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Book Review: Debunking 9/11 Myths, by Popular Mechanics

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Book Review

Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can’t Stand Up to the Facts
by The Editors of Popular Mechanics (Author), John McCain (Foreword), David Dunbar (Editor), Brad Reagan (Editor)
Publisher: Hearst (August 15, 2006)

Maybe the life of the nation is at stake, and maybe it isn’t. Maybe this is a time of unprecedented tyranny, and maybe it is simply what was just out of view on the same road we have been traveling for the last seventy years. Maybe this was a sea change and a quantum leap, or maybe it was neither. Regardless of the proper description of the event and this time in history, 9/11 has become an opportunity for enormous hope, great change, and an entirely new perspective.

Whether one is inclined to indulge, or even consider, the theoretical justifications for the massacre of 9/11 (the need to awaken a sleeping nation to the requirements of global hegemony), or not, the nature of the act and its perpetrators are matters of importance from every conceivable standpoint. The progress of the debate about that nature and those perpetrators has been enhanced by Debunking 9/11 Myths, edited by David Dunbar and Brad Reagan of Popular Mechanics magazine. Maybe not in ways the writers had hoped.

To the world at large, to the hungry masses yearning for points to be refuted or sustained, answers given, questions acknowledged if not answered, the appearance of a book by the mainstream which purports to establish, as the subtitle declares, “Why conspiracy theories can’t stand up to facts,” is a welcomed event. All of those questions posed by all of those smart and studious people, now finally will be answered — or one supposes that would be the intention.

Reading the book can be a kind of joyous occasion, especially if one has taken a position concerning the event, as the writer of this review has. That position states that government complicity can be established beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. That is as strong a statement as can be made in human affairs. It is also demonstrative of a mindset that can be seen as impervious to fact, reason, or argument. I deny that I am impervious to anything. I also claim to bring the trial lawyer’s dispassion to whatever is produced as the debate proceeds. With those disclaimers and denials, what should be said about Debunking 9/11 Myths?

There is very little in the way of brain surgery involved here. Facts, or opinions, are produced which have a tendency to prove or disprove a claim, or they aren’t. Questions are addressed, or they aren’t. Answers are put forth, or they are not. In the case of the 9/11 Commission Report, it was almost exclusively a case of NOT. Dozens of questions, raised in a scholarly manner by the likes of David Ray Griffin and others, were simply not mentioned by the panel assembled to give the full explanation to the American people.

Debunking employs some of the techniques of the 9/11 Commission Report, for sure. Whole areas of inquiry are simply disregarded — dismissal by silence. For example, the $100,000 that General Mahmoud Ahmad, then the director of Pakistan’s ISI — virtually a branch office of the CIA — had sent to Mohammed Atta in the weeks before the attacks gets no space in Debunking, and none in the Report, thus privileged and ordained investigators decide not to “follow the money.” Debunking, in giving no consideration to the matter of General Ahmad, allows one’s previously established beliefs to sit back in their chair with little anticipation of further difficulty.

Also whited out of consideration in Debunking are the following persuasive pieces of evidence:

1. That the Pentagon is hit at all. Whatever defenses there are for the headquarters of the mightiest military establishment in the history of man, they were either inadequate or unemployed that morning. Which was it, and why? If it was incompetence, the most exalted of the powerful should have been shown the door. If it was willful, there should have been indictments for treason. It is hard to imagine another way of viewing the situation. However it might be framed, the matter is of no interest to Dunbar and Reagan.

2. Hani Hanjour, proposed pilot of Flight 77 that supposedly hit the Pentagon, is outed for being a substandard pilot, though in nowhere near the strident terms that at least one flight instructor used. The peculiar flight path, however — a turn and dive from 7000 feet in the last two and a half minutes that allowed Hanjour to avoid hitting the top of the building that would have provided the largest possible target and the grandest possible devastation, including potentially, the Secretary of Defense — and the fact of its acrobatic character, noted by air traffic controllers at the time, these matters, according to Dunbar and Reagan, require no mention, much less close scrutiny. That the part of the Pentagon, into which Hanjour is alleged to have flown, was under construction, having been recently renovated to withstand attack and thus sparsely peopled so as to assure the smallest loss of military life, is seen by Debunking as one small piece of good luck in an otherwise luckless day. The other possibility, a grand design, is not mentioned in this regard, nor is there allusion to the other stupefying legion of unlucky and incompetent moments that day by US, highly trained, if poorly-performing, forces, in juxtaposition to al Qaeda’s stunning brilliance and breathtaking, good fortune. Or not, if you think how a seeming rank amateur terrorist could have figured out to take a later flight so that the World Trade Center could have been filled to its usual capacity and some really big numbers put up on the board. There is no mention of such things in Debunking.

3. Norman Mineta’s mind-blowing testimony before the 9/11 Commission concerning the last fifty miles of flight of the plane that hit the Pentagon and Dick Cheney’s “orders” about it, are matters of no apparent concern to Dunbar and Reagan. Thus, were one to rely on their telling, one would be unaware that Mineta was directed to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center in the White House sometime after the second plane hit the South Tower. One would not learn that he found Cheney in charge and being informed by a young man as to the path of the plane that hit the Pentagon. Nor would one know that Cheney was notified periodically that the plane was fifty miles out, thirty miles out, twenty, and ten. Avoiding the entire episode, Dunbar and Reagan obviously make no mention of the young man’s inquiry of Cheney upon the final progress report, “Do the orders still stand?” Cheney’s response, turning abruptly to the young man and asking pointedly if he (the young man) had heard anything to the contrary — a fact of considerable importance for an understanding of the entire event — therefore is not discussed in the pages of Debunking. As a consequence of this avoidance, one will find no examination of the ramifications of this testimony. One finds no query concerning the nature of the orders referred to, and no speculation concerning Pentagon defenses and their failure to deploy. There is no reference to the failure of the 9/11 Commission to find out who the young man was, or how many other people were in the room, and what their reactions were. There is no discussion of how the incident is simply eliminated from history by the adoption of an alternative chronology that contradicts a string of accounts and offers no explanation of why Norman Mineta, now holder of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, bestowed upon him by President Bush, would make up such an amazing tale or have such an elaborately embroidered faulty memory. None of these are matters for Dunbar and Reagan.

4. Eyewitness accounts. There is a vast array of personal statements by eye and ear witnesses to explosions at the World Trade Center at the time of the collapses of the buildings and at the time the first plane hits the North Tower. Whether the hundreds of individuals whose stories have been referred to by scholars of the event would all deserve credence after a rigorous cross-examination, it is doubtful the world will ever have the opportunity to determine, but Debunking, though glad to discuss eyewitness accounts where they substantiate some claim in support of the official story, steers clear of any mention whatever of any of these that disagree. There is no explanation about the theoretical meaning of FDNY Lt. William Walsh’s very precise description of hearing an explosion, looking up, and THEN seeing the first plane fly into the North Tower. All of the accounts that must be ignored are far too numerous to be set out individually here. The probative point is Dunbar and Reagan’s failure to concede they exist.

5. For many, the failure of America’s air defenses remains one of the most perplexing problems presented by that day’s events. What is omitted by Dunbar and Reagan is any mention of the inability of the air defense system to, put simply, get its story straight. Several-times-reworked chronologies don’t warrant discussion. Nobody did any worse than might have been expected. And, the idea that our radar only looks out from our borders, really nothing beyond stupid on its face, is purveyed by Popular Mechanics as an assertion unworthy of any, much less a second, thought.

6. The Jenny Carr tape. Those of us without direct access to evidence and no subpoena power are left to rely on what others have done and published, often on the internet. Debunking, however, gives the reader no reason to disbelieve one’s own ears as the audiotape of Ms.Carr’s meeting at 1 Liberty Plaza records an explosion that interrupts the meeting, and then, some nine seconds later, an explosion which is the first plane hitting the North Tower. Debunking simply fails to mention this extremely powerful piece of evidence.

These are some of the more blatant omissions that call into question the bona fides of the editors of Popular Mechanics. Beyond ignoring scholarship, Debunking engages in a wide variety of strategies of denigration when its authors choose to struggle with the skeptics’ position. Writings about 9/11 can be found in a host of places. Dunbar and Reagan choose to fight their battles with websites that are vulnerable to attack for some reason that has nothing to do with the facts of the case. There are apparently websites that promote the revision of the history of the Holocaust or others that focus on a consideration of the implications of Extraterrestrial Intelligence. If such sites bear claims that challenge the official story of 9/11, they will be the chosen reference points in Debunking regardless of how widely-held the idea may be among truth activists and students generally. The point, obviously, is to treat those who question as unworthy of serious thought. The earlier in the book these attacks occur, the more likely the reader will be to accept the fundamental premise contained in the book, that only the true intellectual outliers in this world would bother with such absurd notions as governmental complicity in the attacks of 9/11.

Almost every page of the book includes some bit of … artifice or other. Great hunks seek to destroy arguments long abandoned by serious students, thanks to further research and further thought. The authors set about to find authoritative voices to disagree with the skeptic’s position, and they are largely successful. The most important voices belong to Professor Alan Pense and Professor Richard Fruehan who dispute the assertions made by Dr. Steven Jones in his paper, “Why Indeed Did the World Trade Center Buildings Collapse Completely on 9/11/01?

Dr. Pense, reached by phone, agrees that if what is depicted on page 8 of Jones’s study is metal, it is very interesting and worthy of further study. Similar thoughts pertained to the eyewitness testimony purporting to find molten metal that was obviously not aluminum in the rubble. While advising that there are always doubts, Professor Pense found Dr. Jones’s conclusions “very unlikely.” On the other hand, Professor Pense was unaware that buildings are indeed demolished using thermite, (“no, they use dynamite”) a fact way beyond contest at this point. Professor Pense’s quote in Debunking that “I don’t know of anyone else who thinks thermite reactions on steel columns could have done that” is helpful to the writer out to denigrate and demean, but really doesn’t advance the study very much. How much effort has the professor expended to learn about those that agree with Dr. Jones? Dunbar and Reagan could have set the record straight by referring to the several engineers and physicists who have come to the same conclusion as Dr. Jones and published as much, but they don’t. Presenting the whole picture was surely not their intention.

Professor Fruehan, according to Debunking, finds Jones’s evidence of thermite reaction inadequate. Dunbar and Reagan don’t say in what particular it doesn’t do the job. Fruehan’s more important point, we must surmise, is that there are other explanations for a thermite reaction that have nothing to do with explosives. Here is found the crux of the criticism of Debunking 9/11 Myths. There is no mention in it of the tests that Jones performed on dust from ground zero or metal rubble from ground zero, both of which produced levels of zinc, magnesium, and sulfur that cannot be explained without explosives. If Professor Fruehan has performed similar tests, the fact is unmentioned in Debunking. If Professor Fruehan has been able, through scientific experimentation, to explain what can be observed on videotape without resort to explosives, one does not learn of it in the pages of this book. The experiments performed by Dr. Jones which reproduced precisely the reaction observed in the pictures truth students have come to know intimately find no mention at the hands of Dunbar and Reagan. One might as well leave out the finding of a bullet in the body of a homicide victim, or maybe DNA, the probabilities of innocent explanation being similarly infinitessimal.

There is a question which arises in the perusal of a work such as this by someone with some reading under their belt. Can this kind of scholarship be done honestly?