Saturday, June 09, 2007

9-11 Timeline: Superb Resource or Conspiracy Theory Support?

The answer is that it is both at once. It is a superb resource in that it contains links to many original articles. The organization and work that has gone into this is absolutely mind-boggling.

But it's also contaminated with 9-11 Woo, which is hardly surprising since many of the people who've worked on it are Deniers. Let's take a look at one particular section where the tinfoil hattery is most evident: The "Alleged" Hijackers.

Note right off the bat that word "alleged". If you've been around the Deniers for awhile, you'll know that they have no hesitation in charging people with horrific crimes with nary an "alleged" in sight. But when it comes to the people who actually carried off these attacks, they suddenly don't want to make any well-founded accusations? It's a small item, but a signature of the 9-11 Denial Movement.

Perhaps the most obvious place where the tinfoil creeps in is in the "analysis" that accompanies each post. For example, consider this discussion of the famed "wedding photo" taken by Ziad Jarrah in Hamburg:

Ziad Jarrah has an unofficial wedding with his girlfriend, Aysel Senguen. Interestingly, a photo apparently taken by Jarrah at the wedding is found by German intelligence several days after 9/11. An undercover agent is able immediately to identify ten of the 18 men in the photo, as well as where it was taken: the prayer room of Hamburg’s Al-Quds mosque. He is also able to identify which of them attended Mohamed Atta’s study group. He knows even “seemingly trivial details” of some of the men, showing that “probably almost all members of the Hamburg terror cell” has been watched by German state intelligence since this time, if not before. The head of the state intelligence had previously maintained that they knew nothing of any of these men. [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt), 2/2/2003]

Get the incredulity? Notice the conclusion reached that the German state intelligence must have been monitoring the group? That's not reporting, it's analysis. Nothing particularly wrong with there being some analysis, but similar incredulity is lacking on many of the more questionable claims that support the conspiracy theorists.

Consider the reaction to numerous reports that people remember meeting Atta at various times. These reports are generally vague and amount to nothing more than "I remember that guy," and yet they are given credence and used to claim that the official story must be wrong:

Spanish newspaper El Mundo later reports, “According to several professors at the Valencia School of Medicine, some of whom are forensic experts, [Mohamed Atta] was a student there in 1997 or 1998. Although he used another name then, they remember his face among the students that attended anatomy classes.”

Well, if they're forensic experts, it must be true.

If this is true, it would contradict reports concerning Atta’s presence as a student in Hamburg, Germany, during this entire period. There is also a later report that in 1999 Atta will meet an al-Qaeda operative in Alicante, less than 100 miles from Valencia (see 1999).

Or this other one:

BJ’s Wholesale Club, a store in Hollywood, Florida, later tells the FBI that Mohamed Atta may have held a BJ’s membership card since at least this time (“more than two years” before 9/11). Several cashiers at the store vaguely remember seeing Atta there. [Miami Herald, 9/18/2001] According to the official story, Atta does not arrive in the US until June 3, 2000.

Actually, if you read the linked article it's less positive than "vaguely remembered":

Normen Pentolino, operations manager at the Hollywood store, said two cashiers told FBI agents they might have recognized Atta, but weren't certain.

This illustrates both a strength and a weakness of the timeline. Because there is no effort to really winnow through the evidence and say "this just doesn't fit", nothing gets thrown out or ignored. But judging what to give credibility to becomes quite a bit more difficult. Is it possible that Atta was in Spain in 1997 or 1998? It's within the realm of possibility although it seems unlikely that a student of urban planning was taking med school courses. But suddenly the Timeline does not perform the obvious analysis to say that this event appears improbable. This shows an obvious slant.

Another real problem with the Timeline is that much of the "evidence" "linked" therein has disappeared from the web. Obviously some magazines and newspapers don't keep articles online forever, but it is frustrating to see remarkable claims like "CIA had Atta Under Surveillance", only to discover that none of the three sources are available. And all are foreign--two German and one French. So we are left with this tantalizing reference in an (UK) Observer article:

Indeed he was under surveillance between January and May last year after he was reportedly observed buying large quantities of chemicals in Frankfurt, apparently for the production of explosives and for biological warfare. The US agents reported to have trailed Atta are said to have failed to inform the German authorities about their investigation.

Isn't it rather amazing that no US paper picked up this huge scoop? Again, the story doesn't really make any sense as far as I can see. Let's look at the obvious problems:

1. Was there any explosive or biological warfare attack that is tied to these purchases of "large quantities of chemicals in Frankfurt"? I certainly can't recall any. Are we to assume that Mohamed never did anything with the chemicals he bought?

2. Who was the source for the story? It seems obvious if "the US agents... failed to inform the German authorities," then it cannot have been the German authorities. So now we're supposed to believe that CIA (or other US) agents in Germany are not only tracking large purchases of chemicals in Frankfurt, but blabbing about it to German reporters?

Or consider their acceptance of the "Able Danger" claims in this post:

A US Army intelligence program called Able Danger identifies five al-Qaeda terrorist cells; one of them has connections to Brooklyn, New York and will become informally known as the “Brooklyn” cell by the Able Danger team. This cell includes 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta, and three other 9/11 hijackers: Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi.

What happened to the word "alleged"? The NY Times makes sure to include outs for themselves in their story:

...according to a former defense intelligence official and a Republican member of Congress.

The account is the first assertion...

(bold added for emphasis)

In fact, a Senate committee dismissed the idea that the Able Danger program identified Mohamed Atta in 2000. Some conservatives like the Able Danger claims because it would seem to implicate the Clinton Administration in failing to follow up on an amazing lead which might have prevented 9-11. But as far as I can tell, Able Danger seems to be pretty standard nuttery with supposedly many people seeing and handling these charts that showed Mohamed Atta both before and after 9-11 and nobody saying, "Hey, I didn't know we had our eyes on him!" And yes, the charts have all conveniently disappeared so they can't be analyzed.

Anyway, that's what I mean when I say that the 9-11 Timeline is half a valuable resource and half nutter. It contains some real "truth" and way too much "Truth".