The attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) and the Pentagon, and the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on the morning of 11 September 2001 have brought forth a plethora of conspiracy theories, most of which arose outside the United States and have only slowly been gaining ground among the U.S people.
In Muslim countries, many people immediately doubted that Osama Bin Laden was behind the attacks, suggesting instead that they were a plot by the Bush administration to discredit Muslims and justify greater world domination.
While not suspecting U.S. government involvement, other Muslims remain unconvinced by the sparse evidence of Osama Bin Laden's guilt. For instance, the open letter entitled "How We Can Coexist" (May 2002) signed by Islamic scholars and intellectuals and addressed to the U.S. authors of the open letter "What We're Fighting For" (February 2002) speaks openly of "alleged perpetrators."
But accusations of a plot by the U.S. government are by no means limited to Muslim nations. Frenchman Thierry Meyssan states as much in L'Effroyable imposture (published in English as 9/11, The Big Lie). He bases his suspicions among other things on reports that several of the nineteen alleged hijackers are still alive.
He also doubts that flight 77 ever flew into the Pentagon. The proposal that a bomb or missile—not a plane—hit the Pentagon has been gaining popularity, especially with the appearance on the Internet of numerous photos of the Pentagon that seem to belie the impact of a plane.
Meyssan's theory has been under harsh criticism both in the United States and in France. One of his critics is compatriot Guillaume Dasquié, coauthor (with Jean Guisnel) of L'Effroyable mensonge (no English translation to date), which takes Meyssan to task on a number of messy details, such as the eyewitnesses of the crash at the Pentagon and the whereabouts of flight 77 and its passengers if there was no crash. Dasquié is perhaps eager to disprove Meyssan because he has his own conspiracy theory.
In Ben Laden: La Vérité interdite (published in English as Forbidden Truth), coauthored with JeanCharles Brisard, the theory is that the Bush administration had already been planning to invade Afghanistan before September 11 to build a natural gas pipeline and that it used the attacks as a front. Specifically, U.S. officials are said to have met with mediating Pakistani officials in July of 2001 to present an ultimatum to the Taliban: a carpet of gold (the pipeline) or a carpet of bombs.
Dasquié and Brisard also point out that both the Bush and Clinton administrations actively protected Bin Laden from investigations. For instance, FBI agent John O'Neill, who had been in charge of investigating Bin Laden in the 1990s, quit his post out of frustration in the summer of 2002 to become—ironically—security chief at the WTC.
He died trying to save lives in the attack. O'Neill claimed he had been obstructed by colleagues trying to protect the oil interests of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, but the FBI claims that O'Neill was making too many enemies in the Arab world—and too many espionage mistakes.
In addition, Dasquié and Brisard document the failure of the United States to prosecute Osama Bin Laden: in March 1998, it was Libya's Gaddafi, not Clinton, who asked Interpol for the first international arrest warrant for Bin Laden. Gaddafi suspected fundamentalist Bin Laden of destabilizing Libya's moderate Muslim state—at the behest of the U.S. Interpol ignored the warrant, Dasquié and Brisard write. But even before that, in March 1996, the U.S. refused an offer by the government of Sudan to extradite Osama Bin Laden to the United States.
The similar theory that the U.S. government knew about the attacks beforehand and prepared to take advantage of them politically rather than prevent them has been gaining more ground inside the United States than the more far-fetched theory that the U.S. government is itself responsible for the attacks (the planes that flew into the WTC would then have been remote-controlled).
While the former theory is far from proven, it at least seems to be supported by five widely accepted facts: there were warnings of upcoming attacks from U.S. allies (such as France and Egypt); the FBI itself had evidence but failed to "connect the dots"; the U.S. government has a long history of supporting Bin Laden and the Taliban; the Bush family has a history of business deals with the Bin Laden family; and the Bush administration was quick to make political capital of September 11, such as with the Patriot Act, which some claim was prepared in advance of the attacks.
Two websites have collected information and posed tough questions (almost all of which remain unanswered to date) without themselves aiming to formulate a unified conspiracy theory. One is Canada's Centre for Research on Globalization (particularly Michel Chossudovsky, author of War and Globalization, the Truth behind 9/11), and the other is Germany's Telepolis (featuring in particular the work of Mathias Bröckers). Bröckers describes himself as an "anti-conspiracy theorist," believing that Bush has no idea who is behind September 11 and so invented the al Qaeda conspiracy to suit his purposes.
The unanswered issues include: Why was a plane able to penetrate the world's most heavily guarded no-fly zone at all, much less 50 minutes after the first plane hit the WTC and 80 minutes after air controllers reported it hijacked, which by law requires interceptor jets to be scrambled? Why are seven of the eight flight recorders irreparably damaged, though they are made to withstand such crashes?
Why has the unusual volume of stock transactions (especially put-options) in the few days preceding 11 September 2001 not been traced back to its sources? And why has no one investigated the payment of $100,000 to Mohammed Atta's account in Florida from Pakistan's Ahmad Omar Sheikh on behalf of Lt-Gen Mahmud Ahmad, former director of ISI (Pakistan's intelligence agency)?
The Times of India, which originally reported the transaction on 9 October 2001, argued that a direct link between the ISI and the WTC attack would be of immense significance. Instead, researchers into September 11 note, not only has this matter not been investigated, but there was also no mention of Omar Sheikh's role in the transactions when he was later found guilty of murdering reporter Daniel Pearl and sentenced to death.
The list of unanswered questions is much longer, but the central unanswered question for conspiracy theorists is probably: why did George W. Bush personally limit investigations into all matters related to September 11 in January 2002? The official reason is that the available resources are to be used to fight the war on terrorism. But the Bush administration seems to be well versed in withholding resources, beginning with its refusal to disclose papers relating to its connections to the Enron scandal. And in October 2002,
U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat who is privy to the limited investigations into September 11, began calling for declassification of what he deemed to be most important information.
In late November 2002, Bush appointed Henry Kissinger (himself a familiar figure in conspiracy theories) to head the September 11 investigation commission, whose purpose according to the New York Times is to "help the administration learn the tactics and motives of the enemy," rather than to uncover mistakes on the part of the government or security agencies that might have prevented the attacks, a limit that is much to the chagrin of the families of September 11 victims. Within two weeks, however, Kissinger resigned from the commission, citing potential conflict of interests with his public relations work, details of which he was unwilling to disclose in the usual fashion.
At the time of writing, major newspapers in the United States are full of reports about how September 11 could have been prevented. At the end of October 2002, American ex-patriot novelist Gore Vidal published his conspiracy theory (in the British press) entitled "The Enemy Within," in which he points the finger at Bush Sr. and Jr. as well as Pakistan. But the most widely accepted "explanation" for September 11 within the United States is still sheer incompetence on the part of U.S. intelligence.