A Thought Experiment

Over the last day or so, The Australian Skeptics Facebook Group has played unwilling host to a group of 11/9* Troofers, desperate, yet hilariously unable, to convince the skeptics of their hypothesis that the World Trade Center attacks were in fact a deliberate demolition job orchestrated as a false-flag operation.


I normally steer clear of this nonsense, but since the troofers have been such obnoxious arseclowns, I feel I have to beat them up a little in a blog post, even if it is in a cursory manner.

Their hypothesis, in a nutshell, is that the buildings were deliberately demolished using nano-thermite charges on the core columns, presumably by skilled demolition experts in the employ of the US government. Or, knowing the kind of cranks we're talking about, the shadow government - by which of course we don't mean Tony Abbott's Federal Opposition.

On the other hand, the skeptics, in a nutshell, are relatively content to believe the official story that nineteen hijackers boarded four commercial flights, hijacked them, and crashed them, three hitting their (presumably) intended targets. The buildings then fell from a combination of direct structural damage and uncontrolled burning.

Sure, there are details that may never be known. The buildings, after all, were relatively unique and now non-existent. Many of the people who could have supplied detail are dead. The hijackers themselves are likewise dead. The financiers and chain of command are either dead or in hiding.  There are many avenues of enquiry closed off. However, that doesn't mean we lack the evidence required to guide us to the essentials of the issue - that nineteen hijackers crashed planes into three buildings and a field, resulting directly in the collapse of two of those buildings and indirectly in the collapse of another.

The troofers are stunningly incapable of evaluating probabilities and possibilities, so as an illustration, let's do a little thought experiment.

We'll concentrate on access to the point of action.

  • In the official story, the key physical location is a point just outside the flight-deck door on a commercial flight. Once access is gained to the flight-deck, the rest is cake. You need to be within  three metres of the door with a member of cabin staff close enough that you can call them over. Doing this on four flights would be good, but even one would be considered a limited success.
  • In the "unofficial" story, the key physical location is the core steel columns on sufficient floors of three steel-cored high-rise buildings, the tallest two of which are 110 stories high. You need to be at the columns on, say, alternate floors, with sufficient time to attach thermite charges and run the cabling required to trigger them. But let's be charitable and say you just have to reach them and sign your name in spray paint, once on each column, on alternating floors. Then get out, undetected. If you're detected, the whole game is up.

We'll give 20 hypothetical skeptics a budget of $10,000. We'll give 20 hypothetical troofers the same.

The aim is to get access to their targets.

Who's going to get there first?

And there's one of the things. Commercial airliners are essentially public access, whereas the structural areas of large office buildings aren't. You can buy a ticket on a commercial flight for a few hundred dollars, and join a few hundred other people in filing onto the plane, at which point the 'target' is a matter of a few metres away. You can get up, walk over to a member of cabin staff, take them aside as if to ask a question and you've completed the test. It's a low-cost, low-technology, low-complexity vector of attack, and in pre-11/9 aviation, it was simplicity itself to get there. These days it's a bit more inconvenient, and it's harder to smuggle a dual-use weapon into the cabin, but it remains a relatively simple operation.

Whereas getting access to the structural columns of a building? Well. try it. Pick an office building and look at the access control measures. These are NOT public places. You have locked doors to get past. You have access control technology such as swipe card entry, as well as conventional locks on maintenance zones. You have mantraps which are designed to funnel intruders into fire stairs and lobbies rather than operational areas. You have thousands of people working nearby, any of whom may ask inconvenient questions. If you work in one of these buildings, try getting in without your usual ID card. Then try getting to the core columns.

You also have security guards and cameras. In the US particularly, you have armed response measures which means you may be shot if you're trespassing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sure, airports have security guards and cameras too, but you're bypassing them using the simple fact that you're meant to be there. You're catching a flight.

Seriously, try getting into an office building and gaining access to the maintenance ducts and the liftwell. You need a high-complexity and possibly high-technology solution. The risk of failure is high. To overcome these restrictions, you need a complex plan of attack, by highly skilled operatives. Remember, you have more than five hundred columns** to which you need access, and you'll be doing it while the buildings are occupied - not necessarily during the daytime, but you can't cause too much disruption or the tenants will kick up a fuss. And you need to do this in a short time-window, so the sabotage won't be discovered.

So let's double the budget. Easier? Not really. Let's double it again. Let's keep doubling it. Does it get any easier as the budget rises? Not really. And the more money you spend, the more of a trail you leave. A higher budget will become a liability here. Large sums of money are easy to trace, especially in the US where there is mandatory reporting for large transactions. Bribing guards to turn a blind eye, or buying your way into a maintenance contract are both possible, but easily spotted, methods with a high risk of failure.

Let's add more people. Does that help? Well it might, but the more people you add, the less likely it is that you're going to keep it secret - and secrecy, remember, is key. You're also going to have skill shortages, given that we're talking about demolition experts here. 

There are plenty of scenarioes you can try in your mind. Trying to figure them out is, of course, an exercise to the reader. The point though is this: how likely is it, really, that the troofers' absurd spy-novel scenario is remotely true? The chances of pulling it off are astronomical and while each step in the chain may be possible it's also a long way from plausible. Whereas getting within spitting distance of the cockpit on a commercial flight is easy. Or was, pre-2001

To be a skeptic is not to automatically question every conventional explanation for a given phenomenon. To be a skeptic is to know how to evaluate evidence and probability, to see flaws in reasoning and to guard against cognitive biases that lead to comfortable - but wrong - answers.

In this case, the real answer is that a low-tech but audacious plan succeeded, where a high-tech, high-complexity solution would be incredibly difficult to mount and with near-certain risk of failure. To think otherwise is to mark yourself as a credulous and desperate idiot willing to waste brainpower on absurdly far-fetched nonsense in the pursuit of... what exactly? Why would you want to believe something so far-fetched? What is so important that you could bend the rules of logic so close to breaking point?

Sigh. Again.

So anyway, now we've settled the access question, we can move on to "which is easier to obtain, flight training or demolitions training?". Then "which is easier to obtain, nano-thermite or box-cutters?"

Occam's razor should already be furnishing answers to these questions, if you've any experience wielding it.

I won't run these scenarios though, because it gets tedious and troofers are boring, but at least I've got this post out there. Now, let's see how long it takes until I have to close comments on this post because of gabbling troofer clowns, shall we?


* we're in Australia. 11/9 it is.
** a generously low estimate based on an assumption that four columns per floor on alternating floors of three buildings is sufficient. Perhaps you'd need more. Perhaps you'd need less.

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