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The Horrifying Fraud

Why The French Think the US Was Behind 9/11


An urban legend swept France after 9/11: that the US itself had organised the attacks of September 11. One man became rich and famous by pandering to France’s national paranoia – Thierry Meyssan.


On 11 September 2001, nineteen men affiliated to al-Qaeda, a militant Islamist organisation, hijacked four commercial aircraft. They flew one into each of the two tallest towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. The third plane smashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania when passengers attempted to retake the plane. 

The fourth aircraft, American Airlines Flight 77 was flown into the US Department of Defence headquarters, the Pentagon, in Arlington County, Virginia, just outside the capital, Washington, D.C. at 9:37:46 AM local time. Sixty-four people on the plane and a further one hundred and twenty-five in the building were knifed, burned, crushed or suffocated to death.

In March 2002, Thierry Meyssan published his book "L'Effroyable Imposture" or "The Horrifying Fraud". The 44-year-old theology student is the founder and president of his own think-tank, Réseau Voltaire (Voltaire Research), named after the Enlightenment free-thinker, François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire.

His 235-page book claims that the planes that struck the World Trade Centre were not flown by bin Laden fanatics but stooges programmed by right-wingers inside the US government who were planning a coup unless President Bush agreed to invade Afghanistan and Iraq to promote their oil interests. The bulk of the book centres on claims the Pentagon was not hit by a plane but by a guided missile or a truck bomb.

The real craziness of Meyssan’s book is not that it was written or published, after all there are plenty of books in circulation by holocaust deniers and UFO abductees, but that in one month after publication the French bought 200,000 copies of the book at around €15 each making him a millionaire. 

The book became the fastest-ever seller in French publishing, breaking the record held by Madonna’s “Sex”. It shot to the top of Amazon France's bestseller list and made it to second place in the booksellers' weekly Livres Hebdo's sales list. The book and its sequel, “Pentagate”, have been riding high in French bestsellers’ lists ever since. 

Meyssan claims that he used an investigation team of twenty experts to put together his case. These include his French publisher, Pierre Krebs, president of a pagan sect, called the “Thule Seminar”, together with other unnamed authorities in ”Switzerland, Britain and Pakistan”. He gathered further evidence by working from statements mostly sourced from the Internet. He did not travel to the United States to interview any witnesses. Indeed, he dismisses the accounts of witnesses to the crash of the American Airlines Boeing 757 into the Pentagon:

"Far from believing their depositions, the quality of these witnesses only underlines the importance of the means deployed by the United States Army to pervert the truth," he says.

The Horrifying Fraud is a masterpiece of constructive reasoning, literally a textbook example of how a conspiracy theory can be built around unclear official statements, unnamed "experts" unverified published facts, references to past United States policy in Cuba and Afghanistan, use of technical jargon, "revelations" about secret oil-industry manoeuvres and plonking, rhetorical “unanswerable“ questions intended to sow doubt.

The core of Meyssan’s allegation regarding the Pentagon disaster centre on his analysis of photographs of the disaster area immediately after the event. From this, he has created a set of “unanswerable” questions on which his theory is based. The questions, as the “conspiracy debunkers” at www.snopes.com have proved, turn out to be eminently answerable.


1) Can you explain how a Boeing 757-200, weighing nearly 100 tons and travelling at a minimum speed of 250 miles an hour only damaged the outside of the Pentagon? Despite the appearances of exterior photographs, the Boeing 757-200 did not "only damage the outside of the Pentagon." It caused damage to all five rings (not just the outermost one) after penetrating a reinforced, 24-inch-thick outer wall. As CBS’ 60 Minutes II reported in its "Miracle of the Pentagon" episode on 28 November 2001, the section of the Pentagon into which the hijacked airliner was flown had just been reinforced during a renovation project that had been underway since 1993.


2) Can you explain how a Boeing 14.9 yards high, 51.7 yards long, with a wingspan of 41.6 yards and a cockpit 3.8 yards high, could crash into just the ground floor of this building? As eyewitnesses described and photographs demonstrate, the hijacked airliner dived so low that it hit the ground in front of the Pentagon first, thereby dissipating much of its energy that might otherwise have caused more extensive damage. However, as described by The New York Times, the plane still hit not "just the ground floor" but between the first and second floors because, even while disintegrating, this large object was able to plough forward and upward into the Pentagon itself.


3) Why can we not find debris of a Boeing 757-200 in the photographs? 

Because the plane disappeared into the building's interior after penetrating the outer ring, it was not visible in photographs taken from outside the Pentagon. Moreover, since the airliner was full of jet fuel and was flown into thick, reinforced concrete walls at high speed, exploding in a fireball, any pieces of wreckage large enough to be identifiable in after-the-fact photographs taken from a few hundred feet away burned up in the intense fire that followed the crash (just as the planes flown into the World Trade Centre towers burned up, and the intensity of their jet-fuel fires caused both towers to collapse). Small pieces of airplane debris are plainly visible on the Pentagon lawn in other photographs.


4) Can you explain why the Defence Secretary deemed it necessary to sand over the lawn, which was otherwise undamaged after the attack? 

The claim that the "Defence Secretary" ordered the lawn to be sanded over is false. A path of sand and gravel was laid on the Pentagon lawn because the trucks and other heavy equipment used to haul away the debris would have been slipping and sliding on the grass and become mired in the Pentagon lawn otherwise.


5) Can you explain what happened to the wings of the aircraft and why they caused no damage?

As the front of the Boeing 757 hit the Pentagon, the outer portions of the wings snapped during the initial impact, then were pushed inward towards the fuselage and carried into the building's interior; the inner portions of the wings penetrated the Pentagon walls with the rest of the plane.


6) Can you explain why the County Fire Chief could not tell reporters where the aircraft was? 

This is what he actually said in answer to a question from a journalist: "Is there anything left of the aircraft at all?" He replied: "First of all, the question about the aircraft, there are some small pieces of aircraft visible from the interior during this fire-fighting operation I'm talking about, but not large sections... You know, I'd rather not comment on that. We have a lot of eyewitnesses that can give you better information about what actually happened with the aircraft as it approached. So we don't know. I don't know." The fire chief wasn't asked "where the aircraft was"; he was asked "Is there anything left of the aircraft at all?"


7) Why can’t we see find the aircraft's point of impact? 

Immediately after Flight 77 smashed into the Pentagon, the impact was obscured by a huge fireball, explosions, fire, smoke, and water from fire-fighting efforts. Within a half hour, the upper stories of the building collapsed, thereby permanently obscuring the impact site. It simply wasn't possible for photographs to capture a clear view of the impact site during that brief interval between the crash and the collapse.


When the book was published, even the French press, which can swallow just about anything, found its wildfire appeal in France hard to stomach. The newspaper Libération slammed the book as "a tissue of wild allegations," marvelling at its quick rise to fame, from Internet chatrooms, via television chat shows, to bestseller. 

"The pseudo-theories of “The Horrifying Fraud” feed off the paranoid anti-Americanism that is one of the permanent components of the French political caldron”. Gérard Dupuy wrote in the Libération editorial. Edwy Plenel, news editor at Le Monde, wrote: "It is very grave to encourage the idea that something which is real is in fact fictional. It is the beginning of totalitarianism".

Guillaume Dasquié and Jean Guisnel, the authors of "The Horrifying Lie", a book that responds directly to Meyssan’s “The Horrifying Fraud”, favour a different explanation for the book's success. They write of France's "profound social and political sickness," which leads people to embrace the idea "that they are victims of plots, that the truth is hidden from them, that they should not believe official versions, but rather that they should demystify all expressions of power, whatever they might be…”

Meyssan is not unusual in France. Time magazine has reported polls that find two out of five French people believe the US government was behind the attacks and the murder of its own citizens. Those appalled by Meyssan’s enrichment at the expense of the Pentagon dead and the eager credulity of the French public who so believe him will take no comfort from a comment from Meyssan’s inspiration, Voltaire who wrote in 1767:

“Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.” 

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