I’m extremely preoccupied this morning, so the occasion may be right for me to make a post that “speaks for itself” and requires minimal commentary.
Those who can put up with my rambles have long been aware that the collapse of three World Trade Towers on 9/11 leaves me baffled. Even if we stipulate that the two iconic structures could settle neatly, floor by floor, all the way down to their foundations like a squeezed accordion, WTC 7 was a much broader and less lofty building. How could it have been sucked tidily down into its base, hours later, in the same fashion—and not because it was uniformly bathed in hyper-heated jet fuel, but because some embers entered through a few open windows?
In seeking out the famous (or infamous) Popular Mechanics study said to have laid all suspicions to rest, I began my research with the latest in what turns out to be a series of articles. This piece purports to give the lie to all lingering “conspiracy theories” (a disparaging term commonly applied nowadays to any suspicion of foul play in high places). The paper may be accessed here.
What I noticed immediately upon a cursory reading is that the PM staff doesn’t actually conduct any investigation of its own: it merely passes along—with no thought of calling conclusions into question—research done by other entities of the very government that has invited mistrust. I quote:
The long-awaited report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) conclusively rebuts those claims [of planted explosives being involved in WTC 7’s demolition]. Fire alone brought down the building, the report concludes, pointing to thermal expansion of key structural members as the culprit.
PM then proceeds to cite a spokesman for the investigative project:
“Our take-home message today is that the reason for the collapse of World Trade Center 7 is no longer a mystery,” NIST lead investigator Shyam Sunder told journalists at this morning’s press conference in Gaithersburg, Md. “WTC 7 collapsed because of fires fueled by office furnishings. It did not collapse from explosives or from diesel fuel fires.”
Now, I find this “nothing to see here” reassurance less than reassuring. The “take-home message” above certainly does nothing to explain the “accordion effect”. Office furnishings? Were the cushions impregnated with nitro-glycerin? In all seriousness, although certain synthetic fabrics are highly flammable, are we to believe that they can ratchet a fire up to temperatures obtainable with jet fuel? And the fuel was liquid; as incredulous as I remain about the proposition that fuel spread uniformly throughout the upper floors of the Twin Towers, one may at least picture (with deep squinting) a broad puddle of collecting accelerant. Were polyester chairs and couches, then, set back to back from one side of WTC 7 to the other? Perhaps the carpet was the culprit; but Mr. Sunder does not name carpet in his indictment… and in any case, what carpet has been manufactured over the past half-century which is not fire-resistant rather than highly inflammable?
The final report describes how debris from the collapse of WTC 1 ignited fires on at least 10 floors of WTC 7 at the western half of the south face. Fires on Floors 7 through 9 and 11 through 13 burned out of control, because the water supply to the automatic sprinkler system had failed. The primary and backup water supply to the sprinkler systems for the lower floors relied on the city’s water supply. Those water lines were damaged by the collapse of WTC 1 and 2. These uncontrolled fires in WTC 7 eventually spread to the northeast part of the building, where the collapse began.
Sprinkler systems out: got it. That makes perfect sense. But the same paragraph explicitly describes the fire as started in a confined area and then spreading “eventually” throughout certain of WTC 7’s floors. What we need is metal fatigue and structural collapse occurring with a freakish simultaneity. This scenario does nothing to bring us to that event.
After 7 hours of uncontrolled fires, a steel girder on Floor 13 lost its connection to one of the 81 columns supporting the building. Floor 13 collapsed, beginning a cascade of floor failures to Floor 5. Column 79, no longer supported by a girder, buckled, triggering a rapid succession of structural failures that moved from east to west. All 23 central columns, followed by the exterior columns, failed in what’s known as a “progressive collapse”—that is, local damage that spreads from one structural element to another, eventually resulting in the collapse of the entire structure.
The quoting of “progressive collapse” seems intended rhetorically to make us back off from the cordon of the physics experiment, as if the flames might singe our low simian brows. But, excuse me… I know what “progressive” means, and I can also sufficiently understand the detailed description preceding the phrase to picture a succession of collapsing columns, moving laterally “from east to west”. Such a picture would yield a Leaning Tower of Pisa that decides, at last, to topple on its side—not a shrinking accordion disappearing into its base.
The report determines that the actual culprit in the collapse was the combustion of ordinary building furnishings: “These uncontrolled fires had characteristics similar to those that have occurred previously in tall buildings.” If the sprinkler system in WTC 7 had been working, it is likely that “the fires in WTC 7 would have been controlled and the collapse prevented.” The report also suggests that current engineering standards for coping with fire-induced thermal expansion need to be re-examined, particularly for buildings like WTC 7 that have long, unsupported floor spans. A key factor in the collapse, NIST concluded, was the failure of structural “connections that were designed to resist gravity loads, but not thermally induced lateral loads.” According to Sunder: “For the first time we have shown that fire can induce a progressive collapse.”
I love the “thermally induced lateral loads”: more than any other passage, it makes me want to pack my skepticism away and nod to my neighbor, “Yep… the Emperor’s new clothes look mighty sharp!” But the paragraph itself is a catastrophic structural failure, throwing furniture and sprinklers and columns at us all at once in a disconnected, incoherent summary. My verdict: case not proved. File still open.
I suppose I could crown myself with the moniker of some impressively polysyllabic LLC like, “Society of Concerned Citizens for the Textual Analysis of Official Documents”. Then I could write, “SOCC-TOAD has concluded that the government’s case remains unsubstantiated.” My acronym would require that the public be mildly afflicted with dyslexia, or just not paying attention… but we’re talking about the American public! Was any bet ever more secure?
That, at any rate, is how our keepers think of us—and we seem fully to justify their low estimate. They throw some figures, some graphs, and some jargon at us… and the part of their discussion that actually reads like discursive prose confronts us with bald-faced contradiction. Do they not read their own copy… or do they simply assume that no child among us will dare pipe up and warble, “But the Emperor’s naked!”
They’re probably right on both counts.