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7 World Trade Center

Why did Building 7 collapse?: 9/11 conspiracy theories debunked

Image: The original 7 World Trade Center | Public Domain

7 World Trade Center, often simply known as Building 7, has long been the focus of 9/11 conspiracy theorists. So, just what happened to this structure, and why do so many truthers regard its destruction as the ‘smoking gun’ that points to an inside job?

What happened to Building 7?

Building 7 was a 47-storey skyscraper that formed part of the World Trade Center complex. Although it wasn’t hit by a plane on 11th September 2001, it was heavily damaged by debris that fell from the North Tower.

Fires broke out on multiple floors of the structure, and at 5:20pm on that world-changing day – many hours after the Twin Towers fell – Building 7 collapsed. As its occupants and all rescue workers had already been evacuated by that time, there were no casualties.

The conspiracy theory

There are several key reasons why conspiracy theorists have fixated on the collapse of Building 7. One is that it collapsed at all, despite not having been impacted by a hijacked plane. They point to the fact that even the authorities acknowledged that Building 7 was the first ever tall structure to collapse as a result of fire damage alone.

There’s also the thorny issue of Building 7’s tenants at the time of the attacks. Much of the building was leased by the kinds of tenants you would have expected to see at the World Trade Center, such as American Express and investment bank Salomon Brothers. However, certain floors were taken up by the US Secret Service, the US Department of Defense, and the CIA.

According to a CBS News report published a few months after the attack: ‘A secret office operated by the CIA was destroyed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, seriously disrupting intelligence operations… The station was a base of operations to spy on and recruit foreign diplomats stationed at the United Nations, while debriefing selected American business executives and others willing to talk to the CIA after returning from overseas.’

Another major red flag in the eyes of conspiracy theorists is the fact that the BBC reported the collapse of Building 7 almost half an hour before it actually fell. This is a verifiable fact: footage can still be watched on YouTube of BBC journalist Jane Standley discussing the building’s destruction while it can be seen standing in the backdrop.

As far as many conspiracy theorists are concerned, all of this is evidence that Building 7 was destroyed, not by fire, but by secretly-installed explosives. Many believe this controlled demolition was carried out because Building 7 had been the secret command centre for 9/11 and needed to be wiped out at all costs.

What really happened to Building 7?

A thorough investigation into the collapse of Building 7 was carried out by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Published in 2008, its report confirmed that fires raged in an uncontrolled fashion after the building was hit by North Tower debris.

Its spread was particularly rapid as the water supply to the sprinkler system had been blocked off by the collapse of the Twin Towers. In the words of the NIST report: ‘Had a water supply for the automatic sprinkler system been available and had the sprinkler system operated as designed, it is likely that fires in WTC 7 would have been controlled and the collapse prevented.’

Instead, the searing inferno caused the steel beams and girders to thermally expand and eventually buckle. This in turn led to a ‘cascade of floor failures’ and the building’s collapse.

The report ran through the reasons why Building 7 was the first tall building to be felled by a fire, including the aforementioned lack of water to the sprinklers, the exceptionally high heat of the uncontrolled fire, and the specific design of the building’s steel frame. At any rate, there have been examples of other skyscrapers collapsing due to fire since the publication of the report – notably the Plasco Building in Iran, which fell in 2017 with the loss of dozens of lives.

The NIST also explicitly ruled out the controlled demolition theory, pointing out that ‘preparations for a blast scenario would have been almost impossible to carry out on any floor in the building without detection’ since it would have required removing sections of wall to plant the explosives.

What’s more, the sound made by the smallest blasts capable of destroying the building’s infrastructure would have reached at least 130 decibels at a distance of at least half a mile. This would have been the equivalent of ‘standing next to a jet plane engine, and more than 10 times louder than being in front of the speakers at a rock concert.’

What about the BBC’s Building 7 report?

In 2007, BBC editor Richard Porter directly refuted allegations that the BBC had been reciting a rehearsed script about Building 7. He explained that it had been well known the building was on fire and in danger of collapse, and that it was likely a news agency had jumped the gun and prematurely reported that the collapse had taken place. In Porter’s view, it was clear that amid the ‘chaos and confusion’, the BBC had then passed on this story to viewers in error.

On a similar note, US counter-terrorism official Richard Clarke refuted the significance of the CIA occupying Building 7, emphasising that this was simply a commercial office building in downtown New York, and there was nothing particularly unusual about government agencies leasing office space there like anybody else.

Unsurprisingly, the explanations of figures like Clarke, Porter and the experts at NIST have not swayed truthers from their rigidly-held beliefs. Building 7 continues to loom large as a totemic symbol of 9/11 conspiracy theories.

For more articles about 9/11, check out our September 11th attacks hub