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September 11th Conspiracies - Pentagon

Author: Edward L Winston
Contributors: Dave Sorensen

The Pentagon is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense. It is located in Arlington, Virginia. This page covers the conspiracy theories around the terrorist attack by American Airlines Flight 77 on the Pentagon.

Table of Contents

  1. Building Related
    1. Emergency Drill with Hijacked Airplane
    2. MASCAL and Charles Burlingame
    3. The Pentagon, its Airspace, and Missile Batteries
    4. Why did the Plane Hit a Recently Reinforced Part of the Building
  2. Airplane Related
    1. Air Traffic Controllers Thought Flight 77 was a Fighter
    2. Flight 77 Could Not have Crashed through Three Separate Rings
    3. No 757 Wreckage was at the Pentagon
  3. Witnesses
    1. Jamie McIntyre and the Pentagon
  4. Other Evidence
    1. Quick Cover-up with Gravel shows Bigger Cover-up
    2. Bodies Identified in a Fire that Destroyed the Entire Plane
    3. There was no Luggage or Passenger Personal Effects
  5.  More Evidence

Building Related

This section covers conspiracy theories related to the building as well as topics to do with the Pentagon, its staff, management, and so forth.

Emergency Drill with Hijacked Airplane reported [1] Oct. 24-26, 2000 - Pentagon officials carry out a "detailed" emergency drill based upon the crashing of a hijacked airliner into the Pentagon. [Source: The Mirror, May 24, 2002]

This is proof that a plan was underway to attack the Pentagon and the government had foreknowledge.

If we take that quote at face-value it may seem like evidence of a conspiracy, however things are actually quite different from what they seem. First of all this was not some major exercise on the ground, including all employees; the quote says "Pentagon officials", nothing more. The entire drill took place in a few rooms of the Pentagon, where the individuals at the drill were employees who actively played games designed to try out different scenarios.

There was a plan crash scenario included, but only a plane crash, it did not include a hijacking so it is not proof of foreknowledge of the attacks as the conspiracy theorists state[2]:

Pentagon and Arlington, Va., emergency responders rehearsed how they would respond if a plane crashed into the Pentagon in October 2000, less than a year before the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

The scenario did not necessarily involve a hijacked aircraft. It addresses only a crash and the effect on the ground response team.

But the scenario, taken as a whole with other recent revelations of intelligence warnings abut hijacking and military exercises that contemplated hijacked planes hitting landmark buildings, casts further doubt on national security adviser Condoleezza Rice's claim that no one could have anticipated a Sept. 11-like disaster

That was just one of many scenarios, including "a terrorist incident at the Pentagon Metro stop" and a "construction accident". So why not plan for a plane crash? There are a lot of them flying around in the sky, and odds are that eventually one may smash into the building, especially because the Pentagon is right next to an airport[3]:

The Oct. 24-26, 2000 Pentagon Mass Casualty Exercise, part of an annual emergency response rehearsal, envisioned a commercial airliner crashing into the Pentagon, killing 341 victims. The Pentagon is less than a mile from Reagan National Airport and is daily in the flight path of small commuter planes. Larger airliners generally fly to the east of the massive building over the Potomac River.

A report from November 2000 tells us even more details about this[4]:

The fire and smoke from the downed passenger aircraft billows from the Pentagon courtyard.

Defense Protective Services Police seal the crash sight. Army medics, nurses and doctors scramble to organize aid. An Arlington Fire Department chief dispatches his equipment to the affected areas.

Don Abbott, of Command Emergency Response Training, walks over to the Pentagon and extinguishes the flames. The Pentagon was a model and the "plane crash" was a simulated one.

The Pentagon Mass Casualty Exercise, as the crash was called, was just one of several scenarios that emergency response teams were exposed to Oct. 24-26 in the Office of the Secretaries of Defense conference room.

On Oct. 24, there was a mock terrorist incident at the Pentagon Metro stop and a construction accident to name just some of the scenarios that were practiced to better prepare local agencies for real incidents.

To conduct the exercise, emergency personnel hold radios that are used to rush help to the proper places, while toy trucks representing rescue equipment are pushed around the exercise table.

Cards are then passed out to the various players designating the number of casualties and where they should be sent in a given scenario...

Pretty much all government agencies practice drills and try to prepare for scenarios, including outrageous ones, just because something slightly similar may happen a year later, is not evidence of a conspiracy.

MASCAL and Charles Burlingame

From Loose Change[5]:

October 24th, 2000
The Pentagon conducts the first of two training exercises called MASCAL, which simulates a Boeing 757 crashing into the building. 

Charles Burlingame, an ex-Navy F4 pilot who worked in the Pentagon, participates in this exercise before retiring to take a job at American Airlines, where, less than a year later, his Boeing 757 allegedly crashes into the building.

This would have to be the world's craziest coincidence, but it isn't true. Loose Change provides no reference for this claim, but if we search the Internet we get an interesting piece of information[6]:

The pilot of Flight 77, which allegedly hit the Pentagon on 9/11, was involved in an exercise planned a year earlier

The Washington Post reported on 16 September 2001 that the pilot of Flight 77 was former F-4 fighter pilot Charles Burlingame III, who in his last Navy job, developed anti-terror strategies for the Navy before retiring to fly for American Airlines. He drafted the Pentagon's emergency response plan in case it was hit by a civilian airliner. Flight 77 allegedly struck the Pentagon. It is not clear which MASCAL Charles Burlingame III authored.

If we check with the Washington Post, making sure the above is actually referenced correctly[7]:

...Capt. Charles Burlingame, who had been a Navy F-4 pilot and once worked on anti-terrorism strategies in the Pentagon...

This is interesting, while the first part about him being a pilot is referenced, there is absolutely no mention of any emergency response plans. What's most interesting is that in October 2000 and in May 2001, the exercises were about responses to accidental crashes, not terrorist attacks. So, really, there is no evidence what so ever of him working on such a project, it is not mentioned anywhere, but perhaps we can find out more[8]:

He remained active in the reserve, working until 1996 as a liaison in the Pentagon. 

A senior pilot at American Airlines, he began his airline career in 1979 after graduating from the Naval Academy in 1971. Chic served as a naval aviator flying F4 Phantoms and stayed in the reserves and rose to the rank of Captain. He earned the "Defense Superior Service Medal" and retired in 1996 after twenty-five years of distinguished service.

And in USAToday[9]:

Charles Burlingame... joined the American Airlines team in 1979. 

As we can see the Washington Post article provides no connection between Charles Burlingame and the exercises at the Pentagon, and from above we see that he had left the Naval reserves years before they even took place. Further more, Loose Change claims that he joined American Airlines "less than a year" before September 11th, when in reality he had joined more than 20 years before. This claim by conspiracy theorists is completely untrue.

The Pentagon, its Airspace, and Missile Batteries


It is... impossible that a Boeing 757 could enter the Pentagon's air space without being destroyed by one or more of the five missile batteries protecting the building.


The Pentagon is ringed by anti-missile [sic] batteries which are programmed to destroy any aircraft entering the Pentagons airspace except for any aircraft with a US military transponder.

First of all, what missile batteries? Surely somewhere in history someone would have mentioned missile batteries, especially ones that automatically fire on planes that do not have US Military transponders. It could be possible that none of this is true, and that is indeed the case. The first mention of this is probably by Thierry Meyssan, who probably made it up, and since then it has been reproduced by others.

Second, even if the missile batteries did exist, wouldn't have someone mentioned them? Surely an employee or reporter would have known, or were these people just a part of it? Here is some more details from an interview with April Gallop[12]:

Me: Do you have any theory about how a Boeing 757 could have hit such a secure building without any anti-aircraft defenses being activated or any warning alarms sounded?

AG: I have thought about this very question numerous times. And then I realized I needed to rephrase the question. The real question is what is the probability or likelihood that no anti-aircraft defense, warning alarms or additional security mechanism functioned on that particular day?

And then we need to think how likely is it then there was a glitch in all the security mechanisms, anti-aircraft defense and warning alarms?

You know, it takes a while to get around that building. And I remember being so disgusted at the frequency of random drill exercises taking place for us to evacuate the building. It seemed as if they always happened when I had to take care of certain things.

Yet on September 11th, the day when our lives were threatened, not one alarm.

Me: I would imagine that security procedures are different now than they were prior to 9/11, so I don't think you would be revealing any confidential information by answering this question. I have heard that, as of 9/11, the anti-aircraft batteries were automated, in other words, that they would have automatically fired against any incoming aircraft that did not transmit the appropriate friend or foe signal. Is that true?

AG: Yes that is true. They are either to attempt to guide the incoming aircraft that has violated the airspace to a safe location to land. Making reasonable effort to guide it down. Or shoot it down.

In the last part of that quote it Gallop is talking about using fighters, not missiles, to guide incoming aircraft out of the area. Just to clarify, she is not confirming an automatic shoot-down of anything that "violates the airspace". The reason is because the Pentagon is very close to the approach for the Ronald Reagan Airport, and if it had automatic missile batteries, every plane attempting to land there would be shot out of the sky.

Even so, today, years after 9/11, planes still violate the Washington no-fly zone, and magically none of have been shot down by these invisible, unknown missile batteries[13]:

More than 2,000 aircraft "of interest" have been detected over Washington airspace since January 2003, Beardsworth said. The number of aircraft violating the no-fly zone fell from 164 in the six months before Jan. 20, 2003, to 30 after that date through May, 14, 2004.

Perhaps most importantly is the entire concept of missile batteries. Assuming you knew a plane was coming for you, it would be going around 400mph, or around 9 miles per second, and the final decision would be hair then, not to mention that when you did shoot it down, the debris would continue forward and probably set your entire building on fire.

Why did the Plane Hit a Recently Reinforced Part of the Building

Why did Flight 77 make a complicated 330-degree turn around the Pentagon, before hitting it in an area that had recently been reinforced? This looks suspiciously like an effort to reduce casualties, or perhaps protect Donald Rumsfeld, whose office was on the other side of the building.

In August 2006 the NTSB released details about Flight 77 and its flight path. The turn occurred before Flight 77 reached the Pentagon. The pilot did not fly around it, in an effort to hit a specific area of the Pentagon, he simply aimed for the side he was approaching. If he wanted to hit another side upon approached, he would have had to make another turn. So, he was not trying to aim for a certain area, just the area he saw first[14].

Airplane Related

This section covers conspiracy theories related to Flight 77 specifically, as well as other planes such as supposed fighter aircraft.

Air Traffic Controllers Thought Flight 77 was a Fighter

Air traffic controllers watching Flight 77 just before it hit the Pentagon, thought that it was a fighter, not a 757.

The quote that commonly is referenced to support this theory[15]:

 "The speed, the maneuverability, the way that he turned, we all thought in the radar room, all of us experienced air traffic controllers, that that was a military plane"

There is one important piece of the quote that is been left out by the conspiracy theorists[16]:

"The speed, the maneuverability, the way that he turned, we all thought in the radar room, all of us experienced air traffic controllers, that that was a military plane," O'Brien said. "You don't fly a 757 in that manner. It's unsafe."

O'Brien was not saying the plane "couldn't be a 757", rather he was saying that it was being flown in a dangerous way for a passenger jet. Of course, hijackers really don't care about safety, considering they're trying to kill as many people as possible. This quote is not proof of anything, this claim is meaningless.

Flight 77 Could Not have Crashed through Three Separate Rings

From Loose Change[17]:

And as for the inside of the Pentagon, there's another hole, approximately six feet in diameter... ...Found on the other side of the C Ring, three rings from the impact. For that hole to have been caused by Flight 77, the Boeing would have had to smash through nine feet of steel reinforced concrete. 


American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757, is alleged to have punched through 6 blast-resistant concrete wall a total of nine feet of reinforced concrete before exiting through this hole.

Obviously what the conspiracy theorists are suggesting is that it is impossible for a plane to break through three rings of the Pentagon; that it did not have enough energy to do so. Rarely does anyone analyze the problem mathematically, I imagine they just hope you believe them. The ACSE Building Performance report of the Pentagon may offer one clue as to the reason why. Here is a part of the discussion over the stopping distance[19]:

...the aircraft frame most certainly was destroyed before it had traveled a distance that approximately equaled the length of the aircraft. The debris that traveled the farthest traveled approximately twice the length of the aircraft after entering the building. To come to rest at a point 310 ft (figure 6.6) from the area of impact at a speed of 780 ft/s, that debris experienced an average deceleration of approximately 30g.


The influence of the structure on the deceleration of the aircraft (and, conversely, the influence of the aircraft on the structure) can be appreciated by comparisons with examples of aircraft belly-landed in controlled circumstances. In 1984, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) conducted a controlled impact demonstration (Department of Transportation 1987) to evaluate the burn potential of antimisting kerosene fuel. In that test, the FAA landed a Boeing 720 aircraft (weighing approximately 175,000 lb) without landing gear on a gravel runway at Edwards Air Force Base. The aircraft in that test was flying at approximately 250 ft/s when it made first contact, but it slid approximately 1,200 ft before it stopped. Although the test aircraft was traveling at approximately one-third the speed of the aircraft that struck the Pentagon, its sliding distance was approximately 3.9 times that of the Pentagon attack aircraft. Clearly, the short stopping distance for the aircraft striking the Pentagon derived from the energy dissipated through the destruction of the aircraft and building components; the acceleration of building contents; the loss of lift when the wings were severed from the aircraft; and effective frictional and impact forces on the first-floor slab, the underside of the second-floor slab, and interior columns and walls.

There's no suggestion here that the distance traveled by the Flight 77 debris was "too long", in fact it was considerably less than the much lighter Boeing 720. The report does not spell out the energy that would be lost passing through the building; so what about that "nine feet of steel reinforced concrete" that the conspiracy theorists talk about?

What's most interesting is the language here; there are no walls at the pentagon that are nine feet thick, while indeed they are steel reinforced concrete, they are not that thick, in fact the thickest wall is the internal wall, and it is only 18 inches thick. The exterior wall does have some different kind of reinforcements, made of limestone and backed with unreinforced bricked filled with a concrete frame, which is 10 inches[20].

It is not difficult to imagine a plane could easily crash through several of these walls. The biggest resistance would be the external wall and the internal walls, and this is likely why it did not go all the way through the building. Anyone who says "nine feet of reinforced concrete" is lying.

The issue as to whether it was a plane that actually crashed is further covered in the sections below.

No 757 Wreckage was at the Pentagon

There was no 757 wreckage at the Pentagon.

That is interesting, because just looking on the Internet, one can find plenty of photographs (click for larger pictures).

You can find more pictures just by searching for them on the Internet. 

Of course, saying that there was no crash ignores eye witness reports[21][23], human remains[22]. More on the crash of the plane discussed other sections on this page.


This section covers conspiracy theories related to eye witness accounts.

Jamie McIntyre and the Pentagon


"From my close-up inspection, there is no evidence of a plane having crashed anywhere near the Pentagon" 

This is a common source for conspiracy theorists who wish to support the claim that "no plane hit the Pentagon", but important information is being left out of the quote, here is some of that missing information[25]:

WOODRUFF: Jamie, Aaron was talking earlier -- or one of our correspondence was talking earlier -- I think -- actually, it was Bob Franken -- with an eyewitness who said it appeared that that Boeing 757, the American jet, American Airline jet, landed short of the Pentagon.

Can you give us any better idea of how much of the plane actually impacted the building?

MCINTYRE: You know, it might have appeared that way, but from my close-up inspection, there's no evidence of a plane having crashed anywhere near the Pentagon. The only site is the actual site of the building that's crashed in, and as I said, the only pieces left that you can see are small enough that you can pick up in your hand. There are no large tail sections, wing sections, fuselage, nothing like that anywhere around, which would indicate that the entire plane crashed into the side of the Pentagon and then caused the side to collapse.

 As we can clearly see, he is saying that it did not crash near the Pentagon, but rather right into the side of it.

Other Evidence

This section covers conspiracy theories related to evidence found or the idea that some evidence may have been hidden or tampered with.

Quick Cover-up with Gravel shows Bigger Cover-up

Right after the crash it seems as though the Pentagon lawn was quickly covered up with sand and gravel. What were they trying to hide?

Explained by the November 2001 edition of Civil Engineering Magazine[26]:

Ed Pickens, the senior construction scheduler: "On that first day we discussed with the FBI where to place the dumpsters needed to cart away debris. We discovered, however, that the dumpsters had to be brand new because the debris was evidence and could not be contaminated in any way. So we had to deliver numerous new dumpsters to the site immediately. And then I informed the FBI that we were going to have to build a road for the trucks carrying the debris because the ground around the heliport -- the area closest to the blast -- was too soft.

The FBI authorized construction of the road, and I called a contractor, who got the gravel, and we got things moving"

So they were not covering up the crash site, rather they were creating a temporary road so the trucks wouldn't get stuck.

Bodies Identified in a Fire that Destroyed the Entire Plane

We're told that the Pentagon fire consumed most of the aluminum wreckage, and yet it was still possible to identify all but one of the passengers. This simply isn't possible, and tells us there's something wrong with the official account.

This really is not that definitive, considering in cremation it is around 1800F for about 90 minutes that bodies turn to ash[27][28]. While the fires did burn for quite some time at the Pentagon, they did not reach that temperature, nor stay in the same location for 90 minutes or so, naturally some stuff would be left over. So, what temperature was reached? Well from the World Trade Center fires, we know it was something around 1400F. So, identification would be difficult, but not impossible.

There was no Luggage or Passenger Personal Effects

There was no luggage or passengers personal effects at the Pentagon crash site.

Actually, there are various reports of personal effects, some later being returned to relatives, here are two:

"During an interview earlier this week, Koch delicately handled eerie mementos of the crash found during cleanup: Whittington's battered driver's license... a burnt luggage tag and a wedding ring lie on a book dedicated to those lost in the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The wedding ring belonged to Ruth's daughter and the luggage tag belonged to one her granddaughters."[29]

"Suzanne Calley died aboard American Airlines Flight 77 when terrorists hijacked the plane and sent it crashing into the Pentagon... Rescue crews were able to pull Calley's body from Flight 77's wreckage. Jensen [Calley's husband] spent last year's anniversary of the national tragedy in Washington, D.C. There, a Pentagon official - assigned to Calley's family as a liaison - gave Jensen his wife's wedding ring, which had been recovered from the plane."[30]

More can be found online.

More Evidence

Conspiracy Theorists typically try to prove that a plane did not hit the Pentagon, while there are countless eye witness accounts, both direct and indirect. For example several passengers made phone calls and reported that the plane was hijacked. Some say these phone calls were faked, but that's so sick I don't even want to try to debate it. They also do not take into account various witnesses that were driving on the road, were outside, some were even reporters that saw this plane crash into the building. Was every in on it? Was the government able to pull off the biggest conspiracy theory of all time, with the only leaks being people who run web sites about conspiracy theories?