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
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe

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., 8 Apr. 2008. Web. 18 Mar. 2013. <>

NTSB. "Items Released Under FOIA." FOIA Electronic Reading Room. National Transportation Safety Board, 9 Aug. 2010. Web. 16 Mar. 2013. <>

Roberts, S. "Photos of Flight 77 Wreckage Inside the Pentagon." Jeff Rense, 4 Dec. 2002. Web. 16 Mar. 2013. <>

Williams, M. "American Airlines Flight 77." 911 Myths., 5 Nov. 2007. Web. 14 Mar. 2013. <>

Yoon, J., Scott, J. "Pentagon & Boeing 757 Engine Investigation." Aerospaceweb., 12 Mar. 2006. Web. 16 Mar. 2013. <>

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "The Pentagon and the Missile." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 19 Mar 2013. Web. 3 Aug 2015. <>


10 most recent comments | Show all 809 comments

Cool Macky, you acknowledge me being sceptic of the 19 highjacker story and you admit, you don´t have any evidence to their identity other than media reports. Right. So we´re in the same boat. As this site about scepticism which I highly encourage especially about what governments and media tells us these days. So the author of this article did a good job on disproving the missile theory as so much I agree that the missile thing is too far fetched - a missile can not do the required observed manouvres as well there are enough witnesses that there indeed was a plane. Only remaining question is, what kind of plane it was and who was in it (if it wasn´t remote controlled)...

Please note that not even the FBI is sure about the 19 hijackers:

"FBI Director Robert Mueller acknowledged on Thursday that the identity of several of the suicide hijackers is in doubt. "

Source is BBC which also tells us, that some of the alleged "hijackers" were still alive:

"A man called Waleed Al Shehri says he left the US a year ago

Another of the men named by the FBI as a hijacker in the suicide attacks on Washington and New York has turned up alive and well.

The identities of four of the 19 suspects accused of having carried out the attacks are now in doubt. "

F, Westfalen
April 1, 2015 2:45pm

More: Someone noted that the Bin Laden wasn´t accused of the 9/11 attacks on teh FBI site (he was there as a wanted terrorist, but for "older" crimes, 9/11 wasn´t mentioned).

So it seems this sceptical person who noted this wrote to the FBI and asked them about it, FBI answered: "We have no hard evidence that connects BL with the 9/11 attacks" Full stop.

In a nutshell the 19 arabs are not proven by anyone and even doubted by the FBI. Same for Bin Laden. Guess the FBI was to this time still a good and honest agency. Which is in contrast to the CIA or NSA.

But maybe this site should make an article about the FBI too, as they seem to engage in conspiracy theories... :P Which maybe true to the JFK murder cover up, but it seems FBI recovered from this and tells more truths about 9/11.

F, Westfalen
April 1, 2015 2:55pm

Here is another research topic, WHO came up with the names of the 19 arabs, and when ? Let´s say they did research and after some weeks of hard detective work they found out the 19 names? However this work seemed to be at least partly false, as the FBI proves as well the still living suspects.

AFAIK however the names were given as a matter of fact and without doubt. In this case the person(s) or agency(s) who came up with these names must be suspected of cover-up and/or make false claims. Any info who made 19 hijackers claim ?

Also who followed up the FBI and BBC claims that at least 4 of the names are in doubt as well BinL seems not connected to 9/11 ? I never heard of investigations of this fact...

F, Westfalen
April 1, 2015 3:05pm

In the early hours after 9-11 the FBI alleged to have found a list of the "terrorists' names, firstly in a car outside in a carpark, then mysteriously changing to being found in Atta's luggage that somehow didn't make it onboard Flight 11.

That list itself changed after a day or so on at least four names, and the name Hani Hanjour appeared, replacing a Mosear Caned?
How the list (the "Rosetta Stone" as one FBI agent described it) managed to not only jump from a car parked outside into Atta's luggage, then alter itself to include four names which stuck for the rest of time it seems, is beyond my comprehension.

The passengers lists of any crashed aircraft are among very first things that are requested from an airline, both for insurance purposes and the notification of the relatives.
Therefore any passenger list now presented with any of those four late names MUST be altered.

How much those passenger lists have been altered is unknown. Certain it is that BTS lists Fl77 as never having departed that day from Dulles.

So from the very start, to the "identifying" of the passengers and crew (but NOT the alleged terrorists) by DNA, away from the crash site, there is no proof of Fl77 ever taking place at all, except what the US govt and its agencies are telling us. The FBI file that proves that Bin Laden was never indicted for 9-11. It is current, as the DECEASED placard under his photo shows,

No indictment because of no proof.

Macky, Auckland
April 1, 2015 6:30pm

F, Westfalen
April 1, 2015 2:45pm

"Please note that not even the FBI is sure about the 19 hijackers:"

Correct. At least 7 of the alleged hijackers shown to be BELIEVED to be the 19 terrorists are reputed to still be alive. Some of them have been interviewed.
In addition, four of the BELIEVED terrorists shown were not at first named on the alleged list allegedly found in Atta's luggage.

They replaced
Mosear Caned (who Hanjour later replaced)
Amer Kamfar
Adnan Bukhari
Ameer Bukhari

One of the Bukhari's was found alive The other had died one year (to the day previous in a collision between his plane and another because of an ATC error.

Has any Official Story supporter any idea how those names turned up on a list in Atta's luggage, then managed to change over the next few days ?

Anybody ?

2nd par. "It should be noted that attempts to confirm the true identities of these individuals are still under way."

The file has never been updated, because there is nothing to update it with.
The photos were released to the ranting media who seized on the 19 as being confirmed, which was endorsed in the 9-11 Comm. report.

It was "identification" by implication, nothing less.

Those that believe in the US govt version of 9-11 are victims of a successful brainwashing.

Macky, Auckland
April 3, 2015 6:21pm

Can someone explain to me why the hole in the side of the Pentagon was much smaller that the size of the commercial airliner? Also, were any black boxes found from any of the crashes and was the information made public?

Dick, Yonkers NY
July 20, 2015 8:26am

The impact was as expected when you crash a hollow tube made of aluminium into a brick wall. The brick wall wins. Airliners are big but they are comparatively light weight, otherwise they wouldn't fly. All bar one black box was recovered afaik but most were destroyed as they are designed to survive a regular plane crash, not being rammed into large objects at full throttle.

Peter, newcastle
July 20, 2015 6:55pm

I've never spent much time on the Pentagon hole/too small/aluminium vs stone wall speculations. While relevant to the whole 9-11 story up to a point, like the WTC collapses they serve as diversions from the main theme of who were the perpetrators, and their framing being used for continuing wars in the middle east under the supposed War of Terrorism bullshit designed to justify the oil reserves acquisitions, the removal of persons from power that no longer served the US, and a strategic presence from a military perspective in central Asia.

Nevertheless, the size of the hole was the first thing that sparked my interest when I saw the photo in the local newspaper that terrible morning. I couldn't understand where the wing slash marks were, or the fact that the engines, collectively the most solid pieces of equipment on an aircraft and set at 42 feet apart on a B757, left no apparent holes of their own.

And why shouldn't they ? Let's face it, comparatively soft airframe roared in at 530mph (normal cruising speed at 35000 feet), 100 tons + of it in fact, and managed to penetrate 3 Pentagon rings, according to the Official Story.

But we can argue all day on the details of the crash site. The plain fact is that the Official Story has been proven BS by the Official Story's own govt agency files, and by Skeptoid's own mandate, critical analysis.

The debunking of the Official Story of Fl77 proves that the US govt's Official Story is one great Conspiracy Theory of its own.

Macky, Auckland
July 21, 2015 12:29am

one thing people pro government refuse to talk about is most of the 19 hijackers have been proven to be alive and doing well in their field of employment. also building 7 1 and 2 all came down exactly the same way, buildings that collapse fall over and smash other cars and buildings, they must be wired to come down into their own footprint. also the firemen also state that bombs were used and can be heard telling people to leave that bombs were in the buildings. also its just retarded that people can think planes caused 4 buildings to collapse. building 6 also proves bombs were used because all the outer is intact but the entire inside is scooped out exploded failed to collapse this is why they never mentioned building 6. look it up. also scientists/chemists found unspent thermate in the debris. all of these mentioned above re easily provable, you can look up the names of these people and look up their occupation call their work place and get someone English speaking and ask about them, they will tell you they have had many calls about this and will just tell you yes they are alive, that's all your going to hear. also these so called hijackers have active email addressees, now i know you want me to list all this information but it's on a dead hard disk and i dont feel like compiling all this information again also it pisses me off how so many thousands of people absolutely refuse to do any research, they expect me to give it to them, no way you all have pc's DO IT YOURSELF.

max, san francisco
July 29, 2015 7:08pm

Quite right max

My hundreds of posts on this thread have demonstrated beyond argument that so-called skeptics have made up their minds that 9-11 was carried out as the US govt Official Story says, and nothing that I have presented by way of Skeptoid's own mandate (critical analysis) and/or concrete evidence from US govt's own files has made any difference whatsoever to their belief that 19 Islamic terrorists hijacked 4 airliners and drove three of them into buildings, the other into the ground.

US govt files clearly state that Osama Bin Laden was never indicted for 9-11, Court evidence from the FBI show that Fl77 could never have been driven by the alleged hijacker pilot, the alleged 19 were never identified, and there is no proof that the alleged list "found" by the FBI exists, having somehow changed itself over the following days after 9-11 with at least 4 of the alleged terrorists.

BTS clearly shows in its govt statistics that Flights 77 and 11 never took off that day, and FBI evidence presented to court also clearly shows that the alleged Olson phones calls never took place.

Nothing changes with the so-called skeptical supporters of 9-11.

They totally ignore all the citations that I presented over a year ago, with only one person recently asking for them.
The only defence they can muster is to allege that I'm a conspiracy nut, when I've never presented any conspiracy.

What has happened ?

I have to conclude that supporters of the OS of 9-11 are under hypnosis.

Macky, Auckland
July 30, 2015 2:19pm

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