On September 9, Russia’s state-owned news agency RIA Novosti published a 9/11 anniversary analysis by its star journalist Viktoria Nikofirova. In it, the outlet made at least nine false or misleading claims about the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, in which 19 al Qaida terrorists hijacked four passenger planes.
They flew two of the hijacked planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and a third into the Pentagon. The fourth hijacked airliner crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers fought with the hijackers. In all, 2,996 people were killed the day of the coordinated attacks.
Apart from making new false or misleading claims, the RIA Novosti piece is sprinkled with old, frequently debunked conspiracies. Following are the nine claims and conspiracies translated from Russian in their order of appearance in article.
1. “The U.S. refuses to reveal the secret of 9/11.”
The claim is misleading. This statement is used as a headline, then repeated and emphasized in the body of the article.
In December 2002, the U.S. Congress released an 832-page report detailing the findings of a deep investigation into the 9/11 attacks.
The question of secrecy concerns 28 pages of the report that were designated classified by then-President George W. Bush. These pages were believed to involve the possible links between the 9/11 hijackers and government of Saudi Arabia. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.
In 2015, a group of U.S. senators introduced “Bill S.1471: Transparency for the Families of 9/11 Victims and Survivors Act,” requiring the president to declassify those 28 pages.
2. Guantanamo Bay prisoners
RIA Novosti’s description of the Guantanamo Bay military proceedings and defendants mixes accurate, false and misleading information. It provides a more-or-less factual description of the conditions in which the prisoners initially were held and the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” that had been used to question them. Human rights groups worldwide, including in the United States, condemned those techniques as torture.
The U.S. Congress investigated the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation program and made the findings public in 2014. The Senate Committee on Intelligence report also described the “enhanced interrogation techniques” as torture. According to that report, the CIA used these methods between 2002 and 2009 on 39 detainees captured after 9/11.
Yet, the piece misleadingly claims that after 9/11, the U.S. “declared” all “800 people arrested on suspicion of ties with al Qaida and placed in Guantanamo” prisoners of war “to be held indefinitely without trial.”
In fact, the U.S. initially detained about 780 suspects at the Guantanamo Bay prison. Only 39 remained by September 1, 2021, the rest having been released and repatriated. A Russian detainee remained at Guantanamo for 12 years by his own choice. He refused repatriation to Russia in 2004 for fear of torture and death by the Russian security services. The United Arab Emirates accepted him in 2016.
Contrary to RIA Novosti, just 17 detainees are in “indefinite law-of-war detention and are neither facing tribunal charges nor being recommended for release,” according to reporting by The New York Times.
RIA Novosti’s portrayal of the key figure in the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), is also misleading. The piece claims that until his sudden arrest in Pakistan in 2003, KSM was a “peaceful laborer at the Qatar Ministry of Energy” and a “joyful world traveler,” who had not been “extradited or interrogated” despite the fact that the United States “suspected his involvement in the largest-scale terror attacks of our times.”
In reality, KSM was on U.S. security radar for at least a decade before 9/11. He is accused of planning and organizing terror attacks in the Philippines, and a court in New York in 1995 secretly indicted him for funding the 1993 World Trade Center bombing attack. U.S. authorities attempted to capture him in Qatar, but he fled to Pakistan.
KSM is accused of masterminding the 9/11 attack and proposing the plan to Osama bin Laden, whom he first met in Afghanistan in 1998.
The RIA Novosti piece asserts that KSM was subjected to torture, and that his trial with four co-defendants was set to begin in January of this year but delayed due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. The piece fails ot note that families of victims and survivors of the 9/11 attacks can observe the proceedings either in person or via a video link. Pre-trial deliberations have resumed at a special secure facility at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay.
3. “For years, they are not able to find Osama bin Laden — a former American citizen and the most wanted terrorist of the 2000s. Then, under rather murky circumstances, they seemingly kill [him].”
This is false. Osama bin Laden was not a U.S. citizen. He was born into a wealthy family in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Unlike his siblings, he never left for higher education in the West and chose to study in Jeddah, joining the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood at a young age.
There was nothing “murky” about bin Laden’s death in Pakistan on May 1, 2011. Then-U.S. President Barack Obama made sure that information about the operation received wide publicity and transparency, including release of "home videos" that had been found inside bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
4. “However, three months later, his killers – American special forces – are killed in some even murkier catastrophe.”
This is also false. Yes, 31 U.S. Navy Seals died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in August 2011, and some of them were members of SEAL Team 6. However, none was part of the raid that killed bin Landen three months earlier at his hideout in Pakistan.
5. “Jesse Ventura, the governor of Minnesota at the time of the terror attack, asked a natural question: where did the debris of the plane that supposedly hit the Pentagon go?”
RIA Novosti recycled some thoroughly debunked 9/11 conspiracy theories, including the claim that “there were no debris from the plane that crashed into Pentagon.” That bogus claim has been repeatedly fact-checked and judged false. Hundreds of witnesses saw the Boeing 757 plane crash into Pentagon; security cameras outside the building captured the plane hitting the Pentagon; and its wreckage at the site has been filmed, documented, and examined.
The team that designed and built the Pentagon investigated the building’s performance after the attack, noting the features that prevented excessive damage and recommending improvements.
6. “[T]he Bush administration either knew about the attack ahead of time or had a hand in it.”
This is misleading. U.S. intelligence and allied countries reportedly warned the George W. Bush administration ahead of time about potential attacks. Those warnings included some characteristics of the 9/11 attack – namely, that al Qaida would be involved and that planes would be hijacked and used in suicide bombings. However, the targets and the timing were unknown.
7. “Spike Lee noted that the steel constructions of the skyscrapers could not have melted from a fire, the temperature was not high enough for that. He made a documentary about the activists who created a special investigative group Architects and Engineers for the Truth about September 11.”
This is misleading. Spike Lee’s HBO documentary series, “NYC Epicenters 9/11-2021½,” has been widely criticized for promoting conspiracy theories and implying that the World Trade Center towers collapsed as a result of a controlled demolition, rather than from the impact of the planes.
That conspiracy theory originated from a viral 2005 amateur documentary, “Loose Change,” which is believed to have influenced the 9/11 conspiracy movement later known as “Truthers.”
As for the issue of steel beams and melting, Popular Mechanics explained:
“Jet fuel burns at 800 to 1500 degrees Fahrenheit, not hot enough to melt steel (2750 degrees Fahrenheit). However, experts agree that for the towers to collapse, their steel frames didn't need to melt, they just had to lose some of their structural strength—and that required exposure to much less heat. "I have never seen melted steel in a building fire," says retired New York deputy fire chief Vincent Dunn, author of The Collapse Of Burning Buildings: A Guide To Fireground Safety. "But I've seen a lot of twisted, warped, bent and sagging steel. What happens is that the steel tries to expand at both ends, but when it can no longer expand, it sags and the surrounding concrete cracks."
8. "University of Alaska specialists proved that the third skyscraper could not have crashed because of the fire and that fact is rarely remembered by the mainstream media. Why did the 47-story building collapse – is still a mystery.”
False again. The mystery behind the collapse of World Trade Center Tower Seven some seven hours after the planes struck the Twin Towers was solved in 2008. The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) conducted a three-year investigation and determined that fire sparked by debris of the collapsing north tower had spread uncontrollably throughout the building.
As for the University of Alaska Fairbanks study: Yes, such a study was conducted by professors Leroy Hulsey, Zhili Quan and Feng Xiao, faculty members of the Nanjing University of Science and Technology, part of China’s Ministry of Industry, Information and Technology. But that study has been criticized as propaganda and its conclusions disproved by NIST.
9. “If all these key questions could be freely discussed, then there will be no conspiracy theories, but the American authorities prefer to seal the mouths of the dissenters.”
RIA Novosti concluded its 9/11 analysis with the above assertion. But if the U.S. authorities were silencing the people asking questions about 9/11, then where did all the conspiracy theories cited by RIA Novosti come from?
To our knowledge, nobody has ever been prosecuted for simply asking questions about 9/11, no matter how preposterous.