Cover Story: Panoply of the Absurd
CRATER WITHOUT AN AIRCRAFT?
Even more glaring than such ignorance is the manner in which Wisnewski shapes and adjusts statements and facts. The fact that this practice verges on falsification is evident in the portions of his book, in which he writes about the crash of the United Airlines Boeing 757 near the town of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco took off at 8:42 a.m., carrying 37 passengers, 2 pilots, and 5 flight attendants. After terrorists had taken control of the cockpit, the jet turned from its westbound course to an eastbound course, presumably to attack the White House or the Capitol in Washington.
Some of the passengers, who had heard about the attacks in New York by telephone, attempted to overpower the terrorists, since they were convinced that their plane was also going to be used as a weapon. The Boeing 757 crashed during the ensuing struggle, and the story of flight UA 93 soon became an heroic epic.
One passenger is said to have yelled "let's roll" as he and other passengers stormed the cockpit. "Let's roll," said President Bush as he began his military campaign against terror. "Let's roll" was the slogan that soldiers wrote onto the deck of a battleship with their bodies when the US armed forces commemorated the victims of September 11th.
For Wisnewski, this apparently supports the theory that the crash near Shanksville could be a propaganda lie disseminated by the US government. The question Wisnewski uses to develop his counter-propaganda is printed in the book as a caption under a photograph of the crash site near Shanksville: "Do you believe that an entire Boeing 757 disappeared into this hole?"
He believes that metal parts at the crash site are scrap that was dumped there to perfect the deception: "Since there was no aircraft there, the scrap metal could not have come from a plane crash."
One of the witnesses for this claim is - in the book as well as in Wisnewski's film for German television network WDR titled "Aktenzeichen 11.9. ungelöst" ("File number 9/11 unsolved") - the mayor of the town of Shanksville, Ernie Stull. Wisnewski and the film's co-author, Willy Brunner, visited the 78-year-old mayor this past March. They had the man relate his experience of September 11th on camera.
In the book, Wisnewski describes the scene as follows: "And then it becomes apparent that something is troubling Ernie Stull. On the one hand, it's what the leading authorities of the United States - the FBI, the CIA, the President - have claimed. On the other hand, it's what his brother-in-law and his friend told him. 'There was no airplane,' says Ernie Stull, speaking partly to us and partly as if he were listening to his own voice, checking to see if he had heard himself correctly. One and half years after the catastrophe, he still shakes his head, completely at a loss, and helplessly extends his arms: 'No airplane'."
When Der Spiegel confronts Stull with the English translation of these passages in the book and the film script, the man is speechless: "My statements were taken completely out of context. Of course there was an airplane. It's just that there wasn't much left of it after the explosion. That's what I meant when I said 'no airplane'. I saw parts of the wreckage with my own eyes, even one of the engines. It was lying in the bushes."
Wisnewski disputes accusations that he manipulated Stull and mentions a statement Stull made in the WDR film, in which his description was correctly reproduced: "The airplane was completely destroyed. Bang! It crashed into the ground and disintegrated - completely."
Although this is correct, it amounts to hair-splitting, since Wisnewski and Brunner also suggest in the film that there was no aircraft. Quote: "A Boeing 757 and all of its passengers in that hole? The layperson is astonished, while the experts remain silent. Or could there be another, far more terrible truth to the matter?"
The authors use two photographs to insinuate just what this truth might be. One is a snapshot taken in Shanksville on September 11th. It depicts a mushroom cloud over the crash site. The other photo depicts a mushroom cloud that appeared after a bomb was dropped in Afghanistan. Quote from the film script: "...exactly the same mushroom-shaped column of smoke in Shanksville. Wasn't it really a bomb or a missile?"
The audacity with which ARD journalist Wisnewski assembled his own truths is evident in a translated segment of the interview provided by WDR at Der Spiegel's request. According to the WDR copy, the portion of the film script quoted above is followed by this statement made by Stull on the original tape:
"They just found the two turbines because, of course, they're heavier and more massive than everything else. But there was almost nothing left of the actual airplane. You can still find plate-sized parts out there. And Neville from the farm over there found an aluminum part from the airplane's outside shell behind his barn that must've been about 8 by 10 or even 8 by 12 feet."
Given this statement, it remains a mystery as to how WDR executives can continue to claim that Stull's "statements were not misquoted or distorted in the film." It is also quite telling that "Neville from the farm" does not appear in the film, nor does anyone else who could possibly refute the authors' claims.
"Mr. Stull did not tell us anything about witnesses who had seen the plane," Wisnewski told Der Spiegel. That's certainly possible, but they do exist, and they're not difficult to find.
One of them is Lee Purbaugh, a laborer from Shanksville. The moment that seemed "like an eternity" to him has remained deeply embedded in his memory. He says that an "unbelievably loud roar" caused him to look up at the sky, where the giant airplane suddenly seemed suspended "practically over my head." Seconds later, at 10:06 a.m., the Boeing plunged into the ground.
Another witness is named Eric Peterson. He was standing in his store when he heard the noise of the plane's engines. He stepped outside and watched the United Airlines jet until it disappeared behind a nearby hill. Then a fireball erupted. Peterson immediately jumped into his SUV and drove to the site of the crash.
When he arrived, he saw aircraft debris spread across a large area surrounding the impact crater, which he said was "still burning." According to Peterson, "bits of clothing were hanging" in the branches of the surrounding trees.
There was so much evidence of a plane crash lying around that FBI employees and crash investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) spent thirteen days recovering the wreckage. The heaviest piece of wreckage that was found, part of an engine, weighed almost a ton. This was certainly much heavier than the supposedly "indefinable 'scrap' found at the 'crash site' of flight UA 93," about which Wisnewski speculates.
Moreover, there was nothing particularly mysterious about the subsequent handling of the wreckage. For the duration of the investigation, the remains of the jet were placed under an FBI guard. Once the investigators had completed their search for evidence, the standard procedure following a plane crash was followed. The parts were returned to the owner of the aircraft. In the case of the United Airlines Boeing, the owner was the airline's insurance company, the United States Aircraft Insurance Group (USAIG), which is headquartered in New York. USAIG still owns the physical reminders of this murderous event. In spite of this body of evidence, WDR's television director, Ulrich Deppendorf, is "simply unable to imagine that the facts are incorrect" as far as the film is concerned. But Deppendorf should have known better.
That's because WDR author Wisnewski had always found the truth to be a rather complex affair - a thought pattern common to all conspiracy theorists, says US historian Pipes: "Beginning with the assumption that appearances are deceiving, they reject common knowledge and search for exotic and relatively unknown possibilities. A predilection for the improbable ... gives their data its typical and unmistakable quality."
The truth that Wisnewski and his colleagues on the program "Monitor," Wolfgang Landgraeber and Ekkehard Sieker, lobbed at the market for conspiracy literature in 1992 was also hidden and entangled, surprising and mysterious, monstrous and cunning. It's a market whose most important rule appears to be a variation on Murphy's Law: Anything that can be imagined must have happened.
The trio wrote a 400-page book titled "The RAF Phantom," in which they propagated the theory that the "Red Army Faction" had ceased to exist in 1982. They claimed that there had never been a third generation of the RAF, that the murders of the company spokesman of Deutsche Bank, Alfred Herrhausen, and of the German Trust Agency director, Detlev Karsten Rohwedder had not been the work of the RAF.
Instead, Wisnewski's usual suspects were the intelligence services - the CIA, the BND (the German Federal Intelligence Service), the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, and the criminals at the BKA (German Federal Office of Criminal Investigation) -, a giant network of conspiracy, but also one that, amazingly so, was so small that no one happened to notice it until the "Monitor" men did their own investigating.
Unfortunately for these sleuths, the truth began to diverge from their script. Shortly before their book was published in 1992, the RAF, which they claimed had ceased to exist in 1982, issued long-winded statements from the underground explaining why it intended to give up its policy of armed resistance.
In a 1997 interview with Der Spiegel, Birgit Hogefeld, sentenced to life in prison in 1998 for multiple counts of murder and attempted murder, issued a statement that completely burst these journalists' bubbles: "In the radical leftist circles with which I am familiar, this nonsense was never important. Of course, the fact that anyone took this seriously had something to do with the fact that the RAF was very isolated by the legitimate leftists during the 1980s."
CRUISE MISSILES IN THE PENTAGON?
What is certain is that Wisnewski and Brunner intensify their conspiratorial claims even further in the second part of the WDR documentary on September 11th.
Just as in the case of Shanksville, they also claim that a "bomb or missile" could have been involved in the attack on the Pentagon. Once again, everything seems to fit: the hole was too small for an aircraft, and the wreckage was virtually unidentifiable. And once again, their message is formulated in the form of a question: Fairy tales at the Pentagon?
All of this is complete nonsense. According to calculations performed by NTSB experts, the Boeing 757 weighed approximately 82 tons, with the plane's fuel making up 16 tons of its weight. The mass of aluminum, kerosene, cabin furnishings, baggage and passengers crashed into the US Department of Defense at a speed of about 530 mph. At that speed, says Mete Sozen, a specialist in reinforced concrete construction at Purdue University in Indiana, the body of the aircraft would have provided about as much resistance "as a sausage casing."
© DER SPIEGEL 37/2003
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