During the initial confusion surrounding the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the BBC published the names and identities of what they believed to be some of the hijackers. Some of the people named were later discovered to be alive, a fact that was seized upon by 9/11 conspiracy theorists as proof that the hijackings were faked. The BBC explained that the initial confusion may have arisen because the names they reported back in 2001 were common Arabic and Islamic names. In response to a request from the BBC, the FBI said that it was confident to have identified all nineteen hijackers, and that none of the other inquiries had raised the issue of doubt about their identities. The New York Times also acknowledged these as cases of mistaken identity.
According to John Bradley, the former managing editor of Arab News in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the only public information about the hijackers was a list of names issued by the FBI on September 14, 2001. When the FBI released photographs four days after the cited reports on September 27, the mistaken identities were quickly resolved. According to Bradley, “all of this is attributable to the chaos that prevailed during the first few days following the attack. What we’re dealing with are coincidentally identical names.” In Saudi Arabia, says Bradley, the names of two of the allegedly surviving attackers, Said al-Ghamdi and Walid al-Shari, are “as common as John Smith in the United States or Great Britain.”
According to Thomas Kean, chair of the 9/11 Commission, “Sixteen of the nineteen shouldn’t have gotten into the United States in any way at all because there was something wrong with their visas, something wrong with their passports. They should simply have been stopped at the border. That was sixteen of the nineteen. Obviously, if even half of those people had been stopped, there never would have been a plot.”
Khalid al Mihdhar and Nawaf al Hazmi had both been identified as al-Qaeda agents by the CIA, but that information was not shared with the FBI or U.S. Immigration, so both men were able to legally enter the U.S. to prepare for the 9/11 attacks.
See also: Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda link allegations and Foreign government foreknowledge
There are allegations that individuals within the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) may have played an important role in financing the attacks. There are also claims that other foreign intelligence agencies, such as the Israeli Mossad, had foreknowledge of the attacks, and that Saudi Arabia may have played a role in financing the attacks. General Hamid Gul, a former head of ISI, believes the attacks were an “inside job” originating in the United States, perpetrated by Israel or neo-conservatives. Francesco Cossiga, former President of Italy from 1985 until his 1992 resignation over Operation Gladio, said that it is common knowledge among the Italian center-left that the 9/11 attacks were a joint operation of the CIA and the Mossad. Subsequent reports indicated that he did not actually believe this.
A conspiracy theory documented by the Anti-Defamation League, Thom Burnett and others is that the state of Israel was involved in the attacks, and may have planned them. A variety of motives are suggested, including: to cause the United States to attack enemies of Israel; to divert public attention away from Israel’s treatment of Palestinians; to help Zionists take control of world affairs; and to persuade Americans to support Israel. Variants of the theory contend that the attack was organized by Ariel Sharon, Mossad, or the government of Israel. Kevin Barrett, a former lecturer at the University of Wisconsin is, according to Slate website, a “leading advocate of theories that Israel’s Mossad orchestrated the 9/11 attacks.”
Some proponents of this believe that Jewish employees were forewarned by Israeli intelligence to skip work on September 11, resulting in no Jewish deaths at the World Trade Center. According to Cinnamon Stillwell, some 9/11 conspiracy theorists put this number as high as 4,000 Jewish people skipping work. This was first reported on September 17 by the Lebanese Hezbollah-owned satellite television channel Al-Manar and is believed to be based on the September 12 edition of The Jerusalem Post that said “The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem has so far received the names of 4,000 Israelis believed to have been in the areas of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon at the time of the attacks.”
The number of Jews who died in the attacks is variously estimated at between 270 and 400. The lower figure tracks closely with the percentage of Jews living in the New York area and partial surveys of the victims’ listed religion. The U.S. State Department has published a partial list of 76 in response to claims that fewer Jews/Israelis died in the WTC attacks than should have been present at the time. Five Israeli citizens died in the attack.
Antisemitism in conspiracy theories
In 2003, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published a report attacking “hateful conspiracy theories” that the 9/11 attacks were carried about by Israelis and Jews, saying they had the potential to “rationalize and fuel global anti-Semitism.” It found that such theories were widely accepted in the Arab and Muslim world, as well as in Europe and the United States.
The ADL’s report found that “The Big Lie has united American far-right extremists and white supremacists and elements within the Arab and Muslim world”. It asserted that many of the theories were modern manifestation of the 19th century Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which purported to map out a Jewish conspiracy for world domination. The ADL has characterized the Jeff Rense website as carrying anti-Semitic materials, such as “American Jews staged the 9/11 terrorist attacks for their own financial gain and to induce the American people to endorse wars of aggression and genocide on the nations of the Middle East and the theft of their resources for the benefit of Israel”.
Pedro A. Sanjuan, a former United Nations diplomat, alleged that antisemitic 9/11 conspiracy theories were quite common at high levels of the organization following the attacks.
British investigative journalists Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan claimed in their 2011 book The Eleventh Hour that the Saudi Royal Family provided material and financial support to the hijackers and that the Bush Administration covered this up as well as their own alleged incompetence. The authors claim the 9/11 Truth movement helped this coverup by deflecting attention away from these actions. In September 2011 a “Lloyd’s insurance syndicate” began legal action against Saudi Arabia demanding the repayment of £136m it paid out to victims of the 9/11 attacks. A number of prominent Saudi charities and banks as well as a leading member of the al-Saud royal family were accused of being “agents and alter egos” for the Saudi state that “knowingly” provided funding to al-Qaeda and encouraged anti Western sentiment.
Such theories have historically revolved around the putative content of the 28 pages of the 2002 report of the U.S. Congress Joint Inquiry that were withheld from publication until July 15, 2016.
Former Florida Senator Bob Graham, co-chairman of the Joint Inquiry, as well as other former officials who did read the entire version of the Joint Inquiry’s report, still partly classified, believe there is a U.S. government’s coverup on the Saudi government officials’ substantial aid provided to the perpetrators of the 9/11 act, notably the role of Fahad al-Thumairy, a diplomat at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles.
Nico Haupt and former chief economist within the Labor Department under the Bush administration, Morgan Reynolds, argue that no planes were used in the attacks. Reynolds claims it is physically impossible that the Boeing planes of Flights 11 and 175 could have penetrated the steel frames of the Towers, and that digital compositing was used to depict the plane crashes in both news reports and subsequent amateur video. “There were no planes, there were no hijackers”, Reynolds insists. “I know, I know, I’m out of the mainstream, but that’s the way it is”. According to David Shayler, “the only explanation is that they were missiles surrounded by holograms made to look like planes”, he says, which would be well beyond the capabilities of contemporaneous hologram technology. “Watch footage frame by frame and you will see a cigar-shaped missile hitting the World Trade Center”. Most no-planes adherents, including Thierry Meyssan and Reynolds, assert that either CGI of a passenger plane was overlaid onto a winged cruise missile or military aircraft, or that computer-generated images of a passenger plane were inserted into the video footage and plane-shaped explosive cut-outs were planted in the buildings in order to create the impression of plane impact. Some truth movement veterans have repeatedly refuted the “no-plane” claims. In fact, discussion of no-plane theories has been banned from certain conspiracy theory websites and advocates have sometimes been threatened with violence by posters at other conspiracy theory websites.
Paul Zarembka, in his book, The Hidden History of 9/11, states that the debris from ground zero was removed without a proper forensic investigation.
According to the 9/11 Commission Report, both black boxes from Flight 77 and both black boxes from Flight 93 were recovered. However, the CVR from Flight 77 was said to be too damaged to yield any data. On April 18, 2002, the FBI allowed the families of victims from Flight 93 to listen to the voice recordings. In April 2006, a transcript of the CVR was released as part of the Zacarias Moussaoui trial.
Two men, Michael Bellone and Nicholas DeMasi, who worked extensively in the wreckage of the World Trade Center, said in the book Behind-The-Scenes: Ground Zero that they helped federal agents find three of the four “black boxes” from the jetliners:
At one point, I was assigned to take Federal Agents around the site to search for the black boxes from the planes. We were getting ready to go out. My ATV was parked at the top of the stairs at the Brooks Brothers entrance area. We loaded up about a million dollars worth of equipment and strapped it into the ATV. There were a total of four black boxes. We found three.
Bin Laden tapes
A series of interviews, audio and videotapes were released in the years following the 9/11 attacks that were reported to be from Osama bin Laden. In the first of these the speaker denied responsibility for the attacks. On September 17, 2001, in a statement issued to Al Jazeera, Bin Laden is quoted as saying: “The U.S. government has consistently blamed me for being behind every occasion its enemies attack it. I would like to assure the world that I did not plan the recent attacks, which seems to have been planned by people for personal reasons.”
In a tape released in December 2001 known as ‘the Jalalabad tape’, the speaker is alleged to have foreknowledge of the attacks. The Central Intelligence Agency claimed the tape was probably from Osama bin Laden. Some observers, especially people in the Muslim world, doubted the authenticity of the tape. On December 20, 2001, German TV channel “Das Erste” broadcast an analysis of the White House’s translation of the videotape. On the program Monitor, two independent translators and an expert on Oriental Studies found the White House’s translation to be both inaccurate and manipulative, stating, “At the most important places where it is held to prove the guilt of bin Laden, it is not identical with the Arabic”, and that the words used that indicate foreknowledge can not be heard at all in the original. Prof. Gernot Rotter, professor of Islamic and Arabic Studies at the Asia-Africa Institute at the University of Hamburg, said “The American translators who listened to the tapes and transcribed them apparently wrote a lot of things in that they wanted to hear but that cannot be heard on the tape no matter how many times you listen to it.” Some members of Scholars for 9/11 Truth believe that the man in this videotape is not Osama bin Laden at all, citing differences in weight and facial features, along with his wearing of a gold ring, which is forbidden by Muslim law, and writing with his right hand although bin Laden was left-handed.
In an audiotape released in November 2007, Bin Laden claimed responsibility for the attacks and denied the Taliban and the Afghan government or people had any prior knowledge of the attacks. In an interview with al-Jazeera, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, two of al-Qaeda’s alleged masterminds of the attacks, also confessed their involvement in the attacks.
Hiding of CIA recruitment efforts
Richard Clarke, who headed the government’s anti-terrorism efforts in 2001, theorized CIA director George Tenet ordered the agency to withhold information about Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar from the rest of the government in an effort to cover up the agency’s recruitment of the two. George Tenet released a statement denying the agency deliberately withheld information about the pair and noted Clarke himself said he had no proof.
In 2006, members of the group Scholars for 9/11 Truth argued that a group of US neo-conservatives called the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), which included Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, was set on US world dominance and orchestrated the 9/11 attacks as an excuse to hit Iraq, Afghanistan and later Iran. In September 2000 the PNAC released a strategic treatise entitled Rebuilding America’s Defences. David Ray Griffin in his 2004 book The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11 argued that the treatise may have been the blueprint for 9/11 attacks. Specifically the language in the paper that read “the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor” was describing an alleged motive.
The Defense Planning Guidance of 1992, was drafted by Paul Wolfowitz on behalf of then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. This was described as “a blueprint for permanent American global hegemony” by Andrew Bacevich in his book American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy.
Matt Taibbi argued in his book The Great Derangement that conspiracy theorists have taken what is written in the paper “completely out of context”, and that the “transformation” referenced in the paper is explicitly said to be a decades-long process to turn the Cold War-era military into a “new, modern military” which could deal with more localized conflicts. He said that, for this to be evidence of motive, either those responsible would have decided to openly state their objectives, or would have read the paper in 2000 and quickly laid the groundwork for the 9/11 attacks using it as inspiration.
Conspiracy theorists have questioned whether The Oil Factor and 9/11 provided the United States and the United Kingdom with a reason to launch a war they had wanted for some time, and suggest that this gives them a strong motive for either carrying out the attacks, or allowing them to take place. For instance, Andreas von Bülow, a former research minister in the German government, has argued that 9/11 was staged to justify the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Former Malaysian premiere Mahathir Mohamad was quoted as saying that there was “strong evidence” that the attacks were faked so the United States could go to war against Muslims. In spite of these allegations, the Bush administration specifically rejected proposals to immediately attack Iraq in response to 9/11, and acknowledged that there was no evidence of Iraqi involvement in the attacks.
New World Order
Alex Jones and other personalities hold that 9/11 was initiated by a disparate variety of banking, corporate, globalization, and military interests for the purpose of creating a globalist government. Such New World Order conspiracy theories predate 9/11.
Suggested historical precedents
Conspiracy theorists often point to Operation Northwoods as a model for the 9/11 attacks, theorizing the attacks were carried out by the U.S. government as a false flag operation and then blamed on Islamic extremists. Operation Northwoods was an unimplemented, apparently rejected, plan approved by the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1962. One proposal in the plan suggested that covert operatives commit multiple acts of terrorism in U.S. cities and blame Cuba, thus providing a pretext for invasion.
Time magazine contrasted events which inspired past conspiracy theories with those that inspire 9/11 conspiracy theories such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Time called the public assassination of Kennedy a “private, intimate affair” when compared with the attack on the World Trade Center, which was witnessed by millions of people and documented by hundreds of videographers; and said, “there is no event so plain and clear that a determined human being can’t find ambiguity in it.”
Many individuals and organizations that support or discuss 9/11 conspiracy theories consider themselves to be part of the 9/11 Truth movement.
Prominent adherents of the movement include, among others, radio talk show host Alex Jones, theologian David Ray Griffin, physicist Steven E. Jones, software engineer Jim Hoffman, architect Richard Gage, film producer Dylan Avery, former Governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives Cynthia McKinney, actors Daniel Sunjata, Ed Asner, and Charlie Sheen, political science professor Joseph Diaferia and journalist Thierry Meyssan. Adherents of the 9/11 Truth movement come from diverse social backgrounds. The movement draws adherents from people of diverse political beliefs including liberals, conservatives, and libertarians. Anti-Defamation League has named Alan Sabrosky as a key figure in anti-Semitic 9/11 conspiracy theories.
Among the organizations that actively discuss and promote such theories are Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, a group that focuses on the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings; 9/11 Truth, founded in 2004; Scholars for 9/11 Truth, founded in 2005, and Scholars for 9/11 Truth & Justice, a group that split from Scholars for 9/11 Truth in 2007 and runs the online publication Journal of 9/11 Studies; 9/11 Citizens Watch, which was already formed in 2002; and the Hispanic Victims Group. Several of these groups have collected signatures on petitions asking for further investigation of the September 11 attacks.
In 2004, John Buchanan ran for president on a “9/11 Truth” platform.
9/11 Conspiracy theory critic Jonathan Kay asserts that for the most part proponents are not out for financial gain and in some cases have left lucrative careers to become activists.
Dr Michael Wood and Dr Karen Douglas University of Kent psychologists who specialize in conspiracy theories examined the comments sections of over 2000 news articles relating to the collapse of World Trade Center 7. They found that proponents of 9/11 conspiracy theories were more likely to try and debunk the mainstream account than promote their own theories and also were more likely to believe in other conspiracy theories. Proponents of the mainstream account tended to argue for that account and showed a greater hostility toward conspiracy theory proponents.
Dissecting the 9/11 Truth movement community
According to a 2011 analysis in a Skeptical Inquirer article, people involved in this movement, which seemingly is a disparate group with very diversified backgrounds, could be classified into three groups. They join the movement for different reasons, loosely self-assemble to fill different roles and are united by their shared mistrust in experts and the establishment (government and reputable sources of knowledge), and conspiratorial stance. Through their engagement, they each find their own fulfillment and satisfaction. Together, they contribute to the persistence, resilience and exaggerated claims of acceptance (in general public) of the movement. These three groups are:
Hard Core: The organizers and active members of the various 9/11 Truth Movement organizations. They produce the information, spot the anomalies and technical inconsistencies, provide the technical base and form the theories. While they claim to be only interested in facts and to use scientific method, they commit the logical fallacy of ‘confirmation bias’ by pre-determining the outcome, then searching for corroborating evidence while ignoring the vast body of peer-reviewed, independent, consensual research which contradict their theories. They supply the physical structure of the movement by organizing events, seminars, discussions, marches and distributing flyers and pamphlets. Their numbers are relatively small but they are tight-knit and highly connected. Their worldview favors ‘super-conspiracy’, a master plan that is behind conspiracies which they believe they are uncovering.
Critically turned: They are the young students and political activists whose affiliation with the 9/11 Truth Movement often is rooted from their dissatisfaction and anger at the established political and social order. Their sense of justice and idealism propels them to activism against perceived oppression and social injustice. Their penchant to use Internet, especially social media, and tech savvy make them the propaganda machine for the movement. They produce YouTube videos and films with cool, countercultural content, make good use of pop culture parody and eye-catching graphics. The countercultural street cred of their productions buy them broad appeal and exposure to millions of people.
Illiterati: They are the movement’s mass membership backbone, a large, diffuse group which give the movement exaggerated claims of popularity and influence. Participation in the 9/11 Truth Movement, to this group of people, is as much a social and recreational pursuit as the quest for truth. Their partaking is mostly through web 2.0 social networking and YouTube. Their commentaries often are emotional and they make no pretense to be accurate, balanced or to show genuine intent to find truth. Involvement with the movement that fit their worldview gives them a sense of identity and belonging, which they find more appealing than the facts and evidences of the 9/11 terrorist attack itself.