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Twin Towers, Twin Myths?

Engineers and Architects Argue About What Made the World Trade Center Fall


One of the crucial technical disputes in American history, perhaps second only to global warming, is underway. It pits hundreds of government technicians who say the World Trade Center buildings were brought down by airplane impact against hundreds of professional architects and building engineers who insist that the Twin Towers could never have collapsed solely due to the planes and are calling for a new independent investigation. It is a fight that is not going away and is likely to get louder as more building trade professionals sign on to one side or the other.

Better than anyone, David Ray Griffin understands the “enormous importance” of Richard Gage, the Bay Area architect and staunch Republican who founded Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth (AE911 Truth).

David Ray Griffin
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

David Ray Griffin

Griffin, the controversial retired Santa Barbara philosophy professor/theologian (Claremont School of Theology), is regarded as the leading investigative force within what is called the 9/11 Truth movement, with seven 9/11 books to his credit, including his bestseller The New Pearl Harbor. Although sometimes challenged (about accuracy), until Gage appeared, Griffin found his greatest stumbling block in public appearances to be this question: If his analysis was true-that two planes could not have brought down three World Trade Center (WTC) buildings without the aid of pre-planted explosives-why didn’t a single U.S. architect or building engineer publicly support him? Now, in three years, Gage has signed up 804 architects and structural engineers, some from top firms, who challenge the official version of the buildings’ collapses.

Notably, the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division has acknowledged that AE911’s core evidence deserves-and will get-FBI scrutiny. In a December 2008 letter, Assistant Director Michael J. Heimbach assessed AE911’s presentation as “backed by thorough research and analysis.”

Bolstering AE911’s case, three scientists working at respected technical laboratories in the U.S. and Europe reported in April that their independent analysis of reputed WTC dust found clear evidence of the highly potent incendiary/explosive “super-thermite,” used by the military.

AE911 Truth has grown rapidly, igniting a struggling grassroots movement of hundreds of other “9/11 Truth” organizations, and spearheading a growing assault on the official story. In recent years, other single-profession 9/11 Truth groups have launched or gained momentum, including those comprised of airline pilots, firefighters, veterans, medical professionals, scholars, lawyers, religious leaders, and former government employees.

Also individually calling for a new inquiry are two dozen retired U.S. military officers and eight former U.S. State Department officials, along with a number of Republicans who have served in high federal positions since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, including former assistant secretary of the Treasury Paul Craig Roberts and former deputy assistant secretary of Defense (and retired Marine Corps colonel) Ronald D. Ray.

That Van Jones, Obama’s green jobs “czar,” resigned September 5 in part because he had signed a 2004 petition seeking a new inquiry into 9/11 is testimony to the fact that the reinvestigation movement has brought in skeptics from both political parties even as it remains a hot potato in American public life.

Activists around the country attribute AE911’s professional credibility and its unwavering focus on the WTC as the fuel that has galvanized the movement. The group’s case has been enhanced by its refusal to advance conspiracy theories that are widespread within the movement, including the proposition that key Bush administration figures likely were complicit in the event.

AE911 represents the biggest boost yet to the credibility of the 9/11 Truth movement,” Griffin said. “So many people identify 9/11 with the towers, and now it’s clear there are far more architects and engineers who have spoken out against the official story than have publicly supported it.”

The Basic Case

Specifically, AE911 Truth makes these arguments:

• Crucial elements of the key government study on the step-by-step events that occurred in the collapse of the WTC buildings don’t stand up to analytical scrutiny. The study was undertaken by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the U.S. Department of Commerce agency responsible for building and other safety codes and standards.

• Airplane crash and subsequent fire aren’t sufficient cause to bring down the towers, not even when combined with the presumed dislodgment of fireproofing that protected the core steel beams in the areas where the planes struck. This dislodgment, NIST firmly asserts, made the steel vulnerable to softening by fire and induced the collapse-the first ever of a steel-framed building hit by fire.

NIST never tested for explosive residues despite indications, including many eyewitness accounts from first-responders and people who escaped the buildings, that explosives and incendiaries were present. Strikingly, eight years after the event, NIST still argues “there is no hard evidence to warrant such testing” and refuses to order fairly inexpensive tests, doing so even in the face of the 2008 independent study that claimed to find traces in reputed WTC debris of the military incendiary thermite, which cuts through steel. This controversial study has been reinforced by the results published in April in the Open Chemical Physics Journal. Many technical professionals call the failure to test a science research “travesty.”

• The collapse of the three buildings resembles two different types of controlled demolitions and not the bending or toppling of a heated building section that might result from a fire.

In support of these arguments, NIST’s critics cite a large number of highly technical papers, most posted on the Web, that specifically challenge or recalculate scores of elements of the NIST case. (See chart online.) Meanwhile, NIST supporters have posted technical papers on various Web sites seeking to “debunk” NIST challengers, including accusations of “false statements” and manipulation of evidence by AE911 and Gage (see wtc7lies.googlepages.com and AE911truth.org/info). For laypersons, the takeaway is that a profound technical argument is underway, with the technical papers sitting alongside often vituperative blogging on both sides of the WTC dispute.

Following the collapses, NIST assembled a panel of more than 300 staff and external experts and spent three years and $20 million on what it calls the most exhaustive technical study ever of a building collapse. Released in 2005, the initial NIST report concluded that the towers, which NIST agrees could not be brought down by fire alone, collapsed because of a combination of factors. Crucially, this included the presumed fireproofing dislodgment. This allowed certain beams and trusses to soften sufficiently to force an inward bending of perimeter-supporting steel beams, putting so much pressure on the fire-weakened and severed center steel columns (three severed in one tower and five in another, out of 47 in each) that the buildings collapsed in the areas where the planes had struck.

NIST also stated that there was more than enough mass plus acceleration of the upper Twin Towers’ floors as they fell to force a collapse of the lower structure straight down at nearly freefall speed, with each floor adding weight and force to the pressures on the floors below-a theory NIST says is supported by elaborate computer models.

NIST’s report on the third collapsed building, WTC7, released in August 2008, argues that computer modeling of existing evidence also doesn’t support an explosives theory. The report concludes that WTC7 was brought down by seven hours of fires combined with falling debris from the towers that weakened an entire building section, forcing the collapse of a key support column such that the building then caved in.

Aside from an article in a 2006 issue of Popular Mechanics, which debunked critiques of NIST and the explosives theory, there has been no in-depth examination in the press of both sides of this argument even after AE911 Truth began to organize and present evidence challenging the official narrative and Popular Mechanics‘ defense of it.

courtesy ae 911 truth

Richard Gage

Enter Richard Gage

Within his 20-year career, Richard Gage, 53, has designed numerous fireproofed steel-framed buildings. In recent years, his work has focused on being the onsite managing architect during actual building construction.

Gage, a Reagan supporter, had a moment of clarity when he first heard alternative theories of 9/11 presented in March 2006 by Griffin. As he tells it, he was driving to a construction meeting and crossed the talk-radio political divide that day to listen to progressive Pacifica Radio’s KPFA interviewing Griffin.

What Griffin was saying is that the ends of these beams that were ejected out of the World Trade Center at 55-70 miles per hour were dripping with molten steel and they landed more than 500 feet away,” Gage recounted. The station also played eyewitness interviews recorded after 9/11, including with first-responders, who described hearing explosions and seeing flashes of light that would support an explosives/incendiaries theory.

So I began looking at the research and official report myself. The more I read, the more disturbed I got, and I realized fairly quickly what I needed to do, and that was to start Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth.”

Before this, Gage noted, he hadn’t paid heed to the technical details of the collapse. Particularly striking to him was that the eyewitness interviews had been released to the N.Y. Times by court order in August 2005-nearly four years after 9/11.

This was information that has been hidden by New York City, and it became obvious why they hid it,” Gage said. “So I began looking at the research and official report myself. The more I read, the more disturbed I got, and I realized fairly quickly what I needed to do, and that was to start Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth.”

As its founder and executive director, the soft-spoken, gentlemanly Gage has since become something like a subversive Al Gore, delivering his disturbingly inconvenient PowerPoint presentation that challenges most of the key elements of the NIST report. (See AE911truth.org.) Somewhat obsessed with recruiting as many building professionals as possible, Gage left his job and now, supported by contributions to AE911, spends much of his time traveling from city to city presenting the core forensic case to bodies of fellow experts.

Most all of the architects and engineers I present to are completely overwhelmed, as I was, with the forensic-based scientific facts surrounding this case,” Gage said. “And all of them, virtually, sign up on our Web site to demand a new investigation by Congress.” Gage said he gets similar buy-in from nonprofessional groups, including conservatives.

Gage maintains that even allowing for the chunks of fireproofing NIST argues were stripped away by airplane impact, steel framing serves as a heat conductor, actually cooling fire and equalizing the burden on any one steel section. “The steel doesn’t get to the temperature that would cause it to weaken,” he said. “No steel-framed high-rise has ever collapsed due to fire, and we have almost 100 examples.”

As for NIST’s theory that once the towers’ impact-area beams gave way, the mass above them would rapidly crush the lower stories, Gage argues that this premise ignores the laws of physics inherent in the resistance provided by the powerful steel structure of the lower floors-a statement that earns him major buy-in from building professionals. “No force can crush that kind of a structure at - freefall acceleration. It’s ludicrous,” he said. “Not only that, the videos show that 95 percent of the South Tower is being blown outside, indicating explosions. And the top of the North Tower is being reduced in volume from 15 stories to seven stories before it even starts to drop. Half of its mass is destroyed and displaced laterally in the first two seconds. Later, the rest of the mass has completely disappeared and then blown outward such that there’s nothing left to drive this building down to the ground. This remaining mass cannot fall at near freefall speed and crush 80,000 tons of steel and pulverize to powder 90,000 tons of concrete and create tons of molten metal by some unknowable process.”

NIST’s Defense

Defending NIST’s research, NIST spokesperson Michael Newman responded that the amount of fireproofing dislodged by airplane impact is a factor crucially not present in fires in other high-rise fires cited by Gage. NIST, supported by a number of independent building and explosives professionals who are critical of AE911, also stands behind its theory of the upper floors’ impact. “Basically, gravity and the utter force of the upper floors forced the towers down. If you have 20 floors of mass suddenly released, as it goes downward it picks up more mass and more force-and, yes, you can have a building collapse in 10 seconds and, yes, it is physically possible. We believe that three years of hard scientific technical investigation based around a tremendous amount of evidence and confirmed by many physicists will give you the same conclusions.”

Newman argued that while the upper stories’ collapse created powerful pneumatic air pressure that blew outward substantial debris, mimicking explosions, NIST’s calculations confirmed there was sufficient remaining mass to hammer down the lower floors, each failed floor adding to the descending mass.

Gage and many other “not-so-fast” scientific and professional colleagues argue that they easily found major flaws in the NIST study as well as omission of significant evidence.

Most prominently, the 47-story steel structure Building 7, never struck by a plane, collapsed anyway-from hours of fires and damage from falling debris, NIST said. Dismissing this as “nonsense for a modern steel building designed to withstand such fires and specifically designed such that no one column’s failure would bring down the building,” Gage and others note that a major clue that something was producing far more heat than a jet-fuel or office fire could are alleged sightings by some first-responders and later by some of the debris-removal crews of molten metal, like hot lava, some found glowing in the basements of WTC buildings up to three weeks after 9/11-far longer than jet-fuel fires could produce. (Interviews of many cleanup crewmembers by a demolition company found no evidence of molten steel sightings. Gage cites evidence to the contrary.)

NIST’s answer: Any molten metal sightings, including metal seen pouring from the South Tower, were likely airplane aluminum. Newman added that NIST wasn’t presented with evidence of molten steel and if some melted, this occurred after the event, in fires underground. Gage dismissed this as “impossible without a source of oxygen such as from thermate,” adding that molten metal seen in NIST-cited videos isn’t the color of molten aluminum.

Gage and other professionals point to other indications of explosives. Besides vast mushroom clouds of dust and debris exploding outward at the top of both towers, videos show squibs-puffs of smoke or air-shooting out of the towers above and below the crash areas. Moreover, some on-air reporters described the explosions, joining first-responders and escapees as eyewitnesses.

According to Newman, NIST determined that the squibs and mushroom clouds were caused by compressed air from the force of the collapse finding openings and blowing debris, dust, and air puffs outward in an explosive manner. (NIST critics claim this is refuted by independent technical calculations.) Eyewitness accounts of explosions, Newman added, weren’t evident in 10,000 interviews NIST conducted, and a few such reports can be explained by other phenomena.

Critics of AE911 agree. Typically, the Journal of Debunking 9/11 Conspiracy Theories argues that explosive sounds likely derived from electrical and air conditioning transformers exploding, the sound of floors collapsing onto each other, or rivets popping all at once as the pressure got to them. “The way I see it, it had to be the rivets,” the Journal quotes one firefighter saying.

Enter Dr. Jones and Thermite

Supporting AE911’s theory is Dr. Steven E. Jones, a nuclear physicist known for his work in cold fusion. Jones said that in 2006 he was forced into early retirement from his position as a professor at Brigham Young University because of his attempts to show that powerful explosives were present in the WTC towers.

After Jones’s initial analysis was criticized harshly for flaws by BYU’s own building engineering department, Jones and other scientists co-authored a new critique accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Open Civil Engineering Journal that mentioned thermite as a potential culprit in the buildings’ collapses.

This was followed by another peer-reviewed research paper published last April in a scientific journal. Co-authored by Jones and Associate Professor Niels Harrit of Copenhagen University’s famed Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark, and by Dr. Jeffrey Farrer, lab manager for BYU’s Transmission Electron Microscopy Lab, as well as four other researchers, the paper provided vivid microscopic photo evidence of highly flammable red-gray chips that the authors say appear to be super-thermite found in reputed WTC dust samples sent to Jones by four New Yorkers who had separately collected them shortly after 9/11.

So, the body of evidence all ties together to support the hypotheses of a controlled demolition.”

Thermite, a mixture of aluminum powder and iron oxide, will burn through steel. Adding silicon, magnesium, or titanium makes it thermate, also known as nano-thermite or “super-thermite,” a substance with an accelerated capacity to cut through steel. It is used primarily in incendiary grenades. “Dr. Jones found the chemical signature of thermite,” Gage said. “So, the body of evidence all ties together to support the hypotheses of a controlled demolition.”

In an interview, Jones said microanalysis of the four samples of dust collected from various sites in Lower Manhattan revealed not only extensive presence of red-gray chips of unignited nano-thermite, but it also found significant traces of microspheres of previously molten iron that normally are the product of incendiary explosions far hotter than jet-fuel fires.

These red chips are very unusual and very prevalent, and they test out as being consistent with a form of thermite,” Jones said. “We can ignite them and they react very violently when touched off. So how do you explain their presence in the towers’ dust?”

Jones noted that the U.S. Geological Survey, which did some testing on WTC dust for NIST and found the microspheres, never tested for explosives or incendiaries because NIST never ordered them. “I have been encouraging them to test early dust samples, but they haven’t responded,” Jones said.

Jones said he sent a letter in April 2008 to NIST about his original findings, inviting NIST to test its own dust for such chips. In public comments since, NIST has said that Jones’s research is not “scientifically valid” because Jones can’t prove the “chain of custody” of the dust he tested.

Other groups that support NIST’s findings (debunking911.com, 911myths.com) argue that neither the samples nor Jones’s tests are reliable. Jones replied simply: “They don’t need my dust to test. They have plenty of dust of their own where they know the chain of custody. They just won’t test it.”

NIST Counters

When asked the key question about testing WTC dust for thermite, Newman replied: “So why didn’t we look for explosive residues in the towers? Because there was no evidence saying to go that way. There was a lot of evidence saying look at the impact of the plane, the loss of fireproofing, the bowing of the perimeter beams, which was the final straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Even so, why not test debris and dust-a relatively simple operation-to silence the question of explosives or incendiaries?

Newman explained, “We did calculate the quantity of thermite that would be needed : and found there would be a tremendous amount needed in each column to get it to melt. : You would need thousands of pounds, which would make it unlikely it would be used for a controlled explosion.”

We don’t try to debate or argue with these folks because they have their opinions and what they believe is evidence but to us it is counterproductive to engage in debate.”

Newman acknowledged that NIST’s response that it sees “no need” to test dust for any form of thermite may not satisfy critics. And he added: “We don’t try to debate or argue with these folks because they have their opinions and what they believe is evidence but to us it is counterproductive to engage in debate. We’d rather let the body of evidence we presented stand on its own merits. We feel this is a very good piece of work-in many ways pushing investigations way beyond what’s gone before. Our work is to help strengthen buildings, and proof of the validity of our research is that most all our recommendations for changing building codes have been accepted by the international organization that models building codes. That wouldn’t have happened if they doubted our findings.”

To Gage and his allies, NIST’s refusal to test and its questionable conclusions derive from government-dependent employees and defense contractors fearful that evidence of explosives would be too traumatic for the public-and too risky to NIST captains answerable to political superiors. Hence, NIST’s refusal to address fully scientific papers challenging nearly every element of its case, including its theory that pneumatic air pressure mimicked explosives and that tons of nano-thermite (not less-powerful thermite) would be needed.

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Inevitably, of course, the gorilla in the room is what if AE911 and the Jones team are correct in their analysis? The dark notion that the hijackers wouldn’t need airplanes if they could plant explosives would raise questions of who did have access and what was their motive? And how would America deal with such an investigation against the backdrop of suppositions that some officials in government were complicit? This idea is virtually unthinkable to most of the public, much less something the American political system can handle. A Democratic Congress wouldn’t cut off funds for a war it opposed nor impeach a president who broke laws; how would it cope with the cataclysmic implications of new 9/11 evidence that disproved the official story? How would any president, much less “let’s only look ahead” Barack Obama, confront such a nightmare?

All of which suggests that a great breakthrough from AE911’s efforts isn’t likely. The forces of denial, in the system and in most of our minds, are innately powerful and probably sufficient to mitigate against a reopened investigation. Despite this, Gage sees his role as provoking a better investigation.

We and millions of other Americans are part of a grassroots movement,” he said.

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