Conspiracy theories are hard to kill. They’ve dogged virtually every national tragedy in our history, from the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy to the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and what David Ray Griffin now claims is our new Pearl Harbor: 9/11. What’s different about this conspiracy theory is the degree to which it has been helped along by its main suspect: the Administration of George W. Bush.
Bush’s initial refusal to investigate September 11 started the ball rolling. When he caved in to political pressure and agreed to a commission, he picked the worst possible chairman, Henry Kissinger, whose legendary but secret client list no doubt includes countries suspected of involvement in the attack. The real traction, though, has come from Iraq. By consciously misleading Americans about Saddam Hussein’s role in September 11 to justify an invasion, Bush answered the question every good conspiracy theory turns on: Who benefits?
Griffin’s subtitle suggests this book is a search for truth, but don’t let that fool you. His mind is all but made up. For a start, Griffin simply cannot accept that our national security system totally failed all on its own on September 11. What went wrong with an air defense system we’d been told would protect us from far more sophisticated attacks? Can the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) really be that incompetent? The FAA concluded that American Airlines Flight 11 had been hijacked at approximately 8:20 am. An hour and forty-three minutes later, United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into the ground at Shanksville, Pennsylvania. In between, the few F-16s that did scramble seemed to have flown everywhere except in the right direction, but even if they had found the hijacked airplanes, authority from the White House to shoot them down arrived after the fact or was relayed too late.
Then there are the FBI and the CIA. The two federal agencies charged with protecting us from terrorist attacks say they were surprised by 9/11 even though bin Laden all but took out an ad in the New York Times telling us when and where he was going to attack. Nor was recent history mute on how such an attack might go down. In 1994 an Algerian Islamic group ideologically affiliated with bin Laden hijacked an Air France plane and would have flown it into the Eiffel Tower if the French hadn’t stormed the plane during a refueling stop. A year later the Manila police uncovered a plot to blow up a dozen commercial airliners over the Pacific. Their investigation revealed that one of the Manila plotters, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, had considered enticing some suicide-minded pilot to fly his airplane into the CIA headquarters. KSM, as we now know, would go on to mastermind 9/11.
Was anyone listening back then at the FAA or the Defense Department? Apparently not, but it gets worse. In January 2000, two members of KSM’s cell managed to slip into the United States and set up in San Diego although the CIA had them on a watch list for plotting attacks in East Asia. We’re told someone at the CIA neglected to inform the FBI, and the two made their flights on September 11. All this and still no one was fired or reprimanded?
So far, so good, but the 9/11 Commission has rendered much of the detail of this book stale news. What’s notable about Griffin’s take on these events is how easily he leaps to larger evils, a conspiracy at the top. Griffin is a thoughtful, well-informed theologian who before September 11 probably would not have gone anywhere near a conspiracy theory. But the catastrophic failures of that awful day are so implausible and the lies about Iraq so blatant, he feels he has no choice but to recycle some of the wilder conspiracy theories, several of which were popularized by the crackpot author Thierry Meyssan in L’Effroyable Imposture, a bestseller in France: