Loose Marbles II

Loose Marbles II May 18, 2006

The World Trade Center

The second part of this series deals with claims made in Loose Change about the collapse of the World Trade Center. Unlike the Pentagon, there is video evidence explicitly showing the two planes crashing into the Twin Towers, and so LC does not deny this (although other conspiracists have explained this away by appealing to secret Star-Trek-like holographic technology). Instead, the film asserts that the proximate cause of the Twin Towers’ collapse was not the plane crashes, but a controlled demolition brought about by explosive charges planted throughout the buildings.

It is interesting to note that an earlier version of this film presented and endorsed the claim that one or both of the hijacked 757s fired a missile into the Twin Towers immediately before impact via a mysterious “pod” mounted on the undercarriage. That claim appears to have been quietly dropped in this edition; neither the film nor its associated website either mentions it or explains why the change was made, other than for a stern demand that visitors not ask about it. An honest researcher would have owned up to the error and published a forthright correction.

“The SEC was using [WTC 7, which collapsed on 9/11] to store three to four thousand files related to numerous Wall Street investigations.”

This is another example of the unexplained sinister assertion, unless the film means to imply that the Securities and Exchange Commission staged the most spectacular example of overkill in history as a pretext for destroying evidence that could have been wiped out by a simple hard drive crash.

“Official explanation [for the collapse of WTC 7]: Falling debris from the Twin Towers created an internal fire… If this is true, then it would be the third building in history to collapse because of a fire. The first two would be the Twin Towers.”

Again, this is a strawman of the filmmakers’ invention. WTC 7 collapsed not only because of fire, but also because it was hit by falling debris from the Twin Towers that caused massive structural damage, gouging a 20-story-tall hole out of the building’s south facade. Firefighters present at the scene on 9/11 noticed this damage, and many voiced a belief that the building would collapse because of it (source).

The claim that the Twin Towers collapsed “because of fire” is also a strawman. The filmmakers ignore (and I do not see how this could be anything other than a conscious decision to ignore) the extensive structural damage that was caused to both buildings by the collisions with two large commercial jetliners. In all three cases, it was the combination of extensive structural damage and fires which further weakened the buildings’ support structures that caused the collapse. How can LC possibly be taken seriously when it tries to gloss over such obvious facts?

The film discusses a 1945 incident in which a lost B-52 bomber crashed into the Empire State Building, causing extensive damage and fire but no collapse.

This claim is in error. The 1945 collision with the Empire State Building was not a B-52, but a B-25 bomber. The difference is significant: a fully loaded B-25 bomber weighs approximately 33,000 pounds, whereas a loaded B-52 weighs 265,000 pounds, which is comparable to the weight of a Boeing 757. In other words, a B-25 is about one-eighth the weight of a jumbo jet, and carries about one-tenth the fuel (source). This substantially lesser weight is no doubt part of the reason why the Empire State Building survived the impact while the Twin Towers did not.

The film discusses numerous other incidents in which skyscrapers burned without collapsing, including a 1975 fire in the north tower of the World Trade Center itself and a 2005 fire in a Madrid tower.

Again, these events are completely irrelevant. The filmmakers are still steadfastly ignoring the fact that none of these buildings sustained the massive structural damage prior to the fire that the Twin Towers did, a major difference that renders these simplistic comparisons worthless. It has been pointed out, for example, that the initial impact in the WTC would have shredded fire-retardant insulation surrounding the steel columns, as well as severing pipes that would have fed the sprinkler system. This initial damage gave the subsequent fire a much greater destructive potency. See this article from Civil Engineering Magazine for a more detailed analysis of the collapse, and more links here.

Interestingly, there is a fact about the Madrid fire that refutes conspiracy explanations. Namely, the Madrid fire did cause the total collapse of steel support columns on the burning floors (source), something which LC and other conspiracy advocates deny is possible. The building only remained standing because it also had a core of reinforced concrete, which the Twin Towers did not. (The film itself acknowledges that the top ten floors of the Madrid tower collapsed. It is not a huge leap from there to believe that an entire building could have collapsed under similar conditions.)

The film points out that the South Tower, despite being hit second, is the first to collapse.

As a post from the IIDB explains, this occurred for the most basic of reasons – the South Tower was hit lower down, meaning that there was more mass above the impact site weighing down on the damaged structural elements.

Using Galileo’s Law of Falling Bodies, the film calculates that the towers collapsed at nearly freefall speed.

There is nothing surprising about this fact. As materials engineer Dr. Thomas Eager of MIT told NOVA, once the collapse began, the mass of 10 to 20 falling floors hitting one floor would cause that floor to instantly give way, adding its mass to the cascade. There was no time for the impacted floors to sag before buckling; the instantaneous force of the impact was orders of magnitude greater than anything they were designed to withstand. (Update: It is not necessarily the case that the towers fell at freefall speed. See this post from the blog Uncredible Hallq.)

The film quotes Van Romero, an engineer at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, who initially speculated that explosives within the towers may have caused them to collapse. Ten days later, he changes his mind and states forthrightly that the fire caused the buildings’ collapse. The film speculates in sinister tones about why he may have changed his opinion.

In Dr. Romero’s defense, he claims that he always said from the beginning that the collapse only resembled a controlled demolition, and was misquoted by conspiracists (source). Of course, as conspiracists would say, that is just what he would claim if government agents “got to him”. But note the asymmetry here. Any expert who believes the towers collapsed because of explosives is automatically assumed by conspiracists to be telling the truth; any expert (such as the vast majority of experts) who support the ordinary explanation is assumed to be in on the conspiracy. Conspiracy logic is intentionally designed to be impervious to any imaginable counter-evidence.

The film quotes Hyman Brown, the WTC’s construction manager, who claims that although the towers were designed to withstand many types of damage, burning jet fuel weakened the steel until the point of collapse. It then argues, “Kevin Ryan, Underwriters Laboratories, the company that certified the steel that was used in the World Trade Center, in a letter to Frank Gayle of the National Institute of Standards and Technology” said that the steel was certified to withstand 2000-degree heat for several hours, and that “I think we can all agree that even un-fireproofed steel will not melt until reaching red-hot temperatures of nearly 3000F. Why Dr. Brown would imply that 2000F would melt the high-grade steel used in those buildings makes no sense at all.” Several days later, Ryan was fired by UL.

There are distortions and innuendo densely packed into this section. Let us unpack them one at a time:

First: A UL company spokesman pointed out that UL does not certify structural steel. The test method Ryan mentions, ASTM E119, tests not the steel but an entire wall assembly; and again, this test exposes the assembly to fire only and does not recreate the massive structural damage that the Twin Towers suffered from two jumbo jet impacts, including the loss of fireproof insulation.

Second: The melting point of steel is irrelevant. No one claims that the steel of the Twin Towers melted on 9/11, nor did it need to. Rather, the explanation for the collapse is that intense fires ignited by jet fuel and feeding on flammable material within the towers softened the steel, causing it to lose a significant portion of its strength until it could no longer support the weight of the floors above (source).

Third: Ryan was fired not as an attempt to silence him, but rather, according to a UL spokesman, because he misrepresented his credentials (the division of UL he worked at has nothing to do with steel or other building materials, but instead tests drinking water) and because he falsely implied that his personal beliefs were company opinions, when in fact he wrote the letter to Gayle without his superiors’ knowledge or authorization.

The film now proceeds to present its evidence for the existence of controlled demolition charges within the towers. It is curious that most of the news clips the film shows which suggest the presence of explosives were taped on the morning of 9/11, precisely the time when greatest confusion would be expected to run rampant. A similar tactic is used by creationists who imply that a scientific problem is unsolved by only citing papers that were written before someone solved it (example).

The film quotes a news clip from the morning of 9/11: “There were two or three huge explosions… The building literally shook.” Other witnesses reported seeing brief flashes of light and hearing crackling sounds prior to the towers’ collapse.

There are many things occurring in a burning, collapsing building that a non-expert could mistake for explosive charges, including electrical fires, fractured gas mains, burning fuel, shearing metal, flashover and backdraft, and most importantly, the second plane hitting the south tower (many people in the north tower did not see this impact and only felt its concussion). See here and here. Especially see this page from 9/11 Myths, in which the collapse of a large industrial crane is preceded by a loud, explosion-like boom, in this case caused by the failure of a crucial large bolt.

“The windows in the lobby of the north tower were blown out, and marble panels were blown off of the walls. This was brushed off as damage from a raging fireball that went barreling down the elevator shafts. However, the World Trade Center’s core and elevator shafts were hermetically sealed, a.k.a., airtight.”

To once again restate the obvious, the fact that a crashing jumbo jet slicing through the building just might have ruptured the airtight seal of the elevator shafts is a possibility of which the filmmakers seem blissfully ignorant. And if they reject this explanation, they are left with no explanation for the shattered lobby windows, making it another unexplained sinister assertion – unless they mean us to believe that the lobby was planted with a tiny explosive charge only powerful enough to break glass and damage wall panels.

The film shows clips of other buildings being demolished, implying that their collapse looked similar to that of the World Trade Center.

As a poster from the JREF Forum explains, there is a good reason for the similarity: “There’s a reason that they look alike. In a controlled demolition, they don’t plant so many explosives that building is obliterated by them. They use just enough explosives to make it so that the building supports can’t hold its weight, then they let the law of gravity finish the job.”

“Mark Loizeaux, the president of Controlled Demolition Inc., told the American Free Press that in the basements of the World Trade Center… hot spots of literally molten steel were discovered more than a month after September 11.”

As previously acknowledged, jet fuel does not burn hot enough to melt steel. However, the “evidence” of molten steel appears to be based entirely on hearsay and second-hand accounts. Loizeaux, whom the film quotes, never claims to have seen molten steel personally (though watching LC, one might be forgiven for getting the opposite impression) (source). No evidence is presented to show that any melted metal found on the scene was steel and not, say, aluminum, which has a much lower melting point. These supposed pools of molten metal may not even have existed.

It is interesting to note that Loizeaux is the president of Controlled Demolition, Inc., a firm that LC strongly implies played a part in destroying the Twin Towers. If there was indeed a conspiracy, he would have to be at the heart of it. And yet they rely on him as though they consider him a trustworthy witness and not, say, an agent of the conspiracy planting false information to discredit them. This is another example of how the filmmakers do not hesitate to discard consistency where it serves their immediate purposes.

“In all the videos of the collapses, explosions can be seen bursting from the building 20 to 30 stories below the demolition wave.”

The “explosions” the film refers to are actually a direct result of the collapse beginning. As each floor of the WTC buckled and fell, the air filling the floors beneath it was compressed and pushed aside with enormous force, blowing out the windows in clouds of dust. (If LC could show video evidence of explosions erupting from the building before the collapse started – as one would expect from a controlled demolition – then they might be on to something. But there is no such evidence.) See Popular Mechanics‘ take on 9/11 conspiracies for more.

“Etienne Sauret was filming her documentary, World Trade Center: The First 24 Hours, and caught both collapses on tape… The tripod shakes 12 seconds before the north tower begins collapsing, and something is knocked off the right-hand side of the building.”

It is remarkable how conspiracists leap to the least likely explanations. For example, why should we find anything unusual about debris falling from a damaged building that had been hit by a large commercial airplane? And what makes them certain that the quaver in the film was not simply caused by, for example, a passerby brushing against the tripod?

“Ben Fountain, a financial analyst who worked in the World Trade Center, told People magazine that in the weeks before 9/11, there were a number of unannounced and unusual drills where sections of both the Twin Towers and Building 7 were evacuated…”

If the filmmakers mean to imply that these scattered drills gave the opportunity to plant demolition charges, they are horribly misinformed about how much work a controlled demolition takes. The work necessary to prepare even a small building for destruction takes weeks, not hours, and involves thorough architectural surveys to determine the best places to plant explosives, the placing and wiring of thousands of feet of detonating cord and thousands of electric delay devices, test blasts to determine the minimum amount of explosives needed to demolish support elements, and major amounts of manual labor with drills and sledgehammers to weaken the building beforehand. (See pictures of the work it takes to prepare a mere 20-story building for demolition. See also here and here.) It is ludicrous to believe that such work could have been undertaken on the World Trade Center in a total time of at most a few days combined, or that none of the WTC’s employees would have noticed anything unusual in the weeks between these drills and September 11.

“If only we could examine the debris from the World Trade Center and figure out what happened. Unfortunately, Mayor Giuliani began shipping the remains off to recycling yards overseas before investigators could even examine it. Not even FEMA was allowed into Ground Zero.”

Wrong. (source, and another source). But even if LC had acknowledged this, would it have made a shred of difference? Or would they just have said that FEMA was also in on the coverup? Conspiracy logic is designed to be unfalsifiable, and the absence of any evidence supporting the conspiracy hypothesis is simply taken as further proof of the conspiracy’s scope and power.

“On July 15, 2001, Controlled Demolition destroyed two 400-foot-tall fuel reserve tanks from the World War II era. The demolition was conducted for no apparent reason and drew numerous complaints from the neighborhood. The site remains vacant for this day, and a reason for the demolition has never been disclosed.”

Yes, and…? Are we to see something suspicious about a demolition company carrying out a demolition? The filmmakers never even attempt to explain what relevance this could possibly have to their elaborate and flimsy web of sinister-sounding speculation.

As with the first part, there is another gaping hole in the conspiracy logic that the film never addresses. Namely, if the Twin Towers were destroyed by explosive charges, why would those charges not all go off at once? That would ensure that the job would be done and would leave the fewest possible number of witnesses. Instead, what we have is a bizarre, seemingly random and sporadic series of minor detonations occurring throughout both towers for over an hour before the actual collapse, providing ample opportunity for people in the tower to discover the alleged explosives before escaping. This sequence of events does not fit at all with conspiratorial speculations, but it does perfectly fit the explanation that we know to be correct: the Twin Towers collapsed because of extensive structural damage and fire throughout both buildings, as a result of two impacts from airliners hijacked by terrorists. Alternative explanations are without merit or supporting evidence.

Next: Part III of this series will examine conspiracy claims surrounding Flight 93’s crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, as well as the alleged motive for all of this.

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