Conspiracy 101


The JFK assassination had its “magic bullet,” Watergate the “18-minute gap,” and Oklahoma City that mysterious “John Doe No. 2.” All conspiracy theories—whether accurate or fantasy— revolve around key clues, real or otherwise. Here are the essential elements of some alternative theories of

Operation Northwoods This 1962 white paper from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff suggested possible justifications for a war against Cuba, including a never executed idea in which the CIA would detonate a drone aircraft to make it look like Fidel Castro had shot down an American passenger plane. Theorists see the proposal as evidence that the U.S. government had contemplated faking air disasters as a pretext for military action.

Project for the New American Century As evidence of the motives behind a government-planned 9-11, theorists point to one 28-word passage in a September 2000 PANC report written with help from the likes of Scooter Libby and Paul Wolfo-witz: “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.” Bush and his cronies, the argument goes, were looking for that event, and they got it on

Forewarning Theorists point to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s decision to stop flying commercial in the summer of 2001, as well as a San Francisco Chronicle report that Mayor Willie Brown received a warning of 9-11, as evidence that some people had foreknowledge of the attack. (It seems the alert Brown was passed was a public warning from the State Department, and he planned to fly anyway.)

War games Truth movement members who believe the military was “neutralized” or told to “stand down” on 9-11 find it very suspicious that U.S. air defense units that day were supposed to play the war game Vigilant Guardian, a simulation of a Russian bomber attack, while simultaneously monitoring Russian exercises in the Arctic.

The Pentagon Some—not all—alternative theorists say the hole in the Pentagon was too small to have been made by a 757, and too deep to have been made by anything but a cruise missile. They also cite the lack of significant wreckage or skid marks near the building. The dearth of surveillance footage of the attack arouses further suspicion. Among the alternate explanations: a truck bomb, a missile, or a drone.

The twin towers Early on, skeptics raised questions about how two 110-story steel-framed skyscrapers built to withstand airplane impacts not only collapsed, but did so suddenly, totally, and apparently straight down, possibly for the first time in history. The skeptics suggested that the buildings collapsed in a controlled demolition, a theory that has only gained strength in the past four years. The official explanation shifted—first blaming pancaking floor trusses, then warped steel columns transferring weight where it couldn’t be held—and never detailed the exact sequence of the entire collapse. Alternative theorists point to sounds and witnesses’ reports of explosions, little puffs of smoke, steel beams ejected outward, the rapid crumbling of the superstructure, and even the pyroclastic flow of dust as evidence that the buildings had to have been destroyed by explosives. Some theorists also believe the aircraft that hit the buildings were carrying pods on their underbellies and may have fired missiles that account for a bright flash that occurs before the collisions. Others claim the planes were remote controlled, were military aircraft, or did not exist at all.

World Trade Center 7 This building—the last to fall on 9-11—is key to all controlled-demolition theories. Its sudden fall onto its own footprint, and developer Larry Silverstein’s reference on TV to telling the FDNY to “pull it,” are seen as evidence that WTC7 was rigged to fall. Meanwhile, a convincing official explanation hasn’t exactly been forthcoming: FEMA punted on figuring out why building seven, which was not struck by an airplane, collapsed; NIST has postponed its verdict several times. While it might seem odd that the government would destroy a building most people had never heard of, theorists cite the tenants of WTC7 (the SEC, Secret Service, CIA, and Mayor Giuliani’s emergency bunker) as hints of a motive for its demolition. The speculation is that the building was taken out to cover up financial crimes or to destroy the mechanisms of the twin towers’ demise: control boards for the supposed demolition charges or remote-control consoles to guide the airliners to their targets.

Flight 93 The mystery over exactly what happened during the passenger revolt on United Airlines Flight 93 has puzzled even mainstream researchers. Alternative theorists ask different questions. Pointing to press reports filed on 9-11, many suspect that the plane actually landed in Cleveland. Others believe the aircraft was shot down by U.S. military aircraft.