Kurt Sonnenfeld: A witness for the persecution
Kurt Sonnenfeld’s case is outstanding for at least two reasons. He is in possession of official documentation that contradicts the U.S. Government’s account of the 9/11 events. He is a high-profile U.S. citizen forced to seek refugee status because of his government’s dogged persecution. Any relation between these two facts is not purely coincidental. Voltaire Network’s second exclusive interview of Kurt Sonnenfeld, conducted in Buenos Aires, is presented below.
VOLTAIRE NETWORK | BUENOS AIRES (ARGENTINA)
Former high-ranking FEMA official, Kurt Sonnenfeld, arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, seven years ago with a return ticket in his pocket. All he wanted was a short break from the ineffable injustice and increasing harassment which had been mounted against him in the United States. He hoped his troubles would drift away by the time he returned.
He dropped into his suitcase the rough footage from his five-week Ground Zero assignment as official videographer, with unlimited access to the scene of the crime. Because of Sonnenfeld’s emotionally and physically lacerating ordeal, which began shortly after the 9/11 events, he never turned the tapes over.
For the U.S. Government, Kurt Sonnenfeld is a troublesome witness on the loose, whose documented evidence can expose its fraudulent account of the attacks. This places him in a unique, but extremely vulnerable, position.
Washington’s determination to do whatever it takes to retrieve Sonnenfeld’s material and to silence him has converted him into the refugee he never intended to become. Only from reading his book “El Perseguido” (Persecuted) is it possible to fully appreciate the hell that Kurt Sonnenfeld has been suffering at the hands of his Government since before leaving his country.
Voltaire Networkinterviewed Kurt Sonnenfeld for the first time in June 2009, when his book had just been published and after the decision of the Argentinian judicial authorities to twice deny the extradition requests presented by the U.S. under specious pretenses. Unfortunately, this chapter is far from closed.
Shortly before the ninth anniversary of 9/11, Voltaire Network paid Kurt Sonnenfeld a visit in Buenos Aires, where he still lives with his Argentinian wife Paula and two twin daughters Natasha and Scarlett, knowing that he will never return to the United States, if he can help it.
He replied to our questions, up-dating us on the recent developments that continue to put him and his family in harm’s way despite the round-the-clock police protection outside their door.
Voltaire Network: At the time of our first interview, you still felt like the title of your book, “Persecuted”. How would you characterize your situation today?
Kurt Sonnenfeld: In some ways it has improved because news of this injustice is spreading and our base of support is growing worldwide. In other ways, however, our situation has worsened because of the ongoing campaign of “dirty tricks” undertaken by US authorities.
Fraudulent documents have been introduced into the courts, usually in an illegal manner — or at best, outside of protocol. This happened again just recently when Interpol Washington made a secret and unconstitutional intervention. In addition, we’ve been followed, our mail has been opened, our website was hacked, and even our garbage has been stolen. A while ago a radio station here — notorious for its close ties to the US embassy — issued a completely false report that there was an order for my capture. Just a couple of weeks ago we received an e-mail from someone claiming to be an American living in Buenos Aires who wanted to meet with us. We checked the IP address and discovered that the server was located just outside of Langley and is registered to the Department of Defense!
It’s a difficult way to have to live. Our twin daughters are ready to begin kindergarten and we are extremely preoccupied about that.
VN: As you suggest, the latest extradition request from Interpol Washington is totally groundless and completely out of line. Could it be seen as an attempt to undermine Argentina’s sovereignty and override the previous court rulings in your favor?
KS: Absolutely! It wasn’t so much a request as it was an order to just go ahead and ignore the Argentine legal process and send me to the US. The Interpol agency has no place whatsoever in making such an order — their role is merely to act as a liaison. In fact, their own constitution prohibits them from intervening in any way in the judicial process of a sovereign nation.
What’s most disconcerting is that it was very insidiously introduced during a period of recess in the courts, obviously with the hope of catching some inexperienced stand-ins off guard and pressuring them to concede to their demand. Of course, that didn’t happen. They also introduced it outside of the proper channels, violating legal protocol, and marked it “confidential” — in a court process where transparency is the rule.
Incidentally, Interpol has a rather sinister background. [...] Very recently (July 2010), Interpol President Jackie Selebi was found guilty of corruption for accepting bribes from a drug trafficker.
VN: A campaign to collect signatures was launched on 25 August from Plaza de Mayo, in the heart of bustling Buenos Aires, which has been garnering widespread support. What is it about?
KS: Actually, there is a sizable campaign underway to collect petitions demanding that this injustice be stopped, spearheaded by Professor Luis D’Elia, who heads an umbrella group of many social and human rights movements. He’s conducted several “juntas de firmas” and so far several thousand signatures have been collected. The number is growing daily. This past week alone we picked up a few thousand more.
VN: Are you satisfied with the letter recently sent by the Argentinian authorities in response to Interpol’s abusive meddling?
KS: Yes. It was essentially a signal to them that they cannot intervene. And the court of course followed the correct protocol, which is important.
VN: It should be crystal clear by now that what Washington really wants is your Ground Zero footage which it fears may contain evidence countering it’s version of 9/11.
Not only does that single you out as the most credible witness in a position to testify against the United States, but also as one of the few, if not the only, U.S. citizens, who has formally applied for refugee status vis-à-vis the world’s most powerful nation. That’s quite a burden!
Not only does that single you out as the most credible witness in a position to testify against the United States, but also as one of the few, if not the only, U.S. citizens, who has formally applied for refugee status vis-à-vis the world’s most powerful nation. That’s quite a burden!
KS: It’s obvious to me by their actions that they’re equally as motivated by vengeance at this point. I am sure there are many people (entire nations even!) who wish to be protected from unjust persecution by the United States. I am not sure how many there are who could be actual citizens of the United States. But nationality should not be factored in to the decision to grant a person refugee status. If a person is being unjustly persecuted by any government, he or she should be granted permanent refugee status, regardless of which country he or she is from. The problem is that the entities involved in granting refugee status are closely tied to the United Nations, which is completely under the financial and political control of the United States.
VN: Have you ever envisaged the possibility that you could be used as a bargaining chip between the two countries?
KS: Knowing how America operates, of course I have. But my wife Paula, knowing full well Argentina’s commitment to the protection of Human Rights (the result of being subjected to a US-backed dictatorship a few decades ago), completely discounts that possibility and affirms that the current administration of President Cristina Kirchner would never use a human being as a “bargaining chip”. Rejecting my extradition is a testament to the Argentine government’s independence and commitment to human rights.
Aside from that, there are two different edicts written by the highest authorities of Argentina’s National Ministry of Human Rights establishing that the extradition cannot be conceded due to the “international responsibility that this would imply for the Nation of Argentina” and stipulating that my “migratory situation” must be regularized as well — as I have an Argentine wife and two Argentine daughters and we therefore comprise an Argentine family, deserving of protection.
All of that is in ADDITION to two strong rulings in my favor by the Argentine Federal Court and two by the Argentine Supreme Court. If you include in that number the initial decision by the Denver court to dismiss the case against me back in 2002, you have a total of FIVE impartial courts that have now looked at the true evidence and have subsequently ruled in my favor.
VN: Last year you said that you had decided to go public in order to protect your family. In hindsight, would you do it again?
VN: Sticking to the same logic, have you taken any steps to release your material?
KS: In fact, I have released photos, documents and videos to important investigators around the world — in the US, Argentina, Western Europe, Central Europe, etc. I’m in contact with many analysts, investigators and documentary producers, whose names, of course, I cannot reveal.
I’ve read a lot of commentaries asking why I don’t just upload everything on YouTube. But I have some moral issues with that. It’s not for entertainment and should not be treated superficially. Secondly, you have to remember that the first time I agreed to show some of my footage and talk about my experiences on television back in 2004, I was arrested just days before the show was to air and imprisoned for 7 months. Since then my life and the lives of those close to me have been consumed by this fight against injustice and the world’s only superpower. We are in the midst of an ongoing legal battle. It’s like walking on a razor’s edge. I’m not in a position to just throw it out and see what happens.
VN: Have you heard from any of your former FEMA colleagues who were with you at Ground Zero?
KS: Initially, many of my colleagues rallied in my support and we were in frequent contact — through telephone, e-mail and even face-to-face. But one by one, they’ve dropped away. In a way, I expected that. I do know that at least one of them was recently awarded a fat “anti-terrorism” contract with the FBI. Still, I have many supportive and loyal friends in the United States outside of government.
VN: As a U.S. Government employee, you were also detailed to a number of secret military and laboratory facilities where you filmed things which your government would certainly want you to keep quiet about. Is it part of the material that you are likely to release?
KS: Although many of my large format tapes were stolen during my first imprisonment, I still have some videos that were in a box of junk cassettes marked “recyle” that I kept under the stairs in my basement. They were not just from FEMA assignments. Some were from other contracts I had. Jobs I did for the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, etc. etc. For example, I still have footage of bunkers full of sarin VX and GB warheads, “tonne” containers full of neurotoxins and mustard gas, all of which were banned by the Chemical Weapons Ban Treaty. In addition I have footage of the disassembly of a nuclear weapon, nuclear transport vehicles, Department of Defense radars along the Bering Strait in Alaska, etc., etc. I’ve been to all of the national laboratories created in relation to the Manhattan Project, proving grounds, test sites and a lot of other very interesting places in addition to the World Trade Center.
VN: When it comes to Ground Zero, the majority of experts have focused exclusively on WTC1, WTC2 and WTC7. Yet, you also referred to a bizarre phenomenon relating to WTC6 which few appear to have paid attention to. What was so strange about it?
KS: Building Six struck me (and many others) as bizarre from my first days inside Ground Zero, and there are still no answers. Looking at aerial and satellite photos, you can see that there is a huge, nearly-empty crater from the roof all the way down to the ground floor. It looked like a gigantic crane had scooped out the insides. What happened to all the rubble that should have been inside that crater? I can’t explain it.
VN: In addition to Building 6, there were a wide range of anomalies within the Ground Zero perimeter and beyond, which few people have actually dwelled on, but which could have a strategic value for a future investigation. For example, the tons of unburned paper when everything else had turned to dust and the cars that literally melted as far as a half-mile away from the site of the actual attacks. Were you struck by any of these phenomena at the time?
KS: There were many things even to the casual observer that didn’t seem to make much sense. I’m not the one to make educated observations about many of the physical anomalies, though. I studied International Relations and Economics and not a lot of hard science.
VN: In Argentina, you have made several television appearances denouncing U.S. imperialism and its expanding military agenda. What is your assessment of the Obama administration?
Obediently following orders from above: the same very powerful people who profit by making machines that destroy and who then profit later by rebuilding the things that they destroyed! Haliburton recently was awarded a multi-billion dollar petroleum contract in Iraq. Blackwater (now Xe Services), the private “security company” which is actually a huge arms exporter, is raking in astronomical profits. Even Joe Allbaugh, Director of FEMA under Bush at the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center, is now doing lucrative business in Iraq. The war in Afghanistan continues, the occupation of Iraq continues. And more spoils are soon to be won! Drums of war are beating for Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Yemen, etc. etc. US military bases are being installed in every part of the world, and the CIA is now converted into a paramilitary organization which is conducting secret wars around the globe, generously funded by the unlimited and unaccountable “black budget” of the US Department of Defense.
What’s different? Guantanamo continues. The “Patriot Act” continues. “Selective assassinations” and “extraordinary renditions” continue. The withering away of civil and human rights continues. The war on terrorism is still being used as an excuse by the United States to militarize the globe and subvert the sovereignty and culture of other nations. The true motivation is hegemonic expansionism.
With Obama, everything is still going exactly according to plan. The “New American Century” is now.
VN: A campaign has been unleashed against the Argentinian government by some of the most powerful, privately-owned media which accuse it of interfering with the right of expression. Siding with the media, the U.S. Government expressed its concern over the situation. Would you comment on this?
KS: Of course the US Government is “concerned”. They’re protecting their own interests, which are the same as those of the oligarchs who are trying to control the media throughout the world.
Argentina’s legislation is similar to the law that existed in the United States before Ronald Reagan “de-regulated” the media and cleared the way for oligarchic media monopolies. And now we see the result of Reagan’s “de-regulation”. The US corporate media are now so outrageously “entrenched” in their role of adoring propagandists that you can almost hear the music of John Philip Sousa emanating from the newsroom. As Goebbels said, “He who controls the medium controls the message. And he who controls the message controls the masses.”
FROM INTERVIEW I
Voltaire Network: You have suggested that you observed things at Ground Zero that did not tally with the official account. Did you do or say anything to arouse suspicion in this respect?
Kurt Sonnenfeld: In that same telephone call I said that I would “go public”, not only with my suspicions about the events surrounding September 11, 2001, but about several contracts I had worked on in the past.
- Sonnenfeld at Ground Zero, investigating a “void” beneath fallen steel beams.
Voltaire Network: What are your suspicions based on?
Kurt Sonnenfeld: There were many things, in hindsight, that were disturbing at Ground Zero. It was odd to me that I was dispatched to go to New York even before the second plane hit the South Tower, while the media was still reporting only that a “small plane” had collided with the North Tower — far too small of a catastrophe at that point to involve FEMA. The Agency was mobilized within minutes, whereas it took ten days for it to deploy to New Orleans to respond to Hurricane Katrina, even with abundant advance warning! It was odd to me that all cameras were so fiercely prohibited within the secured perimeter of Ground Zero, that the entire area was declared a crime scene and yet the “evidence” within that crime scene was so rapidly removed and destroyed. And then it was very odd to me when I learned that FEMA and several other federal agencies had already moved into position at their command center at Pier 92 on September 10th, one day before the attacks!
- Rubber landing-gear tyres visible in evidence container marked “FBI Plane Parts Only.”
We are asked to believe that all four of the “indestructible” black boxes of the two jets that struck the twin towers were never found because they were completely vaporized, yet I have footage of the rubber wheels of the landing gear nearly undamaged, as well as the seats, parts of the fuselage and a jet turbine that were absolutely not vaporized. This being said, I do find it rather odd that such objects could have survived fairly intact the type of destruction that turned most of the Twin Towers into thin dust. And I definitely harbor some doubts about the authenticity of the “jet” turbine, far too small to have come from one of the Boeings!
- “Boeing” jet turbine at Fresh Kills island landfill.
What happened with Building 7 is incredibly suspicious. I have video that shows how curiously small the rubble pile was, and how the buildings to either side were untouched by Building Seven when it collapsed. It had not been hit by an airplane; it had suffered only minor injuries when the Twin Towers collapsed, and there were only small fires on a couple of floors. There’s no way that building could have imploded the way it did without controlled demolition. Yet the collapse of Building 7 was hardly mentioned by the mainstream media and suspiciously ignored by the 911 Commission.
Voltaire Network: Reportedly, the underground levels of WTC7 contained sensitive and undoubtedly compromising archival material. Did you come across any of it?
Kurt Sonnenfeld: The Secret Service, the Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Office of Emergency Management’s “Crisis Center” occupied huge amounts of space there, spanning several floors of the building. Other federal agencies had offices there as well. After September 11, it was discovered that concealed within Building Seven was the largest clandestine domestic station of the Central Intelligence Agency outside of Washington DC, a base of operations from which to spy on diplomats of the United Nations and to conduct counterterrorism and counterintelligence missions.
There was no underground parking level at Seven World Trade Center. And there was no underground vault. Instead, the federal agencies at Building Seven stored their vehicles, documents and evidence in the building of their associates across the street. Beneath the plaza level of US Customs House (Building 6) was a large underground garage, separated off from the rest of the complex’s underground area and guarded under tight security. This was where the various government services parked their bomb-proofed cars and armored limousines, counterfeit taxi cabs and telephone company trucks used for undercover surveillance and covert operations, specialized vans and other vehicles. Also within that secured parking area was access to the sub-level vault of Building 6.*BELOW
When the North Tower fell, the US Customs House (Building 6) was crushed and totally incinerated. Much of the underground levels beneath it were also destroyed. But there were voids. And it was into one of those voids, recently uncovered, that I descended with a special Task Force to investigate. It was there we found the security antechamber to the vault, badly damaged. At the far end of the security office was the wide steel door to the vault, a combination code keypad in the cinderblock wall beside it. But the wall was cracked and partially crumbled, and the door was sprung partially open. So we checked inside with our flashlights. Except for several rows of empty shelves, there was nothing in the vault but dust and debris. It had been emptied. Why was it empty? And when could it have been emptied?
Voltaire Network: Is this what set alarm bells ringing for you?
Kurt Sonnenfeld: Yes, but not immediately. With so much chaos, it was difficult to think. It was only after digesting everything that the “alarm bells” went off.
Building Six was evacuated within twelve minutes after the first airplane struck the North Tower. The streets were immediately clogged with fire trucks, police cars and blocked traffic, and the vault was large enough, 15 meters by 15 meters by my estimate, to necessitate at least a big truck to carry out its contents. And after the towers fell and destroyed most of the parking level, a mission to recover the contents of the vault would have been impossible. The vault had to have been emptied before the attack.
I’ve described all of this extensively in my book, and it’s apparent that things of importance were taken out of harm’s way before the attacks. For example, the CIA didn’t seem too concerned about their losses. After the existence of their clandestine office in Building Seven was discovered, an agency spokesman told the newspapers that a special team had been dispatched to scour the rubble in search of secret documents and intelligence reports, though there were millions, if not billions of pages floating in the streets. Nevertheless, the spokesman was confident. “There shouldn’t be too much paper around,” he said.
And Customs at first claimed that everything was destroyed. That the heat was so intense that everything in the evidence safe had been baked to ash. But some months later, they announced that they had broken up a huge Colombian narco-trafficking and money-laundering ring after miraculously recovering crucial evidence from the safe, including surveillance photos and heat-sensitive cassette tapes of monitored calls. And when they moved in to their new building at 1 Penn Plaza in Manhattan, they proudly hung on the lobby wall their Commissioner’s Citation Plaque and their big round US Customs Service ensign, also miraculously recovered, in pristine condition, from their crushed and cremated former office building at the World Trade Center.
Voltaire Network: You weren’t alone on the Ground Zero assignment. Did the others notice the same anomalies? Do you know whether they have also been harassed?
Kurt Sonnenfeld: Actually there were a few people on two different excursions that I know about. Some of us even discussed it afterwards. They know who they are and I hope that they will come forward, but I’m sure they have strong apprehensions as to what will happen to them if they do. I will leave it to them to decide, but there is strength in numbers.
Voltaire Network: With the publication of your book, you have become a "whistleblower" – yet another step on which there is no going back! There must be many people with inside knowledge about what really happened or did not happen on that fateful day. Yet, hardly any have stepped up to the plate and certainly no one who was directly involved in an official capacity. This is what makes your case so compelling. Judging from your ordeal, it is not difficult to imagine what is holding such people back.
Kurt Sonnenfeld: Actually, there are several other very smart and credible people blowing whistles, too. And they are being discredited and ignored. Some are being harassed and persecuted, as I am.
People are gripped by fear. Everybody knows that if you question US authority you will have problems in some way or another. At minimum you will be discredited and dehumanized. Most likely you’ll find yourself indicted for something completely unrelated, like tax evasion — or something even worse, as in my case. Look at what happened to Secret Service whistle-blower Abraham Bolden, for example, or to chess master Bobby Fischer after he showed his disdain for the US. There are countless other examples. In the past I asked friends and associates to speak out for me to counter all the lies being planted in the media, and all of them were terrified as to the ramifications to themselves and their families.
Voltaire Network: To what degree would your discoveries at Ground Zero expose the government’s involvement in those events? Are you familiar with the investigations that have been carried out by numerous scientists and qualified professionals which not only corroborate your own findings but, in some instances, far exceed them? Do you regard such people as "conspiracy nuts"?
Kurt Sonnenfeld: At the highest levels in Washington, DC, someone knew what was going to happen. They wanted a war so badly that they at least let it happen and most likely even helped it happen.
Sometimes it seems to me that the “nuts” are those who hold to what they’ve been told with an almost religious fervor despite all of the evidence to the contrary — the ones who won’t even consider that there was a conspiracy. There are so many anomalies to the “official” investigation that you can’t blame it on oversight or incompetence. I am familiar with the scientists and qualified professionals to whom you refer, and their findings are convincing, credible, and presented according to scientific protocol — in stark contrast to the findings of the “official” investigation. In addition, numerous intelligence agents and government officials have now come forward with their very informed opinions that the 9/11 Commission was a farce at best or a cover-up at worst. My experience at Ground Zero is but one more piece of the puzzle.
Voltaire Network: Those events are nearly 8 years behind us. Do you consider that uncovering the truth about 9/11 continues to be an important objective?
Kurt Sonnenfeld: It is of absolute importance. And it will be equally as important in 10 years, or even 50 years if the truth still has not been exposed. It is an important objective because, at this point in history, many people are too credulous to whatever “authority” tells them and too willing to follow. People in a state of shock seek guidance. People who are afraid are manipulable. And being able to manipulate the masses results in unimaginable benefits to a lot of very rich and very powerful people. War is incredibly expensive, but the money has to go somewhere. War is very profitable for the very few. And somehow their sons always end up in Washington DC, making the decisions and writing the budgets, while the sons of the poor and the poorly-connected always end up on the enemy lines, taking their orders and fighting their battles. The enormous black-budget of the US Department of Defense represents an unlimited money machine for the military-industrial complex, figuring in the multi-trillions of dollars, and it will continue to be so until the masses wake up, recuperate their skepticism and demand accountability. Wars (and false pretexts for war) will not cease until the people realize the true motive of war and stop believing “official” explanations.
Voltaire Network: What is referred to as the 9/11 Truth Movement, has been asking for a new, independent investigation into those events. Do you think that the Obama Administration holds out any hope in this respect?
Kurt Sonnenfeld: I really hope so, but I’m skeptical. Why would the leadership of any established government willingly undertake any action that would result in a serious compromise to their authority? They will prefer to maintain the status quo and leave the things the way they are. The conductor of the train has been changed, but has the train changed its course? I doubt it. The push has to come from the public, not only domestically, but internationally, like your group is doing.
Voltaire Network: A number of human rights and activist groups are supporting your plight, not least Peace Nobel Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel. How have the Argentinean people in general responded to your situation?
Kurt Sonnenfeld: With an incredible outpouring of support. The military dictatorship is still fresh in the collective memory of most of the people here, along with the knowledge that the dictatorship (along with the other South American dictatorships at the time) was backed by the CIA, directed at the time by George Bush Senior. They remember well the torture centers, the secret prisons, the thousands of people “disappeared” for their opinions, the living in daily fear. They know that the United States today will do the same thing if they consider it beneficial, that they will invade a country to achieve their political and economic interests and then manipulate the media with fabricated “causus belli” to justify their conquests.
My family and I are honored to have Adolfo Pérez Esquiveland his advisors at Servicio de Paz y Justicia(SERPAJ) among our dearest friends. We have worked together on many causes, including the rights of refugees, the rights of women, for children without families and children with HIV/AIDS. We are also honored to have the support of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo; Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Línea Fundadora; Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS); Asamblea Permanente de Derechos Humanos (APDH); Familiares de Detenidos y Desaparecidos por Razones Políticas; Asociación de Mujeres, Migrantes y Refugiados Argentina (AMUMRA);Comisión de Derechos Humanos de la Honorable Cámara de Diputados de la Provincia de Buenos Aires; Secretaría de Derechos Humanos de la Nación; and the Programa Nacional Anti-Impunidad. On an international level,Amicus Curiae have been presented in our favor byREPRIEVE of Great Britain, along with the collaboration ofNIZKOR of Spain and Belgium. In addition, my wife, Paula, and I have been received in the Congress by La Comisión de Derechos Humanos y Garantías de la Honorable Cámara de Diputados de La Nación.
Voltaire Network: As we said, deciding to write this book and to go public was a huge step. What pushed you to do it?
Kurt Sonnenfeld: To save my family. And to let the world know that things are not what they seem.
Voltaire Network: Last but not least: what will you do with your tapes?
Kurt Sonnenfeld: I am convinced that my tapes reveal many more anomalies than I am capable of recognizing given my limited qualifications. I will therefore cooperate in any way that I can with serious and reliable experts in a common endeavour to expose the truth.
Voltaire Network: Thank you very much !
Unknown to most people at the time, $650 million in gold and silver was being kept in a special vault four floors beneath Four World Trade Center. 2
An article in the TimesOnline gives the following rundown of precious metals that were being stored in the WTC vault belonging to Comex. 3
- Comex metals trading - 3,800 gold bars weighing 12 tonnes and worth more than $100 million
- Comex clients - 800,000 ounces of gold with a value of about $220 million
- Comex clients - 102 million ounces of silver, worth $430 million
- Bank of Nova Scotia - $200 million of gold
The Times Online article is not clear as to whether the $200 million in gold reported by the Bank of Nova Scotia was part of the $220 million in gold held by Comex for clients. If so, the total is $750 million; otherwise $950 million.
There appear to be no reports of precious metals discovered between November of 2001 and the completion of excavation several months later. Assuming that the above reports described the value of precious metals in the vaulst before the attack, and that the $230 million mentioned by Giuliani represented the approxmiate value of metals recovered, it would seem that at least the better part of a billion dollars worth of precious metals went missing. (It is not plausible, of course, that whatever destroyed the towers vaporized gold and silver, which are dense, inert metals that are extremely unlikely to participate in chemical reactions with other materials.)
An article in The Sierra Times suggests that gold was recovered from two trucks in a tunnel under 5 World Trade Center, giving rise to suspicions that the trucks were being used to remove the gold from the vaults before the South Tower fell. 4 However, this report may have been based on an erroneous reading of other reports that describe the removal of crushed vehicles from a tunnel under 5 WTC in order to gain access to the vaults under 4 WTC to remove their contents. 5
Why is there this huge discrepancy between the value of gold and silver reported recovered, and the value reported to have been stored in the vaults? There are a number of possible explanations, from outright theft using the attack as cover, to insurance fraud. Until there is a genuine investigation that probes all the relevant facts and circumstances surrounding the attack, we can only speculate.
2. Thanksgiving at Ground Zero, National Real Estate Investor, [cached]
3. Crushed towers give up cache of gold ingots, TimesOnline, 11/1/02 [cached]
4. Cache of Gold Found at WTC Two truckloads retrieved through a tunnel in rubble2, [cached]
5. , Reuters and New York Daily News, [cached]
A NATION CHALLENGED: THE VAULT
A NATION CHALLENGED: THE VAULT; Below Ground Zero, Silver and Gold
About two weeks ago, a security team spotted scorch marks on a basement doorway below 4 World Trade Center, on the east side of the ruined complex, according to officials.
Even in a place of mass devastation and death, those scorch marks got fast attention. They had not been noticed by a patrol team a few hours earlier, and behind the damaged -- but intact -- door were nearly a thousand tons of gold and silver. To security officials, it looked as if someone had tried to break in.
Within hours, a video surveillance system was installed to keep at least an electronic eye on the precious metals until their custodian, the Bank of Nova Scotia, had a chance to remove them. That work began this week.
A team of 30 firefighters and police officers are helping to move the metals, a task that can be measured practically down to the flake but that has been rounded off at 379,036 ounces of gold and 29,942,619 ounces of silver.
As layers of debris are peeled away, recovery workers are opening gangways to intact portions of a 16-acre basement that was largely unseen but was a place of spectacular scope in its own right. Just the basement area of the World Trade Center enclosed twice as much space as the entire Empire State Building.
Nearly a quarter of a mile below the spectacular vistas from the towers was their upside-down attic dropping 70 feet below the ground, a strange world with enough room for fortunes in gold and silver, for Godiva chocolates, assault weapons, old furniture, bricks of cocaine, phony taxicabs and Central Intelligence Agency files. With so many people still lost, the owners of this stuff have maintained a discreet silence during the recovery operations. But that doesn't mean they're not interested.
Beneath the Customs House -- 6 World Trade Center -- was an armada of government vehicles, including dozens owned by the Secret Service, in a fenced-off area. Within that area was a garage where a single armored limousine was parked under the tightest security.
The limousine was so long that it needed straight-line access to the street, because it could not clear tight corners in the basement.
That car had been used to carry heads of state visiting the city, said Tony Ball, a spokesman for the Secret Service. (The president's limousines are stored in Washington and flown everywhere he visits.)
In the 1993 trade center bombing, an armored Secret Service limousine was parked about 100 feet from a truck bomb. Although the bomb crashed through five stories of concrete and the concussion destroyed cars all over that floor, the Secret Service limousine ''did not even have a broken windshield,'' according to a government official on the scene that day. The condition of the limousine after September's attack was not known yesterday. ''We haven't gotten anything back yet,'' Mr. Ball said.
Asked about reports that his agency also kept what looked like ordinary taxis and telephone company trucks in the basement, Mr. Ball laughed. ''What I would say is that it is not unusual for law enforcement agencies to have these kinds of things,'' he said.
Besides the Secret Service, the building named for the United States Customs Service also housed an office of the C.I.A.
That building is now partly collapsed, with a rubble pit 30 feet deep. Somewhere in there are drugs, weapons and contraband seized by the Customs Service at the region's airports. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also lost two evidence vaults, according to a spokesman for that agency, Joseph Green. They have not yet been recovered.
''There could be several hundred weapons -- somewhere between 200 and 400, ranging from small-caliber semiautomatic pistols to assault rifles,'' Mr. Green said, adding that a few of the guns had been found. Agents plan to be on the scene when the remains of the building are demolished sometime in the next two weeks, he said.
''After that, we'll be working at the landfill to search for any important items that are still missing.''
For people who have seen the surface destruction, either in pictures or in person, it may be hard to imagine that anything is intact below ground. But engineers and recovery officials say that large parts of the underground perimeter are undamaged, even though the buildings above them are partly collapsed.
One area is below 4 World Trade Center, where more than two decades ago, Swiss Bank built a huge vault and storage area. The vault was reached from the Swiss Bank offices by a private elevator.
To reach the vaults, armored trucks would drive through what had once been the tunnels for the Hudson and Manhattan railroad, the predecessor of the PATH system. These tunnels had run as far east as Church Street, but were not needed when the trade center was built and the PATH terminal was set closer to the river.
The western stubs of the original tunnels, ringed with cast iron, were converted into roadways. These roads ran directly to a roll-down door in front of the Swiss Bank vault area. Inside was a loading dock.
By the time of the 1993 bombing, Swiss Bank no longer was using the vault, and shortly afterward, the bank relocated its remaining operations.
The next tenant of the vault space was the Bank of Nova Scotia, which estimated the value of the metals at $200 million.
''We are in the process of relocating the contents of our vault at World Trade Center building No. 4 to another secure location, because authorities need to demolish the building,'' Pam Agnew, a spokeswoman for the bank, said yesterday by phone from Toronto.
Some of the metal is owned by the bank, and some by its customers, she said. She declined to say where the metals were being taken.
''The contents remain safe and intact,'' Ms. Agnew said. ''The contents are fully insured. We're working very closely with local authorities to ensure a safe and secure relocation effort.
''The removal of the contents was not a priority for us because we've always known it was safe and secure,'' Ms. Agnew said.
Asked about what appeared to be an attempted break-in two weeks ago, Ms. Agnew said that she was unaware of it. Later, she called to reiterate that the metals were safe: ''It would be factually incorrect to say there had been any attempt to steal the contents of our vault.''
However, a government official involved in the recovery efforts said that there had clearly been an attempt within the last two weeks to enter the vault area. ''It looked like they used a blowtorch, a crowbar,'' said the official, who spoke on the condition that neither his name nor his position be identified. ''The Port Authority police began periodic patrols, and then a closed-circuit television system was put in.''
The bank also engaged Kroll Inc., a security business based in New York, to supervise the relocation of the gold and silver, a process that began this week, The Daily News reported yesterday.
Michael Cherkasky, the president of Kroll, declined to comment on his company's involvement.
Anyone trying to make off with the gold would not be able to run very fast: each ingot weighs 70 pounds.
Photo: Two Brinks trucks were at ground zero yesterday to start hauling away the $200 million in gold and silver that the Bank of Nova Scotia had stored in a vault under the trade center. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)(pg. B11)