Conspiracy Theory – 15 June 2007

Conspiracy Theory: Last Man Standing

—–Original Message—–
From: Husain Husaini
Sent: 15 June 2007 06:53
To: Pamela Gupta; Asian Network Breakfast; Asian Network News

As Devan and anyone from the mornings team will tell you I get quite exercised by 9-11 conspiracy theories….
If you ever want to do anything on them give me a shout first…
He may have rescued a lot of people but it doesn’t change the facts…

From: Devan Maistry
Sent: Wed 20/06/2007 09:09
To: Husain Husaini; Pamela Gupta; Asian Network Breakfast; Asian Network News
Subject: FW: conspiracy theory: Last Man Standing

Husain attracts attention to the perils of reporting 9/11 conspiracy theories. Here are some thoughts on an issue which can divide and impoverish newsrooms.

The BBC recently broadcast a series of documentaries which investigated a clutch of conspiracy theories. The intention was to debunk them but also to explain a social phenomenon that is increasingly the object of academic attention.

‘Conspiracy’ in the legal sense is an agreement between two or more persons to commit an unlawful act or to accomplish a lawful end by unlawful means.

‘Theory’ has a number of distinct meanings depending on context. As the outcome of scientific speculation theory provides explanations of phenomena which can be tested or verified and enable prediction. More commonly theory is equated with conjecture often independent of fact and removed from hypothesis.

‘Conspiracy theory’ is somewhat different and a relative latecomer, entering popular usage in the 1960s and the supplement to the OED in 1997. Essentially it describes attempts to explain major political, social and historical events as the outcome of covert activity undertaken by an alliance of powerful people or organizations.

But the term also has an increasingly pejorative connotation. Mark Fenster, Professor of Law at Florida University says that “in political discussions with friends and opponents, one can hurl no greater insult than to describe another’s position as the product of a “conspiracy theory”.

That’s because these days the term is equated more generally with claims that are regarded as paranoid, outlandish, irrational and unworthy of serious consideration. The purveyors of such theories are simply ‘conspiracy nuts’ or ‘conspiracy theorists’. Fenster also notes that employing the term “conspiracy theory” serves as a strategy in political discourse for keeping some areas of inquiry off-limits.

It’s easy to understand the irritation of editors asked to afford time, space and credibility to the patently ludicrous. But it is equally obvious that good journalistic practice must first establish that such speculation is deeply flawed. Some claims, like the contention that the world is flat or that the sun revolves around the earth, are of course simply bizarre and can be discounted swiftly.

With regard to 9/11 it is illuminating to note the response from the established Left. Here is Noam Chomsky on the subject:

“There’s by now a small industry on the thesis that the administration had something to do with 9/11.  I’ve looked at some of it, and have often been asked.  There’s a weak thesis that is possible though extremely unlikely in my opinion, and a strong thesis that is close to the inconceivable. The weak thesis is that they knew about it and didn’t  try to stop it.  The strong thesis is that they were actually involved.

The evidence for either thesis is, in my opinion, based on a failure to understand what evidence is.  Even in controlled scientific experiments one finds all sorts of unexplained phenomena, strange coincidences, loose ends, apparent contradictions, etc.  Read the letters in technical science journals you’ll find plenty of samples. In real world situations, chaos is overwhelming, and these will mount to the sky.”

You’ll find a great deal of this sort of unhelpful wordplay from Chomsky when confronted with questions about 9/11. More disturbing however is that there is little sign of Chomsky, for all his reputation for extensive footnoting, having seriously acquainted himself with the arguments raised by sceptics. (see Barrie Zwicker, Towers of Deception, ch 5 for much more of the same).

This is George Monbiot on the film Loose Change, facets of which have also been criticized by 9/11 researchers.

“A 9/11 conspiracy virus is sweeping the world, but it has no basis in fact. Loose Change is a sharp, slick film with an authoritative voiceover, but it drowns the truth in an ocean of nonsense.

George Monbiot
Tuesday February 6, 2007
The Guardian

There is a virus sweeping the world. It infects opponents of the Bush government, sucks their brains out through their eyes and turns them into gibbering idiots. First cultivated in a laboratory in the US, the strain reached these shores a few months ago. In the past fortnight, it has become an epidemic. Scarcely a day now passes without someone possessed by this sickness, eyes rolling, lips flecked with foam, trying to infect me.”

The rest of the piece is spattered with similar vitriol and high emotion. There is little evidence of anything but a cursory acquaintance with the inconsistencies in the 9/11 Commission report raised by critics, and none of disinterested consideration. Further down is Monbiot’s explanation for how the towers collapsed.

“The failure of the twin towers has been exhaustively documented by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Far from being impossible, the collapse turns out to have been inevitable. The planes cut some of the support columns and ignited fires sufficient to weaken (but not melt) the remaining steel structures. As the perimeter columns buckled, the weight of the collapsing top stories generated a momentum the rest of the building could not arrest. Puffs of smoke were blown out of the structure by compression as the building fell.”

This is the official NIST line with less sophistication.  However I interviewed Dr Shyam Sunder, NIST’s lead investigator into the collapse of the buildings. He confirmed that he had used a model to predict the high temperatures reached prior to collapse as the only steel samples available were from cooler regions of the fires. Only three of these directly tested samples had reached F482 degrees. Steel begins to melt at F2800 degrees.

Later however he told me that he did have columns from the impacted and hottest areas of the fires and aside from those which had been struck by the aircraft, the rest were as good as they looked in photographs taken when the towers were being constructed. The obvious question is why he had he not conducted tests on them.

He also said he had not looked for evidence of explosions as he knew what had brought the towers down. I guess keeping an open mind is not part of his investigative technique.

For Monbiot the collapse turns out to be inevitable. Dr Shyam Sunder said much the same thing, that even a ‘child in kindergarten’ would know -‘its as simple as two plus two is four’-  that once the top floors started to come down, the rest would follow. NIST however had not studied the collapse itself as it was outside the remit of their inquiry.

Yes, those final ten or so vital seconds that have been analysed frame by frame by others were completely ignored by a $20 million investigation.

Here’s a final contribution from Monbiot on how Building 7 collapsed at about 5.20 in the afternoon:

“Counterpunch, the radical leftwing magazine, commissioned its own expert – an aerospace and mechanical engineer – to test the official findings. He shows that the institute must have been right. He also demonstrates how Building 7 collapsed. Burning debris falling from the twin towers ruptured the oil pipes feeding its emergency generators. The reduction in pressure triggered the automatic pumping system, which poured thousands of gallons of diesel on to the fire. The support trusses weakened and buckled, and the building imploded. Popular Mechanics magazine polled 300 experts and came to the same conclusions.’

Popular Mechanics did indeed put out a special supplement supporting the fire and impact theory. They were prepared to talk to me but could not put-up an independent expert as they had supervised the entire investigation.

As for the collapse of Building 7 – which was not hit by an airplane – unlike Counterpunch and Popular Mechanics, Dr Shyam Sunder was not optimistic about reaching a conclusion – and still hasn’t as far as I’m aware.

So how did 19 hijackers get through the most formidable air defences on the planet?
Well it was blamed above all on ‘a failure of imagination’ an inability to foresee that airplanes could be used as weapons. Yet on 9/11 such an exercise was actually being simulated and then there’s Operation Bojinka and so on and so forth.

Now for a postscript of sorts:

For a week in February the hottest download on YouTube was the BBC’s reporting of the collapse of Building 7 some 24 minutes before it happened. Asked to explain why the reporter was confirming the collapse, and speculating on the causes, while the building remained standing and clearly visible over her shoulder in the shot, World Editor, Richard Porter offered the following:

*don’t accuse us of conspiracy, after all we have just made a series of documentaries on the phenomenon.
*we have lost the tapes.
*we always cross-check our facts and use words such as allegedly.
*our reporter does not remember what happened despite some searing memories.
*if we had reported the building had collapsed it would have been an error, nothing more.

Subsequently he suggested that the BBC had reported the collapse of Building7 because a number of other media outlets had been reporting the collapse in circumstances that lent credibility to their dispatches. Here’s how he concluded his second blog on the subject.

“I’ve spent most of the week investigating this issue, but this is where we have to end the story. I know there are many out there who won’t believe our version of events, or will raise further questions. But there was no conspiracy in the BBC’s reporting of the events. Nobody told us what to say. There’s no conspiracy involving missing tapes. There’s no story here.”

There’s no doubt that for Richard what matters most is the credibility of the BBC and its journalism. Its unhelpful though in that defense, unnecessary and counterproductive, to imply that questions about the reporting of an event yet to happen could only have been asked by a conspiracy nut.

Nobody wants to be labeled a conspiracy theorist and  for journalists its pretty close to the kiss of death. So do we walk away from the story? Well that’s always a possibility. I’d prefer to think that the question does not even arise, and that especially at the BBC, good journalistic practice, as always, is the expected response.

“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is a proof against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is condemnation before investigation.” (Herbert Spencer) And the principle holds – whether we regard the concerns raised about the official narrative of 9/11 as an overarching theory of conspiracy, or as a discrete set of hypotheses offered in an effort to reconcile obvious and troubling discrepancies.


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