Kevin Ryan is a big, intense, man with a soft voice. I sometimes had a hard time hearing him, over the Trojan Horse's raucous lunch crowd, but I never had any trouble understanding what he was saying.
He was saying: "The fix is in."
Ryan came to Bloomington (where he now lives) by way of South Bend. There he had managed the water quality and testing at Environmental and Health Laboratories (EHL), a subsidiary of product safety and testing leviathan Underwriters' Laboratories (UL).
According to Ryan, shortly after the events of 9/11, UL's CEO Loring Knoblauch paid a visit to EHL. And, during that visit, he reminded EHL employees that UL had tested and certified the steel used in the construction of the World Trade Center towers.
(That's a contention that UL now denies. The laboratory disclaims that it was ever involved in fire testing the steel used in the construction of the towers.)
A couple of years after Knoblauch's visit, the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) began issuing a series of preliminary findings regarding the WTC collapse. One of those findings was that none of the steel samples they had tested had been exposed to temperatures greater than 600 degrees Celsius - far below that necessary to significantly weaken the steel.
When those findings came out, Ryan became concerned for his company's reputation. Writing first to UL's management team and then, in frustration, to Frank Gayle of NIST's metallurgy division, Ryan expressed disbelief that the buildings could fail with the low temperatures NIST reported. And NIST's assertion that they had was reflecting negatively on UL's testing reputation.
That didn't sit well with UL's management. NIST was a significant customer of the laboratories and was, in fact, right then being contracted by NIST to test models of the WTC's floor structure.
Ryan's reward for protecting UL's name? They fired him for insubordination, five days after he wrote to Gayle. He now works as a chemical engineer in one of Monroe County's pharmaceutical industries.
The dawn of disco
Like everything built in the 1970s, New York's World Trade Center was relentlessly value-engineered, which means it was built on the cheap. Like most public-private ventures, the underlying economics of a quasi-public corporation building an enormous private office complex in New York's Bowery, taking advantage of cheap land in a hope to flip it for lucrative rents, never really made financial sense.
At least not without a government subsidy.
And so, New York's redevelopment commissioners went for the win-win golden ring. But to grab it, they needed to maximize the amount of rentable space within the buildings.
That meant minimizing the amount of actual building structure.
The solution? Channel the development through the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PATH). That quasi-public corporation had the necessary power to condemn the Bowery's "Radio Row" area for the towers.
More important, it wasn't subject to New York's strict building codes. That meant it could bifurcate private profits from public costs. The ring would be theirs.
The towers were built like no skyscrapers had been. Instead of a forest of inner supports, the towers had only the exterior walls and a small central column to hold everything up.
The rest, 90 percent air, could be turned into lucrative office space; divided only by 110 thin floors from the ground to the roof. And highly flammable cubicles, computers and files full of paper.
"We can't afford a corporate status symbol," said one Port Authority engineer. "This is not a trophy we are building, it is a speculative office building."
In all, the towers used roughly half the steel and were more than a third lighter than they would have been, had they been built "conventionally."
Had they not been built on the cheap.
An unprecedented collapse
"[There is] no evidence of exposure to temperatures above 600C for any significant time," said the final reports of the Federal Building and Fire Investigation of the World Trade Center Disaster (NIST).
Prior to the tragedy of 9/11, no skyscraper had ever collapsed as a result of fire. NIST's final report cites the loss of the steel's fireproof coating, due to the airliner's impact, as the reason they did this time.
Something Ryan disagrees with, pointing to NIST's own findings, backed by UL's testing, is that temperatures were too low, even without fireproofing, to have caused structural failure.
Just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get you
I have an inherent distrust of conspiracy theories, based mostly on the belief that humans can't keep a secret and that any sufficiently complex conspiracy will be betrayed by one of its own.
I also have an inherent distrust of complexity itself. Which is why I still continue to hold the official, "probable" (nope, it is not conclusive) explanation for the WTC collapse as the most likely.
Namely that when cheap buildings are hit by airplanes and have big fires, they fall down.
We're just lucky that we haven't, yet, torn down enough of the good old buildings and replaced them with cheap new ones to see a pattern emerge.
But I must admit that, over lunch, Kevin got me thinking. He got me thinking that, perhaps, the WTC collapse was just a little too convenient a pretext for war.
That, perhaps, we weren't getting the whole story.
Which brings me to my conclusion: that you can get more of the story yourself, thanks to our wonderful community. A community of healthily skeptical dissenters.
Kevin, along with architect Richard Gage and physicist Steven Jones, will be presenting their case, this Sept. 10 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre.
Don't miss it.
Gregory Travis can be reached at .