“Show-Trial” seen in 2nd WTC hearing of House Science Committee in 2002: Part 2 of 3

SHOW TRIAL: “A trial organized by a government to have an effect on public opinion and reduce political opposition, and not because it is interested in matters of justice.”

—Cambridge Dictionary

If THE FIRST U.S. House Science committee hearing March 6, 2002 on the cause of World Trade Center destruction didn’t appear to be a “show trial,” the second swiftly following it (May 1, 2002) certainly did. Given Congressional committee history, significant indicators of any session’s importance to panelists are its length and participation. So despite global attention on this monumental American tragedy and its critically important topic, both meetings were booked for only three hours in Room 2318 of the Rayburn House Office Building. But particularly telling was the high absenteeism for those Wednesday afternoons: 32/47 in March, 39/47 in May. [1]

True, it was May Day and some members might be at union events. Some at other hearings. Some ailing or out of town. Some lunching late with key constituents or lobbyists. But it’s also likely that many voted with their feet because they suspected such a repeat to be a rigged meeting, one ordered by an alarmed Bush Administration angry that its verdict of fire as the destruction’s cause was being hedged in the first federal report about to be released that month by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It was based on the forensic research from one of its ad-hoc Building Performance Assessment Teams (BPAT), experts in structural engineering, analysis, fire-science academics, and firefighting. A new hearing would blunt most media coverage of this “preliminary” report and leave the impression that the government was working around the clock for a far more substantive and thorough investigation about what happened to the WTC. [2]

The March hearing did seem designed to undermine the report’s credibility and to lay the groundwork for Plan B. Because of all the fanfare, funds expended and expectations depending on it, cancelling publication would raise a hornet’s nest in the scientific community—and arouse massive doubts about the Administration from the public. Panelists learned that Plan B began in January with FEMA handing off a new investigation to its research subsidiary, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). NIST, after all, was a honeycomb of the nation’s top scientists and engineers. [3]

So this newest hearing had all the hallmarks of a show-trial downplaying the FEMA/BPAT report and playing up FEMA/NIST’s plans for a supposedly more thorough investigation—with a verdict of fire as the only cause and recommendations for the future. Given the public’s short attention span, the four-year timeline would be advantageous.

Some panelists had to have suspected the other motive for calling this newest hearing was to punish witnesses in charge of the report. The scene did seem reminiscent of treatment meted out to Galileo and Soviet scientists until they assured authorities of cooperation.

Witnesses subpoenaed were a FEMA acting administrator in the agency’s insurance and risk division (Robert Shea), the BPAT chief (W. Gene Corley, Ph.D) and team member/report writer/fire-science professor (Jonathan Barnett, Ph.D). It seemed plain that treatment over BPAT’s report would underscore what was wanted from another witness, NIST’s latest director (Arden L. Bement, Ph.D) to shape the new WTC probe into findings around the Administration’s desired verdict. Perhaps to keep attention totally focused on fire as the only causal agent of WTC destruction—as well as fire/building codes that would deliberately set off a firestorm from the building industry—was the same expert witness from the March hearing, an outspoken fire-science academic (Glenn P. Corbett, Ph.D). [4]

In the driver’s seat once again was the affable, voluble, and politically astute chair, Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-NY-24th). A House member for nearly 25 years, he had demonstrated in March how to steer a hearing to desired results. In this hearing, he also would show how to fast-track Administration-ordered bills signed into law. A week later he planned to hopper a bill to provide the upcoming NIST project with the equivalent of FEMA’s BPAT investigators. No ad-hoc group, it was to be called the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) and populated with scientists/engineers likely to be more accommodating to White House demands than BPAT. [5]

Boehlert had been busy even before drafting that bill.

He’d talked the ambitious young panelist Anthony Weiner (D-NY-9th) into becoming its co-author. That was a leg up for someone ranking 15th in seniority among the 22 committee Democrats. That might have explained Weiner’s toned-down blasts in the May hearing against those hobbling BPAT’s investigation and greater emphasis on remedy than blame for future catastrophes. Boehlert had also convinced a dozen members into co-sponsoring the bill and, in advance of the hearing, had requested further input from both witnesses and members. He had even charmed the crusty fire-science expert from the March hearing into becoming chief of NCST’s Advisory Committee, possibly with compliments to him such as:

…you may be the only person on this panel that can pass the objectivity test, in a sense. I don’t say that with any prejudice, but you are an independent operator and you are noted for saying exactly what is on your mind. [6]

Just how skillfully Boehlert maneuvered the hearing away from determining any causal agent of WTC destruction except fire and toward future recommendations was apparent in his opening statement:

…changes in evacuation procedures and emergency response procedures may be, by far, the most important results of this tragedy. [7]

His tactics strongly indicated acute awareness of the committee’s role in solving the Administration’s dilemma concerning the FEMA/BPAT report—and any probe. A global chorus—especially survivors and friends of the 3,000 dead—had been clamoring for answers since 9/12. Women made widows by 9/11 were beginning to “hard-lobby” the President and Congress for an independent commission to investigate the entire event. White House advisers knew few now believed that a pair of airliner hits could shake the Towers into dust and rubble. Not when mainstream media had instantly resurrected the 1945 Empire State Building event in which that iconic skyscraper withstood a hit between the 78th and 79th floors from a B-25 bomber whose pilot was lost in heavy fog. Worse for any fire verdict was the damning fact that the horrific blaze set off by the fuel was fed by several floors of combustibles. [8]

A fast closure to this dangerous and distractive problem was desperately wanted so that global focus would be almost entirely on pursuit of 9/11’s suspected perpetrators. Judging from events immediately following the attacks, White House decision-makers rushed to use federal agencies dealing with buildings that would rubberstamp other causal agents, chiefly fire or faulty design, poor construction or questionable building materials. They chose the two heavily dependent on funding from the President and House: FEMA/BPAT and, to a lesser degree, the National Science Foundation. Among the NSF’s eight WTC projects was a grant to the expert witness for engineering from the March hearings (Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl, Ph.D), the University of California/Berkeley professor championing computer modeling to test building destruction. [8]

Strangely, despite White House demands to investigate the destruction’s cause, FEMA’s BPAT vanguard arrived at Ground Zero only to find New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani using city’s legal right to bar them access until September 29. They lacked “authority to investigate.” Access had been granted only to the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Even more curious was FEMA’s failure to use White House clout to overrule such orders. [10]

Giuliani had also sealed statements from 503 First Responders about their 9/11 observations, documents finally forced opened in 2008 by a New York Times freedom-of-information lawsuit. On top of these roadblocks, key officials from the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, owners of six of the seven WTC buildings, refused to relinquish vital documents—even blueprints—about their design, construction, and building materials until January 8, 2002. [11]

By the time BPAT’s full team was assembled October 7 for its six-day probe, all vital physical evidence to determine cause—especially key steel beams from all seven WTC buildings—had been removed under Giuliani orders. Weiner had complained loudly that 80% of the steel was shipped to recyclers before it could be examined. Despite similar outcries soon after 9/11 and today that the law forbade removal of evidence from a crime scene, the Mayor’s position seemed to be that the search for the dead and missing at Ground Zero took precedence over any customary policing powers. [12]

Now, Giuliani assuredly knew all about laws forbidding removal of evidence. He was a magna cum laude law student and, as a tough and thorough U.S. Attorney fighting organized crime in New York, he had won 4,152 convictions (25 reversals). Moreover, the New York Times was reporting on October 9—two days after BPAT began investigating—that each piece of the 308,900 tons of WTC steel was being “tracked at elaborately monitored checkpoints” before leaving Ground Zero. Some steel was set aside and sent to “investigation sites” for “crime evidence” at delivery points like Staten Island’s Fresh Kills landfill. [13]

If the NTSB transports all aircraft-crash evidence to a secure warehouse for world-class forensic experts to determine the cause, surely Giuliani and the Bush Administration could have trucked/barged the beams and other WTC debris to a nearby military installation so that scientific/engineering forensic teams could perform a NTSB-like iminute examination to find what destroyed the WTC? Too expensive to transport, store, hire those experts? Not for this colossal crime.

Even if Giuliani ruled out this action, why did he not at least field such national expert forensic teams—before removal of the evidence—to do onsite examinations? Or fail to have each beam photographed for condition/residue, as well as marking an ID number and logging the location where it was found in the rubble? How could he fail to order beams “of interest” to receive that kind of intensive scientific examination? Careful analysis and sorting of beams certainly was being done at Ground Zero because some stored at a JFK Airport hangar were marked “SAVE” in huge white lettering. The Mayor’s failure to follow police procedures now suggests that suspect steel perhaps was equally marked either for quick recycling or shipped to distant places. [14]

Giuliani had ensured that chasing down the steel for examination at an array of destinations would be inconvenient and beyond the slim budgets of FEMA or NIST: Asian scrap yards, a Louisiana shipyard, the JFK hangar, Fresh Kills, and a pair of nearby recycling shops. Boehlert seems to have unwittingly revealed he was in the White House loop when he said: “…at one time, they were even talking about dumping it into the sea to build a new reef for fish.” [15]

BPAT was left with weak evidence to determine causal agents: 236 piece of metal from unknown locations, “hundreds of hours of video and thousands of still photographs” they knew would be challenged for possible PhotoShop doctoring. They did have interviews with 9/11 witnesses and WTC’s architects, builders, and maintenance people—and, in January, whatever documents the PA deigned to provide. [16]

Even with a tight schedule to produce the May report and, soon, mindful a preordained verdict had been mandated, the BPAT team seemed to balk the way only courageous and ethical Civil Service veterans do when they object to a policy: Give order-givers the truth, but if they find it unacceptable, wrap the truth in half-truths and pray they miss it.

Overwhelming evidence they did have ruled out faulty design, poor construction, and questionable building materials as causal agents for the Towers, (WTC 1 and 2). That left them with the dubious verdict of fire. Yet the team knew that up to 9/11 no fireproofed steel-framed buildings had ever collapsed from fire alone in recorded history. They had to have pointed out this fact to Bush contacts, adding that a verdict of fire would trigger sarcastic rebuttal from every firehouse in the country. It would damage the report’s credibility, and sully FEMA’s reputation. That argument apparently made their contacts uneasy enough to approve the section about the Towers’ destruction, the Empire State Building hit notwithstanding. [17] That passage was to raise more than a decade of scornful howls and skepticism about the White House-driven verdict:

The structural damage sustained by each tower from the [aircrafts’] impact, combined with the ensuing fires, resulted in the total collapse of each building. [18]

What may have been the last straw for the Administration was that the report rendered no fire verdict about what caused the collapse of the 47-story WTC 7. Here was a major challenge—and mystery. The substantially sound building had not been hit by aircraft, and firemen had been pulled by noon despite eruptive small fires begun just after the Tower destruction. Yet it collapsed nearly in its footprint at 5:20 p.m. at a free-fall speed of 6.5 seconds. BPAT’s refusal to render a verdict other than “unknown causes” had to be infuriating to the White House because it would raise doubts, especially among demolition experts, about the 11-second demise of the 110-story Towers. Pressure from high places or not, FEMA/BPAT refused to budge on changing this passage:

The specifics of the fires in WTC 7 and how they caused the building to collapse remain unknown at this time. Although the total diesel fuel on the premises contained massive potential energy, the best hypothesis has only a low probability of occurrence. Further research, investigation, and analyses are needed to resolve this issue. [19]

It’s possible that this verdict came by their threats to include a comparison of the 47-story WTC 7, across from WTC 1, with the 40-story Deutsche Bank Building (née Bankers Trust), across from WTC 2, built in the same era. The bank took a heavier pounding of Tower debris because it was closer to the complex than WTC 7. It also had suffered hotter fires than WTC 7 because oxygen poured through 1,700 broken windows and WTC 7 scarcely had any even at its collapse. Yet the bank remained standing—as it did in a 2007 seven-alarm fire)— with its two main insurers saying it “could be cleaned and reoccupied” for about $170,000,000. [20]

Nor did it help the White House cause when another set of Ground Zero investigators, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), declared that the FEMA/BPAT report:

…may not be able to validate definitively any of a number of hypotheses regarding the collapse….As a result, independent researchers are unsure how they can contribute to the understanding of how the buildings fell without unnecessarily duplicating work. Others fear that the BPAT’s silence on the scope of its report may allow critical aspects of the picture to be missed, and that, by the time the report is released and any such gaps are discovered, the trail of evidence that could provide answers may have grown cold. [21]

Even if FEMA/BPAT stuck to their guns, however, the lack of viable evidence soon became the Administration’s greatest ally in discrediting this first report. They had been aided by Weiner’s taunts in the March hearing:

According to reports that we have heard since, there has been no comprehensive investigation. One expert in fire engineering concluded that there was virtually a non-existent investigation. [22]

FEMA’s administrator had responded with a litany of BPAT’s difficulties from Giuliani and the PA, but seemed contradicted by his frustrated BPAT chief on the importance of checking all the steel. He had testified:

…there is no indication that having access to each piece of steel from the World Trade Center would make a significant difference to understanding the performance of the structures. [23]

This claim rang hollow because metallurgical experts know that steel’s location in a building, the metal’s condition—several WTC beams were twisted, some had turned syrupy—and residue are crucial factors in determining the cause of construction failures. Apparently the White House trusted Boehlert to ensure in the May hearing that such information and any investigation about cause would be outweighed by the report’s recommendation section suggesting federally mandated fire/building codes. Administration contacts had learned it would stir such outrage—from fire professionals, building owners, the construction trade, engineers, architects—that media coverage would emphasize that fire must have destroyed the WTC complex. [24]

Boehlert and they had to be delighted that the fire-science witness he would place on the NCST’s advisory board was inspired to write a five-page exhibit (Proposal for a World Trade Center Disaster Commission) emphasizing fire-prevention recommendations (“Of particular importance are the regulations covering fire protection of high-rise buildings.”). Boehlert thoughtfully attached it as an appendix to the May hearing’s transcript. [25]

[Links to the texts of both March and May hearings are at right.]

Other groundwork for May’s “show trial” that would figure heavily in NIST’s future report was laid at the March hearing by that civil-engineering expert witness with the NSF grant to study the WTC. Though use of computer modeling to explain anything was in its infancy, he had touted it as the best testing tool to determine the destruction’s cause. The NIST director had requested $10 million to build a “large-scale” fire-testing facility, but computer modeling won out. And six years later, that fledgling tool’s inconclusive results was to destroy the credibility of NIST’s WTC 7 report in the eyes of thousands of structural engineers, scientists, and fire-science experts. [26]

Yet another and subliminal tool, one rooted in classic effective propaganda, was at hand in both hearings to bring in the Administration’s demand that fire be the only culprit in the destruction: words embedded by repetition. Because both hearings were subtly designed to exclude any expert witnesses with any other theories except fire, this tool proved to be immensely successful not just to those in Congress but the general public. A content analysis of words used in the March hearings—and transcripts including written attachments were provided to absent panelists—revealed that by the time the handful remaining were ready to question those witnesses, they had heard and read the word “collapse” 72 times, “progressive collapse” 10 times, “fire” 72 times, “fireproofing” 3 times, and “computer modeling,” 5 times. [27]

Neither panelists nor witnesses used words such as “high-yield explosives,” “radiation devices,” or “controlled demolition.” They seemed unaware that many First Responders and eyewitnesses reported experiencing explosions. None knew either that significant levels of strontium and zinc, as well as barium, uranium, and vanadium—all signs of nuclear debris—surrounding Ground Zero were found September 17-18 by the U.S. Geological Survey. In addition, once the WTC 7’s 6.5-second free-fall collapse was exposed, many construction experts, arson specialists, and physicists suspected a pre-set demolition. [28]

That words from the first hearing were successfully embedded seemed to be apparent in May’s hearing. The word “fire” was mentioned 266 times and its accessory “fireproofing” 27 times. Unlike the March hearing, the word “blast” was used 13 times—twice concerning earthquakes and other catastrophes. “Bombs/bombings” were used six times. “Explosives,” however, was never used. Nor did a single participant except for Weiner (“did [fireproofing] fail for other reasons?”) declare that alternative causal agents needed to be explored. [29]

That so few panelists attended—only Boehlert and fellow Republican Christopher Shays (CT, 4th) remained—left the chair free to dominate and constantly direct the May proceedings. He had prodded witnesses by giving advance notice of their expected focus and, considering questions panelists asked, ensured they followed those subtle instructions. He had also listened to input from members of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign—and was well aware they were in the hearings chamber. [30]

Boehlert constantly interjected comments between panelist questionings and witnesses’ answers and, eventually filled in question periods for missing colleagues. Committee protocol permitted the ranking Democrat (Ralph M. Hall, TX-4th) to be the first to make statements. He whipped through 310 words (“…I commend the [BPAT] team for their outstanding commitment and effort, [but] their report highlights that a lot remains to be done, and that is where NIST comes in”). He turned in the written version and seems to have departed, perhaps followed by other members and those in the chamber. The only relief for remaining participants was a 30-minute recess for a House floor vote. [31]

In one respect, the session was highly beneficial for the few panelists because for once were permitted more than one round of interrogations and to show they’d done some WTC homework within the framework Boehlert had orchestrated. Their performances would play well with constituents and perhaps the general public. The scheduled parameters seemed to be 20% for criticism and response about the FEMA/BPAT shortcomings and report; 40% for NIST’s investigation of the WTC destruction; 30% on future recommendations; 5% on the Boehlert-Weiner NCST bill; and 5% on funding the NIST project. [32]

The Administration’s hand governing any WTC probe was finally exposed when the NIST director testified about how the new project would be funded:

The Administration has expressed strong commitment for the NIST response plan and has requested $16 million as part of the FEMA’s fiscal year 2002 supplemental budget request to support the NIST investigation. The President’s fiscal year 2003 budget request also includes $2 million in base funding to support other elements of the NIST response plan. And we have already redirected approximately $2 million of existing base funds within our Building and Fire Research Laboratory to support the response plan. Future resource requirements for the broader research and development and dissemination and technical assistance program will be included in our fiscal year 2004 budget process and beyond. [33]

As to the second condemnation of the FEMA/BPAT effort and praise for NIST’s takeover, FEMA’s director focused on its release. But BPAT’s leader once again had to endure Weiner’s withering rundown of failures:

…for the families of those lost, today’s report offers little consolation and leaves many questions unanswered. And, sadly, because of the early missteps in the investigation, some of the most vexing questions may never be unraveled.

The report is short on conclusions about design decisions that could have contributed to the deaths of so many firefighters and workers on the top floors. Should future buildings avoid the concentration of stairwells that were used in the Twin Towers? Was enough attention given to the communications infrastructure that failed once after the 1993 bombings of these same buildings, and tragically left hundreds of emergency workers climbing stairs up while officials on the ground knew that the buildings were about to come down?

Did the fireproofing separate from the steel because of the intense heat, or was it the design of this post-asbestos treatment that is in place in thousands of buildings…? [34]

Yet once again, the BPAT leader looked up at the House committee and manfully defended the efforts of his 23-member team of experts who’d faced officialdom’s deliberative roadblocks that sabotaged the report. Boehlert’s advanced instructions required listing failures, the “lessons learned,” furnishing recommendations on codes/practices, and providing advice to NIST’s new band of investigators. And so he dutifully set up slides and reeled off BPAT’s difficulties and “lessons” about improved fireproofing, adding redundancies to sprinkler systems and staircases, and shifting of floor weight loads. [35]

BPAT’s recommendations to NIST involved that its investigators work on improving fire-rate testing and installing more efficient data-collection systems. Also that its researchers include human and sociology factors studied in disasters, include no more than 10 experts on an investigation team, and get public input on changing building/fire codes. The BPAT chief wryly noted that NIST would have to explain WTC 7’s mysterious collapse because his team had found “no evidence” that fireproofing was knocked off its beams. [36]

The fire-science professor also appeared to go off-script. It was heartening that NIST planned to leave “no stone unturned” in this new, long-term WTC project, he said, but the Director’s proposal needed substantial revision. For one thing, it lacked specificity—especially on fireproofing. Code-change wording needed language used by the building industry, owners’ organizations, and architects. He tartly noted that state-of-the-art training for First Responders and the building industry was already in place, using NIST books and materials. [37]

Boehlert’s major witness, however, was the quietly firm, dry-humored NIST director, a nuclear engineer with all three degrees in metallurgy. He had only been in place for five months, but 50 years of leadership posts in industry, business, and the Defense Department’s advanced research wing had taught him that being specific on proposals is foolish. It limits flexibility, reveals too many limitations—and makes enemies. Winning critical battles—which growing public doubts about WTC explanation clearly was—meant saying little, extensive reading, prudent listening and, above all, obeying direct orders from a Five-Star superior and his senior officers. That was usually the route to promotion in the military, the government, and industry. [38]

As a witness in March, he rose above the shot and shell aimed at the BPAT effort with a masterly sentence containing a diplomatic nod to them, his mission, and the source of his authority. NIST, after all, was a FEMA subsidiary:

NIST is currently working very closely with FEMA and the Administration on this investigation since an in-depth technical investigation and broader response program would go well beyond the scope of the building performance assessments conducted by FEMA. [39]

In the May hearing, he, too, used graphics and occasionally lifted his eyes from the statement for the session’s main event. Despite Administration demands that NIST’s “proposed response plan” be far different from BPAT’s “preliminary” findings, the Director’s terse preview (1,500 words) indicated the only departure would be its preliminary blue-sky time frame, budget and staff devoted, however, to only three of the seven WTC buildings: WTC 1 and 2, and WTC 7. Estimated startup costs would be a basic $16 million though unexpected add-ons might bring it to $40 million. Funds and oversight monitoring would be done through its parent, FEMA. He announced initial access to at least 3,000 “world class” experts—not counting those already on the NIST payroll. [40]

With consummate skill under questioning, he waffled the inclusion of subpoena powers when dealing with obdurate officials no matter how highly placed. And as for using the crack team of NCST investigators Boehlert and Weiner’s bill instituted, the Director hesitated on using their services though the name was used on the report’s cover. His sharp eye probably detected the double-cross of making official the hobbling of NCST at disaster scenes. BPAT’s chief undoubtedly had seen those passages, too—and shook his head:

An inspection, test, or other action taken by a [NCST] Team under this section shall be conducted in a way that does not interfere unnecessarily with services provided by the owner or operator of the building components, materials, or artifacts, property, records, process, or facility….

A Team shall not impede, and shall coordinate its investigation with, any search-and-rescue efforts being undertaken at the site of the building failure. [41]

The project, he told the panel, would have three elements.

Some 24 months would be spent on investigating the destruction of those three buildings. Though most physical evidence vital to any investigation had been spirited away, he was confident (as he indicated in the March hearing), that the computer modeling tests—based on WTC construction and Port Authority data—would be able to simulate a “progressive collapse” of the three skyscrapers and provide other information to determine the cause. His sizable staff of experts would be checking the quality of construction and materials, as well as “technical conditions.” No mention was made of exploring other alternative theories about causal agents except fire, something clearly at odds with basic scientific methods of any credible investigation. [42]

The second element was designed to cool expected fury on NIST recommendations about re-education and new tools for the building industry and firehouses around the country. Their input would be considered and results dispatched by them to those concerned. [43]

The third and major element of the project was an open-ended study based on the pre-conceived verdict of fire as the destruction’s cause and the buildings’ “progressive collapse.” That progressive collapse was to be explored, however, ignored that the three skyscrapers’ free-fall speed defied Newton’s Law of Momentum involving resistance of successive floors. A minimum of one second’s resistance per floor in the 110-story Towers meant 110 seconds to destruction at minimum instead of the 11 seconds recorded. Equally, the 47-story WTC 7 should have taken 47 seconds instead of 6.5 seconds. Nevertheless, the Director said this phase of the project would institute:

…a multi-year research and development program to provide the technical basis to support improved building and fire codes, standards, and practices. This addresses work in critical areas such as structural fire safety, prevention of progressive collapse, and equipment standards for first responders. It includes BPAT recommendations for World Trade Center Buildings 3, 4, 5, and 6,

Bankers Trust [Deutsche Bank], and peripheral buildings. [44]

Interestingly enough, by February 2004, the NIST director would be gone, rewarded with an appointed by the President to direct the government’s National Science Foundation. Instead of directing NIST’s annual $773 million budget and 3,000 employees, he would in charge of distributing NSF’s $6 billion to 200,000 researchers in science, engineering, and education. He also would escape the fierce criticism from the global science/technology community surrounding NIST’s two reports (WTC 1 and 2, 2005; WTC 7, 2008). Thousands since then have discredited the agency’s 2002-2008 WTC research as significantly flawed, unscientific and inconclusive—especially on WTC 7. That brutal professional criticism would fall on the shoulders of the Director’s hapless successor. [44]

Yet for all the emphasis the Administration wanted placed on the diversion of recommendations for enhancing and improving design, construction, and maintenance, it was left to the BPAT chief to bring reality to the May hearing. Most in the building industry and fire-science world knew his baleful comment near the session’s end was true:

….you might not be able to design a building to resist anything that might happen in the future. [46]

Privately, Boehlert probably knew that by now, too, and may have recognized that the upcoming NIST investigation was a vast waste of time and energy for scientists and engineers—and Science Committee members—and a vast waste of millions of taxpayer dollars. Yet his actions as Science Committee chair so far—and in October 2005 when the first NIST report was issued— demonstrated that obligations laid upon him by the Administration required his follow-through. He told the fire-science professor earlier that day that “you haven’t heard the last of [the committee].” And then turned to the few still in the chamber and vowed:

I want to assure the public in general, but especially the families of the victims, that this panel is committed to following this issue in the months and years ahead. We will not rest until we learn all we need to know to prevent future tragedies and until we implement what we have learned. [47]

Boehlert had to be pleased at receiving accolades—genuine or not—for successful management of the two hearings from his bill’s co-author. Weiner said:

….when this chapter is written, your leadership will be recognized in keeping this issue on the front burner and making sure we, in Congress, act to solve the problems. [48]

—Barbara G. Ellis, Ph.D

Senior Researcher, WTC Research Alliance


[NEXT ON JULY 15: House Science Hearing No. 3, October 26, 2005]



[1] U.S. Congress, House Committee on Science. Hearing: Learning From 9/11—Understanding the Collapse of the World Trade Center , 107th Cong., 2nd sess., 6 March 2002, http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/science/hsy77747.000/hsy77747_0f.htm, passim. Ibid., 9. U.S. Congress, House Committee on Science. Hearing: The Investigation of the World Trade Center Collapse: Findings, Recommendations, and Next Steps, 107th Cong., 2nd sess., 1 May 2002, http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/science/hsy78961.000/hsy78961_0f.htm, passim. The recorded hours were from 12:23-3:27 p.m. in March and 12:13-3:31 p.m., in May. But both were interrupted for a House floor vote, which, given Chairman Boehlert’s estimate of a 20-minute break, included either walking or underground subway. Deductible time, therefore, was probably at least 30 minutes from the session (House, 6 March 2002, 7, 127; ibid., 1 May 2002, 9, 180, 120).

Though everyone in a hearing may not be permitted to question witnesses, Boehlert’s constant interjections and questions of witnesses after panelists’ time had expired strongly indicates few were in the members’ pews in either hearing (House, 6 March 2002 and 1 May 2002, passim). The shortage of panelists in the March hearing seemed especially acute when House member Joe Crowley (D-NY-7th), who was not a committee member, was permitted two rounds of hard questioning (House, 6 March 2002, 181-85, 206-10). Moreover, late in the May 1 session, Rep. Christopher Shays revealed all other House members had departed when he said to Boehlert: “…since there are only two of us…” (House, 1 May 2002, 167).

Committee attendance was determined chiefly by those making opening statements and remaining to question witnesses. Two members in March and one in May just turned in prepared statements before the meeting. If attendance is measured by questioning of witnesses, the March hearing had absenteeism of 34/47; May 42/47 (ibid., March/May 2002, passim. One panelist not included in the March calculation was Representative Crowley.

[2] House, 1 May 2002, 62.

[3] House, 6 March 2002, 12, 17, 45.

[4] House, 1 May, 2002, 16-17.

[5] “Sherwood Boehlert,” SourceWatch, http://sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Sherwood_Boehlert, 1.

[6] House, 1 May 2002, 124. The bill was H.R. 4687, “National Construction Safety Team Act,” 2nd Session, 9 May 2002, passed on July 12, 2002 without change 338-23 (73 not voting). Three Republicans on the Science committee voted “nay”; three more and a Democrat were “not votings”. The Senate passed the bill September 9, 2002, and President Bush signed it into PL 107-231 on October 1, 2002, a few weeks before Boehlert called for a third hearing. It was to be chiefly on the results of the NIST/NCST investigation of the WTC destruction and recommendations of changes in building/fire codes and procedures (http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/D?d107:418:./temp/~bdvBoR:@@@x). House, 1 May 2002, passim, 156,123.

[7] House, 6 March 2002, 121.

[8] Mathew Purdy, “Despite First Impressions, Kean May be a Good Second Choice,” New York Times, 22 December 2002. Frank Adams, “BOMBER HITS EMPIRE STATE BUILDING, SETTING IT AFIRE AT THE 79TH FLOOR; 13 DEAD, 26 HURT; WIDE AREA ROCKED,” New York Times, 29 July 1945.

[9] House, 6 March 2002, 45. Kenneth Chang, “Scarred Steel Holds Clues, And Remedies,” New York Times, 2 October 2001.

[10] House, 6 March 2002, 139. FEMA seems to have been operating under the same laws (15 USC 7301: Sec. 281a) as NIST would later use in its WTC probe (ibid., 115). The New York City application of those statutes permitted Giuliani and the Port Authority to hinder both BPAT and NIST’s investigating squad, the National Construction Safety Team (NCST).

When NCST began its probe in 2002, its operational guidelines said: “NIST, on its own initiative but only after consultation with local authorities may initiate and conduct investigations to determine the causes of structural failure in structures that are used or occupied by the general public.” Part G states: “To ensure that investigations under this chapter do not impede and are coordinated with any search and rescue efforts being undertaken at the site of the building failure. No part of any report resulting from such investigation shall be admitted as evidence or used in any suit of action for damages arising out of any matter mentioned in such report” (“NIST’s Responsibilities Under the National Construction Safety Team Act,” (NIST, 4 May 2010, http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/factsheet/constructionact.cfm, 1).

[11] Jim Dwyer, “City to Release Thousands of Oral Histories of 9/11 Today,” New York Times, 12 August 2008. House, 6 March 2002, 188.

[12] House, 6 March 2002, 10, 28. The New York City Council has 51 members and nothing in the print medium indicates Giuliani called for an emergency vote before taking unitary action (House, 1 May 2002, 71). Both Boehlert and guest panelist Crowley agreed about the illegality of Giuliani’s action. Crowley called it “borderline criminal “ (Ibid., 185).

[13] “A Biography of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani,” ND, City of New York, http://www.nyc.gov/html/records/rwg/html/bio.html, 1. James Glanz, “From Torn Steel, Cold Data of Salvage,” New York Times, 9 October 2001.

[14] Laurence Kesterson photograph, “Rusted relics of 9/11 come home to Coatesville,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, 15 April 2010, http://www.philly.com/inquirer/gallery/20100415_Rusted_relics_of_9_11_come_home_to_Coatesville.html.

[15] Of the 175,000 tons of WTC “incinerated” steel beams removed by Giuliani, 60,000 tons was sold to scrap yards in China and South Korea. (“Baosteel Will Recycle World Trade Center Debris,” About China, 24 January 2002, http://911research.wtc7.net/cache/wtc/groundzero/china_baosteel.htm). Some Indian yards reportedly refused purchase because of environmental activists complaints the steel was contaminated with asbestos, PCBs, dioxins, mercury, and lead (Rama Lakshmi, “Indian Groups Say Steel From Twin Towers Is Contaminated,” Washington Post, 18 February 2002). However, other Indian scrap yards bought steel from New Jersey recycler Metal Management (About China).

The shipyard at Avondale LA accepted 24 tons of WTC steel as a gift from New York Governor George Pataki to the U.S. Navy. Some 20 tons was used in the bow of an amphibious transport dock ship, the USS New York. The rest will be made into anchor-handling castings (Ed Winter, “Northrop Grumman Melts and Casts World Trade Center Steel for Bow-Stem of New Navy Ship USS New York (LPD 21),” Northrop Grumman, 10 September 2003, http://www.irconnect.com/noc/pages/news_printer.html?d=44918%print=. “World Trade Center steel shaped into Navy ship: in case you didn’t know,” January 2006, Modern Casting, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb6616/is_1_96/ai_n29243230/?tag=content;col1).

Maryland-based Marcor Environmental received an $11 million contract to screen 1.8 million tons of WTC debris—including beams—barged from Ground Zero to Fresh Kills landfill at Staten Island (“Fresh Kills Landfill 9/11 WTC Attack,” website of Marcor Environmental, ND, http://www.marcor.com/index.cfm/do/casestudy.detail/id/12

Some 500 tons of the exterior steel “trees” were stored in an unused hangar at New York’s JFK airport until April 12, 2010. Then, the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey donated them to a Coatesville PA iron and steel museum near the foundry where they were cast. Photographs reveal that at least one of the “trees” was marked “SAVE,” indicating sorting of metal was ongoing at Ground Zero. Some 1,000 WTC “objects” were stored in the hangar since Giuliani’s removal orders (Kathy Boccella, “Rusted relics of 9/11 come home to Coatesville,” 14 April 2010, Philadelphia Inquirer).

The two recycling companies were Metal Management of Newark, NJ, and Hugo Neu Schnitzer East of New York. Metal Management reportedly paid $70 per ton for 40,000 tons offered by the City of New York and resold it to China’s Baosteel for $120 per ton (Christopher Bollyn, “Seismic Data: Two Huge Energy Bursts Under WTC Towers,” American Free Press, 13 December 2004, http://www.truthout.org/031809A?print).

The 23 members of BPAT spent most of their six-day effort examining the beams and other artifacts either at Fresh Kills or an unnamed New Jersey recycling yard. The owner permitted them to send 236 pieces of steel fragments to be analyzed and then stored at NIST’s headquarters in Gaithersburg MD (House Science Committee hearings, 6 March 2002, 13, 64.)

Boehlert’s offhand remark about dumping WTC beams and other critical artifacts into the Atlantic Ocean does indicate a practical, yet highly suspicious, solution to the disposal of some of the unaccounted-for 75,524 tons of beams (House, 6 March 2002, 187). Just as every piece of a crashed airliner is preserved and investigated by the NTSB for causal factors, the same thing should have been done with the WTC steel and other artifacts despite the expense of transport problems, according to one website contributor. He recently suggested that Giuliani certainly knew removal and destruction of evidence from a crime scene was a capitol felony with 10-20 years imprisonment. He should have shipped every scrap of metal to a military installation in the West where, like aircraft investigations, each piece could have been:

laid out in weatherproof hangars across the desert, and scientists and engineers from around the world invited to apply the best minds to the puzzle of [WTC destruction]…Those buildings would have been guarded around the clock by American soldiers who knew they had a hallowed duty. (Ralph Lopez, “911 Prosecution Plan: Start with Rudy Giuliani,’ Daily Paul, 17 April 2010, http://dailypaul.com/node/134798).

[16] No Author, “Executive Summary,” World Trade Center Building Performance Study: Data Collection, Preliminary Observations, and Recommendations (Washington, D.C.: Federal Emergency Management Agency, May 2002, I-2).

[17] House, 1 May 2002, 62 (Corbett); 76 (Corley); 133 (Barnett); 103, 168 (Bement).

[18] Authors of the final FEMA/BPAT report buried that fact at the end of a section dealing with temperatures and ventilation and a full page of drawings showing aircraft sizes and high-rises. But the passage said: “Although there have been a number of severe fires in protected steel buildings…the team is unaware of any protected steel structures that have collapsed in a fire prior to September 11. However, none of the other fire events had impact damage to structural and fire-protection systems” (Therese McAllister, et al., “Introduction,” World Trade Center Building Performance Study: Data Collection, Preliminary Observations, and Recommendations (Washington, D.C.: Federal Emergency Management Agency, May 2002) I-20.

[19] Ibid., 1-8. Ramon Gilsanz, et al., “WTC 7,” ibid., 5-31.

[20] House, 1 May 2002, 62, 170, 102. Dunlap, David W., “9/11 Condemnation Is High at Bank Tower, Study Says,” New York Times, 15 September 2004. Charles V. Ragli., “Bank Tower, 9/11 Survivor, to be Razed in a Deal,” New York Times, 27 February 2004. Dunlap, David W., “A Survivor Faces a Slow Death, Piece by Piece,” New York Times, 16 April 2004.

[21] The hearing was brief—12:11-3:331 p.m.—despite a monumentally important subject (House, 1 May 2002, 9, 180). Ibid., 6 March 2002, 12, 15.

[22] 9/11 Commission Report, 10 May 2010, http://www.ask.com/wiki/9/11_Commission_Report, 1. House, 6 March 2002, passim. Ibid., 12, 28.

[23] Ibid., 1 May 2002, 24, 27, 43. Ibid., 6 March 2002, 73.

[24] Ibid., 1 May 2002, 22.

[25] House, 6 March 2002, 91-97, 85.

[26] Ibid., 19. Ibid., 1 May 2002, 155. . James R. Gourley, et al., “Scientists, Scholars, Architects & Engineers respond to NIST,” STJ911.Blog, 15 September 2008, http://stj911.org/blog/?p=42, 1-22.

[27] House, 6 March 2002, 103. Barbara G. Ellis, “A Content Analysis of Loaded Words in U.S. House Science Committee Hearings Concerning WTC Destruction,” 26 May 2010, passim.

[28] “Environmental Studies of the World Trade Center Area After the September 11, 2001 Attack,” U.S. Geological Survey, 27 November 2001, http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2001/ofr-010429/index.html, http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2001/ofr-010429/sample.location.html, Table 1.

[29] Ellis, “A Content Analysis,” 27-28 May 2010, passim. House, 1 May 2002, 43.

[30] Ibid., 167.

[31] Ibid., 17, 41, passim, 41, 120.

[32] Ibid., passim.

[33] Ibid., 99.

[34] Ibid., 42-43.

[35] Ibid., 64-66, 122, 151.

[36] Ibid., 17, 64-66, 151-53, 137.

[37] Ibid., 112, 114-15, 113.

[38] Arden L. Bement, “Innovation,” videoed speech, 5 March 2010, University of California/Davis, http://chancellor.ucdavis.edu/multimedia/index.html. “Biography: Dr. Arden L. Bement,” updated 1 June 2010, National Science Foundation, http://www.nsf.gov/news/speeches/bement/bement_bio.jsp, 1-2. Gourley, et al., “Scientists,” 1-22.

[39] House, 6 March 2002, 112.

[40] Ibid., 1 May 2002, 145, 98. When one panelist seemed to indicate a “large facility” to test structures for withstanding fires would be far more scientifically credible than guesswork on computer modeling, Bement replied that $10 million of the project’s budget had been estimated for that purpose (ibid., 155).

[41] Ibid., 135-36. H.R. 4687, “National Construction Safety Team Act,” 2nd Session, 9 May 2002, Sec. 4, b,1, c,1.

[42] House, 6 March 2002, 111-113. Ibid., 1 May 2002, 95, 97.

[43] Ibid., 95.

[44] Ibid.

[45] “Biography: Dr. Arden L. Bement,” 1. Final Report on the Collapse of the World Trade Center Towers, NIST NCSTAR 1, September 2005 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce, September 2005), passim. World Trade Center Building Performance Study, May 2002, passim.

[46] House, 1 May 2002, 17, 64-66, 151-53, 137.

[47] Ibid., 149, 36.

[48] Ibid., 42.


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