Sunday, January 23, 2011

Good Question – Well, Bad Question, But…

A comment on our last post proposed an interesting question:

warm cow plot wrote:
I love counted how many people could possibly have been in on the largest caper in the planet's history. Now engage your self in something more practical--just for fun, mind you. Try to figure out the least people needed to pull it off. I will wait for your results. When you are done, I will compare to the number that I think could have done it. What neat fun we will all have with this.

Here’s the gist of the question: 9/11 deniers require an outrageous number of conspirators – but that’s okay, because all of those people were necessary anyway. 9/11 deniers seem to believe that a clandestine network of non-white people were unable to do it themselves. I like this question. I like this question because it helps define a key difference between the mindset of a conspiracy theorist and the mindset of a rationalist.

This question is based on the notion that we should predefine the range of possible events based on what we at the outset consider to “make sense to us.” Of course, we do this all the time – when you throw a ball upwards, you should probably behave as if it were going to fall back down – but only reasonably with events for which we have priors. We have a lifetime of experience with things going up and subsequently going down. History provides us with insufficient 21st-century large-scale terrorist attacks involving the use of commercial planes as suicide weapons. What is the “minimum number” of people required to conduct such an attack? With what authority could anyone possibly claim to have that answer?

Consider the two absurd extremes: One person with near-superhero status remote-controlled all three planes vs., say, a million people put together tiny, minute necessary steps. I could write a suspense novel detailing how either could happen. I could easily devise something that was within orbit of a plausible narrative of events. Just as Ayn Rand invented a fictional rendition of mid-century American industry to have a fantasy-land in which she could make her own philosophy come true, 9/11 deniers must reinvent the landscape of available evidence under presuppositions that will allow them to be right. Errant statements by politicians confronted by a herd of camera-wielding conspiranoids subsume the mountain of forensic evidence under a paradigm that allows 9/11 deniers to be right.

I have no idea what the “minimum number” of conspirators required to pull off 9/11 would have been. Philosophically the question is a misnomer exactly akin to asking the color of Thursday or the taste of seven. Its distance from a planet on which it is possible to have evidence-based reasoning is so great that it allows all answers, and requires them all to be equally right. So, “warm_cow_plot,” I don’t know the answer, I don’t care, and neither should you. We have reason, evidence, and standards of truth - those will do just fine.

1 comment:

M Gregory Ferris said...

Look at the actual conspiracy.

19 hijackers + 1 detained + one denied entry into the US = 22

The Al Qaeda leadership = 11

Trainers at Afghan AQ training camps = ? (estimate between 8 and 15)

Financiers = Unknown

AQ handlers within US = Unknown (estimate 30)

So a safe estimate is around 100 people directly involved with the Al Qaeda strikes of 9/11.

Let's play with your "One guy with a remote control" idea...

Four 767s have to be retrofit with remote control avionics so you need a crew of at least ten people. (10)Those ten would have to work on each plane.

You need a hanger, which means you need a BIG airport of some kind. It would have to be an airport that could be controlled in some way, so a military or government defense contractor airport (like Tinker AFB for example) would be used. Civilian planes are not uncommon at such locations and wouldn't attract much attention...however...even if the only people who see these planes arrive and depart are the control tower personel you have to tack on at least ten more guys (10).
You also need to have someone sign off on the use of the civilian contractor's hanger so that's another 3 or 4 people (3).
Let's assume that the 10 guys who wire the planes also serve as ground crew to keep the number involved low...but you have the problem of the bodies recovered from United 93. You need to come up with 44 bodies so automatically your numer jumps because you have to count them, dead or not they're part of the conspiracy (44). Where and how you get the bodies is a whole other can of worms but assume two people for every dead body (88).

Here's the problem: the passengers and the 767s that are diverted so the radio control planes can make their strikes. Even if they killed the passengers with nerve agent before the planes landed that's a lot of bodies to handle. Here's where your numbers go through the roof.

You need to build a crematorium that can dispose of the bodies. So that's 150 guys (150). Your 10 man aviation team can transport the bodies in large tractor trailor semi-trucks, but there's the problem of the 4 767s. Their parts can be traced back to the aircraft so you need to cut up the planes and transport them to a location where you can control their melt-down. So figure on at least 20 guys and equipment.

So figure 281 guys to pull that off. Then you'd need a team of guys to monitor them to insure that they don't talk, figure 300 more guys, so your running total is 581 guys.

581 guys who've never talked. 581 guys who never lost anyone in Iraq or Afghanistan, 581 guys none of whom were ever lied to and then put two and two together. 581 guys who have scattered to the winds.

I don't think so.