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Context of '(9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001: American Airlines Orders Its Flights to Land Immediately'

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FEMA’s World Trade Center Building Performance Study.FEMA’s World Trade Center Building Performance Study. [Source: FEMA]FEMA releases its report of the WTC collapses. It concludes, “[W]ith the information and time available, the sequence of events leading to the collapse of each tower could not be definitively determined.” On Building 7: “The specifics of the fires in WTC 7 and how they caused the building to collapse remain unknown at this time.” (Federal Emergency Management Agency 5/1/2002)

The Independent carries a story entitled, “Unanswered Questions: The Mystery of Flight 93,” a rare critique of the official version of events around that plane’s crash. Most of the information is a summation of what was reported before. However, there is one interesting new theory. Theorizing why witnesses did not see smoke from the faltering plane, the article points to the 1996 research of Harvard academic Elaine Scarry, “showing that the Air Force and the Pentagon have conducted extensive research on ‘electronic warfare applications’ with the possible capacity to intentionally disrupt the mechanisms of an aeroplane in such a way as to provoke, for example, an uncontrollable dive. Scarry also reports that US Customs aircraft are already equipped with such weaponry; as are some C-130 Air Force transport planes. The FBI has stated that, apart from the enigmatic Falcon business jet, there was a C-130 military cargo plane within 25 miles of the passenger jet when it crashed (see September 14, 2001). According to the Scarry findings, in 1995 the Air Force installed ‘electronic suites’ in at least 28 of its C-130s—capable, among other things, of emitting lethal jamming signals.” (Eakin 11/19/2000; Carlin 8/13/2002)

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—an agency of the US Commerce Department’s Technology Administration—announces details of its forthcoming investigation into the collapses of the World Trade Center Twin Towers and Building 7 on 9/11. The NIST investigation aims “to investigate the building construction, the materials used, and the technical conditions that contributed to the outcome of the World Trade Center (WTC) disaster.” It also aims to examine the activities of building occupants and emergency responders on 9/11, studying such issues as emergency communications within the WTC, the movement of people during the evacuations, and issues around persons with disabilities. Leading technical experts from industry, academia, and other laboratories, alongside NIST’s own expert staff, will participate in the investigation. Expert professionals from the private sector will also be involved. Glenn Corbett, a fire science professor at John Jay College, says, “This is going to be the most extensive building disaster investigation ever performed.” (Associated Press 8/21/2002; National Institute of Standards and Technology 8/21/2002; National Institute of Standards and Technology 8/3/2005) The investigation is formally authorized in October 2002, when the National Construction Safety Team Act is signed into law. The act, which gives NIST authorization to investigate major building failures in the US, is written largely as a result of the World Trade Center collapses. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 10/2/2002; Glanz 5/8/2003) NIST’s investigation is originally proposed to last two years, with a budget of $16 million. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 8/21/2002) However, it eventually will last three years, with its final report into the collapses of the Twin Towers being released in October 2005 (see October 26, 2005). A previous analysis of the WTC collapses conducted by FEMA and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) was completed earlier in 2002 (see May 1, 2002), but this had a budget of just $1.1 million. By the time NIST starts its investigation, much of the crucial steel debris from the WTC collapses has already been destroyed (see September 12-October 2001). They later refer to there being a “scarcity of physical evidence that is typically available in place for reconstruction of a disaster.” (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. xxxvi)

One of the key variables in the computer simulations used by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) (see (October 2002-October 2005)) to explain the WTC collapses is the speed of the aircraft that hit the towers. However, there is no consensus on how fast the planes were traveling. The first estimate was contained in an initial research paper by engineers Zdenek Bazant and Yong Zhou, who stated that the planes were traveling at 342 miles per hour. (Bazant and Zhou 1/2002 pdf file) However, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) report said that the plane that hit the North Tower was traveling at 470 miles per hour, whereas the plane that hit the South Tower was traveling at 590 miles per hour (see May 1, 2002). (Federal Emergency Management Agency 5/1/2002, pp. 31) NIST initially estimates speeds of 435 miles per hour for the plane that hit the North Tower and 497 miles per hour for the plane that hit the South Tower. These estimates closely match figures produced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which finds speeds of 429 miles per hour and 503 miles per hour for the two planes. However, NIST is dissatisfied with these results and does a second study, which finds speeds of 466 and 545 miles per hour. It then uses speeds of 472 and 570 miles per hour in its severe case model, on which its final report is based. In this model, the simulation of the planes traveling faster means greater damage to the towers’ structure, making them more unstable. (Kausel 5/2002 pdf file; National Institute of Standards & Technology 9/2005, pp. 152-165 pdf file; National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 109)

Matthys Levy.Matthys Levy. [Source: PBS]A report is made publicly available, which the Engineering News-Record calls the “most comprehensive study yet on the destruction of the World Trade Center.” The study was commissioned by WTC leaseholder Silverstein Properties Inc. to support a $7 billion insurance claim, and conducted by a team of engineers from several leading firms, including Weidlinger Associates, LZA Technology/Thornton-Tomasetti, and ARUPFire. It is intended to build on a previous study sponsored by FEMA (see May 1, 2002). The report’s findings are based on an analysis of original structural drawings, thousands of photos, and dozens of videos. Investigators used fire evaluation techniques and powerful computer software to simulate the condition of each tower at critical times between the planes’ impacts and the towers’ collapses. The earlier FEMA investigators had no access to such computer modeling. Matthys Levy, the chairman of Weidlinger Associates and one of the engineers on the study team, says, “The buildings had tremendous reserve capacity and that was reflected in all of the elements we analyzed. In fact, because there were so much excess capacity, the columns even in the impact floors did not buckle immediately, but failed as the result of the fire.” The report states that failure of the WTC’s steel floor supports (“trusses”) did not contribute to the collapses. Instead, the collapses were caused by the failure of steel structural columns that were either destroyed when the planes hit or lost fireproofing, leaving them vulnerable to the weakening effects of the ensuing fires. It says that debris and dust distributed by the plane crashes inhibited the fires, such that the average air temperatures on the impact floors were between 400 and 700°C (750-1,300°F): significantly lower than those associated with typical “fully developed” office fires. However, says Matthys Levy, “By the time the temperature inside the buildings reached 400 degrees, the steel would have lost approximately 50% of its strength. Eventually, gravity took over and the towers began to fall.” Then, according to the analysis led by researchers from LZA Technology/Thornton-Tomasetti, “Once collapse initiated in each tower, essentially all of the interior structure of the tower fell straight down with floors pancaking on top of one another. The network of perimeter steel columns and spandrels acted like a chute to funnel the interior contents into the tower footprint.” According to the computer simulations, the damage to the South Tower’s steel core columns was so severe that the tower should have collapsed immediately after the plane hit. Civil engineer John Osteraas says this incorrect result casts doubt upon some of the study’s predictions. The report concludes that the collapse of the South Tower did not cause or contribute to the subsequent collapse of the North Tower, thus supporting Silverstein Properties’ claim that the terrorist attack represented two occurrences, entitling it to two $3.5 billion insurance policy limits. A separate study commissioned by the insurers contradicts this (see October 23, 2002). The Silverstein report apparently does not examine the collapse of WTC Building 7, a 47-story skyscraper that also collapsed on 9/11 (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). It has been passed on to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which is undertaking its own investigation of the WTC collapses (see August 21, 2002). (Glanz and Lipton 9/30/2002; McLeod 10/23/2002; Silverstein Properties, Inc. 10/23/2002 pdf file; Post 10/25/2002; Glanz and Lipton 10/29/2002; Post 11/4/2002; Misonzhnik 4/30/2003)

At the end of a two-day meeting to discuss the progress of their investigation of the WTC collapses on 9/11, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) investigators say that early tests on steel beams recovered from the World Trade Center showed they met or were stronger than design requirements. NIST has collected 236 pieces of steel from the wreckage of the towers. Tests have found that the steel beams exceeded requirements to bear 36,000 pounds per square inch, and were often capable of bearing around 42,000 pounds per square inch. Lead investigator Shyam Sunder says that if further testing corroborates these findings, this will rule out weak steel as a factor in the collapses. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 8/26/2003; Associated Press 8/28/2003) The final report of the NIST investigation, released in 2005, will corroborate this finding: “Overall, approximately 87 percent of all perimeter and core column steel tested exceeded the required minimum yield strengths specified in design documents. Test data for the remaining samples were below specifications, but were within the expected variability and did not affect the safety of the towers on September 11, 2001.” It also will point out: “Of the more than 170 areas examined on 16 perimeter column panels, only three columns had evidence that the steel reached temperatures above 250°C.… Only two core column specimens had sufficient paint remaining to make such an analysis, and their temperatures did not reach 250°C.… Using metallographic analysis, NIST determined that there was no evidence that any of the samples had reached temperatures above 600 °C.” (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 89-90)

The video sleeve for ‘DC 9/11.’The video sleeve for ‘DC 9/11.’ [Source: Internet Movie Database (.com)]Showtime broadcasts a “docudrama” about the 9/11 attacks and the White House’s response, entitled DC 9/11: Time of Crisis. According to New York Times author and media critic Frank Rich, the film drastically rewrites history to portray President Bush as “an unironic action-movie superhero.” In the movie, Bush—portrayed by actor Timothy Bottoms, who played Bush in Comedy Central’s satiric That’s My Bush!—is shown overruling his Secret Service detail and ordering Air Force One to return to Washington immediately, an event which never happened (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). “If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me!” the movie Bush shouts. “I’ll be at home, waiting for the b_stard!” The movie Bush has other lines that establish his desire to get back to Washington, including, “The American people want to know where their damn president is!” and “People can’t have an AWOL president!” In one scene, a Secret Service agent questions Bush’s demand to return to Washington by saying, “But Mr. President—” only to be cut off by Bush, who snaps, “Try ‘Commander in Chief.’ Whose present command is: Take the president home!” In reality, most of the orders on 9/11 were given by Vice President Dick Cheney and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, but in the movie, Bush is the man in charge. “Hike military alert status to Delta,” he orders Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “That’s the military, the CIA, foreign, domestic, everything,” he explains. “And if you haven’t gone to Defcon 3, you oughtta.” To Cheney, he barks: “Vice? We are at war.” The White House team are, in Rich’s words, “portrayed as the very model of efficiency and derring-do.” (Farhi 6/19/2003; Stanley 9/5/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 25-26) New York Times reviewer Alessandra Stanley notes that Bush is the unquestioned hero of the film, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair portrayed as “not very eloquent” and Cheney depicted as “a kowtowing yes-man.” (Stanley 9/5/2003)
Conservative Pundits Influenced Script - The movie is produced by Lionel Chetwynd, whom Rich calls “the go-to conservative in B-list Hollywood.” For the movie script, Chetwynd was given unprecedently broad access to top White House officials, including Bush. He also received the assistance of conservative Washington pundits Charles Krauthammer, Morton Kondracke, and Fred Barnes, who cover the Bush White House for such media outlets as Fox News, the Weekly Standard, and the Washington Post. Rich later writes that much of the film seems based on Bob Woodward’s “hagiographic [book] Bush at War (see November 25, 2002).” (Farhi 6/19/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 25-26)
Propaganda Effort? - Before the movie airs, Toronto Sun columnist Linda McQuaig called the film an attempt to mythologize Bush in a fashion similar to Hollywood’s re-creation of the Wild West’s Wyatt Earp, and wrote that the film “is sure to help the White House further its two-pronged reelection strategy: Keep Americans terrified of terrorism and make Bush look like the guy best able to defend them.” Texas radio commentator Jim Hightower added that the movie would present Bush as “a combination of Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger.… Instead of the doe-eyed, uncertain, worried figure that he was that day, Bush-on-film is transformed into an infallible, John Wayne-ish, Patton-type leader, barking orders to the Secret Service and demanding that the pilots return him immediately to the White House.” Chetwynd himself has acknowledged that he is a “great admirer” of Bush, and has close ties to the White House. In late 2001, Bush appointed him to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. “This isn’t propaganda,” Chetwynd insisted during the shooting of the movie, adding: “Everything in the movie is [based on] two or three sources. I’m not reinventing the wheel here.… I don’t think it’s possible to do a revision of this particular bit of history. Every scholar who has looked at this has come to the same place that this film does. There’s nothing here that Bob Woodward would disagree with.… It’s a straightforward docudrama. I would hope what’s presented is a fully colored and nuanced picture of a human being in a difficult situation.” (Farhi 6/19/2003) Rich will later write that the film is “unmistakably a propaganda effort on behalf of a sitting administration.” (Rich 2006, pp. 25-26)
Blaming the Clinton Administration - Perhaps most questionably, Stanley writes, the film “rarely misses a chance to suggest that the Clinton administration’s weakness was to blame for the disaster.” Bush, she notes, is portrayed as a more decisive leader than his predecessor: in the film, he tells Blair over the telephone: “I want to inflict pain [on the attackers]. Bring enough damage so they understand there is a new team here, a fundamental change in our policy.” (Stanley 9/5/2003)
9/11 Widow Unhappy with Film - Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband in the attack on the World Trade Center, calls the film “a mind-numbingly boring, revisionist, two-hour-long wish list of how 9/11 might have gone if we had real leaders in the current administration.” She adds: “It is understandable that so little time is actually devoted to the president’s true actions on the morning of 9/11. Because to show the entire 23 minutes from 9:03 to 9:25 a.m., when President Bush, in reality, remained seated and listening to ‘second grade story-hour’ while people like my husband were burning alive inside the World Trade Center towers, would run counter to Karl Rove’s art direction and grand vision.” Breitweiser questions numerous aspects of the film: “Miscellaneous things that surprised me included the fact that the film perpetuates the big fat lie that Air Force One was a target. Forgive me, but I thought the White House admitted at the end of September 2001 that Air Force One was never a target, that no code words were spoken and that it was all a lie (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001-March 2004). So what gives?… Not surprisingly, there is no mention of accountability. Not once does anyone say, ‘How the hell did this happen? Heads will roll!’ I was hoping that, at least behind closed doors, there were words like, ‘Look, we really screwed up! Let’s make sure we find out what went wrong and that it never happens again!’ Nope, no such luck.” (Breitweiser 9/8/2003)

Shyam Sunder.Shyam Sunder. [Source: NIST]The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) releases nearly 500 pages of documents, detailing the latest findings of its investigation of the WTC collapses on 9/11. These include its hypotheses for the collapse sequences of each of the Twin Towers; details of their analysis of interviews with nearly 1,200 building occupants, emergency responders, and victims’ relatives; and information from their analysis of the emergency response and evacuation procedures. Their investigation into the collapses is based upon an analysis of thousands of photos and videos, examination of many of the elements used to construct the towers, and computer-enhanced modeling of the plane impacts and the spreading of the fires. Their hypothesis is that the towers collapsed ultimately due to the fires they suffered: As the fires burned, the buildings’ steel core columns buckled and shortened. This shifted more load to the buildings’ perimeter columns, which were already affected by the heat of the fires, and caused them to give way under the increased stress. Investigators have conducted a test with a reconstructed section of the WTC floor, and found that the original fireproofing was sufficient to meet the New York City building code. They say that had a typical office fire occurred in the towers, without the structural damage and the loss of some fireproofing caused by the plane impacts, it is likely the buildings would have remained standing. Lead investigator Dr. Shyam Sunder says, “The buildings performed as they should have in the airplane impact and extreme fires to which they were subjected. There is nothing there that stands out as abnormal.” NIST’s theories of why the WTC buildings collapsed conflict with an earlier investigation by FEMA, which claimed the collapse of the North Tower had begun in its core, rather than its perimeter columns (see May 1, 2002). (National Institute of Standards and Technology 10/19/2004; Lipton 10/20/2004)

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which is conducting an investigation into the WTC collapses on 9/11, releases three new reports. Investigators say that the Twin Towers would probably have remained standing if the fireproofing material that surrounded the buildings’ structural steel had not been stripped away when the planes hit. Their report states that “[t]he jet fuel, which ignited the fires, was mostly consumed within the first few minutes after impact. The fires that burned for almost the entire time that the buildings remained standing were due mainly to burning building contents and, to a lesser extent, aircraft contents, not jet fuel.” However, they claim, without the loss of fireproofing during the planes’ impacts, the heat from the fires would have been insufficient to cause the buildings to collapse. They say that although the architects had in 1964 tested the impact of a Boeing 707 airplane crashing into the 80th floor of one of the towers, they never envisioned the intense fires that ensued. NIST also reports that the time taken by survivors from the North Tower to descend a flight of stairs was about double the slowest evacuation speed estimated in a standard fire engineering text. They state: “approximately 87 percent of the WTC tower occupants, including more than 99 percent below the floors of impact, were able to evacuate successfully.” However, they say, if each tower had been full when they were hit, as many as 14,000 people could have died. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 4/5/2005; Matthews 4/5/2005; Williams 4/5/2005; Barrett 4/6/2005)

Based upon its three-year investigation of the WTC collapses, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) calls for changes in the planning, construction, and operation of skyscrapers. NIST releases 43 draft reports, totaling about 10,000 pages, for public comments. These include 25 pages of recommendations, intended to learn from 9/11 and make building occupants and emergency responders safer in any future disasters. NIST’s inquiry has been conducted by more than 200 technical experts and contractors, and had two main parts: to look at the causes of the collapses and to identify weaknesses in building codes. Their recommendations include specific improvements to building standards, codes and practices; changes to evacuation and emergency response procedures; and research to help prevent future building failures. NIST does not have the authority to change building codes, but hopes to influence the policies of local authorities. The cost of implementing their recommended changes would add an estimated extra 2 to 5 percent to the development costs of buildings. Some are critical of their recommendations. Structural engineer Jon Magnusson, whose firm is the descendant of the company that designed the Twin Towers, says, “They are leading the public down the wrong path. They are saying we are going to fix the codes in order to deal with Sept. 11th. The physics say that you can’t do that.” (Dwyer and Lipton 6/22/2005; National Institute of Standards and Technology 6/23/2005; Matthews 6/24/2005) The New York Times points out that between 1989 and 1999, only five civilians had been killed in some 6,900 reported high-rise office building fires within the US. (Lipton and Dwyer 6/24/2005) NIST will release its final report on the Twin Towers collapses four months later (see October 26, 2005).

Both towers of the World Trade Center tilted to one side before beginning to fall on 9/11 (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which investigated the collapses (see August 21, 2002), states that the South Tower, which was hit on its south side, tilted about 7-8 degrees to the east and 3-4 degrees to the south, and the North Tower, which was hit on its north side, tilted about 8 degrees to the south, before starting to fall. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 300, 308 pdf file) However, these findings are criticized by Canadian scientist Frank Greening. After examining photo and video evidence, Greening says that the South Tower tilted by no more than two degrees and the North Tower by no more than three degrees before collapse initiation. Greening also says that the tilt angles NIST gives cannot correspond to the downward movement of the towers’ walls NIST claims before they started to fall, and points out that the tilt angles NIST uses are inconsistent throughout its reports. Though Greening agrees with NIST that the towers were destroyed by the plane impacts and fire damage, he concludes that its computer model is “highly inaccurate and therefore of no value in explaining the demise of the Twin Towers.” (Greening 11/2005 pdf file) Greening is a leading figure in the post-9/11 dispute over why the WTC collapsed and publishes a series of papers dealing with various aspects of the Twin Towers’ collapse. For example, a CBC documentary uses Greening for analysis of the WTC’s fall. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 8/25/2005)

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) releases a 12-page appendix to its final reports on the WTC collapses (see October 26, 2005) detailing tests it conducted on samples of the type of fireproofing used in the WTC. An earlier NIST report had concluded that loss of fireproofing was a major factor in the collapses (see April 5, 2005). The appendix was not included in earlier drafts of the report (see June 23, 2005) (National Institute of Standards and Technology 6/23/2005 pdf file; National Institute of Standards & Technology 9/2005, pp. 263-274 pdf file; National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 149) NIST conducted a series of fifteen tests. In the tests projectiles were fired at fireproofing mounted on 12 inch x 12 inch plates, and steel bars with a one inch diameter. The fireproofing used in the tests was Blazeshield DC/F, one of the two grades of fireproofing used on the impact floors. In thirteen of the tests the projectiles were buckshot, which was fired at the steel samples from a modified shotgun at a distance of 29.5 ft. The other two tests used steel bolts and hexagon nuts, fired with less velocity and at closer range. According to NIST, “The test results support the assumption that, within the debris field created by the aircraft impact into WTC 1 and WTC 2, the SFRM [i.e., fireproofing] used for thermal insulation of structural members was damaged and dislodged.” (National Institute of Standards & Technology 9/2005, pp. 83, 263-274 pdf file)

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