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Is "9/11 Truth" based upon a false theory?

Guest James H. Fetzer

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Guest James H. Fetzer

Is “9/11 Truth” based upon a false theory?

Jim Fetzer (with T. Mark Hightower)

Given my background in the history and the philosophy of science and as a professional scholar, I founded Scholars for 9/11 Truth for the purpose of promoting collaborative research on the events of 9/11 by creating a web site, issuing press releases, archiving old research and supporting new research, sponsoring conferences, announcing public presentations, and making efforts to reach out to the public with the results of our investigations. The most intense conflicts in relation to the 9/11 Truth movement, however, turn out to come from within and between research groups, which have all too often found themselves at odds and severely attacked and even denounced one another.

Based upon my experience, I can report with confidence that the three most controversial issues within the 9/11 Truth movement are these:

(1) the Pentagon attack, especially, whether a Boeing 757 hit the Pentagon, which I have addressed in “What didn’t happen at the Pentagon” and “Inside Job: Seven Questions about 9/11”;

(2) the planes in New York,especially, whether video fakery was used there, which I have addressed in “New Proof of Video Fakery on 9/11” and “Inside Job: More Proof of 9/11 Duplicity”; and,

(3) the demolition of the Twin Towers, especially, how it was done, the dominant theory being that they were destroyed using nanothermite as the principal mechanism, which I address here.


These are questions that can be investigated using scientific reasoning to evaluate alternative hypotheses. The benefits from this appear to be considerable, since, if my efforts are successful, (a) we will have a better understanding of what happened, (B) there will be fewer, less intense conflicts between us, and © we will become more cohesive and effective in promoting our objectives and goals. A “9/11 Truth” movement, after all, has to be based on truth, where science is our most reliable method for distinguishing between what is true and what is false, where I can apply my background and the 35 years I spent offering courses in logic, critical thinking and scientific reasoning.

The evidence presented in those studies about (1) the Pentagon attack and (2) the planes in New York and (3) the demolition of the Twin Towers here not only falsifies the official account of 9/11 but also implicates the Department of Defense in the case of (1) and the national media in the case of (2) with its deceit and deception in perpetrating fraud on the American people. While I have no doubt that the Mossad was involved, it could not have been responsible for the “stand down” of the US Air Force on 9/11 nor for the failure of the Pentagon to take measures to protect itself from an aircraft, whose approach was known to Dick Cheney and to the pilot of a C-130, who was circling the building at the time. The Mossad is far more likely to have been deeply involved in (3) the destruction of the Twin Towers.

The Nanothermite Theory

While there are many points of agreement within the 9/11 Truth community, which include that the North Tower was hit first but “collapsed” second’; that the fires burned neither long enough nor hot enough for the steel to have weakened, much less melted; that collapse scenarios were not even physically possible; and that NIST has never been able to justify a “point of initiation”, much less present a serious collapse simulation, there has been ongoing controversy over how it was done, where the prevalent theory is that nanothermite was the principal ingredient. If any single event could be said to have inspired the 9/11 Truth community, it was the publication of an article in the Bentham Open Science journal:


Bolstered in their belief by this article by Niels Harrit, Jeffrey Farrer, Steven Jones, Kevin Ryan, and others, “Active Thermitic Material Discovered in Dust from the 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe”, in The Open Chemical Physics Journal 2 (2009), pp. 7-31, the theory has become dominant in 9/11 research. And this has remained the case even though the Editor-in-Chief of the journal, Marie-Paule Pileni, who specializes in nano-materials research at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in France, resigned her position in protest of its publication, which she regarded as very inappropriate.

The article itself, which was based upon studies of dust that was collected from the immediate vicinity of “Ground Zero”, maintains that nanothermite residue was found in the dust and suggests that this finding holds the key to understanding the means by which the Twin Towers were blown apart. It was done using “explosive nanothermite”. The article asserts, for example,

"The feature of 'impulse management' may be significant. It is possible that formulations may be chosen to have just sufficient percussive effect to achieve the desired fragmentation while minimizing the noise level" (page 26);

And concludes with the following (somewhat ambiguous) declaration:

“Based on these observations, we conclude that the red layer of the red/gray chips we have discovered in the WTC dust is active, unreacted thermitic material, incorporating nanotechnology, and is a highly energetic pyrotechnic or explosive material” (page 31);

. . . which has been widely construed to have established scientifically that nanothermite was found in the dust, that nanothermite is explosive, and that nanothermite was the crucial ingredient in bringing about the conversion of the Twin Towers into a few large pieces and millions of cubic yards of very fine dust, which appears to have been critical for the preservation of the bathtub, the shattering of which would have allowed Hudson River water to flood beneath Lower Manhattan, the subway and the PATH train tunnels, causing monumental damage to the most valuable real estate in the world, which the conspirators, it appears, wanted to preclude by employing a novel mode of demolition.

Enthusiastic Endorsements

The widespread acceptance of nanothermite as the crucial component of the demolition of the Twin Towers has become a matter of common knowledge within the 9/11 Truth community. But here are samples of the extent to which it has become embedded in reasoning about 9/11. On April 5, 2009, for example, Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth published “Exotic High Tech Explosives Positively Identified in World Trade Center Dust”, presenting its ringing endorsement of its findings:

"A ground-breaking scientific paper confirmed this week that red-gray flakes found throughout multiple samples of WTC dust are actually unexploded fragments of nanothermite, an exotic high-tech explosive.

"The samples were taken from far-separated locations in Manhattan, some as early as 10 minutes after the second tower (WTC 1) collapsed, ruling out any possible contamination from cleanup operations. . . .

"Ordinary thermite burns quickly and can melt through steel, but it is not explosive. Nanothermite, however, can be formulated as a high explosive. It is stable when wet and can be applied like paint."

During an interview in RUSSIA TODAY (July 2009), Neils Harrit, the paper’s first author, offers observations that are rather more qualified by suggesting that, while thermite was “used for melting the steel beams”, he is certain that conventional explosives were also used:

<i>“There is very solid evidence for that some thermite has been used for melting the steel beams. We should not, I do not know, we do not know if the thermite that we have found is the same thermite which has been used for melting the beams. It's very very possible that different varieties was used and I personally am certain that conventional explosives were used too in abundance.” When asked what he meant by the phrase,“in abundance,” he said “tons, hundred tons, many many many tons.”</i>

In his admirable, “Left-Leaning Despisers of the 9/11 Truth Movement: Do You Really Believe in Miracles?”, GLOBAL RESEARCH (6 July 2010), David Ray Griffin, the dean of 9/11 research, expressed his emphatic support for nanothermite as a powerful explosive capable of exerting enormous force and ejecting large sections of steel hundreds of feet:

"NIST thereby admitted that debris had been thrown out horizontally from the North Tower at least 350 feet.84 NIST’s report also stated:

“When WTC 1 collapsed at 10:28:22 AM, . . . some fragments [of debris] were forcibly ejected and traveled distances up to hundreds of meters. Pieces of WTC 1 hit WTC 7, severing six columns on Floors 7 through 17 on the south face and one column on the west face near the southwest corner. The debris also caused structural damage between Floor 44 and the roof.85

"Debris that caused such extensive damage, including the severing of seven steel columns, had to be quite heavy. NIST seemed to be granting, therefore, that sections of steel columns had been hurled at least 650 feet (because “hundreds of meters” would mean at least 200 meters, which would be about 650 feet). Enormous force would be needed to eject large sections of steel that far out.

"What could have produced this force? According to NIST, as we saw earlier, there were only three causal factors in the collapse of the Twin Towers: the airplane impacts, the fires, and gravitational attraction. The airplane impacts had occurred 56 minutes (South Tower) and 102 minutes (North Tower) earlier, and gravitational attraction pulls things straight downward. Fire could, to be sure, produce horizontal ejections by causing jet fuel to explode, but the jet fuel had, NIST pointed out, burned up within “a few minutes.”86 Therefore, although NIST admitted that these horizontal ejections occurred, it suggested no energy source to explain them.

"High explosives, such as RDX or nanothermite, could explain these horizontal ejections. According to NIST, however, explosives did not contribute to the destruction of the Twin Towers. Those who accept NIST’s account must, therefore, regard these horizontal ejections as constituting yet another miracle."

And there can be scant room for doubt that Griffin’s characterization has become the dominant view within the 9/11 Truth community, where it has assumed a standing akin to that of a religious dogma, where those who challenge that belief have been subject to severe reactions from within the community, including forms of banishment and blackballing, very much on the order of heretics in theological disputes of the past, many of whom were even burned at the stake.


Edited by James H. Fetzer
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Guest James H. Fetzer

"Is "911 Truth" based upon a false theory?"


The Split in Scholars

And I have been among them. When I founded Scholars for 9/11 Truth, I invited Steven Jones, a physicist from BYU, to serve as my co-chair, on the advice of David Ray Griffin, whom I invited first. I would later learn from David that, at that time, he had no confidence that a society could make a difference, which was an opinion he would later retract. In the months between founding the society in December of 2005 and the American Scholars Conference in Los Angeles in June of 2006, I had heard a lot about thermite, thermate, and nanothermite, but was skeptical that it could perform the feats of blowing massive assemblies of steel hundreds of yards and converting two 500,000 ton buildings into millions of cubic yards of very fine dust. On Saturday of the conference, I approached Steve in the lobby and asked him if he was confident that nanothermite could bring about these effects—and was not entirely persuaded when he assured me that, “Yes, it could!”

By the end of the year, I had become convinced that it was necessary to broaden the range of hypotheses that were under consideration as candidates to explain the destruction of the Twin Towers. None of us had any problems with WTC-7, which exhibited all the characteristics of a classic controlled demolition: the explosion began at the base, ran up the side of the building with a kink in the roof, where all the floors fell at the same time into the buildings foundation at the approximate rate of free fall and a stack of debris about 12% of its original height remained. The Twin Towers were different, where all of their floors remained stationary until they were “blown to kingdom come” (in the memorable phrase of Morgan Reynolds), where they were destroyed at the approximate rate of free fall, too, but where, as Fr. Frank Morales from St. Mark’s Episcopal Church observed during two interviews on a radio program I co-hosted with Kevin Barrett, “The Dynamic Duo”, both buildings, unlike WTC-7, were destroyed below ground level!

The differences between us were exacerbated when I interviewed Dr. Judy Wood, a former professor of mechanical engineering, who was promoting the alternative theory that directed energy weapons might have been used to destroy the buildings rather than thermite in any of its guises, which took place on November 11, 2006. What I liked the most about Judy’s work was that it offered a fresh perspective about how it could have been done, where she asked me to guess where a directed energy device could have been located and, when I offered WTC-7 as a guess, she corrected me and said, “In space!” I would bet that this interview caused more division in the 9/11 Truth community than any other event before or after. Judy began being attacked for advocating “space beams” and “death rays”, while I was castigated for supporting her. That I was SUPPORTING RESEARCH on her theory as opposed to ENDORSING IT was a subtlety that was lost on the crowd, where it has become part of the presumptive history of the 9/11 movement.


Critique of Steven Jones

Perhaps my strongest critique of Steve’s work occurred by accident. On May 17, 2007, my scheduled guest on "The Dynamic Duo", Don Paul, was a no-show and I had to wing it for two hours. So for the first part of the show, I talked about my collaborative research on the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone and on the assassination of JFK. During the second part, however, I focused my attention on a new paper he had just published, “Why indeed did the World Trade Center buildings completely collapse?” A copy can be found on the Journal of 9/11 Studies 3 (2006), which I suppose is a close facsimile of the paper I discussed, although Steve has sometimes revised his work on-line without formal notice. In my critique, I pointed out that the title was wrong, since the buildings had not “collapsed” and that he was talking about the Twin Towers, but my more serious criticisms concerned his deeply flawed conception of the scientific method and what I regarded as inadequate support for his thermite/thermate/nanothermite theory, “On the Manipulation of the 9/11 Research Community”. Here are a few passages for the flavor:

“Don’t forget that eleven hundred bodies were never recovered. Eleven hundred bodies were never recovered. Those were bodies that were turned into very fine dust. Never recovered. That’s completely inconsistent with a “collapse”. Even involving explosive, you would expect to find body parts, even if they were detached from bodies. And you’d find lots of skulls and torsos and arms and legs, but here we’re talking eleven hundred bodies, no parts of which were recovered. This is stunning stuff. And it certainly implies that something was going on here far beyond the use of any merely conventional explosives.

“But what’s going on in the research community is an attempt to constrain research that would actually have the capacity potentially to explain what's going on. By reaching beyond conventional weaponry in to the range of unconventional weaponry, such as lasers, masers, plasmoids, mini-nukes. I mean, who knows in advance of actually conducting an investigation that theories or hypotheses about the use of lasers or masers or mini-nukes are wrong? You can’t know that without investigation. And I’m going to suggest that a gigantic hoax is being perpetrated on the research community by the claim that [the] scientific method supports this very narrow definition of the use of thermite and thermate . . . .

“. . . where I have now taken a look at the latest paper of the leading proponent of that view, Steven Jones, and it doesn’t add up. I mean it may be impressive to those who are naïve about the nature of science and who are incapable of reading a paper that has the least degree of technical sophistication to it, but I’m going to suggest to you as we go through this paper that what we have here is a rather elaborate “snow job”, where the most important points made are actually concessions that the evidence he has found is merely consistent with the use of thermite or thermate but doesn’t prove it was produced by thermite or thermate, where, provided that there are multiple alternative possible explanations, he has not done the job. And I’m going to claim that he has not done the job because he has a commitment to a conception of scientific method that is hopelessly inadequate. Hopelessly inadequate. And that while he talks a lot about science, he is, alas, not practicing it.”

Jones’ maintains that the scientific method is a process of observation, formulating an hypothesis, performing tests and experiments, and then publishing the results in a peer-reviewed journal. That’s wrong, because science cannot simply begin with observation (since there is too much we could observe) and it cannot proceed by studying one hypothesis at a time. Science is a process of puzzlement (because something doesn’t fit into your background knowledge), speculation (by identifying the alternative hypotheses that might explain the data), adaptation (of hypotheses to data by calculating and comparing their likelihoods), and explanation (by accepting the hypothesis with the highest likelihood when the evidence has “settled down”, in the tentative and fallible fashion of science). His inadequate methodology derives from the failure to grasp that scientific research requires the comparison of alternative hypotheses and cannot focus only on one.


“Houston, we have a problem!”

The most glaring empirical failure of the then-current version of his paper is that he finally gets around to talking about barium nitrate, and by the time you reach the final page, he has acknowledged that what he is talking about is not actually thermite but what he calls a “thermite analog”, which he does not actually define, and he admits that thermite, which he now calls “TH3”, is an analog of thermite that contains sulfur and barium nitrate and now he talks about thermite “as defined here”. It turns out this barium-nitrate-containing thermite is the military grade thermite that he has been using to demonstrate the effectiveness of thermite, illustrated by the use of a thermite grenade on the top of an engine block. But no barium nitrate has been found in the analysis of the chemical residue in the analysis of the dust by Steven Jones or by the US Geological Survey. So in this version, he has pulled a bait-and-switch. Looking at the current version on-line, however, barium nitrate is mentioned on page 19 but not at the end of his paper, which means that it has been revised since I critiqued it.

I am not the only one to have evaluated that version of his paper in caustic, negative terms, since a complementary critique comes from Stephen Phillips, “A Physicist Critiques Steven Jones’ New Paper” (May 21, 2007), where the present version is clearly not the same as the one he and I were addressing—a reflection of which may be that he actually includes my name in the acknowledgements! So let’s look at the conclusion of the current version and consider what he says there:

Remarkably, the controlled-demolition hypothesis accounts for all the available data rather easily. The core columns (and corner perimeter columns) on floors damaged by the planes are cut near-simultaneously using radio-signaled explosives/incendiary-cutters. In this scenario, cutter-charges were set every two or three floors during routine “maintenance” of elevator shafts, etc., so that the cutting sequence could be matched in a controlling computer to begin at the level where the plane entered each Tower. Next cutter-charges were detonated from the top downward for the Towers, ejecting beams and material long distances horizontally as observed during the destruction. The “collapses” are thus near-symmetrical, complete, at near-free-fall speeds with accompanying “squibs”. Thermite analogs (whose end product is molten iron) including the explosive form, nano-thermite, may account for the molten metal which then pooled beneath the rubble piles as well as the sulfidation observed in steel from both the WTC 7 and Towers rubble piles (points 1 and 2 above). WTC 7 evidently proceeded in a more conventional fashion for controlled demolition, with collapse-initiating explosions starting on lower floors (rather than at high-floor levels as for the Towers).”

Notice that, like Architects & Engineers and David Ray Griffin, Steve is attributing vast powers to thermite in its “explosive” nanothermite form, including the capacity to eject steel beams and materials long distances horizontally “as observed during the destruction”. He appeals to “thermite analogs” whose end product is molten iron—“including the explosive form, nanothermite”—may account for the molten metal that pooled beneath the rubble piles, where WTC-7, he acknowledges, “evidently proceeded in a more conventional fashion for controlled demolition”, beginning on the lower floors rather than from the top. This is well and good and moves in the right direction. But can even these claims for nanothermite be sustained? It appears that they cannot.


Edited by James H. Fetzer
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Guest James H. Fetzer

"Is "9/11 Truth" based upon a false theory?"


Nanothermite: A Feeble Explosive

I has been my great pleasure over the past twelve months or more to participate in a research group focusing on the properties of thermite in all its original, thermate and nanothemite forms. We were aided and abetted in this process by contributions from Daniel Fairchild, a Vietnam veteran experienced in dealing with explosives, who was my guest on “The Real Deal” on Monday, August 2, 2010</a>, an interview that stimulated our thinking about how explosives work and how they might have been employed on 9/11. While some of his numbers struck us as faulty, Dan’s work motivated T. Mark Hightower, an engineer who has worked in the chemical industry and the space program—including with NASA for 21 years—to undertake a search of the open technical literature on nanothermite to determine its explosive potential in comparison to other explosives.


What Mark discovered was surprising, especially given the extent to which leading figures of the 9/11 Truth movement have promoted it. The highest degree of explosiveness for iron oxide/aluminum nanothermite—the chemical form claimed to have been involved in WTC destruction—that Mark could find documented in the technical literature has a detonation velocity of only 895 m/s (or meters per second). Since TNT, the universal standard for comparison, has a detonation velocity of 6,900 m/s, the explosive potential of thermite in its most potent form of nanothermite is acutely disappointing. When we divide the velocity of nanothermite by that for TNT (895/6,900), it turns out nanothermite is not even 13% as powerful as TNT. (See "Table of Explosive Velocities" from Wikipedia.)

As Mark has explained in a blog, “Has nanothermite been oversold to the 9/11 Truth community?”, and an interview on “The Real Deal” (July 6, 2011), 895 m/s is obviously too low of a value to account for the explosive effects observed in the catastrophic destructions of the WTC Twin Towers, including turning concrete and other materials into dust or separating and propelling steel members and other materials outward. Comparisons with the detonation velocities of conventional high explosives, such as 8,750 m/s for RDX or 9,100 m/x for HMX (not to mention 8,040 m/s for C-4 and 8,400 m/s for PETN), it is clear that nanothermite is not even in the same ballpark. While thermite in one or another of its guises as a rapid incendiary could have been used to sever or pre-weaken steel members, this low velocity melting process is a totally different mechanism for the cutting of steel than the shock wave method that requires detonation velocities of at least 3,200 m/s for concrete and 6,100 m/s for steel.

With respect to the demolition of the Twin Towers and blowing them to bits, low-explosive nanothermite, which does exist, can be eliminated as an hypothesis because it is ineffective. High-explosive nanothermite as an alternative can be eliminated because it simply does not exist. Mark therefore concludes that the phrase, “explosive nanothermite”, when used to describe the causal mechanism for demolishing the Twin Towers is either seriously misleading under a charitable interpretation and at worst deliberately deceptive under an uncharitable one. Either way, conventional or unconventional explosives would have had to be combined with thermite, even in its nanothermite form. And if such a blend had been employed, the nanothermite would function more as an additive to high explosives rather than as the main ingredient itself.

The Nanothermite Challenge

On May 1, 2011, Hightower published, “The Nanothermite Challenge”, as part of a longer study, “Has nanothermite been oversold to the 9/11 Truth community?". The challenge comes to this:

"Find and document peer-reviewed scientific research [publications] that demonstrate that a gas-generating nanothermite (GGNT) based upon iron (III) oxide (Fe2O3) and aluminum (Al), where the gas-generating chemical added to the nanothermite is not itself a high explosive, can be made to be a high explosive with at least a detonation velocity of 2000 m/s. The author of this paper will donate [to AE911Truth] $100 for every 1000 m/s of detonation velocity that can be documented, the donation not to exceed $1,000."

The deadline date of June 20, 2011 passed with not even one entry to this contest. Interestingly, Kevin Ryan posted an article at 911blogger that very day entitled “The explosive nature of nanothermite". In this article, Ryan admits that they know very little about the role that nanothermite played in 9/11.

“Although we know that nanothermite has been found in the WTC dust, we do not know what purpose it served in the deceptive demolition of the WTC buildings. It could be that the nanothermite was used simply to drive fires in the impact zones and elevator areas – fires which would otherwise have gone out too early or not been present at all – and thereby create the deception that jet fuel-induced fires could wreak the havoc seen. Nanothermite might also have been used to produce the explosions necessary to destroy the structural integrity of the buildings.”

In Ryan's paper he cites (what he claims to be) “ten references to the fact that nanothermites can be made to be explosive.” During my interview with Mark Hightower of July 6, 2011, on “The Real Deal”, however, Mark refuted every one of Ryan's ten references. Let me document just one especially interesting example of those refutations here. Ryan's reference 4 states,

"A high explosive creates a shockwave that always travels at high, supersonic velocity from the point of origin. This paper describes how – 'the reaction of the low density nanothermite composite leads to a fast propagating combustion, generating shock waves with Mach numbers up to 3.'"

All you need to do is go to the title of this paper to see that it is not relevant to the nanothermite hypothesis advanced by Jones, Ryan, Griffin and Harrit, among others, because it is for the wrong chemical form of thermite. The Twin Towers destruction allegedly involved the use of iron oxide/aluminum nanothermite, but in this paper, "Generation of fast propagating combustion and shock waves with copper oxide/aluminum nanothermite composities", Applied Physics Letters (2007), we have copper oxide/aluminum nanothermite. Although not the main thrust of the paper, it gives a qualified reference to iron oxide/aluminum nanothermite research. It says,

"Recently, we reported that higher combustion wave speeds were achieved for the composites of ordered porous Fe2O3 oxidizer and Al nanoparticles (5) as compared with the one containing porous oxidizer with no ordering of the pores and Al nanoparticles."

Unfortunately no velocities are given, so it was necessary to go to the reference (5) cited in this paper to find more data, which Mark has done. The information for the reference (5) paper is as follows: Mehendale, Bhushan , Shende, Rajesh , Subramanian, Senthil , Gangopadhyay, Shubhra , Redner, Paul , Kapoor, Deepak and Nicolich, Steven(2006) 'Nanoenergetic Composite of Mesoporous Iron Oxide and Aluminum Nanoparticles', Journal of Energetic Materials, 24: 4, 341 — 360

On page 357, there is a graph, where the highest velocities (referred to as "burn rates" on the graph) are reported for the specified iron oxide/aluminum nanothermites. Those velocities are all less than 300 m/s, which is even less than the 895 m/s that Mark Hightower has established for iron/oxide aluminum nanothermite. It is safe to say that nothing revealed by Kevin Ryan provides an adequate response to “the nanothermite challenge”.

Replies from Researchers

In retrospect, it should have been obvious that nanothermite could not live up to its capabilities as they have been advanced by Steven Jones, Kevin Ryan, and others, who regard themselves as the custodians and only true practitioners of the scientific method in 9/11 research. Thus, Denis Spitzer et al., “Energetic nano-materials: Opportunities for enhanced performances”, Journal of Physics and Chemistry of Solids (2010), where, given the crucial role of the rapid expansion of gases to perform work by explosives, states, “Gas generating nano-thermites: Thermites are energetic materials, which do not release gaseous species when they decompose. However, explosives can be blended in thermites to give them blasting properties”, which implies that, unless supplemented with explosives, nanothermites are not explosive.


In his efforts to inform prominent researchers about his discoveries, Mark wrote to Steven Jones, Richard Gage, and others. Dwain Deets, the former Chief of Research Engineering and Director for Aeronautical Projects at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, wrote to Mark and told him that he had listened to our interview on "The Real Deal" and said: "Excellent interview. A step toward trimming back claims that overshoot the evidence." He also sent a diagram illustrating certain detonation velocities as well as the sonic (speed of sound) velocities in various materials. Thus, for a high explosive to significantly fragment a material, its detonation velocity has to be greater than the speed of sound in that material, which requires a detonation velocity of at least 3,200 m/s to fragment concrete and 6,100 m/s to fragment steel--far beyond 895 m/s for nanothermite.

On July 7, 2011, Hightower received emails from both David Ray Griffin and Richard Gage. Gage wrote back that “it [nanothermite] should not be called a ‘high’ explosive”. Griffin made a similar suggestion and, in reply, Mark observed that calling it simply “an explosive” would convey to most members of the public that it is “a high explosive” or, given it’s invocation by the “hard evidence” crowd, at least, has the ability to disintegrate concrete and even steel. Since that is the impression that has been indelibly implanted in the consciousness of the public, within and without the 9/11 Truth movement, until that claim is corrected, the 9/11 Truth movement will be based upon a provably false theory.

When Griffin wrote back, "We are happy with our formulation, that it can be tailored to work as an incendiary or an explosive. We cannot be responsible for the fact that many people may equate 'explosive' with 'high explosive'", therefore, his answer raised a number of extremely disturbing questions about the ethical implications of allowing these enormously misleading impressions to linger:

(1) Will Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth inform the public that it has misrepresented the potential for “explosive nanothermite”?; and,

(2) If nanothermite only exists as a low explosive, that it cannot “hold the key” to the destruction of the Twin Towers, as has been claimed?; and,

(3) Will A&E admit that nanothermite cannot possibly be the “smoking gun” of 9/11 research, when the hard evidence contradicts that claim?


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Guest James H. Fetzer

"Is '9/11 Truth' based upon a false theory?"


The 9/11 Truth Dilemma

Once again, as in the case of the Pentagon crash site and the question of “planes/no planes”, serious students of 9/11 are placed in a dilemma. If they are committed to truth, as the name “9/11 Truth” implies, then they have to confront the fact that claims advanced on behalf the nanothermite hypothesis—<i>that the scientific key to understanding the demolition of the Twin Towers is the use of the nano-version of thermite</i>—cannot be sustained. When the detonation velocity of nanothermite is only 895 m/s, while TNT has a detonation velocity of 6,900 m/s, the explosive potential of thermite—even in its most potent form as nanothermite—is more than acutely disappointing. When it turns out nanothermite is not even 13% as powerful as TNT, the very idea that nanothermite should “hold the scientific key to understanding what happened to the Twin Towers" is simply absurd.

But shouldn’t the leaders of a self-proclaimed 9/11 “scientific research” group have sorted this out before they proclaimed that nanothermite was “the key”? As Mark has observed in his study, Steve Jones made a mistake early in his 9/11 research career by classifying nanothermite as an explosive in the same category with RDX, HMX, and others, whose detonation velocities are overwhelmingly greater. Alas, “The 9/11 truth movement has never recovered from from this error, for to this day nearly everyone in the 9/11 movement refers to ‘explosive nanothermite’, as even this clever cover for a fictitious ‘For Dummies’ book [above] illustrates.” And shouldn’t those who were promoting it to the community have discovered their blunder and taken steps to correct the false impression that they were thereby conveying?

My critique of Steve Jones' research, "On the manipulation of the 9/11 Truth Community", in which I observed, for example, that “the most important points [he has] made are actually concessions that the evidence he has found is merely consistent with the use of thermite or thermate but doesn’t prove it was produced by thermite or thermate, where, provided that there are multiple alternative possible explanations, he has not done the job. And I’m going to claim that he has not done the job because he has a commitment to a conception of scientific method that is hopelessly inadequate. . . . And that while he talks a lot about science, he is, alas, not practicing it”, was presented on the air on on May 17, 2007. It was even published on 911blogger, but met with derision and hostility, where the comments were extremely revealing.


And there were other signs of trouble brewing. The Rock Creek Free Press (May 2009), for example, published a piece about nanothermite, which offered a more reasonable assessment of its explosive capabilities, explaining that even if it has the potential to be a low grade explosive, its use as a high explosive—which might be capable of doing the work required to bring about (at least a major part of) the destruction of the Twin Towers—would require that it be combined with a high explosive. Surely this front-page article, which featured photos of Neils Harrit, Jeffrey Farrer, Kevin Ryan, and Steve Jones, ought to have caught the attention of the leaders of the "hard-evidence" research group.

Even now, after the publication of “Has nanothermite been oversold to the 9/11 Truth community?, some of its most important advocates, such as Steven Jones, Kevin Ryan, and Neils Harrit, remain its obdurate supporters. There are signs that others may be more appreciative of the significance of these considerations, where recent handouts from Architechts & Engineers for 9/11 Truth advance the slightly more modest claim, “WTC dust samples contain chips of highly energetic nano-thermite composite materials – uniformly nano-sized, proportioned in an organic gas-generating (explosive) matrix”, which appears to be the fallback position: nanothermite may not be explosive, but it can be combined with explosives to make it explosive. The same, alas, can also be said of toothpaste. At some point, therefore, these “leaders” of the 9/11 Truth movement have to concede that a mistake was made and that they have misled the movement: nanothermite cannot possibly hold the key to understanding the demolition of the Twin Towers on 9/11.

James H. Fetzer is a former Marine Corps officer, the founder of Scholars for 9/11 Truth, and a columnist for VT.

T. Mark Hightower has worked as an engineer for nearly 30 years, initially in the chemical industry, then in the space program for NASA, and currently in the environmental field, also with NASA. He is a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). His research on 9/11 is an exercise of his Constitutional rights as a private citizen and in no way represents his employer or any of the professional societies of which he is a member.

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Guest James H. Fetzer

Contrasting uniformity and non-uniformity of WTC dust sample results of the Harrit et al. paper “Active Thermitic Material Discovered in Dust from the 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe”


T Mark Hightower



Although the Harrit et al. paper claims great uniformity of results among all samples based on all the tests apart from the Differential Scanning Calorimeter (DSC) tests, this is in significant contrast to the tremendous lack of uniformity reflected in the DSC results.

Also, although the paper contains a rather doubtful statement regarding its findings in one part of the paper, it concludes with a strikingly confident conclusion in the final statement of the paper.


There are some weaknesses in the Differential Scanning Calorimeter (DSC) data that is presented in the paper (Harrit et al.) for the 4 dust samples.

There were 4 dust samples tested. Page 9 of the paper identifies them as

1 MacKinlay

2 Delassio/Breidenbach

3 Intermount

4 White

The DSC data is presented in the text of page 19, section 3, which refers to graphical results of Fig. 19 on page 20. One of the DSC traces is compared to a trace of published nanothermite data in Fig. 29 on page 25. The results are presented in Fig. 30 on page 27 in the form of bar graphs reporting units of kJ/g.

There is an oddity I want to point out before I get into the first weakness.

The data referred to on page 19 and in Fig. 19 appears to have not included sample 2 Delassio/Breidenbach, but instead has a MacKinlay 2 sample in its place to give a total of 4 samples tested. In Fig. 30 the 4 samples are clearly labeled as 1, 2, 3, and 4, so here it seems to imply that the 2 Delassio/Breidenbach sample is included. Interestingly, the numerical value of 3 kJ/g given in the text on page 19 for the MacKinlay 2 sample of Fig. 19 is the same or at least close to the same as the 2 (presumably) Delassio/Breidenbach sample of Fig. 30. Clarification from the authors should be sought to clear up this confusion.

So there were 4 separate dust samples, with multiple red/gray chips in each sample.

I will use the numerical values of energy release given in the text (page 19) as representing the values in the bar graph of Fig. 30 for the 4 WTC chip samples. These would be

Sample 1: 1.5 kJ/g

Sample 2: 3 kJ/g

Sample 3: 7.5 kJ/g

Sample 4: 6 kJ/g

As these four DSC data points are all we have, it is of note that there is tremendous scatter in this data. The average value is 4.5 and the standard deviation is 2.7. As two standard deviations is usually what is used when referring to a value being +/- some uncertainty, in rough terms, we would then say that the DSC data gives an average value of 4.5 kJ/g, with an uncertainty of +/- 100%.

It appears that only one red/gray chip was selected from each sample for DSC testing. If DSC tests had been done separately for multiple chips in each sample, then the question of whether the scatter in the data was present similarly within each of the samples could also have been addressed. You cannot find what you do not look for.

The paper offers some possible explanations for the scatter in the data. From page 19, section 3, it states,

“Variations in peak height as well as yield estimates are not surprising, since the mass used to determine the scale of the signal, shown in the DSC traces, included the mass of the gray layer. The gray layer was found to consist mostly of iron oxide so that it probably does not contribute to the exotherm, and yet this layer varies greatly in mass from chip to chip.”

Page 29, Conclusion 10. offers an explanation for higher total energy release than can be explained by the classic thermite reaction (true for samples 3 & 4)

“The carbon content of the red material indicates that an organic substance is present. This would be expected for super-thermite formulations in order to produce high gas pressures upon ignition and thus make them explosive. The nature of the organic material in these chips merits further exploration. We note that it is likely also an energetic material, in that the total energy release sometimes observed in DSC tests exceeds the theoretical maximum energy of the classic thermite reaction.”

If citing gray layer variation and organic content is not enough to explain the tremendous variation in the results, another explanation is added on page 27, section 6. I will quote an entire paragraph so you can appreciate the context.

“It is striking that some of the red/gray chips release more energy in kJ/g than does ordinary thermite, as shown in the blue bar graphs above. The theoretical maximum for thermite is 3.9 kJ/g [27]. We suggest that the organic material in evidence in the red/gray chips is also highly energetic, most likely producing gas to provide explosive pressure. Again, conventional thermite is regarded as an incendiary whereas super-thermite, which may include organic ingredients for rapid gas generation, is considered a pyrotechnic or explosive [6, 24]. As this test was done in air it is possible that some of the enhancement of energy output may have come from air oxidation of the organic component.”

So the DSC tests were done in air so extra oxygen was present to help liberate energy from any organics that might be present.

I know there is very little data to go on, just 4 DSC scans of red/gray chips, but with the scatter in the data and the explanations offered to explain it, I get the impression that the red/gray chips are tremendously lacking in uniformity. Or else there is much inherent error in the experimental apparatus.

By having air and therefore a source of oxygen present in the DSC seems to be an error in method since it allows for the input of energy from outside the substance that is itself being measured for its energy content. From Fig. 30 Chip 3 liberates considerably more energy than the high explosive HMX, and Chip 4 also exceeds the HMX value, but only by a little. The HMX provides its own oxygen within its chemical makeup, so it would not depend upon additional oxygen present to liberate its full energy. (Be sure not to confuse energy release with detonation velocity, an issue I am not dealing with in this write-up.)

I would like to see what a DSC trace of pure HMX would look like. It would probably look quite different because it would start to release its energy at a lower temperature, the deflagration temperature of HMX being 287 deg C. (page 238, “Explosives,” 6th edition, Meyer et al., 2007)

In summary, the DSC data is extremely limited with much scatter and has a potential method error. Drawing firm conclusions from it is extremely dubious.


Variability in proportions of gray layer within the red/gray chips and organics present in the red layer are cited as explanations for the scatter in the DSC data. Let's quantify these explanations to see what kind of variability of the specimens might account for the scatter in the data.

The energy release for thermite is cited as 3.9 kJ/g. For the lowest value from the DSC tests, 1.5 kJ/g for sample 1, let's first assume for the sake of illustration that this specimen had a low value because it had no organics in the red layer (in other words it is essentially pure thermite), and the gray layer being predominantly iron oxide as the paper says, acted as excess reactant and therefore was essentially inert providing no energy in the DSC test. In this case, the red layer would have to be present at 38 % by weight and the gray layer present at 62 % within the specimen. The math is 1.5/3.9 = 0.38. In summary, this would be assuming no organics, 38% red layer, and 62% gray layer.

The above calculation is done as a base case for comparison, even though its assumption of no organics in the red layer goes against the major thrust of the conclusion of the Harrit et al. paper that the red layer is a form of nanothermite that includes organics.

The next calculation is an attempt to quantify the high end of the DSC data, 7.5 kJ/g for sample 3. The presence of organics is cited as the explanation for the high value by the paper. Pure high explosive HMX has a energy release of 5.2 kJ/g, so even if sample 3 were 100 % HMX, this could not account for the higher value of 7.5 kJ/g obtained by the DSC test. So, for the sake of illustration, I am going to assume that the organic present in the red layer has an energy release of twice that of HMX, or 10.4 kJ/g. To help account for the high value of 7.5 kJ/g for sample 3, I am also going to assume that it contains no gray layer. In other words I am going to assume that sample 3 is 100 % red layer material. Setting x = weight fraction thermite in the red layer, the math is 3.9x + 10.4(1-x) = 7.5. Solving for x gives 0.45. So based on the above assumptions the red layer would have to contain 45 % thermite by weight and 55 % organic. In summary, this would be 100% red layer, no gray layer, with the red layer made up of 45% thermitic material and 55% organics.

Let's now go back to the low value case, 1.5 kJ/g for sample 1, and assume that it is made up of red layer (containing 45 % thermite and 55 % organic from the previous calculation) plus gray layer of inert excess iron oxide reactant. In this case then, the specimen would have to contain 20 % red layer and 80 % gray layer. The math is 1.5/7.5 = 0.2. In summary, this would be 20% red layer (made up of 45% thermite and 55% organic) and 80% gray layer.

Therefore, a very high degree of variability among the red/gray chips is necessary to explain the scatter in the DSC test data, unless there is significant error in the experimental apparatus and technique.

This is in contrast to these statements from the paper concerning the great uniformity of results.

From page 15, right column, it states, “From these data, it is determined that the red/gray chips from different WTC dust samples are extremely similar in their chemical and structural makeup. It is also shown that within the red layer there is an intimate mixing of the Fe-rich grains and Al/Si plate-like particles and that these particles are embedded in a carbon-rich matrix.”

From page 23, upper left column, it states, “The results clearly show the similarities of the red/gray chips from the different dust samples from all four sites.”


On page 25 of the paper, it says

“The red layer of the red/gray chips is most interesting in that it contains aluminum, iron and oxygen components which are intimately mixed at a scale of approximately 100 nanometers (nm) or less. Now we compare a DSC trace obtained for a WTC red/gray chip with a DSC trace obtained for known super-thermite (see Fig. (29)).”

Note that in Fig. 29 the trace of the WTC sample is really not all that similar to the known super-thermite. The WTC sample cited in Fig. 29 is the MacKinlay sample, although it does not say whether it is the MacKinlay 1 or MacKinlay 2 sample. But from Fig. 19, where 4 WTC DSC traces are plotted, for the four samples, MacKinlay 1, MacKinlay 2, Intermont, and White, the two MacKinlay samples are the lowest energy release traces. The other two, Intermont (sample 3), and White (sample 4) have much higher energy release, and deviate even more from the known super-thermite trace of Fig. 29.


With the tremendous scatter in the DSC data presented in the paper, and its implication for extreme non uniformity of the red/gray chips that I have tried to quantify, the question needs to be raised on all of the other tests that were performed to characterize the red/gray chips, and whether additional tests should have been done on other of the chips within the samples, to see if those tests also would have shown such high levels of non uniformity.


From page 25 of the paper, right column, first paragraph, the final sentence is

“We make no attempt to specify the particular form of nano-thermite present until more is learned about the red material and especially about the nature of the organic material it contains.” This statement expresses a lot of doubt about the findings.

From page 29 of the paper, final paragraph.

“Based on these observations, we conclude that the red layer of the red/gray chips we have discovered in the WTC dust is active, unreacted thermitic material, incorporating nanotechnology, and is a highly energetic pyrotechnic or explosive material.” This final conclusion statement of the paper expresses much less doubt.

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How many threads do we need on the same topic? Fetzer is right thought, the thermate/mite theory is nonsense. Funny that he is trying to defend the notion that the WTC was destroyed with space beams, mini-nukes, plasmoids or whatever the latest far fetched flavor of the month is.

Edited by Len Colby
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