Articles

A shambles not a conspiracy

23 September 2011

Published in The Jewish News: 23rd September 2011

The events of September 11th, 2001 have left an indelible imprint on all those who witnessed them. The images and sounds of that day have had a lasting and profound impact: the planes crashing into the Twin Towers; heroic firemen raising a flag at Ground Zero; the heart-rending calls made in the imminence of death. For many, this is the defining event of our new century.

To coincide with the tenth anniversary of the attacks, two veteran reporters, Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, have produced The Eleventh Day, described as “the ultimate account of 9/11”. It is the result of five years work delving through a mass of previously unpublished material, including recently declassified documents from the 9/11 Commission. The end product is a genuinely gripping piece of investigative journalism.

The book opens with a vivid, at times, harrowing account of the assault on 9/11 which claimed nearly 3,000 lives. In fact, as the authors point out, the true death toll remains somewhat elusive, given that many thousands of people inhaled toxic dust in the aftermath of the attacks, some of whom have since perished.

Subsequent chapters examine the 9/11 conspiracy theories, the build up to the war in Afghanistan, the emergence of al Qaeda in the 1990s and the role of intelligence in the lead up to the attacks. Despite a rather back to front approach, the narrative is compelling and detailed, supported by a wealth of information and anecdotes.

Summers and Swan rightly dismiss the claims made by the conspiracy movement. They cite a multitude of expert investigations into how the Twin Towers collapsed and how the Pentagon came under attack, studies which overwhelmingly corroborate the official account. In particular, they mention a lengthy investigation into the Pentagon attack which revealed that the extensive remains of the Boeing aircraft were found inside the building, together with the remains of the crew.

These facts, in the view of the authors, render the conspiracy theories “outrageous, cruel insults to the memory of the dead”. Such a withering critique is certainly timely. In a 2008 poll of 16,000 people from around the world, less than half believed that al-Qaeda was responsible for the attacks. Anti semitic conspiracy theories, as the ADL has amply documented, are also rife with many believing that Mossad staged the attacks to further Israeli interests worldwide.

The disturbing thing about these baseless conspiracy theories is that they are a distraction from the palpable failures of the Bush administration. Summers and Swan pull no punches: “The most powerful military nation on the planet had been ill prepared and ill equipped to confront the attacks”.

The Federal Administration Authority was simply “overwhelmed” by events on the day, and communication between different command centres was “muddled”. Indeed an analysis of recordings from those on the ground reveals a state of almost complete panic and confusion.

The FAA had also taken no preventative action, such as safeguarding cockpit security, despite numerous warnings that al-Qaeda would try to hijack planes. And President Bush, who had earlier ignored multiple warnings about the threat posed by al-Qaeda, claimed to have authorised the ‘shooting down’ of the airliners when this order appears to have come from the Vice President. It is not the events of 9/11, so much as the official response to them, that is so mired in controversy.

Indeed the central point made by Summers and Swan is that there was a catastrophic failure of intelligence within the United States. For both the CIA and FBI had learned, several years before 9/11, of plans to attack prominent buildings, including the Trade Centre, using hijacked planes.

More alarmingly, the CIA had information on two of the 19 hijackers which it failed to share with the FBI. The authors speculate that the Agency withheld this information because it was hoping to recruit the men as informants, a far from implausible idea.

The conclusion, that these attacks could have been avoided with “adroit handling, hard work and good luck,” seems hard to refute. But it is a scarcely original thesis. Most of the book’s revelations are already in the public domain so there is little here that we don’t already know.

Nor is it that surprising to learn that those who were backing and funding Bin Laden and his network were not America’s enemies (i.e. Iraq) but her allies (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan). The authors provide compelling evidence of how members of the Saudi royal family paid ‘protection money’ to Bin Laden in order to safeguard their own domestic position. Washington’s decision to cover up this Saudi-al Qaeda connection is rightly condemned as an insult to the American people.

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Quotes

"Iraq may have been a perilous adventure but without it Britain and its allies would still face a protracted threat from Islamic extremism." (Iraq and 7th July - The Guardian)

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