The Pentagon and the Missile

Some say that it wasn't an airliner that struck the Pentagon on 9/11, but a missile.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Conspiracies, History & Pseudohistory

Skeptoid #354
March 19, 2013
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Pentagon Crash
Flight 77 debris at the Pentagon
Public domain photo

Today we're going to delve once again into the depths of conspiracy theories. We'll take yet another look at the events of the September 11 attacks, this time focusing on the Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense in Arlington, Virginia. According to the generally accepted account of what was witnessed and recorded on September 11, 2001, the Pentagon was struck by American Airlines Flight 77, a hijacked Boeing 757 on its way from Dulles to Los Angeles. 59 people on board the airplane plus 125 workers inside the Pentagon were killed, plus the 5 hijackers. And as pop culture would inevitably have it, alternate claims have arisen: mainly that the Pentagon was not hit by a hijacked plane at all, but by an American cruise missile fired as a false flag operation. Years later, is there sufficient reason to doubt the official story?

First of all, the phrase "official story" has become problematic. All it really refers to is the generally accepted explanation or definition. For example, the "official story" is that the human body has 206 bones. The "official story" is that an atom of radon contains 86 protons. The "official story" is that Hiroshima was destroyed by the Little Boy atomic bomb in 1945. Just by referring to any observation or result as the "official story", it makes it seem to be shrouded in doubt or tainted by political corruption. Thus, virtually all web sites promoting an alternative version of the September 11 attacks will start by dismissing all observations and evidence as the "official story". In this sense, "official story" is what we call a weasel word; terminology intended to communicate something other than what the words actually mean. In the strict sense, the official story is the one that's most authoritative and best supported; but in common usage, it's only employed when the intent is to cast doubt.

And casting doubt seems to be the strongest reason to believe that it was a missile and not an airliner. There are mountains of evidence confirming what so many people witnessed on that day, evidence that's all rock solid and that has no real flaws. This is the case with a lot of conspiracy theories, yet it never detracts from the popularity of the conspiracy theory. It's not possible in one show to cover all the many objections raised to the official story, but we will look at a handful that are representative of the whole. With the exception of a couple claims that are simply factually wrong, each specific objection is based simply on the possibility that some observation might be consistent with an alternate version of events. Unfortunately, "consistent with" is not "evidence of".

Let's look at the most popular such example:

Myth #1: The security video shows a missile hitting the building.

Of the 85 video tapes seized by the FBI that may have shown the plane strike the building, only one actually shows the impact of an object with the building. This is a Pentagon security camera pointed at a traffic gate along an access driveway. In the background is a white streak, visible in only a single frame, which is far too small and of low quality to make out any useful details. Missile theorists believe the depicted object is too small to be a 757, and is more consistent with a cruise missile.

So far as the object in the video appearing to be too small for a 757, that's correct, it is. But this is to be expected, since the lens of the security camera is ultra wide angle. The camera was intended to see as much of the vehicle driveway where it was positioned as possible, side to side. Thus it did not produce a rectilinear image with straight lines; the lines on the Pentagon building are clearly curved in the video. Yet, missile theorists have superimposed straight lines of perspective onto this image, in an effort to show that the height of the incoming object was too small for a 757. Because of the lens used, the plane does in fact appear far smaller than it would with a normal lens, consistent with what we'd expect of an ultra wide angle lens and a full-sized airliner.

Myth #2: Donald Rumsfeld's office was on the opposite end of the building.

The implication being that Rumsfeld, presumed architect of the false flag attack, was carefully protected by having the plane hit a far-away part of the building.

This is a perfect example of "consistent with" not being "evidence of". Sure, if Rumsfeld had masterminded the attack, he might well choose to preserve his own office. But by this same logic, you could point to anyone anywhere in the world whose office was not in the immediate vicinity of the crash site. This factoid is so irrelevant that I didn't even bother to look up where in the Pentagon Rumsfeld's office was. Whether it's true or not, it's useless information.

Now for an example of a claim that's just simply wrong:

Myth #3: There was no debris from an airplane at the site.

Thus there was no plane, thus it must have been a missile (even though that in itself is fallacious logic). Even after so many years have gone by, I still hear this assertion being made, in blatant defiance of virtually every photograph taken that day. Debris from the plane was everywhere, including easily identified mechanical parts from the landing gear and engines and lots of twisted aluminum painted in Boeing BAC452 Green Epoxy Primer. It's trivial to do a Google image search for "flight 77 debris" to see exactly what was reported by dozens of Pentagon employees, rescue personnel, and reporters, and observed live worldwide by millions of television viewers.

It's also easy to read the transcript from air traffic controllers who communicated with the plane, and to see the graphs from the flight data recorder, including the plane's altitude as it plummeted toward the Pentagon. Both are among the information available from the National Transportation and Safety Board. But I should be clear that pointing out such evidence, especially in the case of official documents, is not persuasive to a conspiracy theorist. In their theory, evidence consistent with the "official story" is simply part of the conspiracy, and is therefore unreliable and should be dismissed.

Myth #4: The approach path was impossible for a 757.

When the hijackers brought the plane to the Pentagon, they were still too high, so they flew in a circle to drop the altitude. A Dulles air traffic controller, Danielle O'Brien, said "You don't fly a 757 in that manner. It's unsafe." Conspiracy theorists often cite this comment as evidence that the controllers knew it was not a 757.

But this interpretation is only possible if you ignore the rest of what she said. O'Brien has been very clear that there's no question it was the 757, and that unsafe doesn't mean impossible. "It was never the intent of the hijacker to safely land American flight 77 anywhere," she said, and also correctly pointed out that unlike an airliner, a missile does not need to circle to lose altitude.

Myth #5: The Pentagon's missile defenses would have shot down an actual encroaching aircraft.

As the headquarters of the Department of Defense, you'd expect the Pentagon to be one of the best defended buildings in the world. But apparently, this alleged missile defense system is nonexistent. It was proposed by French conspiracy theory journalist Thierry Meyssan in his book 9/11: The Big Lie. If such a defense system existed but was not used, not a single Pentagon employee complained about it. Even the friends of the 125 employees killed raised no objection.

In practice, it would be very difficult for the Pentagon to have such a system. The Pentagon's location was fixed in 1941, just weeks after the completion of what's now Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Planes landing at the airport fly right over the Pentagon all day long, at a very low altitude. The ends of runways 33 and 15 are just 1 kilometer from the Pentagon, in a direct line. Planners of such a theoretical missile defense system would have known that they'd have essentially no time to discriminate between normal traffic and hostile traffic and to make a kill/no-kill decision. Thus, it's not surprising that none of the hundreds of thousands of photographs and videos of the Pentagon show a missile defense system, nor do the blueprints nor construction photographs, nor has anyone who has ever worked there reported knowledge of such a thing.

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

That's a really quick overview of only five of the many arguments made by the missile theorists. Apologies to those who were looking for a more in-depth analysis of all the many facets to this conspiracy theory, but there really is not sufficient evidence of a conspiracy to warrant much time or investigation. It's intellectually lazy to simply hunt for anomalies that might been seen as consistent with proving the "official story" wrong. That's the opposite of a responsible search for information and knowledge. If you want to know what happened on September 11, look at the evidence. Certainly you do want to pursue alternative explanations for the evidence, but you also want to make sure you're not changing the evidence to support your predetermined conclusion.

I want to encourage everyone to approach with great caution any alternative belief system that is founded primarily upon the assumption that accepted theory is wrong. In such a system, any alternative theory is acceptable, so long as it denies accepted theory. A familiar example of this is creationism. There are many different mutually irreconcilable versions of both Old Earth and Young Earth creationism: gap creationism, theistic evolution, day-age creationism, Omphalism, and so on. No two of them can be true, as they all represent radically different versions of history. But despite these profound differences, they're all allied with one another under the single banner of "Evolution is wrong". Competing theories are generally welcomed, so long as they embrace the assumption that accepted theory is wrong.

This is equally true of 9/11 conspiracy theories. Consider the number of theories that have been put forth to explain the collapse of the World Trade Center: Everything from holographic airliners, to controlled demolition, to robotic airplanes rigged with explosives, you name it; any theory is viable so long as it starts with the assumption that American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 did not actually crash into the twin towers.

So keep a sharp eye on the motivations for your beliefs and theories. If you want to find out what's known, look to see what the evidence supports. But if you find instead that you're looking for only that which supports a specific belief or claim, be aware that you're doing things backwards. Hold the "official story" to a high standard, but don't simply be hostile to our existing knowledge base.

Brian Dunning

© 2013 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Dunbar, D., Reagan, B. Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts. New York: Hearst Books, 2011.

Meyssan, T. 9/11: The Big Lie. London: Carnot Publishers, 2002.

Mikkelson, B. "Hunt the Boeing." Urban Legends Reference Pages. Snopes.com, 8 Apr. 2008. Web. 18 Mar. 2013. <http://www.snopes.com/rumors/pentagon.asp>

NTSB. "Items Released Under FOIA." FOIA Electronic Reading Room. National Transportation Safety Board, 9 Aug. 2010. Web. 16 Mar. 2013. <http://www.ntsb.gov/foia/foia_err.html>

Roberts, S. "Photos of Flight 77 Wreckage Inside the Pentagon." Rense.com. Jeff Rense, 4 Dec. 2002. Web. 16 Mar. 2013. <http://rense.com/general32/phot.htm>

Williams, M. "American Airlines Flight 77." 911 Myths. 911myths.com, 5 Nov. 2007. Web. 14 Mar. 2013. <http://www.911myths.com/index.php/American_Airlines_Flight_77>

Yoon, J., Scott, J. "Pentagon & Boeing 757 Engine Investigation." Aerospaceweb. Aerospaceweb.org, 12 Mar. 2006. Web. 16 Mar. 2013. <http://www.aerospaceweb.org/question/conspiracy/q0265.shtml>

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "The Pentagon and the Missile." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 19 Mar 2013. Web. 1 Sep 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4354>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 775 comments

What happened to the passenger's is uncertain. .?

Really, no its very certain...

All of your ridiculous armchair internet quasi investigation and you havent fugured out what happened to crew and passengers

THEY ALL DIED!

dave festa, florida
May 21, 2014 3:35pm

"All of your ridiculous armchair internet quasi investigation and you havent fugured out what happened to crew and passengers "

Present some evidence to prove that statement.
It would be a "first" from you, dave.

"THEY ALL DIED!"

According to the US govt story of Fl77, that is correct.
Passengers, crew, and "terrorists" all died when Fl77 impacted the Pentagon.

However, the Official Story of Fl77 depends heavily on Hani Hanjour as the terrorist pilot. He wasn't "identified" as being involved with Fl77 until a few days after 9-11.

That renders any passenger list that shows him as altered, and certainly not the original list of passengers of a flight (AA77) that BTS records show as never having taken off that day.

As such, the question now is just how much was that passenger list altered, in other words, fabricated ?

1) We have a flight that is recorded as never having happened in official statistical records.

2) A story of terrorist hijacking that depended heavily on officially debunked Olsen phone calls.

3) The alleged terrorists were never identified according to FBI records.

4) Any passenger list that shows Hanjour MUST be altered, and certainly not the original.
That proves a fabrication.

Just how far that fabrication extends re passengers is currently unknown publicly.

As I said, what happened to the passengers is uncertain.

Macky, Auckland
May 21, 2014 10:39pm

He must absolutely love the attention, though. All he has to do is drop by here a couple times a day and throw out some assertions, dodge a few good points, and cry "official story!", and he gets a new set of comments. 768 so far.

Øyvind, Bergen
May 22, 2014 6:42am

Nope, my opinions are backed by official evidence and critical analysis. They will change when someone presents better evidence than mine.

I've never said that Fl77 and its passengers did NOT hit the Pentagon, only that all evidence is US govt-generated. If you are ok with that, then you simply believe what the US govt has told you, without any proof. So be it.

And that part of the Official Story may indeed be true, but the rest (the terrorists, Hanjour etc) has already been proven hogwash, with US govt agency files evidence to back it.

The supporters of the Official Story of Fl77 are quite prepared to believe a fabricated US govt conspiracy theory that involved Bin Laden (unproven), Islamic terrorists (none in sight on Fl77, the Olson phone calls having been debunked), someone called Hanjour (utterly incapable of flying Fl77, and only entering the story days after 9-11), the naming of the five Fl77 hijackers (never identified in the wreckage), bogus passenger lists, but ignore US govt agency evidence that is directly against said Official Story.

How crazy is that ?? Where's your critical thinking ?

Øyvind

Present some sensible evidence for the Official Story of Fl77, instead of casting aspersions on me. It's not about attention, it's about the truth.

You could start by presenting those "few good points" that you think I'm dodging.
If I can't answer to them, then I will say so honestly, in the spirit of dialectic enquiry.

Go for it, back your statements up

Macky, Auckland
May 22, 2014 12:53pm

And by the way, Øyvind, while you're thinking of a "few good points" that you think I've dodged, your remark "768 so far" is about something perfectly normal, since :-
1) I always try to give the courtesy of a reply to anyone who addresses my posts, whether for or against..
2) As almost (apart from Eric and one or two other occasional posters) the only dissenter on this subject, and with many supporters of the Official Story of Flight 77 (JUST that, the Official Story or Standard Model) presenting their cases for their beliefs, often in multiple posts before they stop, it is only natural to expect several hundreds of posts to accumulate on the Pentagon Missile thread.

Surely that's not hard to understand, is it ?

Where are your good points that you feel that I've dodged ?
I will readily admit that I have no answer to them, if that's the case.

What have you got to say about the March 31 citations that clearly show FBI and BTS files that directly conflict with the Official Story of Fl77 ?

How about the fact that Bin Laden was never indicted for 9-11 ?

That the five alleged Islamic terrorists of Fl77 were never identified, but most of the passengers and crew were ? Commission interviews ranged over the world, Hani Hanjour's brother had his say. Why didn't the FBI ask him for a DNA sample so that his brother's alleged participation in Fl77 be proven ?

I'll tell you why.

Because Hanjour, along with his alleged cohorts were never in the Pentagon wreckage, that's why.

Macky, Auckland
May 23, 2014 11:04pm

You claim that there were many photos of wreckage that prove that the AA 757 hit. Interestingly, you didn't look at them critically yourself - if you had, you'd notice that the small piece of fuselage that had the right colors on it, didn't have them all, or in the correct order, as shown by the picture of the whole, undamaged plane. (note the absence of the dark blue band that is shown most clearly at the window level, and the order of red, white, and light blue on the scrap versus the real airplane).

Skepticism is only as good as the effort you put into it. Otherwise, it's just denialism.

Keep being a skeptic - just be better at it.

Dick Martin-Shorter, Seattle
May 31, 2014 1:22pm

BTW, the idea that the wreckage piece was part of the logo is hard to square with the apparent right-angle turn of the red section - at least I couldn't make it fit any of the proposed sites in the picture, and the Italian site that you link to doesn't discuss it, at the place you linked to...

The Italian site does, however, make (to me) an excellent case for something larger than a conventional cruise missile + explosive for creating the damage. Of course, if you allow the idea of a conspiracy, then limiting the arguments to considering conventional cruise missiles (or conversely not considering a custom-built/borrowed/converted airframe with custom designed explosives or just added fuel storage) is narrowing the focus without reason, in my opinion.

If someone with sufficient power wanted to make a false-flag attack, then clearly it could have been done, whether the actual AA 77 plane was used, with passengers, or a stand-in, or the actual plane with no passengers but having electronic remote controls.

Thanks for providing the world with another site to discuss the tragedy, both with rigor, and with skepticism.

Dick Martin-Shorter, Seattle
May 31, 2014 2:13pm

Dick - Could you post a URL to a picture of the wreckage you say is painted with the wrong colors? As high res as you can find.

Brian Dunning, Laguna Niguel, CA
June 1, 2014 10:46am

Whether the paint on the piece of debris shows a portion of the logo on the upper fuselage or not still does not prove that Fl77 impacted the Pentagon.

Fl77 may well have, but there is no proof outside the US govt and its agencies, and we are entirely reliant on the US govt to be telling the truth.

NTSB ATC transcripts stop at the point of alleged hijack, Fl77 was never identified in the air again.
To all intents and purposes, it disappeared into thin air, until an airliner-type plane suddenly appeared to "hundreds of witnesses" flying towards the Pentagon, and presumably, the same aircraft crashing into the Pentagon.

Re the FR data, certified and qualified people on here
http://pilotsfor911truth.org/pressrelease.html contend that the data conflicts with the Official Story, so once again we have this scenario, with official information conflicting with key aspects of the US govt Official Story, and over a dozen professional pilots signing into a press release that calls into question Fl77 Flight Recorder data interpretations as presented by the NTSB.

When we add the large number of professional pilots, engineers, doctors, ex military, and survivors and victims families on here http://patriotsquestion911.com/survivors.html
...then we have a serious problem arising where even qualified people are, like myself, questioning the Official US Govt version of not only Fl77, but 9-11 in general.

Nobody can say these are conspiracy nutters, or tinfoil hat wearers, one bit.

Macky, Auckland
June 5, 2014 11:33pm

Yet people who consider themselves to be rational thinkers and skeptics continue to believe what is in effect only a US govt-generated story of Fl77 (in totality) where various crucial aspects of said story have either not a single item of proof for them, or have in fact US govt agency evidence that directly contradicts said story.

Not a single response from Skeptoid or any other Fl77 Standard Model supporter regarding the March 31 citations that link to agency files that effectively debunk integral parts of the Fl77 Official Story.

Simply the belief from said supporters that the US govt has told the truth about five alleged Islamic terrorists hijacking a civilian flight, despite being still recorded to date as never having occurred by the BTS, the alleged Olson phone calls that underpinned the Official Story debunked by FBI evidence at the Moussaoui trial, the utter incompetence of the alleged pilot, Hani Hanjour, never proven to even be on the flight, altered flight passengers lists presented as evidence at the Moussaoui trial, alleged hijackers never identified, and a list allegedly found by the FBI that changed somehow in the days after 9-11.

That anybody still has no qualms believing the US govt version of Fl77 demonstrates that in the case of Fl77 any semblance of critical analysis has been suspended.

There is no need to argue whether a missile hit the Pentagon or not.

Almost the entire US govt version of Fl77 is only an urban legend supported by mere belief.

Macky, Auckland
June 14, 2014 3:08pm

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