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Friday, April 30, 2010

Muzzling scientists

Notice any prestigious scientific journals running studies (not opinions) in defense of the National Institute of Standards and Technology reports of the World Trade Center building collapses?

You are unlikely to see much. The best the NIST has been able to do in the way of support is a 2006 Popular Mechanics piece "debunking" 9/11 skeptics.

Though a number of physicists, mathematicians and computer scientists have expressed severe doubts about government claims concerning the collapses and other aspects of the attacks, no such criticism (as far as I know) has appeared in a major scientific journal, although physicist Stephen Jones' report on nanothermite found in trade center dust was published by an online scientific journal published overseas.

Yet, the NIST reports cry out for review by serious scientists concerning their credibility, professionalism and flaws. In fact, they deserve to be examined by peers seeking evidence of scientific fraud.

There is of course a reason why "hard science" journals stay out of the controversy: intimidation, by those with a vested interest in defending the Pentagon and other U.S. agencies, and by the more vindictive 9/11 doubters. Scientists fear to get involved in the controversy, lest their careers are bombed out by the Glen Becks of the academic world.

But, if the 9/11 reports are credible, wouldn't scientific journals have been publishing favorable reviews?

In fact, the propaganda war meant to rope off critics from "mainstream" media would have less success if the scientific journals weren't compelled to cooperate.

Oh, I should mention that there was some manufactured consensus among mechanical engineers concerning the collapses. But this was really a big con job, with no real open discussion permitted. Also, other types of scientists -- specifically physicists, computer scientists and mathematicians -- were for the most part conspicuously absent from this alleged consensus.

The FBI is trying to escape scientific distrust of its anthrax investigation -- the one that concluded that Dr. Bruce Ivins was a lone deranged killer -- by having a National Academy of Sciencies panel review its scientific method in the anthrax forensics that allegedly implicated Ivins.

However, the bureau apparently expects that the scientists will dutifully window-dress their probe because it officially wrapped up the probe before the panel had finished its inquiry. Anyway, the New York Times reported, the bureau specifically directed the scientists to assess the scientific technique, not the validity of its application nor the bureau's conclusion.

President Obama may veto the intelligence authorization bill, congressional leaders have been warned, if Congress doesn't remove a clause requiring the director of national intelligence to check to see whether a foreign-based conspiracy was at work. Obama's budget director, Peter Orszag, said such a probe would be "duplicative." Yeah, why waste tax money on another coverup?

Rep. Rush Holt, New Jersey Democrat, said he was surprised that the administration would thwart a re-examination.

Certainly the clause shows that Congress doesn't think much of the FBI's work on the attacks, which targeted federal lawmakers and members of the press. Yet Holt, measuring his words carefully, told this writer that he had seen no evidence that the trade center towers had come down contrary to the NIST's claims. Holt, a physicist, knows very well that most of the tangible evidence was quickly shipped overseas as scrap metal. He said that if he saw anything that would undermine government claims, he would push to have it declassified. (He did not quite imply that FBI forensic testing at Ground Zero was classified, but the NIST's trade center collapse reports mentioned no review of FBI forensic studies.)

But surely the Princeton scientist must suspect that if the FBI botched the anthrax probe, perhaps it also did poorly on the 9/11 probe -- which, after all, was only detached from the anthrax probe after a pesky reporter discovered that the anthrax strain came from a U.S. source.

Congress, of course, urged that a foreign connection be checked, bypassing the possibility that a domestic conspiracy was responsible. As to foreign penetration, it is evident that U.S. security agencies aren't terribly enthusiastic about discussing the possibility of moles in their midst. Germany and Japan very likely lost World War II because their spook chiefs were terrified to concede that their security systems had been badly compromised.

This brings us to the Justice Dept. (or, really CIA) attempt to crack down on the press via its move against James Risen of the New York Times.

No intelligence chief likes to look "weak" vis a vis his counterparts in other agencies or other governments. Press curtailment is a seen as a sign of control, of a spook chief's status.

But which spook chief really has the upper hand in American intelligence and in the American press? Very unlikely to be al Qaeda's. Possibilities include top people in the Kremlin's security service, Britain's MI6 and Israel's Mossad, and perhaps some others, such as the allegedly modestly rich Jay Rockefeller, who always has his hand in security matters.

Rockefeller has been touting a cyberspace security bill, but it's not getting much attention from the press. Though a proviso seeming to give the president the power to shut parts of the internet down in an emergency has been clarified, one must wonder what else might be lurking in the bill that turns out to be a clever power play, giving security chiefs better net filtering powers.

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