Monday, April 7, 2008

Occam's Razor and 9/11

I am known as a person who is a great skeptic of conspiracy theories. Over the past year, three people have spoken to me about the allegations that 9/11 was an inside job. As time has gone on, I find that more and more people are persuaded to this view.

I decided to blog about it and I began to research it on the Internet. My first stop was Wikipedia and I entered “Truthers” in the search box. The conspiracy theorists are known as Truthers.

I was surprised to find that polls indicate 37% of Americans believe that 9/11 was an inside job. Now I don’t know how many Americans also believe that the Roosevelt government suppressed information about Japanese intentions to attack Pearl Harbor in order to force America into WWII, or how many believe that there are aliens in cryonic suspension in some underground vault in Area 51, or how many are still speculating on the identity of the other shooter of JFK on the grassy knoll in Dallas, but if you said 37%, I would not be surprised. What did surprise me was the fact that people I see being more and more persuaded to the inside job theory are Canadians, who, I thought, perhaps somewhat chauvinistically, were a little more level headed about such things.

You might ask why does it matter what Canadians think? Well, if nothing else, Canadian soldiers are fighting and dying in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan at 2.6times the casualty rate of anybody else, including Americans, largely because Canada bought into the American theory that Osama bin Laden, then in Afghanistan, was responsible for 9/11.

There is a tonne of information supporting the Truthers, including books and documentaries (one of which, a seminal one, I have seen, “Loose Change”). There are a large number of organizations pounding the conspiracy keyboards. While there are a lot of questions that have arisen, some of which are very technical and arcane, there are 4 basic ones that started the whole conspiracy theory ball rolling. They are:

1. Why didn't NORAD protect the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, two known terrorist targets?
2. Why did the intelligence and security services fail to prevent the attacks from taking place despite numerous apparent warnings?
3. Why was President Bush allowed to stay in a Florida school classroom for over 10 minutes after being told that America was under attack?
4. No previous steel-framed skyscrapers had ever totally collapsed due to anything except controlled demolition, so why did it happen three times on September 11?

There is another issue. Why would the United States government carry out this attack against its own people?

Let’s start with the fifth one first, and I will come back to it. The question never really appears in a direct form that I can find, but I believe it is answered by the allegation that this was all a show (like Pearl Harbor) to gain widespread public and media support to justify the government attacking Afghanistan and Iraq, for reasons that are not entirely clear, but may have something to do with controlling oil in the Middle East, protecting Israel in situ, and paying back Saddam Hussein for attempting to take out George Bush senior.

With respect to the first question, there was no protocol established with respect to shooting down domestic airliners with citizens on board. Secondly, this sequence of events equally supports the proposition that NORAD was taken by surprise by the coordinated hijacking of 4 airplanes simultaneously, if not more so, than the supposition that NORAD was deliberately off-line at the time.

With respect to the second question, it was because intelligence and security services need authorization to take action from political leaders. They didn’t get it because their political leaders are, oh, how can I put this diplomatically and delicately, oh yes, I know, they are stupid. How do I know they are stupid – I offer you Iraq as proof. If you need more evidence, read Richard A. Clarke’s searing indictment, Against All Enemies.

What are we going to call those 10 minutes in the Florida classroom? I remember seeing a movie about the Russian Revolution called, Ten Days that Shook the World. So are these going to be the Ten Minutes that Shook the World Trade Center?

One conspiracy believer told me that she “read” Bush’s face as he sat there and saw somebody who looked like he was hiding something. I thought he was doing a mental calculation wondering whether it was too late to call for another vote recount and make Al Gore the President. More likely, he was mulling over what he had just been told and wondered whether he should seek clarification on “what did they mean America was being attacked and did this mean he wouldn’t be able to get away for a holiday on the weekend”? I don’t get the impression that George is that quick on his feet, and even slower in a seated position. Maybe he really was interested in seeing how the story of the duck or the donkey, or whatever the kids’ book was, came out.

By comparison, there is a famous story by Albert Speer about Adolph Hitler attending a night at the opera ( Wagner, of course) and being interrupted by an aide whispering in his ear advising him that one of his devious plots had come to fruition – I can’t recall which one – perhaps the takeover of Austria. Speer reports that Hitler could barely hide his glee at the news.

With respect to number 4, here’s a new thought. No steel framed skyscraper has ever been put to the test of having a fully-fueled and loaded jet airliner flown into it and left to burn for an hour or more. So, it’s fair to say that, in the absence of a controlled experiment duplicating the event, one cannot say that this would not happen.

Let’s get back to the objective question and ask this one.

If I were Dick Cheney, along with my sock puppet, George Bush, and I wanted to attack Iraq by blowing up the WTC and I went to the trouble of pre-setting explosive devices to bring the building down in a controlled manner, why would I bother with the airline hijacking scenario? It would be enough to claim Muslim terrorists successfully bombed the buildings from the inside. To “Hollywood” the whole thing up would bring an unacceptable level of possibile foul-up. And, it would be very believable without the airplanes because those same folks tried that very thing in 1993.

Furthermore, why would I put it about that the hijackers were civilian Saudis? I want to attack Iraq. Why wouldn’t I make the phony attackers Iraqis, members of the Iraqi military or security service? And if I didn't want to look like I am declaring war on Islam, why would I even bring the "Muslim" element into it. None of that was necessary to the plot.

All of the “evidence” of the conspiracy theorists is, at best, circumstantial. In the 7 years since 9/11, not one person has come forward with direct evidence of this theory, not anybody who says that they were a part of the fiction – not one careless drunken conversation in a bar, not one careless e-mail, not one official document in a brown envelope dropped off to Seymour Hirsch, not one person trying to sell his story to the newspapers, etc. When you consider how many people would have to have been in on the plot, even if only a small portion of it, it defies our understanding of human nature in the age of the Internet that this could be kept secret for so long. Does Watergate have any resonance? Republican presidents do not have a good track record at coverning up wrongdoing.

One person answered this by saying they were all killed. I remember when Kennedy was killed. There was a series of people (about 5 or 6) who died under apparently mysterious circumstances shortly thereafter. That was big news for a long time. To cover up 9/11 in this manner you would have to bump off at least 1,000 people. Has anybody reported them missing?

Finally, why is Osama bin Laden still alive? Of all the people in the world who could confirm the conspiracy theory, he’s the one. Surely, he would have been knocked off by now. But, you know, the people who are chasing him are not as smart as he is.

That brings us full circle. To believe that Arab extremists are not smart enough or organized enough to carry this out suggests that the Bush administration is. One only has to look at the record of the Bush administration to realize that does not add up.

All in all, I would fall back on Occam’s Razor: where there are several explanations for an event or a phenomenon, each with more and more complexity, the simplest one is usually the best.