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Propping Up the War on Terror: Lies about the WTC by NIST and Underwriters Laboratories

This paper appeared in 9/11 and the American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out, ed. David Ray Griffin and Peter Dale Scott (Northampton: Interlink Books, 2006).

Propping Up the War on Terror: Lies about the WTC by

NIST and Underwriters Laboratories

Kevin Ryan

“Already there is near-consensus as to the sequence of events that led to the collapse of the World Trade Center.”Shankar Nair, as quoted in the Chicago Tribune September 19, 2001

Turn on C-Span, or “Meet The Press,” or any other media program presenting federal officials. Whatever the issue, it always comes back to the same thing. Our government really has nothing else to offer us but protection from another 9/11. It uses this painful story to cut public services, eliminate our basic rights, and plunder the national coffers. But for many of us, it is not entirely clear from whom we most need protection.[1] As our debt explodes and our freedoms diminish, it would be wise to maintain focus on the origins of our War on Terror. No matter where this war leads us, we will need to keep the beginning in mind if we ever hope to see an end.

The Point of Origin: The Collapse of the WTC

Many have found that the 9/11 Commission not only failed to help us understand what happened; it also omitted or distorted most of the facts.[2] But if we really want to zero in on the exact turning point around which we plunged into chaos, we need to focus in particular on the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings. This is where our hearts were wrenched and our minds were made ready for never-ending war, torture, and apparently the end of everything that was American. If we are ever to emerge from this insanity, we need to know how three tall buildings collapsed due to fire, all on the same day, when no such thing has ever happened before.

The Twin Towers and Why They Fell

It would help to begin with an accurate description of the WTC towers in terms of quality of design and construction. In July of 1971, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) presented a national award judging the buildings to be “the engineering project that demonstrates the greatest engineering skills and represents the greatest contribution to engineering progress and mankind.”[3] Others noted that “the World Trade Center towers would have an inherent capacity to resist unforeseen calamities.” This capacity stemmed from the use of special high-strength steels. In particular, the perimeter columns were designed with tremendous reserve strength whereby “live loads on these columns can be increased more than 2,000% before failure occurs.”[4]

One would expect that any explanation for the destruction of such buildings would need to be very solid as well. Four years after 9/11, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) finally did give us their version of “why and how” two of the buildings collapsed, but its explanation may be even less effective than the 9/11 Commission report.[5] Now that the official story has been given, however, we can see just how weak and ill-defined our basis for this War on Terror has been all along. Additionally, we can track the evolution of official comments about collapse and see who was involved.

Selling the Official Story: Some Key Players

Shankar Nair, whose statement quoted above is quite telling, was one of those “experts” on whom the government depended to support what turned out to be an ever-changing, but always flimsy, story. Many of the scientists involved in the investigation were asked to examine ancillary issues, like escape routes and other emergency response factors. But those few who attempted to explain what really needed explaining, the unique events of fire-induced collapse, appear to have engaged in what can only be called anti-science. That is, they started with their conclusions and worked backward to some “leading hypotheses.”

Not surprisingly, many of the contractors who contributed to the NIST investigation, like the company for which Nair works, just happen to depend on good relationships with the government in order to earn their living. What may be a surprise is just how lucrative these relationships can be. For example, Nair’s company, Teng & Associates, boasts of Indefinite Quantity Contracts, long-term relationships with federal government agencies, and federal projects worth in excess of $40 million.[6]

Others who worked so hard to maintain the official story included Gene Corley, a concrete construction expert listed by the National Directory of Expert Witnesses as a source for litigation testimony.[7] Corley was more than just a witness, however. He had led the Oklahoma City bombing investigation and then was asked to lead the initial ASCE investigation into the WTC disaster. Perhaps someone else, with less experience in bombings and more experience in fires, would have been a better choice. But without authority to save samples or even obtain blueprints, the ASCE investigation was ineffective anyway. Corley himself ended up being a very versatile resource, however, providing testimony supporting the pre-determined conclusions many times, and even posing as a reporter during an NIST media session.[8]

There was really no need for phony media coverage. As with The 9/11 Commission Report and the lead-up to the Iraq War, the major media simply parroted any explanations, or non-explanations, given in support of the official story. One example is from a television program called “The Anatomy of September 11th,” which aired on the History Channel. Corley took the lead on this one as well, but James Glanz, a New York Times reporter, was also interviewed and helped to spread what is probably the worst excuse for collapse given. He told us that the fires heated the steel columns so much (the video suggested 2500 F) that they were turned into “licorice.” Other self-proclaimed experts have been heard promoting similar theories.[9] They will probably come to regret it.

This is because the results of physical tests performed by NIST’s own Frank Gayle proved this theory to be a ridiculous exaggeration, as some people already knew. The temperatures seen by the few steel samples saved, only about 500 F, were far too low to soften, let alone melt, even un-fireproofed steel. Of course that result could have been calculated, knowing that 4,000 gallons of jet fuel[10]—not 24,000 gallons or 10,000 gallons, as some reports have claimed—were sprayed into an open-air environment over several floors, each comprised of more than 1,000 metric tons of concrete and steel.

Another expert who served on NIST’s advisory committee was Charles Thornton, of the engineering firm Thornton and Tomasetti. Thornton’s partner, Richard Tomasetti, was reported to be behind the unprecedented and widely criticized decision to destroy most of the steel evidence.[11] Early on Thornton said: “Karl, we all know what caused the collapse.” He was talking to Karl Koch, whose company erected the WTC steel. Koch attempted to clarify as follows. “I could see it in my mind’s eye: The fire burned until the steel was weakened and the floors above collapsed, starting a chain rea
ction of gravity, floor falling upon floor upon floor, clunk — clunk — clunk, the load gaining weight and momentum by the nanosecond, unstoppable. Once enough floors collapsed, the exterior walls and the core columns were no longer laterally supported and folded in.”[12] This is a description of what was called the Pancake Theory, the most widely accepted version of what happened.

The Pancake Theory was promoted by an influential 2002 NOVA video called “Why the Towers Fell,” in which Corley (yet again) and Thornton were the primary commentators. Both of them talked about the floors collapsing, and Thornton described how the perimeter columns buckled outward, not inward as Koch had described. The video made a number of false claims, including exaggeration of the temperatures (2000 F), remarks about melting steel, and the incredible statement that two-thirds of the columns in WTC1 (the North Tower) were completely severed. NIST’s report now indicates that only about 14% of the columns in WTC1 were severed, and in some photos we can count most of these for ourselves.[13]

NIST and Underwriters Laboratories

In August 2004, Underwriters Laboratories evaluated the Pancake Theory by testing models of the floor assemblies used in the WTC buildings. Despite all the previous expert testimony, the floor models did not collapse. NIST reported this in its October 2004 update, in a table of results that clearly showed that the floors did not fail and that, therefore, pancaking was not possible.[14] NIST more succinctly stated this again in its June 2005 draft report, saying: “The results established that this type of assembly was capable of sustaining a large gravity load, without collapsing, for a substantial period of time relative to the duration of the fires in any given location on September 11th.”[15]

At the time of the floor tests, I worked for Underwriters Laboratories (UL). I was very interested in the progress of these tests, having already asked some sensitive questions. My interest began when UL’s CEO, Loring Knoblauch, a very experienced executive with a law degree from Harvard, surprised us at the company’s South Bend location, just a few weeks after 9/11, by saying that UL had certified the steel used in the WTC buildings. Knoblauch told us that we should all be proud that the buildings had stood for so long under such intense conditions. In retrospect it is clear that all of us, including Knoblauch, were ignorant of many important facts surrounding 9/11 and did not, therefore, see his statements as particularly important.

Over the next two years, however, I learned more about the issues, like the unprecedented destruction of the steel evidence and the fact that no tall steel-frame buildings have ever collapsed due to fire. And I saw video of the owner of the buildings, stating publicly that he and the fire department made the decision to “pull”—that is, to demolish—WTC7 that day,[16] even though demolition requires many weeks of planning and preparation. Perhaps most compelling for me were the words of a genuine expert on the WTC. This was John Skilling, the structural engineer responsible for designing the towers.[17] (The NOVA video, incidentally, gave this credit to Leslie Robertson. But Robertson, who never claimed to have originated the design, was only a junior member of the firm [Worthington, Skilling, Helle and Jackson], and Skilling was known at the time to be the engineer in charge.) In 1993, five years before his death, Skilling said that he had performed an analysis on jet plane crashes and the ensuing fires and that “the building structure would still be there.”[18]

By 2003, all of this information was available to anyone who cared. The details were, without a doubt, difficult to reconcile with testimony from officials, reporters, and scientists who were supporting the official story. But in November of that year, I felt that answers from UL were needed. If, as our CEO had suggested, our company had tested samples of steel components and listed the results in the UL Fire Resistance Directory almost forty years ago, Mr. Skilling would have depended on these results to ensure that the buildings were sufficiently fire resistant. So I sent a formal written message to our chief executive, outlining my thoughts and asking what he was doing to protect our reputation.

Knoblauch’s written response contained several points. He wrote: “We test to the code requirements, and the steel clearly met those requirements and exceeded them.” He pointed to the NYC code used at the time of the WTC construction, which required fire resistance times of 3 hours for building columns, and 2 hours for floors. From the start, his answers were not helping to explain fire-induced collapse in 56 minutes (the time it took WTC2, the South Tower, to come down). But he did give a better explanation of UL’s involvement in testing the WTC steel, even talking about the quality of the sample and how well it did. “We tested the steel with all the required fireproofing on,” he wrote, “and it did beautifully.”[19]

This response was copied to several UL executives, including Tom Chapin, the manager of UL’s Fire Protection division. Chapin reminded me that UL was the “leader in fire research testing,” but he clearly did not want to make any commitments on the issue. He talked about the floor assemblies, how these had not been UL tested, and he made the misleading claim that UL does not certify structural steel. But even an introductory textbook lists UL as one of the few important organizations supporting codes and specifications because they “produce a Fire Resistance Index with hourly ratings for beams, columns, floors, roofs, walls and partitions tested in accordance with ASTM Standard E119.”[20] He went on to clarify that UL tests assemblies of which steel is a component. This is a bit like saying “we don’t crash test the car door, we crash test the whole car.” In any case, Chapin suggested that we be patient and wait for the report from NIST, because the investigation into the “collapse of WTC buildings 1, 2, and 7” was an ongoing process and that “UL is right in the middle of these activities.”[21]

For the most part, I did wait, although I shared my concerns with Chapin again at UL’s Leadership Summit in January 2004. I encouraged him to ask for a company news release on our position, but this did not happen and I never heard from him again. By the time UL tested the floor assembly models in August of that year, I had been promoted to the top management job in my division, Environmental Health Laboratories, overseeing all company functions. Two months later, NIST released an official update that included the floor test results, as well as Frank Gayle’s results, in which steel temperatures were predicted. These results clearly invalidated the major theories of collapse, because pancaking could not occur without floor collapse and steel does not turn to licorice at the temperatures discussed.

After reviewing this update, I sent a letter directly to Dr. Gayle at NIST. In this letter, I referred to my experiences at UL and asked for more information on the WTC investigation and NIST’s soon-to-be-published conclusions. NIST had planned at the time to release its final report in December, with time allowed for public comment. After I allowed my letter to become public,[22] this date was moved to January 2005, and then nothing was heard from NIST for several months.

Other than UL’s involvement in testing the steel components, the facts I stated had all been reported publicly, but when I put them together plainly, they were considered outrageous. Five days after I sent my letter, I was fired by UL for doing so. The company made a few brief statements in an attempt to discredit me, then quickly began to make it clear that its relationship with the government, perhaps due to its tax-exempt status, was more important than its commitment to public safety.

For example, in spite of Tom Chapin’s previous statements, UL suggested that it had played only a “limited” role in the investigation. Despite what our CEO, Loring Knoblauch, had written and copied to several executives, UL said there was “no evidence” that any firm had tested the steel used in the WTC buildings.[23] In doing so, UL implied that its CEO not only had fabricated this story about testing the WTC steel but had also spoken and written about it for several years without anyone in the company correcting him. As I see it, the only other option was that the company claiming to be our “Public Safety Guardian” was lying to us about the most important safety issue of our lives.

My experiences give a taste for the delicate nature of our critical turning point. But to keep our focus, we should examine what NIST did with the results of its physical tests, which had failed to support its conclusions. Did NIST perform more tests, at least to prove its key argument that much of the fireproofing on the steel in the Twin Towers popped off due to the impact of the airliners? No, it did not. Instead, NIST put together a black box computer model that would spit out the right answers. This black box model was driven by initial parameters that could be tweaked. When the parameters that had initially been considered “realistic” did not generate results that “compared to observed events,” NIST scientists performed their final analysis using another set of parameters they called “more severe.”[24] When they were finished, their model produced video graphics that would enable anyone to see the buildings collapse without having to follow a train of logic to get there.

Tom Chapin of UL was one of those doomed to make public comments in support of NIST’s final report. His comments were innocuous enough but he did hint at something of value. “The effect of scale of test assemblies…,” Chapin said, “requires more investigation.”[25] This may be the closest thing to a straightforward statement that we will ever see from UL on the matter. But it seems clear enough that results showing zero floor collapse, when scaled-up from the floor panels to a few floors, would still result in zero floor collapse. Perhaps a more direct version of Chapin’s comment might be that test results negating predetermined conclusions should not be used to prove them.

Other than the video, NIST left us with only some vague statements about a few sagging floors suddenly destroying two hundred super-strong perimeter columns and forty core columns. But since sagging floors do not weigh more than non-sagging floors, it is difficult to see how this might occur, especially so uniformly. NIST claimed the perimeter columns saw increased loads of between 0 and 25% due to the damage, but it never reconciled this with the original claim that these columns could resist 2000% increases in live load. And the outward-buckling theory, suggested by Thornton, was changed again to inward buckling—apparently the forces involved were never well defined. Additionally, NIST suggested that the documents that would support testing of the steel components, along with documents containing Skilling’s jet-fuel-fire analysis, could not be found.[26]

Ultimately, NIST failed to give any explanation for the dynamics of the towers as they fell, about how and why they dropped like rocks in free-fall. For both buildings, NIST simply stated that “once the upper building section began to move downwards . . ., global collapse ensued,” as if just saying so was enough.[27] As for WTC7, NIST as of yet has not elaborated on its “working collapse hypothesis,” which was vaguely presented in June 2004.[28] The bottom line is that, after more than four years, it is still impossible for the government even to begin to explain the primary events that drive this War on Terrorism.

So much has been sacrificed, and so much has been invested in this story, that we all have a need for supportive answers. But when we look for those answers, all our “mind’s eye” can see is this smoky black box, where scientific results are reversed to support politically correct, pre-determined conclusions. That critical point of divergence, where our lives were turned upside down and all logic followed, has always been too painful to imagine. But now, without expert accounts of pancaking floors and licorice steel, it cannot be imagined at all.

Some of us remain hopeful that we can still achieve a critical mass awareness of the need for truth, and in doing so pull the support out from under what John McMurtry calls “the 9/11 Wars.”[29] But if we cannot, even as the hopes for peace fade and the number of 9/11 families continues to grow, we should remember how we got this story and how it was propped up despite all the evidence against it. Because whatever happens next, after the smoke clears, our children may have a need to know.

[1] Richard Heinberg, “Götterdämmerung,” Museletter, No.144, March 2004 (http://www.museletter.com/archive/144.html).

[2] David Ray Griffin, The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions (Northampton: Interlink Books, 2005). Griffin summarizes the omissions and distortions in “The 9/11 Commission Report: A 571-Page Lie,” 911 Visibility Project, May 22, 2005 (http://www.septembereleventh.org/newsarchive/2005-05-22-571pglie.php).

[3] Angus K. Gillespie, Twin Towers: The Life of New York City’s World Trade Center (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press 1999), 117.

[4] “How Columns Will Be Designed for 110-Story Buildings,” Engineering News-Record, April 2, 1964: 48-49.

[5] Jim Hoffman, “Building a Better Mirage: NIST’s 3-Year $20,000,000 Cover-Up of the Crime of the Century,” 911Research.wtc7.net, December 8, 2005 (http://911research.wtc7.net/essays/nist/index.html).

[6] Website for Teng & Associates (http://www.teng.com/teng2k3/mainframe.asp).

[7] Website for National
Directory of Expert Witnesses (http://national-experts.com/members2/witness.asp?d_memnum=07572&d_lnum=2).

[8] Archived webcast video of NIST press briefing, NIST News Release website, June 23, 2005 (http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/releases/wtc_briefing_june2305.htm), 01:15:10.

[9] Sheila Barter, “How the World Trade Center Fell,” BBC News, September 13, 2001 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/1540044.stm).

[10] Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), “World Trade Center Building Performance Study,” May 2005, Chapter 2.

[11] James Glanz and Eric Lipton, City in the Sky: The Rise and Fall of the World Trade Center (New York: Times Books, 2003), 330.

[12] Karl Koch III with Richard Firstman, Men of Steel: The Story of the Family that Built the World Trade Center (New York: Crown Publishers, 2002), 365.

[13] Eric Hufschmid, Painful Questions: An Analysis of the September 11th Attack (Goleta, Calif.: Endpoint Software, 2002), 27.

[14] Table of results from Underwriters Laboratories August 2004 floor model tests, as presented by NIST in October 2004 (http://wtc.nist.gov/media/P6StandardFireTestsforWeb.pdf), 25.

[15] NIST, Final Report of the National Construction Safety Team on the Collapses of the World Trade Center Towers(Draft) (http://wtc.nist.gov/pubs/NISTNCSTAR1draft.pdf), 195.

[16] Silverstein’s statement is contained in “America Rebuilds,” PBS documentary, 2002 (www.pbs.org/americarebuilds). It can be viewed (www.infowars.com/Video/911/wtc7_pbs.WMV) or heard on audio file (http://VestigialConscience.com/PullIt.mp3).

[17] “Structures Can Be Beautiful, World’s Tallest Buildings Pose Esthetic and Structural Challenge to John Skilling,” Engineering News-Record, April 2, 1964: 124.

[18] Glanz and Lipton, City in the Sky, 138.

[19] Underwriters Laboratories email correspondence, December 1, 2003.

[20] Samuel H. Marcus, Basics of Structural Steel (Reston, Va.: Reston Publishing 1977), 20.

[21] Underwriters Laboratories email correspondence, December 1, 2003.

[22] Kevin Ryan, “The Collapse of the WTC,” 911 Visibility Project, November 11, 2004 (http://www.septembereleventh.org/newsarchive/2004-11-11-ryan.php).

[23] John Dobberstein, “Area Man Stirs Debate on WTC Collapse,” South Bend Tribune, November 22, 2004 (http://www.911truth.org/article.php?story=20041124095100856).

[24] NIST, Final Report, 196.

[25] Comments from Underwriters Laboratories on NIST WTC report, NIST website (http://wtc.nist.gov/comments/ULI_Ganesh_Rao_8-5-05.pdf).

[26] Archived webcast video of NIST press briefing, NIST News Release website, June 23, 2005 (http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/releases/wtc_briefing_june2305.htm), 01:18:50.

[27] NIST, Final Report, 197.

[28] NIST presentation on WTC7 collapse investigation, NIST website (http://wtc.nist.gov/pubs/June2004WTC7StructuralFire&CollapseAnalysisPrint.pdf).

[29] John McMurtry, “9/11 and the 9/11 Wars: Understanding the Supreme Crimes.” In David Ray Griffin and Peter Dale Scott, eds., 9/11 and the American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out (Northampton: Interlink Books, 2006). My present essay will also appear in this volume.

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