Of all the terrorist incidents that took place on September 11, the one that underlines most starkly the poverty of the official account is undoubtedly the attack on the Pentagon. While the strikes on the Twin Towers in New York require a little investigative digging before their true and disturbing nature is uncovered, in the case of the Pentagon it isn't necessary to look at a single scrap of evidence from the scene of the crime. Even the most cursory review of the events leading up to the attack soon makes it abundantly clear that an unanticipated attack of this kind could not, in reality, happen at all. The Pentagon, in common with the nearby White House, is one of the best-protected public buildings in the USA. It is equipped with its own battery of surface-to-air missiles and the airspace above it is the subject of a permanent overfly ban in respect of commercial aircraft. Its security personnel are trained and equipped to respond swiftly to attempted acts of aggression, including attacks by aircraft. Indeed the Pentagon was particularly aware of the dangers posed by an attack of this kind; only a few years earlier a disgruntled citizen ruffled a few feathers by flying his light plane into a Pentagon wall, an incident that led to a thorough review of the building's emergency procedures. On September 11 however, not a single anti-aircraft missile was fired in the Pentagon's defence. So was the attack so sudden and unexpected that Pentagon staff simply didn't have enough time to take necessary action? Well no. Let's look at that timeline.
American Airlines Flight 77, the plane we have been led to believe hit the Pentagon (though the recent findings of Gerard Holmgren suggest it may never have left the ground), supposedly departed from Washington's Dulles airport at 8.20 am. With the exception of a yet to be explained looped deviation at around 8.46, it flew normally towards its intended destination of Los Angeles until around 9.00 when it did a 180° turn near the Ohio state border and began heading back towards Washington. A minute or two later its transponder signal ceased. At around 9.05 West Virginia flight control noticed an eastbound plane entering its radar space with no radio contact and no transponder identification. By now of course two apparently hijacked planes had already crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. This third plane had changed course and switched off its transponder just like the first two. And it was heading straight for Washington, the US capital and home of the White House and the President! Over twenty minutes later therefore three fighter jets were scrambled to investigate the mystery plane. Unfortunately they were scrambled from Langley AFB in Virginia rather than the nearby Andrews AFB in Washington so were still over a hundred miles short of their target when 'Flight 77' eventually hit the Pentagon.
It's pretty unbelievable stuff but your disbelief has to be suspended for a while longer yet. Having made its way back to Washington unchallenged for over half an hour, the plane was picked up by Washington ATC for the first time at 9.33. By this time it was flying well in excess of 400 mph and on a trajectory that put it directly on course for the White House. Before getting there however the plane suddenly executed a left-hand descending turn, turning almost a complete circle and dropping 7000 ft in two and a half minutes. This complex manoeuvre levelled out perfectly in line for a direct hit on the Pentagon and it flew the last few hundred yards just a few feet above the ground, clipping trees and lamp poles before ploughing into the Pentagon at an estimated speed of 480 mph.
The official commentary on what happened at the Pentagon does not encourage us to ponder why fanatical terrorists would allow Flight 77 to fly for forty minutes or so away from their target before getting round to taking control of the plane, nor how they were then able to fly the plane over two hundred miles, at a time of such high alert, without being intercepted. It offers little by way of coherent explanation as to why, when a response was finally authorized, F-16s were scrambled from an airbase 130 miles away when fighters were ready and waiting at a base less than ten miles from the capital, nor why not a single missile was fired in the Pentagon's defence. There is a deafening silence as to how the plane was able to achieve its final dazzling manoeuvre, even though that high-speed descending turn was well beyond the capabilities of both its alleged pilot (who could scarcely control a Cessna) and indeed of a commercial Boeing 757. Yet this mixture of B-movie hokum and blundering incompetence that would make the Keystone Cops blush is still accepted by many as a sober and accurate exposition of events at the Pentagon. To my mind however one of the most telling indications that the attack on the Pentagon was a carefully contrived internal military operation is that it happened at all.
It is not really surprising that events at the Pentagon have generated considerably more debate and analysis than all the other incidents on September 11 put together. It is also the case however that, easy as it is to point out the gaping holes and inconsistencies in the official account of what happened, arriving at a satisfactory alternative hypothesis — one that takes into account and explains all the known facts of the case — has proved a particularly elusive task. Over two years since the debate and analysis began there are few issues on which the sceptics have achieved anything approaching a consensus.
The reason for this is straightforward enough. It's because the sum total of genuine hard evidence in the public domain is rather small, much smaller than is the case for the attacks on the Twin Towers. There is considerably less evidence than one might reasonably expect of an incident that occurred in broad daylight in the centre of the capital of the USA. In particular there is no photographic or video record of the plane itself or of its impact with the Pentagon. The true character of these crucial details remains a matter of speculation. Although the Pentagon attack was witnessed by hundreds of people — from their cars, from the sidewalks, from the windows of surrounding office blocks and apartment buildings — it seems none of them pointed a camera at the incident in the moments leading up to impact. There were no documentary crews in the area fortuitously to catch the event on tape and nor was the world's media in attendance. Images and footage of both the plane and the impact do however exist. As befits a building as well protected as the Pentagon it is monitored by a large number of security cameras, several of which undoubtedly captured both plane and impact. Curiously, with the exception only of five rather dubious and inconclusive CCTV frames (which I shall consider in some detail later), none of this footage has been released into the public domain.
So what evidence is available? It falls into four main categories. Firstly there is the interesting (and rarely considered) seismic evidence as provided by Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. There are the numerous eyewitness reports supplied by those individuals present at the scene. There is the evidence, photographic and otherwise, recording the damage and debris caused by the plane, the explosions and the subsequent fire. Finally there are those five frames of security camera footage, the closest we have to a record of the impact itself.
Much of this evidence is inconclusive and some of it is apparently contradictory. Because it is also incomplete it throws up a very intriguing paradox. Before attempting a review of the main evidence as it currently stands, I'd like to underline this basic paradox because it lies at the heart of all the enquiries into the Pentagon attack.
It is encapsulated clearly and succinctly by the following photograph. It shows the facade of the Pentagon after the attack but before a section of it collapsed. It was taken at time when the fire truck on the left had stopped spraying foam at the damage, thus giving us a reasonably clear view of the building's facade at the point of impact, which is indicated by the arrow. Reels of electrical cable (this section of the Pentagon was being renovated at the time) lie undamaged and largely undisturbed immediately in front of the impact point.
Clearly a Boeing passenger jet travelling at over 450 mph has not penetrated the building at this point. There is no scar or entry hole that could possibly support this scenario. Neither is there any wreckage to be seen in front of the building. Precious little wreckage was found inside the building either. The plane — or whatever it was that hit the Pentagon — seems to have vaporized prior to impact and vanished into thin air. Planes are not generally believed able to do this.
A moment before the impact, a suitably placed observer at the scene should have seen something like this, a to-scale simulation of a Boeing 757 about to strike the Pentagon:
How could a plane of this size travelling at 480 mph cause so little damage and vanish so completely? It's probably time to take a look at the evidence.
The Seismic Evidence
In the case of the other three incidents, the seismic studies produced by Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have proved to be a reliable and often quoted source of some hard 9-11 facts, not least of which has been the precise time of each event. Its findings in respect of the Pentagon attack are cited less frequently. The findings are available at: http://www.mgs.md.gov/esic/publications/download/911pentagon.pdf. Of the Pentagon attack the scientists conclude:
"There appears to be strong seismic signals around 09:38:52 at station MVL (Millersville, Pa; Δ = 139 km), but the signals are too high frequency (5-10 Hz) and too high amplitude (328 nm/s at 139 km). Hence, it appears to be noise perhaps due to electrical disturbances. Otherwise, there are no clear and consistent seismic wave arrivals in this time window".
Despite a major signal at 9.38 in the Washington area, this is not believed to be a genuine seismic reading. We might conclude therefore that the events at the Pentagon generated no seismic activity whatsoever. Yet a major impact or a big explosion would certainly be expected to register. Taken at face value, the seismic study informs us that there was no substantial impact and no big explosion. I am ill-qualified to question the author's judgement regarding the possible 'electrical disturbances', but cannot help wondering what may have given rise to these disturbances, if that is what they were.
The seismic data is potentially very valuable, but on this occasion I believe the Earth Observatory has let us down in one crucial respect. The problem concerns the time window alluded to in the final sentence of the above quote. For some reason the Earth Observatory decided to analyse only data that related to the period 09.36.30 to 09.39.30, a rather narrow window of three minutes. Although most authorities now agree that the Pentagon attack occurred within these times, this has not always been the case. In the first few months after the incident it was not uncommon to see the time given as 09.42 and some reports even quoted as late as 09.45. It is unfortunate and frustrating that the Observatory chose not extend its study to cover a wider time window that incorporated these times. A twenty minute window between 9.30 and 9.50 would have been satisfactory. That it did not do so means that we must take these findings with caution.
The Eyewitness Reports
Eyewitness reports are notoriously unreliable. On the one hand they can be intentionally misleading. Without wishing to cast aspersions on the honesty of any single witness that day, it is a point of fact that a large proportion of the witnesses to the Pentagon attack were, not surprisingly, military officials and other Pentagon personnel. More surprising perhaps is that so many employees of mainstream media organisations were also in the area that day. Eyewitness reports can also be unintentionally misleading. This is particularly the case when the event witnessed is sudden, short-lived and singular in nature, which is certainly the case with the Pentagon attack. In these circumstances many people have difficulty accurately processing in their own minds what they have seen and may unconsciously rearrange or embellish events to make their subsequent account sound more rational and plausible.
True to form, the eyewitnesses of the Pentagon crash offer an almost comical mishmash of contradictory accounts. Some for instance claim that the plane hit the ground and turned cartwheels before hitting the building, others that it made a clean strike. Some believe they could see passengers through the plane's windows while others are convinced the window blinds were down. Some say the plane impacted with a huge, ear-splitting explosion, others say they heard very little and could only feel the shockwaves.
The wide discrepancies between the different accounts mean we should resist the temptation to give preference to any one report over another. In the absence of other corroboratory evidence it is not possible to determine which eyewitness reports are the most reliable, even though some may sound more plausible than others. The eyewitness reports do nonetheless form a valuable source of evidence because there are so many of them. Over 150 eyewitness reports are in the public domain and this is enough for them to submit to basic statistical analysis. The more unanimously eyewitnesses agree on certain details, the more trust we can usually place in the reliability of those details.
One matter on which the eyewitness reports provide important guidance is the basic question of the size of the plane. Disregarding hearsay reports, I have found 157 eyewitness statements relating to the Pentagon attack. A near-exhaustive list is collated at http://perso.wanadoo.fr/ericbart/witness.html. Of these, 111 were made by witnesses who actually saw the aircraft and, of these, 49 give some indication of the size of the plane they saw. All but three describe it as being a large or medium sized passenger jet and many could make out the American Airlines livery. Of the three who said the plane was small, one, Steve Patterson, has not been heard of since and is not known at the address he gave, while another witnessed the incident from a tower block several miles away in Rosslyn, Virginia. A total of 43 people saw both the plane and the impact. All agree that the plane they saw was the one that hit the Pentagon. No-one says the plane flew over or past the Pentagon, and some witnesses, particularly those on the upper floors of high-rise buildings, had a panoramic view of the whole thing. Against unanimity like this and in the absence of compelling material evidence to the contrary, it is difficult to argue that anything other than a medium to large sized passenger jet flew into the Pentagon that day. I shall look at that material evidence in some detail later.
A number of smaller details recur with persuasive regularity in the eyewitness reports. One is that the plane hit lamp poles, trees and even a traffic sign as it approached the building, an observation that is confirmed by photographs of the material damage. Interestingly, many of those who saw these impacts noted also that afterwards the plane returned with uncanny precision to its original course, the engines gunning up perfectly to regain speed and the controls employed to correct roll, pitch and deviation. Five witnesses report seeing the plane emit a brief flash just before it struck and several more say that they heard two or more distinct explosions on impact. Ten saw a second plane circling round the scene during and after the attack and the Pentagon has subsequently stated that a military C-130 was in the vicinity.
Although I said earlier we should resist the temptation to favour one witness statement over and above another, there is nonetheless one witness whose testimony I believe deserves particular mention. Actually this witness wasn't an eyewitness at all because she did not see the incident directly. Nevertheless her account is of particular significance because her exposure to the incident was not as a shocked and surprised observer. It took place within the context of her everyday professional work. Danielle O'Brien was on duty that day as an air traffic controller at Dulles Airport and tracked the approaching Flight 77 on radar as it entered Washington airspace. Of the incoming plane she reported to ABC News:
"The speed, the maneuverability, the way that he turned, we all thought in the radar room, all of us experienced air traffic controllers, that that was a military plane....And it went six, five, four. And I had it in my mouth to say, three, and all of a sudden the plane turned away. In the room, it was almost a sense of relief. This must be a fighter. This must be one of our guys sent in, scrambled to patrol our capital, and to protect our president, and we sat back in our chairs and breathed for just a second".
So while the overwhelming majority of eyewitnesses were convinced they saw a regular Boeing passenger jet, professional air traffic controllers were convinced they were tracking a military plane. If this puzzling contradiction is to be resolved we must turn our minds to the other evidence.
Damage and Debris
|Debris on the Pentagon lawn|
Photographs of the Pentagon and the activity around it in the immediate aftermath of the attack paint a curiously tranquil scene. Three or four fire engines make light work of the initial blaze. Shirt-sleeved investigators go quietly and methodically about their business. The lawn appears pristine and verdant, spared for some reason the blazing skeleton of a Boeing 757, the huge trenches gouged out by its engines, or indeed anything else that might suggest that a hundred tons of passenger jet travelling at over 450 mph and a few feet above the ground had recently passed that way.
Yet although much has been made of the absence of aircraft wreckage resulting from the Pentagon attack, it is not true to say that there was none at all. There was for instance the much-discussed fragment of fuselage (shown right) that appears to bear the American Airlines logo. The origin of this piece of wreckage is unclear but it is difficult to believe that it had recently been ejected from the midst of a massive explosion and fireball. It has no burn or scorch marks whatsoever. It is too pristine and looks, frankly, as though it has been cut out with a can opener. Whether it ever formed part of the fuselage of the plane that hit the Pentagon is open to question. There was other wreckage however and some of it is visible in the same photograph. Several eyewitnesses speak of a shower of white confetti-like debris that rained down after the explosion and some of this can be clearly seen in background. The identity of this wreckage is uncertain, but there seems too much of it for it to have been surreptitiously introduced after the impact.
|Engine parts found in the Pentagon|
Photographs from within the Pentagon show occasional nondescript piles of rubble and there is even a picture of aircraft engine parts supposedly found inside the building (left). If this item of debris was deliberately planted then someone made an elementary mistake because the parts shown have little in common with those of the much larger Pratt and Whitney turbofan used on Boeing 757s. It probably would have been a good idea also to ensure that two engines were found and not just the one, but perhaps that's being pedantic. According to the White House of course, the incident at the Pentagon offered up far more evidence of the plane than this. It claims for instance that, unlike in the case of the other three planes, an intact black box recorder was found in the rubble and that this yielded nothing more interesting than 'basic flight data'. It claims too that body parts of each and every person on the passenger list were found and that DNA analysis was used to identify these body parts. On the other hand, to my knowledge neither of these highly significant 'finds' has been confirmed by the release of corroboratory evidence so we are required to take the White House's word for it. Why have the black box recorders not been released to the civilian authorities? Were those body parts returned to the next of kin for burial and if so why have there been no funerals for the alleged people onboard?
The material damage to the fabric of the Pentagon itself and its environs offers up far more substantial evidence of what really took place on September 11 in Washington. That damage however was so minimal that, if the official account of what happened is true, we must pay fulsome tribute to the architects and engineers responsible for the building's near-miraculous design and construction. It is remarkable that in New York two Boeing passenger jets were able to reduce to dust two of the largest and strongest buildings in the world, yet in Washington a similar plane in a comparable attack could inflict only a modest fire and minor structural collapse on a considerably smaller building. This point is tacitly conceded by the American Society of Civil Engineers whose Pentagon Building Performance Study concludes in its executive summary:
"The BPS team recommends that the features of the Pentagon's design that contributed to its resiliency in the crash — that is, continuity, redundancy, and energy-absorbing capacity — be incorporated in the future into the designs of buildings and other structures in which resistance to progressive collapse is deemed important".
Which is to say that the ASCE is as surprised as everyone else that the building sustained so little damage in the incident, in marked contrast to the catastrophic performance of the World Trade Center. The ASCE's full report on the damage to the Pentagon can be found at http://fire.nist.gov/bfrlpubs/build03/PDF/b03017.pdf.
|Undamaged offices immediately
adjacent to impact point
The Pentagon was hit on the side facing north east. Damage was confined to two sections (or wedges) of the building — Wedge 1, which took the brunt of the impact, and the adjoining Wedge 5. As already demonstrated, the photographic record shows that the initial damage to the Pentagon's facade was minimal. The plane appears to have entered the building through a ground floor doorway, yet the glass in windows immediately adjacent remained intact. About half an hour after the impact and with the fire well under control, a small section of the building, measuring around 24 metres across, collapsed. Photographs taken of the collapsed section show that offices on either side sustained astonishingly little interior damage, given their proximity to the impact and fireball. In this picture (right) note the pristine walls and the immaculate wooden stool and open book. How odd that several Pentagon employees who survived the blast in this section of the building speak of the incredible heat, so intense that it melted window panes.
Behind the outer ring of Wedge 1, the Pentagon suffered very distinctive damage. As the first of the photographs below shows, fire spread extensively along the outer ring of the wedge and along the entire length of the main dividing sections running crossways. The fire was clearly less extensive in the rings contained within this area. Aerial photographs showing the inner wall of C Ring however do reveal three interesting exit holes, as shown in the second of the photographs below and in closer detail in the two that follow. The exit hole I have labelled number 1 is widely documented and discussed. Some have suggested that it was caused by the plane's port engine propelling itself like a missile through the building, though it seems too large to have been caused by the engine that was found. Others have argued that it is far more reminiscent of an exit hole caused by a real missile. The other two exit holes have been less widely considered. They are probably blasted out doorways rather than exit holes as such but the significant damage and scorching suggest something hot and explosive happened here, a part of the building otherwise not greatly affected by fire.
|Pattern of fire damage||Three distinct exit holes in C Ring|
|The first exit hole||Two more exit holes|
The first two outer rings of the Pentagon (D and E) suffered internal structural damage with 57 supporting columns destroyed or very badly damaged. Despite the presence of the exit holes, the third ring (C) sustained only minimal column damage. The pattern of column damage is shown below, along with the position of the exit holes. The diagram also shows the pattern of damaged lamp poles that were struck by the plane as it approached the Pentagon.
|Damage to lamp poles and Pentagon columns reveals trajectory of plane|
Note that three damaged columns lie outside the expected range of a Boeing 757 travelling at this trajectory, as do two of the three exit holes in C Ring. Only the first hole seems to be in a location consistent with the known angle of impact, while hole 3 is particularly isolated.
Very few photographs are available that show the Pentagon in the first few minutes after the attack and before the arrival of the emergency services, but those that there are provide some very valuable evidence. The best are probably those taken by Steve Riskus — also a prominent eyewitness — who was driving past the Pentagon when the attack took place. He had a grandstand view of the impact and was able to take several high quality, high resolution digital photographs that are well worth downloading from http://www.criticalthrash.com/terror/crashthumbnails.html. I reproduce a detail from one of them here for particular comment.
|Detail of impact area prior to arrival of fire service|
The CCTV frames
Since their release on March 7th 2002 (a few days after the publication of Thierry Meyssan's l'Effroyable Imposture, the first book seriously to question the official version of events) the five frames of security camera footage purporting to show the Pentagon attack have aroused a great deal of controversy. Even the circumstances surrounding their arrival in the public domain is surrounded by mystery. It appears they were not officially released by the Pentagon at all but were 'leaked' by person or persons unknown. Rather than remaining tight-lipped on the subject and conducting an internal inquiry into this distressing lapse in security, the Pentagon instead cheerfully and immediately confirmed that the frames in question were genuine and left it at that. For the more cynical among us, this is already enough to set the alarm bells ringing. It sounds like a good way of circulating some strategic misinformation while at the same time side-stepping the issue of why the Pentagon did not release the video footage in its entirety. The frames are reproduced below.
Predictably perhaps there is a lot about these five frames that casts doubt upon their authenticity. There is for instance the small matter of the date and time shown in the bottom left hand corner, which is some 32 hours after the event took place. Perhaps we shouldn't be detained too long by this discrepancy. The date and time are clearly not part of the original video tape, any more than are the words 'plane' and 'impact' on the right hand side. These details have been added afterwards and the date and time most probably refer to when the frames were processed. Rather more serious however are the matters concerning light and shadow.
The second frame, labelled 'impact' and showing a white fireball erupting outside the Pentagon wall, is considerably paler than the other frames. This could be attributed to the flash of the explosion were it not for the fact that the effect is applied evenly to the whole picture, including the sky, the near sides of the objects in the foreground and even their shadows. This does not make optical sense. Also the objects in the foreground are not casting secondary shadows as a result of the flash. This too is improbable. It would appear then that the fireball depicted in the second image has either been totally fabricated or does not belong in this frame. It is likely that this frame is paler than the others because someone has increased the brightness level of the whole image.
So does this rather clear evidence of tampering mean that the frames are a total fabrication and should therefore be dismissed out of hand? This may well be the wisest option, but on the other hand the frames contain some details that are so incriminating that it is difficult to believe they were introduced to give support to the official account.
What are we to make for instance of that tantalizing glimpse of a plane (or at least the tail-fin of a plane, the rest of it conveniently obscured by the ticket dispenser in the foreground) in the first frame and its white exhaust plume? The plane is manifestly too small to be a Boeing 757 and not a single eyewitness reports that the incoming plane had a trailing white exhaust plume. If any piece of the available evidence lends credence to the theory that the plane that hit the Pentagon was small then this is it. The only suggestion in these frames that a 757 may have been involved comes in the final two frames, where we see large pieces of wreckage, possibly the airframe of a large plane, rearing up out of the fireball. Yet these objects are clearly too large to be part of the plane seen in frame one. When the five frames are linked together into an animation we get the distinct impression of a small plane whooshing into the Pentagon and leaving in its wake a long exhaust plume (left). Because the true time gaps between each of the frames are not known I have estimated the speed of the sequence. If the plane and its exhaust are genuine features and not faked then the animation helps us identify some potentially illuminating counter-evidence concerning a matter already seemingly well-established: the plane's trajectory.
The pattern of damage to lamp poles has demonstrated, rather convincingly, that the plane hit the Pentagon at an angle of 45-50°. This means that, in relation to the position of the security camera, the plane was angled somewhat towards the camera as it approached. The lingering exhaust plume seen in the later frames provides a useful measure of the trajectory of the craft in frame one. Using this as a guide it becomes clear that the plane is not approaching at anything like the angle suggested by the lamp pole evidence. Far from being angled toward the camera , the plane is angled slightly away from it and striking the Pentagon almost head on. This can be demonstrated by comparing the angle of the exhaust plume with that of the footpath that crosses the Pentagon lawn. The path is visible in the centre of the frames, beyond the car park and before the impact area. In the first of the images below I have annotated frame two to point out both the path and the exhaust plume. Note that the footpath and exhaust plume are almost exactly parallel. This means that the plane was approaching at an angle very similar to that of the path. The second photograph is an aerial shot of the Pentagon in which the path seen in the CCTV frames is visible. It is marked by the arrow. As can be seen, the footpath runs almost at right angles to the building; if anything it angles slightly away from the impact area.
|Footpath and exhaust plume at same angle||Aerial photograph showing footpath (arrowed)|
This is of course speculation predicated upon certain elements of the CCTV frames being an authentic record of what took place. It would be unwise to assume that this is the case. Nonetheless, faked or not, it is fascinating that the Pentagon should put into the public domain something that closer analysis can conclusively demonstrate is very much at odds with the official account. If the Pentagon were able to mess with fireballs and shadows I am led to wonder why it did not at least give us a plane that roughly matched that account.
I know it's too late now but I've done it for them. The image on the right is a rough version of what I would have come up with had the Pentagon sought my assistance. I've doctored the CCTV frames to introduce a to-scale Boeing 757 coming in at the correct angle. It took me about ten minutes in Macromedia Fireworks so I'm sure the Pentagon could have come up with something much better. If there's any truth in the official version of events then those frames should really look something like this. Of course, if there's any truth in the official version of events then the Pentagon would not have released a paltry five frames. It would have released the entire footage immediately so people the world over could be shocked and awed by it, just as we were by footage of the attack on the second tower in New York. More than that, the Pentagon would most probably have released for public consumption all the several pieces of video footage that it possesses of this incident. That it has not can mean only that there are details in the footage that we are most definitely not required to see.
Piecing It All Together
This trawl through the available evidence on the Pentagon incident has by necessity been selective in the evidence it has presented for particular attention. I have attempted to make my selection however on the basis of what seems the strongest and most compelling evidence, not what lends support to any particular theory or other. I began this investigation because, although the Pentagon attack has been exhaustively discussed, I have yet to come across an analysis that does not choose to disregard at least one important piece of evidence that is inconvenient to the conclusions drawn. This is not due to the analytical failings of those who think and write about this topic, but because the evidence is so sketchy, puzzling and contradictory. Evidence like this would tax the deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes and I am regrettably not going to be signing off with any major new insights. The available evidence does however allow us to draw one or two tentative conclusions.
Firstly we can conclude that a regular Boeing 757 passenger jet did not strike the Pentagon. It may have looked like a regular 757 but it wasn't one. We know this because it performed in every way like a military plane, from the high speed descending turn to the remarkable low altitude navigation. We also know this because a regular passenger jet would leave wreckage at the crash scene and this one did not. It disappeared instead. It's improbable too that a passenger jet could fly so fast and low and yet collide with lamp poles, trees and traffic signs without crashing.
It may not have been a regular passenger plane, but I think we can safely conclude it wasn't a small plane either, military or otherwise. There are three good reasons for letting this particular theory go. One is that the eyewitness reports almost unanimously agree that the plane looked like a medium- to large-sized passenger jet and those eyewitnesses are probably not all wrong. Another is that the damage to the lamp poles shows that the plane must have had a wingspan far in excess of anything that might be described as a small plane. The third reason is one of the same reasons for which we can discount the notion that it was a regular passenger jet: the plane left no wreckage to speak of. A small plane is no more able to disappear than a large one. If an F-16 (for instance) had struck the Pentagon then there would have been an F-16's wreckage on the lawn or in the building, but there wasn't. Nor could an F-16 fly through that doorway without disturbing the cable reels.
Having said that, the small plane theory is not without merit, not least because the CCTV frames, if they are to be accepted as evidence, clearly show a small plane, or at least the tail fin of a small plane. These frames also show however that the plane is not approaching the building at the trajectory we would expect. The CCTV frames may be giving us a fleeting glimpse not of a plane but of a missile. Other evidence suggests that one or more missiles hit the building in addition to something much larger. Those three interesting exit holes lined up along C Ring for instance are wholly consistent with missile strikes and indeed are otherwise very difficult to account for. The pattern of damage to the Pentagon, whereby structural damage occurred inside the building but the facade remained largely untouched, is also strongly suggestive of a missile attack. An aeroplane of any description cannot fly cleanly through a doorway but a missile can and, in some combat situations, often does. A missile attack, particularly an incendiary missile attack, might also explain why no seismic activity was recorded. But three exit holes suggests three missiles and and the following image uses the position of the exit holes and the other known damage to the building to superimpose over the Pentagon the putative trajectories of three separate missile attacks.
|Possible flight paths of three missiles hitting the Pentagon|
The problem with all this of course is that it is simply not supported by the eyewitness reports. None speaks of two objects striking the Pentagon, let alone three. Many of the best-placed witnesses to the event were sitting in their cars on the road directly in front of the building. Missiles would have had to cross this road only feet above the ground if they were to strike the known entry hole. Even if most of the witnesses were distracted by a much larger plane at the time it is difficult to believe that no-one noticed a low-flying cruise missile zipping past their windscreen. An explanation for this might be that the missiles were fired from the main plane, but unless this happened at the very last moment this too would have been seen by witnesses. Admittedly a number of eyewitnesses report seeing the plane emit a brief flash prior to impact but nonetheless the suggested trajectories and the CCTV frames do not seem consistent with this explanation, with the exception of missile number 1 in the picture above. It is conceivable then that one missile was fired by the main plane, causing that spectacular round exit hole.
The evidence concerning the main plane, the plane the eyewitnesses saw with the American Airlines livery and a wingspan wide enough to bring down all those lamp poles, is equally perplexing. Up until the moment it reached the building, the evidence strongly supports the plane's existence. From that point onwards the material evidence appears equally strongly to deny it. The plane seems to have literally disappeared at the moment of impact. Of course, the problem of disappearing aeroplanes is nothing new to the seasoned 9-11 investigator. Every plane involved in the attacks that day all but totally disappeared. Little in the way of wreckage was retrieved from any of the crash sites, including that of 'Flight 93' in Pennsylvania. But with 'Flight 77' there were no extenuating circumstances. It did not fly into a tower that collapsed catastrophically soon after, nor did it explode in mid-air before smashing into a remote hillside. It seemed to disappear right in front of people's eyes. One second it was there, the next it was gone.
How do you make a plane that looks like a passenger jet, flies like a fighter jet and disappears on demand? One way might be to house the engine and navigational systems of a fighter jet in a large airframe made from a material that is highly combustible. Such a material would have to be strong enough to bear the stresses and strains of high speed flying and manoeuvring and at the same time be very lightweight. Such materials are not unheard of and wood comes readily to mind. There may be synthetic materials that are stronger, lighter and more combustible still. An aeroplane built in this way with explosives fitted to set the thing off might just be capable of emulating the extraordinary event witnessed at the Pentagon. This is the only explanation I can offer for this particular conjuring trick that is even half-plausible.
Looking at the evidence as a whole I get the sense that, whatever happened at the Pentagon that day, things did not go entirely to plan. For a start, the attack was most probably late. I think it unlikely that Flight 77's apparent long trek west (complete with looped deviation) was wholly intended, nor the rather embarrassing half hour wait for its return. I believe the attack was probably meant to take place earlier than it did, so the Pentagon might at least have some excuse for its failure to defend itself, but that some last-minute technical hitch necessitated a delay. Perhaps this is why the plane that left Dulles made that strange deviation as it flew west; to expend some time without flying too far beyond its real target. I suspect also that the Pentagon was supposed to incur a lot more damage than turned out to be the case. An intact facade is most unlikely to be what was strictly intended, since it spoils what would have otherwise been a pretty convincing illusion. The section that collapsed half an hour later was probably intended to collapse at the time of impact. The internal damage was probably meant to be far more extensive. Perhaps one or more of the missiles, if there were any, turned out to be a dud and didn't wreak the devastation that was expected; perhaps supplementary explosives planted inside the building, if there were any, didn't go off.
Beyond these observations, tentative and unsatisfactory as they are, there is little more of any substance that I feel can be extracted from the evidence available. There is much that remains obscure and difficult to fathom. It is hard to explain how rooms a few feet from the impact point were untouched by the blast while rooms below them and the roof above were ravaged by fire. I cannot identify the type of weapons or devices used to cause the damage that occurred nor whether they were fired at the building or already in place inside it. From an operational point of view, I cannot grasp the advantage gained from having the plane perform like a fighter jet just prior to the attack or why it was thought best to strike the building at an oblique angle and not head on. We don't even know the precise time at which the attack took place.
The cause of the confusion and uncertainty is of course the quality of the evidence available to us. Too much of it lacks solidity. The eyewitness reports, the CCTV frames, the debris; all of them have a dubious, tainted feel. Even the normally reliable seismic evidence cannot be wholly trusted on this occasion. Yet without this evidence there is very little to go on at all. We have to start somewhere. But it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that what took place at the Pentagon was something quite different from anything that has been said or written about it thus far.
One thing that can be said with cast iron certainty is that the attack on the Pentagon, like the attacks on the World Trade Center, was a hugely sophisticated and lavishly resourced event. From the technology and the planning through to the subsequent propaganda onslaught, 9-11 was a class act. The attention to detail was first rate. Let's look at those planes. It appears that in each attack some tasty military hardware was dressed up like a passenger jet to create the impression of a hijacked civilian plane hitting a building, but leaving no trace of itself. Each attack however used very different technology. The first plane seems to have fired missiles at WTC1 then disappeared into the scar it created. The second plane carried an anomalous flame-throwing device on its underside that somehow helped create the huge spectacular fireball that followed. The Pentagon plane, though its true nature remains unknown, was clearly something else again. Three unique, purpose-built planes for three attacks. Each plane must have taken several years and many millions of dollars to design, prototype and test. I suspect we must look way back into the Clinton era for the origins of September 11 and maybe even earlier.
In trying to determine who is truly responsible for 9-11 it is probably a mistake to point the finger too vigorously in the direction of George W. Bush and his cohorts. Bush himself, even with each and every one of his ninety one IQ points firing in unison, is of course incapable of having played any meaningful role in 9-11's conception. Both he and those in his administration are mere puppets, acting out a script written and conceived by some higher power. But who is pulling the strings? Who has the power and the influence to control presidents, the media and the military, to procure black technology and use it to slaughter thousands of the tax payers who paid for it? I do not know, but the attack on the Pentagon, the headquarters of the most powerful military machine the world has ever seen, was perhaps the symbolic confirmation of a secret coup d'etat that in reality took place some time ago.
— Leonard Spencer