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.

posted @ Wednesday, January 11, 2012 12:55 PM


Comments on this entry:

# re: A Thought Experiment

Left by anaglyph at 1/11/2012 2:04 PM
I stayed right out of that whole debacle - as soon as Manny's 'friends' started arriving it was like a party that had been crashed by Creationists.

Strikes me that you don't even need to go into all the details of whether or not there was enough heat to melt various metals and other such technical things. The biggest problem they have with their 'Evil Government' scenario is the one thing they keep pointing to as 'evidence' of complicity: if the heinous Big Bad is callous enough not to worry about killing nearly 3,000 people, why the hell would they bother risking being exposed by any evidence of 'controlled' demolition? Why would it matter that the buildings fell tidily within their own footprint? Why would the moustachio-twirling evil guys care that their handiwork was neat, for Pete's sake? Given their supposed Machiavellian agenda by the Troofers, it's hardly likely that they 'thought it would be the responsible thing to do' to contain the damage to the WTC. It's not like the mooted dastardly bad guys were worried who got hurt or how much it cost, if the Troofers are to be believed.

Aside from that, demolishing the buildings is a pointless hassle. If it was all about fanning flames in the Middle East to create some kind of bogus motive to start a war, surely a couple of planes ploughing into the buildings is reason enough? Razing the thing damn things to the ground seems like overkill of the most egregious kind...

# re: A Thought Experiment

Left by anaglyph at 1/11/2012 2:10 PM
Oh, also (just to be contrarian), getting access to the flight deck on an aircraft might be a simple operation, but flying planes dead smack into specific buildings does require a little bit of skill & planning :)

# re: A Thought Experiment

Left by Jason at 1/11/2012 2:15 PM
Quite true. The flight portion is tricky. But then so is demolishing a building in its own footprint. Hence held over to a later question:

""which is easier to obtain, flight training or demolitions training?"."

# re: A Thought Experiment

Left by anaglyph at 1/11/2012 3:30 PM
Demolitions training is probably not that tricky to get, but highly precise demolitions training of the kind required in the WTC conspiracy scenario is a very specialized field. The thing is, if you propose a 'Special Secret Ops' kinda premise (as they do) then nuthin' is that hard to obtain. Because, y'know, the Bad Guys even have antigravity and alien corpses, right?

And believe me, I am certainly not a conspiracy nut or anything, but I do think that the kind of seat-of-the-pants flying with the kind of amazing accuracy exhibited by the attackers is impressive. I don't know a great deal about piloting a plane, but it doesn't strike me as something that is all that easy on a first attempt. So 3 direct hits out of 4 on a first strike is eerie, I think. Not impossible, because it happened, but eerie.

# re: A Thought Experiment

Left by Jason at 1/11/2012 3:44 PM
An old copy of Microsoft Flight simulator will give you an option to test out the flight skill required ;-)

Let's imagine for a moment, though, that the government were behind it. Why wouldn't they go for the cheap option of recruiting nineteen religiously-blinded, ideological young lunatics through covert channels? It's a shitload cheaper, and a shitload simpler, and a shitload less likely to be detected than the Jason Bourne scenario the troofers seem to be hanging onto at the moment.

Too many action films, I reckon.

# re: A Thought Experiment

Left by DrRachie at 1/11/2012 4:14 PM

# re: A Thought Experiment

Left by anaglyph at 1/11/2012 4:59 PM
I got a bazillion points in Controlled Demolition Skyscraper Spectacular, plus I unlocked the Grassy Knoll Achievement.

But I had nothing to do with the WTC. Honest.

# re: A Thought Experiment

Left by anaglyph at 1/11/2012 5:12 PM
There's a pretty good rundown on the flying of the planes (written by a pilot) here:


# re: A Thought Experiment

Left by fuzztwin at 1/11/2012 8:28 PM
The flight part of this exercise was very straightfoward. No landing or take-off was required. Simulator time was all that was needed for them to pull off what they did, and access to simulators not that difficult (pre 2001).

# re: A Thought Experiment

Left by Ripples at 1/13/2012 2:57 PM
I agree on the comparison between the access points as genuine question pointing to which is the more probable scenario.

The problem with the comparison is that possibly it is a false dichotomy. I am sure this has been considered and the dichotomy is created for instructive purposes only. In this even if the planes were not the cause of the collapse there is quite good evidence of a plane impact.

I am fairly confident the planes hit the buildings. I know there are some versions of the conspiracy that posit there were no planes but instead missiles disguised as planes. The best of them I believe involve Star Trek style holograms disguising the missiles.

So the access point question becomes one where the story requires both access issues to be addressed. In this I might suggest the probability of pulling off all access achievements becomes even less probable.

As there appears evidence of the planes hitting the targets the troother must either accept a plane was involved or create something more elaborate to explain the sightings of aircraft and or evidence of aircraft.

The missile into the Pentagon is one of those more excessive explanations they love to hand out.

I remember there was a comedy sketch that had a troother and a terrorist arguing over the Attack on the World Trade centre in 2001. I know if I were a terrorist (I would likely call myself something like a freedom fighter instead) I would be massively insulted by some troother screaming government conspiracy.

I would suggest another thought experiment.

Assumption 1: There are a finite number of persons that can be involved in an endeavor before secrecy cannot be maintained.

Assumption 2: Threats of harm and sanction are not guaranteed to prevent information being leaked outside of the endeavor personnel.

Question: Given the number of things the conspiracy was required to do in order to perpetrate the fraud which is more likely?

(a) A group of highly motivated persons following a fundamentalist belief and the hope of martyrdom with possible a number of 25 people involved including some support persons.
(b) An uncounted number of people that will increase as the complexity and scope of the conspiracy rises and also applies potentially applies technology that may or may not exist.

Call me funny but I have to go with option (a)

Sorry for getting verbose, the subject has some kind of effect on me that leads to these outpourings.

Of note though, do the conspiracy theories offer any evidence that points directly to the hypothsis or is it merely a case of trying to poke holes in the standard story and then point and say ha, that fails option (b) wins?

# re: A Thought Experiment

Left by Jason at 1/13/2012 3:12 PM
You make a very good point, and one which I only brushed up against.
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