheney are in the dark about why the attacks took place.

Shrinks Did It
Scientologists believe that psychiatry (through a mechanism that remains murky) helped give birth to the suicide attackers “through drugs and psycho-political methods.”

–Reported by Janelle Nanos

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