I also don't believe James Earl Ray acted alone in the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King. I lived and worked in Ray's hometown of Alton, Illinois, for 11 years and interviewed many who knew him. He just wasn't smart enough to pull off such a well-planned execution.
However, I cannot - and will not - join the chorus of those who claim the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, were an inside job staged by the Bush administration, the Central Intelligence Agency or anyone else connected with our government. I cannot - and will not - be a party to those who claim the buildings were destroyed not by hijacked airliners but by explosives planted inside the structures.
The conspiracy claims by those who say Osama bin Laden and is rabid band of followers could not possibly have planned and executed the attacks that killed more than 3,000 Americans on that fateful day are, in my opinion, just plain wrong.
I was at the Pentagon the day the plane hit, taking pictures and interviewing witnesses. I talked to the cab driver who saw the plane swoop low over Columbia Pike, knocking down a light pole that fell on his cab. I talked to the driver of the car behind him, an Arlington businessman still haunted by the nightmares of what he saw. I interviewed dozens of others who saw the plane hit. I smelled the burning jet fuel.
Months later, I stood in a lab at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland as an engineer I've known for 25 years ran the computer simulation that shows how the unique construction of the World Trade Center towers contributed to the inevitable collapse after the planes hit.
In July and August of 2003, I watched hours and hours of video and film footage shot by news crews, film students and private citizens in New York on September 11 and edited it into a short documentary for the second anniversary of the attacks. As part of that project, I talked to firemen, police officers and first responders in New York City and then with friends who have worked in the American and foreign intelligence communities for many, many years.
Everything that I've learned from these folks - those who were there and those whose judgment I trust - support the facts that Al Qaeda planned and executed the attacks.
Some say there are no way novice pilots with only a few hours of simulator training could have guided three modern jetliners into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. I'm a pilot and have flown Boeing 757, 767 and 777 simulators as part of research on stories. The maneuvers made by the hijackers on September 11 were relatively simple course corrections that are not that difficult in planes equipped with modern navigational computers. Some evidence uncovered during the investigations say the hijackers originally wanted to hit the Potomac River side of the Pentagon where Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's office is located but that would have required more difficult navigation to miss the Washington Monument.
Others base their beliefs of a conspiracy on the collapse of Building 7 in New York, which did not appear to be seriously damaged. They say video of the collapse suggests it was imploded by an internal explosion. I asked demolition experts and structural engineers to watch video footage from several angles. Thye concluded the collapse was not consistent with a detonated implosion. First responders at the scene also reported large chunks of steel and concrete striking the building. The NIST study, conducted by a Democratic member of their staff, concluded the building was damaged internally.
I'm usually the first to suspect my government of malfeasance. I love a good conspiracy theory as much as Oliver Stone but I cannot buy into this one.
Reasonable doubts about the Kennedy and King deaths exists to this day because of striking conflicts of reports from witnesses on the scene and the existence of credible evidence from experts that refute the "offiical" versions. But the many theories surrounding 9/11 come mostly from conspiracy buffs. I have yet to get a report from a structural engineer or demolitions expert that support the theories of internal explosions and too many witnesses saw the planes. If an engineer or expert with credentials that could be verified came forward I might be willing to take another look at this but in the absence of such, I'll go with the conclusions of experts I trust.
My 40-plus years as a journalist, coupled with too many years working inside the government, tell me that the scenarios laid out by the 9/11 conspiracy buffs just don't pass the smell test.
The 9/11 attacks succeeded because of the incredible improbability that such a ragtag group could pull it off and our lackluster intelligence agencies failed to act on credible reports of terrorist activity. I know my government. They're just not good enough to pull off something like this.
Originally published at and © Copyright 2006 by Capitol Hill Blue
Who the hell is this Thompson guy anyway?