Letters from Green Island

September 17 2006

Dishonest 'debunking' of 911 conspiracy questioners

Dear Ms Johnstone,
I write concerning your article in the Sept 15/06 edition of Counterpunch, 9/11: In Theory and in Fact, In Defense of Conspiracy (original story also copied at the end of this letter)

You have seemed to be a person of some credibility over the years - I first recall noticing your writing following the Yugoslavia bombing, when you were one of the few who dared speak out against those undertaking this attack, and their false justifications for it. You don't seem like an intellectually dishonest person, yet this Counterpunch article very much meets that description, unless you have been seriously misinformed about the whole 911 truth movement (which is not actually a 'conspiracy theory', as no actual theories are put forward by most people, simply some fairly serious questions about how the official conspiracy theory does not make much sense in a lot of places, indeed there are a lot of things that seem like lies, and many others that seem highly implausible at best, with some somewhat more plausible explanations offered in return).

So I wonder if you are not simply somewhat misinformed about the 911 truth seekers and their actual questions, perhaps through an over-reliance on the mainstream media for your information on this topic - your piece certainly reflects a lack of knowledge of many of the things we believe indicate that the official conspiracy theory is highly unlikely. It may well be, of course, you are simply, for whatever reason, joining the 'debunkers' in an effort to silence those who question the official conspiracy theory, in which case the actual things that we believe represent the strongest indications that 911 was indeed an inside job will be of little interest, and you will relegate this email to the wastebasket anytime now. So not knowing where you stand, please forgive the brevity of the following, and the lack of detailed references - I would be happy to provide such if you wished, or you could check out any of the major 911 truth sites for such things, but I do not wish to spend a lot of time on something that may be speaking to ears that have no interest in hearing what I say.

Let me briefly go over the major problems with your piece, as a 'debunking article', and if you are truly interested in getting at the truth of things, you can proceed as you will:

(lesser point, but following the progression of your article - you note in opening that, "..A scientific attitude requires special skepticism in regard to theories one would like, for various personal or ideological reasons, to believe. The wish to pin the supreme crime on the criminal Bush administration is an initial reason to be skeptical.." - this is generally a valid observation - and wouldn't it apply equally to those who are quite anxious to NOT believe 'their government' could ever commit such a crime, and therefore demand somewhat unreasonable standards of proofs of things they disagree with? - but on the other hand, none of the 911 truth seekers, according to anything I have ever read, ever took this approach, at least that I am aware of - that is "AHA! Heinous crime - let's connect it to Bush!!" (you may recall that in Sept/01 Bush was a new, as yet untested, and very much a 'nothing interesting' figure - it was only following 911 that all of the lies etc that have made so many people angry at his presidency began, so your argument here might well be simply tautological, and without substance, really...) Actually, that was the Bushian approach, beginning within hours of the 911 attacks - "AHA! Heinous crime - connect it to al Quaeda - and then, well that worked fine, so how about Saddam? Great - and then - Wait now - Syria! Iran! - and etc) - but the 911 truth people simply followed the evidence of various curious and incriminating things to where they led - it was the Bush government which within hours of that attack declared bin Laden et al guilty, although they say they had no idea it was going to happen; and who refused to initiate any real police-type investigation of this terrible crime, indeed did their best to prevent one for over two years; who actually had the entire site embargoed and prevented any sort of independent crime scene investigation; who had to be involved in any stand down of the military that day, etc and etc - there was no stretching of any evidence to implicate the Bush people - everything pointed and points in that direction - it would have been intentionally blind to NOT consider Bush et al, as the real evidence and implications of the events began to be considered through a logical rather than emotional lens...)

But let me look briefly at the problems with your central points:

1. Who gains? You note that both the Bush camp and the al Quaeda seem to have advanced their goals due to this incident, which I think is both simply wrong and a much too simplistic and superficial conclusion. The goal of al Quaeda, insofar as they actually exist, is simply to get westerners, and especially Americans, out of their countries, is it not? Surely you don't subscribe to the Bushian theory that al Quaeda exists for no other purpose than that they 'hate freedom and democracy', and carry out random acts of terrorism because of this? That theory has no legs, as they say in America, for various reasons, and I can't believe, with your historical perspective, you could lend any credence at all to such nonsense. (That is not to say that a terrorist group might not have targeted the WTC in order to give Americans a message that they were very unhappy about the American presence in their countries, and if the Americans did not quit destroying Arabian countries, then they would give the Americans a taste of what it felt like at home - but there was never any indication from anyone that that was the case - and now there is a far greater American presence in their countries than ever, and to say that they are perhaps recruiting a few more people to their cause - well, one can only say there would have been much less destructive (for them) ways of doing that, one has to think). The PNAC people, however, have benefitted greatly, using the attack as an excuse for all out war on the mideast, essentially, where they consolidate both oil supplies and empire (the permanent bases being erected in Iraq indicate they plan to stay). The huge military action (which I suppose you are aware was well along in planning well before 911?) was a vast over-reaction to a criminal act, and in no way justified - a much more logical response would have been some sort of major criminal investigation, etc, but there never was any such investigation, which leads to many other questions itself, as evidence was quickly removed from the crime scene, and everything covered up. But in terms of 'cui bono', look again beyond the 'military' objectives of the attack from either side, or the increased government presence in everyone's lives now - and look at money, where most crime originates. All of the major American military contractors (all very influential in the American government, this is no secret) have reaped hundreds of billions from this, and look to reap hundreds of billions more, as Bush and Cheney et al speak of a 'war that will last generations'. All the spooks, from the NIS to CIA and everyone in between, have increased their power tremendously, which all spooks crave. Did you read about the put options on the airlines? Those options were apparently traced right back to people with CIA connections - but after an initial flurry of interest, the FBI suddenly closed down that line of inquiry completely - go away folks, nothing of interest here! Oh really?!?! - again, the non-investigation of a major crime - it simply stinks of coverup. And the buildings themselves - are you aware that those buildings were facing some major renovation costs to do with replacing asbestos-containing fireproofing - and that the owner of these buildings, which he bought a mere (somewhat coincidentally!) 3 months before this attack, received a huge insurance payout for them? And again there have been reports of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of gold bullion stored in those buildings - I have no idea how credible these reports are, but again, money money money is usually the motive for serious crimes - in the US as much as anywhere else, and it is simply wrong to not look at the money trail of this situation.

- so what we see, Ms Johnstone, is that many very influential people in the American elite-military-industrial complex gained greatly from this attack - and that the various official investigations are simply ignoring these trails is in itself considerably questionable, since, as we all well know, one of the very first things any decent criminal investigation checks out in the case of a serious crime is whether or not anyone gained significantly financially from the commission of that crime. And I would suggest that these various people have profitted immensely more than bin Laden or any 'terrorists' ever have or will. (and note - I am not suggesting bin Laden et al were not part of any potential conspiracy - bin Laden has CIA ties going back 30 years, and there is no good reason to suppose those ties were ever severed - I suggest nothing, other than a full, independent investigation might unearth some very interesting things).

2. Choice of targets - well, I have already mentioned the Silverstein insurance connection as one possible motive for choosing the WTC that any decent investigation would surely have checked out thoroughly (insurance fraud is ALWAYS considered in such things, especially with the amount of money involved here, but seems to have been mysteriously overlooked here, even though all the main signs are there - recent policy, special double indemnity claus for the cause of destruction, buildings facing huge renovation costs if they remain in use... - lots of motive to want all of them destroyed). I think your suggestion that flying a plane into the Statue of Liberty fails for various reasons as well - if we consider the hypothesis that attacking the mideast was a central motive all along (more later, but this invasion was planned long before 911, as you should know), then the relatively minimal and largely symbolic damage caused by destroying the statue of liberty would be very hard to turn into a justification for going to war - as would flying a plane into a football stadium (which I do not think would have resulted in as many deaths - you wouldn't be likely to kill more than a few hundred people this way, it seems to me, but that is not really important). There had to be a huge, emotionally exploitable, destructive event to enable a declaration of war, as they did. Neither the statue nor a couple of football stadiums would have qualified, in my estimation. But to turn your analysis on its head - if the attacks really were orchestrated by bin Laden, and maximal death was the objective - why not fly the planes into one of the nuclear power plants not far upwind from New York in the Hudson Valley - imagine a cloud of chernobylChernobyl like radioactivity floating down over NYC!!??

3. W's goat story - I can't pretend to account for the reasons things happened as they did, although you have to wonder at the scenario of Bush 'taking charge' in the midst of a crisis - it seems to me eminently possible that his handlers would be too afraid he would screw up very badly and give something away if placed into a role like this. But the much more important question you seem to be missing is - we KNOW the Secret Service people guard any president like hawks, and many times we have seen and read of their immediate response to any kind of threat, which is to get the pres instantly to a safe and secure place - now, after the second plane hits the WTC, they KNOW the country is under attack with hijacked planes as weapons, but they have no idea how many planes there are, or who or what the targets are - it is simply not believable that this highly trained and protective secret service would leave the president sitting in a classroom reading a book to some schoolkids at this time - a huge dereliction of their duty, and these are not people known for dereliction of duty. Unless, of course, they knew there was no plane targeting the pres at this time.

4. The Arab pilots - are you aware that at least 5 of those named by the FBI as the 'terrorist hijackers' are still alive? This was known not all that long after the attack occurred, but nothing has ever been changed in the official report - the 911 Commission Report itself (which should be placed on the fiction list actually, given the outright lies in it, and the ommissions of important facts that contradict their story) names these same men as responsible. And there are major discrepancies in the passenger lists, and not one of the hijackers has ever been positively identified as being on any of those planes!!!!! - none of them are even on any airport surveillance tapes! I am sure you have flown often, and you know how, even before 911, the flight attendants were very, very careful to have every person identified, and the passenger list checked with the airline staff inside the terminal, before the doors are closed and the plane leaves. It is no wonder these things have never been officially investigated - the official story would face some major problems just trying to prove these hijackers actually existed! As for the twin towers being too difficult for amateur pilots - again, it is not clear where you are getting your information - I don't recall ever reading that 'argument'. The Pentagon, now, is a different story, as evidently whatever flew into the pentagon performed some fairly serious aerial maneuvers before impact, which many people have indicated would be a high-difficulty maneuver for highly skilled military pilots, and simply impossible for the people identified as hijackers, who (nobody seems to disagree with this) apparently could barely fly Cessnas.

5. Demolition: there are pictures of the the second WTC building to fall, shortly before it fell, with nothing but a quite small amount of black smoke oozing from a couple of the top floors - it simply defies what one knows of the real world (or the readily available picture of other much more serious fires in other high rise buildings which did NOT crumble to the ground in controlled-demo fashion) to then see it crumpling down exactly like a controlled demolition - all of that steel that we know formed the 47 steel columns in the center of that building, just crumpling, at once, boom, like the pictures of controlled demolition we have all seen. Just not believable. Yes 'experts' disagree on this, as they do on many things. Are they part of a plot? Who knows - but we do know that a lot of these people (including those who do not speak out) are dependent on federal grants, and we do know the Bush government are a very vindictive bunch who help those who help them, and destroy those who oppose them, and many may honestly doubt, or simply refuse to consider the idea that their government would be involved in something like this. But beyond that, you ask why the demolition at all? - because, would be my guess, that the bit of destruction involved with simply flying the planes into the towers (without their total destruction) would not have been enough to justify declaring war on half the world. Nor would it have been enough to bail out Silverstein. And I would also suspect that if you had of asked any expert at all, prior to the event, they would have told you that while crashing a jet into a high rise building would cause quite a lot of damage, it would be highly unlikely that a modern steel and concrete high rise skyscraper would be destroyed in this way (the builder is on record as saying that those buildings were designed to withstand multiple impacts of a similar sized aircraft).

6. Absence of jet fighters - your notion that it may have been difficult for the air defence to react in time to prevent the planes being flown into the WTC is plausible, given the overall timeline - but that is not the major evidence concerning the lack of air defence - which is, of course, the plane that was supposedly flown into the Pentagon. This is all a very mysterious thing, obviously, but what is not mysterious is that there is no excuse whatsoever for that plane, whatever type it was, to be flying around American air space, approaching Washington, for over an hour, when the country is KNOWN to be under attack by hijacked planes, with no response whatsoever from the greatest military the world has ever known - and with Andrews Air Force base, whose primary purpose is of course the protection of their capital, a mere 15 miles away. Over an hour after the country is known to be under attack, and no military aircraft over the skies of Washington. This is not just 'foul ups being the rule' - this is simply not plausible. The very first rule when something strange and apparently hostile is happening is ON GUARD!! SCRAMBLE!! - you know that. The story they circulated that all the planes were diverted to Canada or something is simply not believable - the US did not get to be the major military power in the world by promoting incompetents to the highest levels of military command, who would wander around with their heads up their behinds in crucial situations. The story that only 14 military fighter planes were protecting the mighty US of A on that day (or any day) is laughable at best, showing nothing more than contempt for the people they tell it to. The story that they were on duty, but looking only outwards from the shores of the country, is simply a lie. (and the fact that they have various stories which they gave out at various times is a pretty strong indication that they were lying, all by itself). We don't (and may never, given the ongoing coverup) know exactly what happened - but what we do know is that there should have been military jets intercepting whatever that aircraft was (and the Pennsylvania one), and there weren't. SOP were not followed on that day, and that requires a stand down order from someone.

7. The Pentagon - as I said, a very mysterious case altogether, but about the only thing we can be fairly certain of, given the evidence we have, is that no 757 crashed into the Pentagon that day. It's a pretty rare plane crash that leaves no large debris around the accident site - can you actually locate pictures of ANY other major aircraft crashes with so little debris as all four of 911, most especially the Pentagon and Pennsylvania ones, where huge metal aircraft are said to have mostly disintegrated, and yet left a full component of passenger DNA to identify all the passengers? Highly unusual, to say the very least. But the truly damning thing about the Pentagon is that it is known there were several operating video cameras covering the place of the crash (the garage station across the road from the crash site, a nearby hotel, the freeway nearby, the pentagon cameras, at least), whatever it was - and all of the tapes from these cameras were seized within minutes of the crash by FBI agents (rather odd, when you think of it, even that they would know for certain just where to go for such tapes!) - and not a single picture, let alone video, has been released showing anything clearly recognizable of the impact (the tape released a few months ago shows nothing, you have to admit!). And the only plausible explanation for this is that none of these tapes confirm the official conspiracy theory, but actually show a cruise missile or some other thing hitting the building.

I won't bother with the anthrax stuff, that seems all irrelevant to me, distraction or something, but not involved with the actual events of the day of 911.

Ms Johnstone, if you honestly think even briefly about what I have written, then you will have to acknowledge that the only reason you actually found the 911 truth movement questions (nobody in the truth movement is proposing any 'theory' I say again - we are simply asking questions about a lot of things that just do not add up) to be unconvincing is that you have done what most 'debunkers' have done - cherry picked a few of the lesser points that are raised as part of the whole package, added a couple of your own straw men, shot down the whole thing, and said 'There is nothing to the conspiracy theory at all!' - a very, very dishonest approach, as I said at the beginning, and quite unsuitable for one such as yourself, in my opinion.

Well, I'll leave it there - I've spent most of a Sunday afternoon doing this when I might have been doing other things, but it seemed important to me - your response or lack thereof will be sufficient indication of how honest you actually are about all of this.

(I don't actually consider myself a 'conspiracy theorist', I consider myself a conspiracy questioner - I just cannot believe the conspiracy story of the US government concerning what happened on that day, for the reasons briefly outlined above, but with a lot of other information that relates to this but I have not taken the time to go into here - the more one reads of this, really, the less believable the official story becomes...)


September 15, 2006

9/11: In Theory and in Fact, In Defense of Conspiracy By DIANA JOHNSTONE

back to top

The spreading popularity of the 9/11 conspiracy hypothesis is a political phenomenon of some significance. I wish to examine both the causes and the effects, as well as the substance of the hypothesis itself.

Distrust and hatred of the Bush administration and of the "neo-conservatives" of the Program for a New American Century (PNAC).

Their lies and crimes are so great that in purely moral terms, they seem capable of anything. This is the factor that supplies the emotional and moral readiness to believe the worst.

However, the fact that they may well be morally capable of every conceivable crime does not mean that they are necessarily capable in purely practical terms. The test of the conspiracy hypothesis is not the character of the alleged conspirators, but the plausibility of the conspiracy in both practical and political terms.

I should note at the outset that I have an open mind about conspiracy theories in general. History is replete with conspiracies. No hypothesis should be rejected automatically because it involves a conspiracy. But each hypothesis must be judged on its own merits, in terms of solid evidence and plausibility, as well as in comparison with conflicting hypotheses. A scientific attitude requires special skepticism in regard to theories one would like, for various personal or ideological reasons, to believe. The wish to pin the supreme crime on the criminal Bush administration is an initial reason to be skeptical.

Who profits from the crime?

The Bush administration has shamelessly exploited 9/11 to instill paranoid fear in the American public in order to justify a repressive domestic policy and an aggressive war policy abroad. The event seems to have served as the "Pearl Harbor" posited by certain neo-cons as necessary to bring the U.S. public around to their agenda. So the Bush administration can rightly be said to have profited from the crime.

But so did Osama bin Laden, who has become a hero to millions. So did numerous other Islamic extremists, who were inspired by the impact of that event. The plain fact is that the September 11 attacks were greeted rapturously in much of the Arab-Muslim world. They have inspired emulation.

If both sides profited, one profited opportunistically and the other actually designed the attacks to fit its purpose [1]. So the attacks should be examined to see which set of aims it was designed to serve.

The targets and the message.

The al Qaeda hypothesis: The choice of 9/11 targets contained an eloquent message that was perfectly understood in most of the world. The World Trade Center stood for America's economic power in the world, and the Pentagon its military power. Assuming the targets were chosen by bin Laden and his associates, they were meant to show that this overwhelming power was in reality vulnerable, and could be dealt a deadly blow by only a few determined men ready to sacrifice their lives.

The Bushite conspiracy hypothesis: All along, the Bush explanation for the attacks is that "the terrorists hate us because we are free, they want to destroy our freedom".

But wait a minute: this ignores entirely the symbolism of the targets.

Now, let us suppose that Bushite plotters designed the attacks so that Bush could use them to claim that "they want to destroy us because of our freedom". The choice of targets should support that claim. Suppose one of the planes had crashed into the Statue of Liberty; that would really carry the message that "they want to destroy our freedom". For ordinary Americans, it would be just as shocking as the World Trade Center, while costing a lot less to American capitalism (an old gift from France would hardly be missed). For good measure, to show that the terrorists want to kill as many people as possible, they could have crashed into a couple of packed football stadiums. That would have killed more people than in the Twin Towers and the message would have been exactly the one claimed by the Bush administration.

It should be clear that the choice of targets was perfectly suited to express violent opposition to United States economic and military power (and perhaps political power if, as claimed without proof, the fourth plane was heading for the White House), not primarily the American people. The approximately three thousand victims were not the target, but were, as the Americans and Israelis say of their bombing runs, "collateral damage".

W's goat story.

Was George W. Bush supposed to be part of the plot? Or was he left out of the planning by his handlers? Either way, an entourage clever enough to pull off the 9/11 spectacle should have been clever enough to manipulate the President to get him to play his important role in the scenario. If the whole thing was a set-up, he should have been made to leap into action, rush to the defense of the nation and show himself heroically on the front lines of this new "war". Instead, looking totally bewildered, he went on reading a goat story, then vanished from sight allowing Mayor Giuliani to hog the limelight. I fail to understand why anyone can interpret that pathetic performance as indication of an "inside job".

The Arab pilots.

In any case, whatever the financial or ideological role of Osama bin Laden, focusing on the mysterious cave dweller distracts attention from the actual perpetrators. According to the official version, these were not cave dwellers, but well educated young men, mostly from Saudi Arabia. To deliver such a strong message to the "evil Empire", they were ready to give up their lives -- and the lives of others. This is standard operating practice for warriors, and makes them heroes in the eyes of those who sympathize with their cause. Considering the hatred that the United States -- alongside Israel -- has aroused in the Arab world, there is really nothing so amazing about the fact that a certain number of young Arabs would be willing to sacrifice themselves for such a spectacular act. Of course, we are no longer living in those archaic times when it was possible to respect the courage of even the worst enemy. Today we are living in Manichean times -- our dualism matches theirs, and enemies can only be "pure evil". Otherwise, we in the West might do well to drop the obsession with bin Laden and consider what moved those men to do what they did.

One of the conspiracy theories suggests that the planes were actually directed into the Twin Towers by U.S. military guidance systems. It is said that the Towers were too difficult a target for amateur pilots. This does not seem plausible to me: the Towers look like sitting ducks, and the vertical aim could be approximate -- unlike an airport runway where both vertical and horizontal precision are necessary.


When the towers went down, it reminded viewers of deliberate building demolitions. That doesn't prove anything. There are experts who explain why it must have been demolition, and experts who explain why the collapse was due to the structure of the buildings (especially their vertical design). The layman has no way to judge between these expert explanations -- but neither do experts, since (as physicist Jean Bricmont points out) scientists cannot be sure of the cause of a single event that cannot be repeated experimentarily. So we are back to the question of plausibility and motivation.

As to plausibility, supposing the airliner attacks were really engineered by the Bushites, why add demolition? Since somebody would have to place explosives in the two towers, this would enlarge the circle of persons involved in the plot, making exposure more likely[2]. And what is the dividend from demolition to make it worth the additional risk of disclosure?.

And why demolish yet another tower? How does that strengthen what is supposed to be the effect of the attacks: to frighten the American people and justify war?

The absence of jet fighter intervention.

Anyone who is familiar with the military knows that smooth operations are for political demonstrations to Congressmen and the media. In reality, foul-ups are the rule. But what could U.S. Air Force jets have done in this case? Shoot down loaded airliners over Manhattan -- at a time when the hypothesis would have been hijacking rather than suicide attacks on the Twin Towers? It just may be that there was no standard operating defense against such an operation.

The Pentagon.

The argument, popularized by Thierry Meyssan, that the Pentagon was struck by a missile rather than by American Airlines flight 77, rests wholly on photographic evidence, or to be more precise, the absence of photographic evidence clearly showing the wreckage of the airliner embedded in the Pentagon. Because the Pentagon is flat, and outside the main Washington urban area, it is not the object of tourists taking amateur photos, especially not early in the morning. Once again, experts are called upon to explain why the projectile striking the Pentagon, could, or could not, have been an airliner. The fact that the appearance of a crash site is ambiguous is scarcely conclusive evidence of anything. And once again, the layman cannot easily judge these conflicting physical interpretations, but can quite well use common sense to question motives and plausibility.

Most superficially, there is the issue of eye witnesses. Thierry Meyssan maintained that the only people who claim to have seen an airliner crash into the Pentagon are not credible because employed by the Government. This is not correct. There were numerous non-governmental eye witnesses, mostly commuters on the highways which surround the otherwise rather bare area where the Pentagon is located. Many have described how they were first surprised to see the airliner flying in too low to reach nearby Reagan National Airport.

But on the other hand, how many eye witnesses say they saw a missile strike the Pentagon? Even more to the point, how many eye witnesses saw or heard a missile being fired at the Pentagon, if at short range, or traveling in that direction, if at long range?

But the real argument against the Pentagon hypothesis is that it makes no sense politically or practically. Why get rid of an entire airliner full of people, in order to make way for a missile to do the job attributed to the airliner? What is the point? I suppose somebody can come up with an answer, but does it make any sense? An airliner couldn't hit the Pentagon, so a missile was required? But the Pentagon is a very large target, visible in an open space. It is sturdier than the Twin Towers, having been built to withstand military attack, so destroying it was harder, but hitting it was not such an extraordinary feat.

U.S. military officers may be reactionary, they may even be stupid (no more so than civilian politicians, however), but whatever their faults, they tend to be sincerely patriotic. A lot of them hate Donald Rumsfeld. It is really not credible that U.S. military personnel would follow orders to carry out such a ghastly mission -- murder a civil airliner full of passenger, shoot a missile into the Pentagon -- without somebody among them blowing the whistle. The United States is not a place where people keep secrets. "Let it all hang out" is the national attitude. In addition to patriotism, any one of the alleged conspirators could have been certain of millions of dollars in royalties for telling the story.


Then there are the anthrax attacks. But that is quite another story, since there is no indication that the clumsy anthrax attacks were anything but the attempt of some local biowar expert to get into the act. The anthrax attacks are even in total opposition to the 9/11 attacks, which were carried out by kamikaze warriors with paper cutters and commercial airliners -- no "weapons of mass destruction" needed. And that in itself was a lesson that the U.S. administration refused to heed. September 11 illustrated the futility of WMD, unnecessary for attack, useless for defense. Instead, the administration, with its habitual illogic, exploited 9/11 to demand more WMD to fight against WMD. The anthrax attacks could very well be an inside job designed to bring public attention back to the "WMD threat" so dear to the administration.

Political attractiveness of the conspiracy theory.

It seems to me, on balance, that the evidence is so weak for this particular conspiracy theory that its popularity calls for a psychological explanation. After attacking those whom he calls "coincidence nuts" (who reject the conspiracy hypothesis) for "moral cowardice", Andreas Kargar makes an interesting comment: "But aside from that moral cowardice, the traditional left has always preferred to deal in the abstract generalities of historical processes and concepts, rather than in tangible specifics like hard evidence that can be comprehended by the general public. Perhaps those are the two reasons for the state of disarray in which they find themselves today."

Now, this is interesting because in this particular case, there is no "hard evidence", but there is a simple story line that "can be comprehended by the general public". The left that deals in "abstract generalities of historical processes and concepts" has indeed lost the attention of the general public (if they ever had it, which is most doubtful). But what are the preferences of that "general public"? Polls indicate that a quite considerable proportion of the American public believe in visits to earth by extraterrestrials. The acceptability of a narrative to the general public should not be a criterion of belief by people who are serious, honest and morally courageous.

Mr Kargar asked rather suspiciously "what political objectives" Alexander Cockburn was "trying to achieve by writing this piece?"

I can't answer for somebody else, but I am quite ready to explain my own motives.

Defend conspiracy theory.

Personally, as mentioned above, I am quite open to reasonable hypotheses of conspiracy. In the case of the John F. Kennedy assassination, for example, I find the theory that it was organized by a conspiracy of anti-Castro fanatics and gangsters plausible both in terms of feasibility and in terms of motive [3].

I feel that the extreme version of the 9/11 conspiracy, complete with demolition and Pentagon missile, gives a bad name to conspiracy theory in general.

Even in the case of 9/11, there is what I would call a "soft" version of the conspiracy theory that deserves investigation, and that is the possible role of secret agents who may have infiltrated the al Qaeda plot enough to know what was afoot, but let it happen. Such an hypothesis involves only a few passive "conspirators", who, especially if they were from Israeli Mossad, would have had a patriotic motive: to bring the United States fully to the side of Israel in the "war against terror". But this is only a hypothesis. Of course, if the attacks were not really perpetrated by Arab student pilots, then the Mossad agents reportedly spying on them in Florida could not have known anything.

A full inquiry into this question is difficult for obvious political reasons. So perhaps it is easier, politically, to advance the far more complex and implausible version of an all-out U.S. administration role in staging the 9/11 attacks than to pinpoint a smaller, more plausible, but politically more sensitive target.

Against dualistic simplicity.

The most profound motive for criticizing the 9/11 conspiracy theory is that it partakes of the very sort of moral dualism advocated by the Bushites and neo-cons, but just turns it around. Instead of evil Arabs gratuitously attacking innocent Americans, all evil acts are committed by the villains in Washington. The Arabs are innocent of everything. However, I believe it is more intelligent, and more realistic, to acknowledge that Arabs in general are, on the one hand, innocent victims of U.S. and Israeli aggression, and, on the other hand, that some of them (for that very reason) want to strike back at the United States by any means possible. Israelis abuse Palestinians with a clear conscience because they have convinced themselves that all Jews are under perpetual threat of a new Holocaust. This chronic fear leads them to commit crimes. We are nearing a state of war of all against all, in which it is absolutely necessary for the sake of survival to keep a cool head and try to understand why people do the terrible things they do, in order to find solutions. The interaction of causal factors is complex, and often may not easily be "comprehended by the general public". But the proper task of honest journalists is to try to guide the public through those complexities.

Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools' Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato, and Western Delusions published by Monthly Review Press. She can be reached at: dianajohnstone@compuserve.com


1. Of course, one feature or conspiracy theories is to stress the connections between Osama bin Laden and the CIA. Their interests and activities converged in the war against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. But Osama bin Laden's fortune and connections put him out of reach of effective CIA control. And this would scarcely be the unique instance of a temporary collaboration turning into "backlash".

2. A critic of Cockburn's piece named Andreas Kargar writes that it is "Standing Operating Procedure" inside the intelligence community to "compartmentalize intelligence" so that a small group can manage a project that involves hundred of people, organized into small teams which know only exactly what they are supposed to be doing, without knowing anything about the overarching big picture. But if assigned to plant demolition explosives in the World Trade Center, even the most isolated operatives would soon catch onto the "big picture" -- as would other hypothetical small teams assigned to steer the airliners into the Towers, fire a missile into the Pentagon, and -- most delicate of all -- dispose of the 58 passengers and crew of American Airlines flight AA77, and their Boeing 747, if it in fact it did not crash into the Pentagon.

3. As to the motive, I do not accept the Oliver Stone cinema version according to which JFK was assassinated because he was too good (wanting to end the war in Vietnam). Rather, I think it was because he wasn't quite bad enough in the eyes of the Cuban mafia

back to top

Back to Green Island Veritas