November 8, 2004
A Hidden Story Behind Sept. 11? One Man's Ad Campaign Says So
ASHINGTON, Nov. 7 - The grainy 30-second commercials are eerie and cryptic, and they suggest a government cover-up of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. One implies that no plane flew into the Pentagon. The other suggests that 7 World Trade Center, which collapsed late in the afternoon that day, was detonated from within.
The advertisements, which ran repeatedly here and in New York between Oct. 20 and Nov. 2 on several cable networks, including CNN, Fox News and ESPN, offer a Web site, an address and a phone number but give little indication who is behind them.
The ads are the latest salvo from James W. Walter, a millionaire from Santa Barbara, Calif., who over the years has financed programs promoting voter registration in low-income neighborhoods and prison reform. Recently he has taken a growing interest in the investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks. The television commercials, as well as ads in magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Daily News, are part of a $3 million national campaign paid for by Mr. Walter in an effort to press for the reopening of the investigation by the independent Sept. 11 commission.
"It just isn't possible that 19 screw-ups with box cutters pulled this whole thing off," Mr. Walter said in a telephone interview Friday as he traveled from Florida to California by train. He has traveled by train since Sept. 11, 2001, he said, because he has been too scared to fly.
"We've never gotten solid answers on why Tower 7 collapsed when it was two full blocks away from where the planes hit," he said. "We've also never received an answer for how such a large plane left such a small hole in the side of the Pentagon."
The independent commission, which issued its final report in July, disputed some commonly held beliefs about the attacks but not the general conclusion, that 19 young terrorists hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
For Mr. Walter, though, what started as a hunch about official negligence has blossomed into a full-blown conspiracy theory involving government officials looking for a pretext to send troops into Afghanistan and Iraq.
Mr. Walter has tapped into a long tradition in which national tragedies - from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to the downing of Trans World Airlines Flight 800 - inflame the most feverish imaginations.
But in New York, the ads may have found a particularly receptive audience.
A Zogby poll of New Yorkers' opinions about the 9/11 investigation, released last month, indicated that 49 percent of New York City residents and 41 percent of New York state residents believed that some federal officials "knew in advance that attacks were planned on or around September 11, 2001, and that they consciously failed to act." The poll also found that 66 percent of New York City residents and 56 percent of state residents wanted a fuller investigation of the "still unanswered questions."
Using the poll findings to make their case, relatives of victims of the attacks and others skeptical of the commission's investigation have asked Eliot Spitzer, the New York attorney general, to open an investigation into what they said were unanswered questions.
Glenn P. Corbett, a professor of fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who is part of an investigation into the collapse of the World Trade Center towers by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said that he was not surprised by the lingering speculation about the attacks, but that there were clear answers to most questions raised by Mr. Walter's ad campaign.
The hole left by the attack on the Pentagon was not bigger, Mr. Corbett said, because the wings were lighter than most other parts of the plane and probably disintegrated on impact with the ground and the building. The reason 7 World Trade Center collapsed straight down, he said, was most likely the large amounts of diesel fuel stored in the building's lower levels. The fuel was meant to power emergency generators.
"The conspiracy theorists fail to recognize that there was structural damage in Building 7 caused by flying debris after the first two towers collapsed," Mr. Corbett said. "This led to fires that burned for several hours which eventually collapsed Building 7, too."
One skeptic who wants Mr. Spitzer to open an investigation is W. David Kubiak, who lives in Kennebunkport, Maine, and runs a Web site called 911Truth.org. He said that not all doubters had gone as far as Mr. Walter in their conspiracy theories. Most people in his group, he said, including families of 9/11 victims, simply want more of an explanation why there were so many problems that day involving emergency communication and the chain of command.
"I guess I'm one of the few people with the wherewithal to push the issue," said Mr. Walter, who says he is worth about $7 million, most of which he inherited from his father's building materials company in Tampa, Fla. Besides making financial donations to various causes, Mr. Walter, 57, also founded Walden Three, a nonprofit group in Santa Barbara that researches futuristic ideas for environmentally friendly urban development. Much of his time, Mr. Walter said, is spent working on a science fiction novel that he hopes to publish to promote utopian visions for city planning.
"Sometimes Jimmy gets a little carried away with his own ideas," said Assia Mortensen, who works occasionally as an editor for Walden Three. "But at root, he's an eccentric sweetheart with a lot of money and he shares it with a lot of important groups."
Mr. Walter said he was no stranger to adversity, having overcome an addiction to cocaine. He also has Tourette's syndrome, he said.
"I have a hard time not speaking up when I see something that doesn't seem right," Mr. Walter said. "I guess that is just the way I am."