September Song: A Review of “The New Pearl Harbor”

by Marc Estrin

Tuesday, May 25, 2004
Link to Original

The official story goes something like this:

With no actionable warning from intelligence agencies, four planes were hijacked by terrorists on the morning of September 11, 2001. Two crashed into the Word Trade Center, which then collapsed, and shortly thereafter, the third into the Pentagon. The last plane went down in Pennsylvania after a struggle between passengers and hijackers. Air defense arrived too late to stop the catastrophes. Responding to this attack on the homeland, the president declared a global war on terror which may last for generations until evil is finally eradicated, the security of America firmly established, and the world made safe for freedom and democracy.

In The New Pearl Harbor, David Ray Griffin compiles the evidence that every single assertion in the official story is implausible or impossible, and that something other must explain the inconsistencies and contra-factual assertions.

The implications of the accumulated evidence is that the Bush administration was complicit in the events of September 11th, and not merely a victim of structural problems or incompetence on the part of the intelligence establishment. In a nuanced discussion of “complicity”, Griffin distinguishes eight possible levels, from the lying about events to maximize political ends, through intentionally allowing expected attacks, to actual involvement in the planning of them.

Griffin does not make specific accusations, nor does he hypothesize a “true” version of what happened. But he does demand unflinching investigations of all the contradictions, clear reporting of the results, and most difficult, a courageous drawing of conclusions, no matter how “unthinkable” or outrageous they may appear.

In the months since the book was published, we have been swamped with news from the 9/11 Commission concerning both domestic and foreign intelligence which indicated a large and imminent attack on the United States. But the Commission, its members appointed by President Bush, is focussing on the future. According to Vice-Chair Lee Hamilton, “We’re not interested in trying to assess blame…” Their goal is to understand what happened so as to restructure intelligence so that such “a breakdown” may not happen again. Given this limited mandate, almost none of the contradictions Griffin raises is likely to be discussed, or its ramifications analyzed before the case is closed.

The first part of The New Pearl Harbor looks in detail at the timeline and events of 9/11 itself. How is it, Griffin asks, that even the first airplane was not intercepted — given standard procedures, operating normally many times a year, for off-course or otherwise anomalous aircraft? The FAA, NORAD, and the NMCC (National Military Command Center at the Pentagon) have a clear and working set of standard operating procedures which on September 11th, and on that day only, failed to operate. Griffin lays them out, along with the strange, and changing official excuses for their “failure”.

The story becomes even more bizarre for the second plane to hit the WTC. By that time, it was known that three planes had been hijacked, and were heading back eastward (the fourth plane was 41 minutes late in taking off, so at this point was not part of the story). Still there was no normal scrambling of protective aircraft. By the time of the Pentagon incident, the details become grotesque. It was clear to the entire nation, fixed to the TV, that America was under a coordinated attack, and that a third plane was headed towards Washington. Yet though Cheney and Rice were evacuated to the White House bunker, still, no protection aircraft scrambled, and when it finally did, was sent from a base far from DC, travelling at half-maximum speed or less, arriving too late to prevent the attack.

With official statements compared to a detailed timeline of events, the most likely conclusion is that on that day, the air defense system was ordered to stand down from its normal protective procedures — even after it was clear to all what was happening. Who could have ordered such a stand down?

Much of the material Griffin cites has been long circulated on the internet. What is less commonly understood are the strange details of the WTC collapse, implausibly explained as “jet-fuel fire melting structural steel.” The pattern of destruction and fall is more consistent with the air attacks plus controlled demolitions. Griffin parses the material, with many notes from firefighting and architectural sources. Times, temperatures, visual and seismic evidence simply do not support the melting of steel as the sole cause of the observed failures. Further, what but explosions can account for reports of same from survivors, and for powdered concrete and building parts being ejected horizontally three times the width of the buildings? Steel in both towers was broken at the joints, and molten steel found at sub-basement levels — inconsistent with melting from top floor fires whose debris crushed the floors below. The WTC wreckage was spirited away as quickly as possible and no forensics permitted.

Even more curious was the collapse of WTC Building 7 — 355 feet away from the north tower, and further still from the south — which was never hit by a plane or any significant amount of debris ,and sustained only small fires. It went down at 5:20PM, collapsing from the bottom (as in a typical controlled demolition), with none of the “official” explanations in play. The steel was removed quickly from this site as well, although having been evacuated, there were no survivors to be searched for. Relegated to a footnote is the fact that Marvin P. Bush, the president’s younger brother, was a director for a security company involved in three of the four attacks. Securacom covered the WTC, United Airlines, — whose flights hit the WTC and crashed in Pennsylvania — and Dulles Airport — from which the Pentagon flight took off. What are we to make of testimony from WTC personnel that five days before 9/11, heightened security requiring 12-hour days and bomb-sniffing dogs was abruptly called off? What committee will chase that down?

Griffin turns next to the strange story of the flight that struck the Pentagon. The physical evidence is simply inconsistent with the claim that the building was struck by a Boeing 757 travelling at 300+ mph. The hole in the façade is far too small to accommodate the wings and tail — which were supposed to have disappeared within the hole. The penetration is far too shallow for the mass and momentum involved. Yet there is no scorching of the grass on the lawn outside. There is not the slightest sign of a burnt-out wreck in any photograph, nor were there any fuselage fragments recovered within the building. In the initial story, other then a beacon and the two black boxes — these “discovered” at four the next morning — every part of the plane, including the stainless steel engines, were melted, and vaporized. Nevertheless, in one version of the original tale, authorities were able to identify victims from their fingerprints. But six months later the story had changed and enough of the plane had been recovered to make possible “an almost complete reconstitution.” The parts are supposedly stocked in a warehouse.

According to experienced pilots, the complex final maneuver of the huge aircraft could not have been accomplished by an amateur. The choice of a difficult low flying attack on a side wall, rather than crashing more easily into the roof — for maximum damage — was most curious. The plane’s being “lost” from all radar contact for 29 minutes, while flying toward Washington is most improbable, given the network of radar and other resources covering the area. These contradictions, along with the failure to scramble in the most protected area of the world, make the official story of the Pentagon attack profoundly suspicious. And though Cheney and Rice were safely stowed in the White House bunker, and a plane was known to be heading in its direction, the Pentagon was never evacuated.

The last of the airplanes to go down was UA Flight 93, scene of the now famous passenger revolt: “Let’s roll!” Here, the question is no longer “Why were the planes not shot down?” but rather “Why might it be the case that this one was?” CBS reported two F16s tailing the flight. Phone calls made from the plane during its last minutes reported possible success in overcoming the hijackers. One call reported, “I think they’re going to do it. They’re forcing their way into the cockpit…They’re doing it! They’re doing it! They’re doing it!” Next, screaming in the background, followed by a “whooshing sound, a sound like wind.” Then contact lost. The scenario is consistent with a plane being shot down. A half-ton piece of engine was found over a mile from the fuselage — a likely target for a heat-seeking missile. Burning debris and human body parts were reported eight miles away, and confetti-like debris rained down minutes afterwards. One theory that would explain these departures from the official story is that Flight 93, unexpectedly late for departure, and unexpectedly rescued by its passengers, was destroyed by a competent military, in this case ordered to complete a bungled task. The risk of people left alive to be questioned may have been too great.

Griffin goes on to examine material that has been more generally covered — at least in the left press and on many websites: the President’s odd behavior on 9/11 given the timeline, and the evolving stories from the White House Press Office. He looks at the larger context of the event: the probable knowledge of possible attacks; the obstruction of investigations before and afterwards; the “anti-hunt” for bin Laden and al-Queda; the connections between Bush and the Saudi royal family; the flying of bin Ladens out of the country when no other aircraft was allowed to fly. We are familiar with much of this, though the details and citations are helpful. By now we are familiar, too, with the neo-con plans, pre-9/11, for projecting US power across the middle east and throughout central Asia. Asking the normal forensic question “Who benefits?”, we can see that the Project For A New American Century” (2000) was well served by the “new Pearl Harbor” it called for.

After all the suspicious incongruities collected, we are left with two huge problems. Griffin leads us through them in a chapter entitled “Is Complicity by US Officials the Best Explanation for 9/11?”:

  1. Beyond showing that official explanations are implausible or impossible, how shall we construct a meaningful, alternative narrative which will contain and explain the known facts? For example, if it was not a Boeing 757 which crashed into the Pentagon, but a smaller military missile, where did the 757 go, and what happened to its passengers?
  2. Most difficult of all, perhaps, is the question of how the administration — if indeed it was complicit in 9/11 at some or several levels — could be so incompetent at scripting a plausible story. Why not punish a few scapegoats in the intelligence community, instead of promoting those responsible for “lapses”? Why the needless, obvious lies, and continuingly changing statements? Why such massiveness to the conspiracy, requiring silence from many individuals in the White House, Justice Department, FBI, CIA, NSA, and the Pentagon, as well as in civilian security operations? Why risk demolition of buildings beyond the flight attacks? Why bring down WTC 7? Why order interceptor planes to stand down, and deny SOP readiness? Why have the president play unconcern for half an hour? So as not to upset second-graders? Why claim that human flesh could withstand temperatures which would vaporize stainless steel? There are better minds than Bush’s who have been concocting covert operations for many years. Where were they? Or was it just this confounding of critics that was intended?

My one quibble with Griffin’s most valuable compendium of unanswered questions is that the author nowhere examines and brings his judgement to bear on the many stories concerning Israeli and Mossad participation in the 9/11 events. But the book is a work-in-progress, necessarily incomplete.

Griffin can’t put the pieces together. In this, he is honest, and calls on us to be the same. All he can do is call for more authentic investigations — not the cover-ups currently underway — to confront these crucial issues. And this, too, we must do.

MARC ESTRIN can be reached at:

Marc Estrin is a novelist, cellist and publisher. His latest book is And Kings Shall be Thy Nursing Fathers. He lives in Vermont.