It's a simple, declarative sentence seen on car bumpers and Web sites: "9/11 was an inside job."




Hundreds of thousands of people give that statement credence. Some surveys indicate that when Americans are asked about Sept. 11, 30 percent to 40 percent state that the government either knew ahead of time of the impending attacks and did nothing to prevent it or orchestrated an elaborate conspiracy. In an August 2004 poll by Zogby International, 49.3 percent of residents of New York City indicated they believed that U.S. leaders knew in advance of the attacks of Sept. 11 and consciously failed to act.




In either case, it was an inside job. The feds were in on it. And pigs can fly.




Consider some of the theories offered in all seriousness by what might be called the conspiranistas. That would be those who, after any event which traumatizes the very soul of a nation, begin to see grand, zantine conspiracies instead of a perfect storm of negligence, ineptness, government inertia and, in the words of The 9/11 Commission, a "failure of imagination." It happened with the death of Princess Diana, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy.




Here is but the tip of the iceberg of aha! events cobbled together by the conspiranistas:




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162; President Bush's behavior at the time of the attacks is held up as proof that he had foreknowledge. He was at Emma E. Booker Elementary School, reading "The Pet Goat" to a room full of schoolchildren. When an aide comes into the room and tells the president that the World Trade Center had been hit, neither Bush nor his security personnel responded in a manner that indicated the president might be in danger. Instead, Bush continued to read the book for at least seven minutes. Later, the White House stated that it was the president's intention to project strength and calm and did not want to be seen fleeing the room.




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162; Conspiranistas interpret the resistance of the Bush administration to conduct a full and thorough investigation into the events &

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of Sept. 11 as proof of complicity in the attacks. Reluctance to be forthcoming with facts and evidence that would show the administration to be inept and ill-prepared has been an oft-repeated pattern by the White House, regardless of the circumstances.




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162; Some conspiracy buffs argue that several of the hijackers are still alive, and point to news reports which stated that at least one is in Casablanca, Morocco, and three others are living in the Middle East. Said sightings have never been verified. But then Elvis is alive and well in Texas and eyewitnesses stand ready to sign sworn affidavits.




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162; There have been allegations that blocks of United and American options were traded pre- and post-Sept. 11, netting a profit of $5 million. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI examined the trades and determined they were innocuous and not nefarious.




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162; Regarding the attack on the Pentagon, conspiranistas argue that it was not hit by American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757, but something akin to a guided missile or small plane. This belief is based on photographs said to show a lack of debris from the commercial aircraft at the site, and a lack of video footage though the Pentagon is heavily surveilled. But photographs have been released showing debris from Flight 77 scattered near the Pentagon. There have also been reports from numerous eyewitnesses, including commuters on nearby roads and residents of nearby apartment buildings, who saw the aircraft close up as it approached the Pentagon. All described it as an American Airlines Boeing 757.




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162; United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, has been the focus of numerous conspiracy theories. Some argue that 93 was shot down by American military aircraft. Others point out that the debris field was far too large for a crash, pointing to testimony of eyewitnesses who say they saw debris rain out of the sky. In a study by Popular Mechanics magazine, it concluded that debris landing far from a crash site is not a unique occurrence in commercial airline accidents. There have also been claims made that Flight 93 landed safely in Ohio and that the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania was not United 93, meaning that all of the passengers of 93 are still alive. Somewhere. The many phone calls they made from the plane to family members were fake. No proof of these theories has ever been offered.




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162; Anti-Semitic theories have been floated, alleging that Jews and Israel either had a hand in the Sept. 11 attacks or foreknowledge, hence some 4,000 Jewish employees skipped work at the WTC on Sept. 11. This theory has been roundly debunked: The number of Jews estimated to have died that day was 400, as well as five Israeli citizens.




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162; What has been the most seductive theory among conspiranistas is the theory that the collapse of the WTC towers, causing the deaths of 2,595 people inside and near the towers along with 157 people aboard the two airplanes, was the result of a controlled demolition.




The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) concluded, after an extensive analysis of the structures, that the buildings collapsed because of extraordinary factors beyond the control of the builders, noting that the severity of the attacks and the magnitude of the destruction was beyond anything experienced in U.S. cities in the past.




Despite the NIST and FEMA conclusions, in a 2006 poll 16 percent of adult Americans speculate that the towers were brought down by controlled demolition, not the effects of the planes crashing into the structures or the fires that followed as 10,000 gallons of jet fuel were consumed.




Among conspiracy theorists it is widely held that pre-positioned explosives were in the buildings well in advance of the attacks (requiring extensive access), causing them to collapse in a "straight-down" or "symmetrical path," pancaking, at near free fall speed. When viewing the video footage of the collapse, they insist that there are "squibs," meaning debris and smoke shooting out of the sides of the buildings in puffs as each floor fell, the signature of a controlled demolition.




Witnesses, including firefighters, have also reported hearing what they assumed were explosions.




Engineers who have conducted peer reviews of analyses of the towers' collapse have supported the conclusions of the NIST and FEMA.




And then there is the collapse of WTC Building 7, a 47-story, steel-framed skyscraper that stood across Vesey Street, north of the main WTC complex. It collapsed on Sept. 11 at 5:20 p.m. EDT. The building was severely damaged by falling debris from the WTC and caught fire. Conspiracy theorists insist that steel does not collapse from fire and not in such a controlled way. However, Daniel Nigro, now retired from the New York Fire Department, who was second-in-command at the site, said in a recent interview with The New York Times that because of the structural damage caused by the fire and the debris from the WTC the decision was made to evacuate the building 90 minutes before it collapsed. According to the Popular Mechanics study, using photographs taken from a helicopter, large chunks of Building 7 had been taken out by falling debris, hence it had lost much of its strength. Feeding the paranoia of the conspiracy buffs is the fact that Building 7 housed the CIA, Department of Defense, IRS, Secret Service and the Securities and Exchange Commission.




The looming question which shrouds all of the above is: Why? To what end? The standard answer by the conspiracy buffs is that the administration needed a seminal event which would rally the American people, put us on a war footing, and be the precursor to the invasion of Iraq, which had been on the administration's agenda long before Sept. 11.




To believe that either political party, plus the military and all attendant agencies, such as the FBI, NIST, FEMA, and CIA, would participate in an elaborate plan to kill thousands of Americans in order to launch a pre-emptive war against Iraq is beyond the pale. Not only is it nonsensical, but for any conspiracy to survive the multiple inquiries and investigations that follow a national tragedy, thousands of people in and out of the government would not only have to be complicit, but would have to remain silent thereafter. It doesn't hold together. And who were the suicidal hijackers working for?




Time Magazine, in an article in September, 2006, titled "Why The 9/11 Conspiracies Won't Go Away" states that conspiracy theories "depend on circumstantial evidence, facts without analysis or documentation, quotes taken out of context, and the scattered testimony of traumatized eyewitnesses." The article goes on to say that such theories form around a deep national wound like scar tissue and are in a perverse way comforting and a way of dealing with a deeply traumatic event which lends itself to the phenomenon of cherry picking facts to meet preconceived ideas.




Other publications have made the point that an administration that brought us the debacle in Iraq could not have planned a conspiracy on the scale of 9/11.




In any case, America is fertile ground for urban legends such as those generated by the conspiranistas, driven by the instant communication of the Internet, where seductive theories such as those above can take on a life of their own. But then, as was written in the German magazine "Der Spiegel," "great tragedies must have great reasons."