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Profile: Leslie Robertson

Leslie Robertson was a participant or observer in the following events:

The Office of Special Planning (OSP), a unit set up by the New York Port Authority to assess the security of its facilities against terrorist attacks (see Early 1984), spends four to six months studying the World Trade Center. It examines the center’s design through looking at photographs, blueprints, and plans. It brings in experts such as the builders of the center, plus experts in sabotage and explosives, and has them walk through the WTC to identify any areas of vulnerability. According to New York Times reporters James Glanz and Eric Lipton, when Edward O’Sullivan, head of the OSP, looks at WTC security, he finds “one vulnerability after another. Explosive charges could be placed at key locations in the power system. Chemical or biological agents could be dropped into the coolant system. The Hudson River water intake could be blown up. Someone might even try to infiltrate the large and vulnerable subterranean realms of the World Trade Center site.” In particular, “There was no control at all over access to the underground, two-thousand-car parking garage.” However, O’Sullivan consults “one of the trade center’s original structural engineers, Les Robertson, on whether the towers would collapse because of a bomb or a collision with a slow-moving airplane.” He is told there is “little likelihood of a collapse no matter how the building was attacked.” (Glanz and Lipton 2004, pp. 227; New York County Supreme Court 1/20/2004) The OSP will issue its report called “Counter-Terrorism Perspectives: The World Trade Center” late in 1985 (see November 1985).

Leslie Robertson.Leslie Robertson. [Source: Publicity photo]Leslie Robertson, one of the two original structural engineers for the World Trade Center, is asked at a conference in Frankfurt, Germany what he had done to protect the Twin Towers from terrorist attacks. He replies, “I designed it for a 707 to smash into it,” though does not elaborate further. (Chicago Tribune 9/12/2001; Knight Ridder 9/12/2001) The Twin Towers were in fact the first structures outside the military and nuclear industries designed to resist the impact of a jet airplane. (Robertson 3/2002; Federal Emergency Management Agency 5/1/2002, pp. 1-17) The Boeing 707 was the largest in use when the towers were designed. Robertson conducted a study in late 1964, to calculate the effect of a 707 weighing 263,000 pounds and traveling at 180 mph crashing into one of the towers. He concluded that the tower would remain standing. However, no official report of his study has ever surfaced publicly. (Glanz and Lipton 2004, pp. 138-139, 366) A previous analysis, carried out early in 1964, calculated that the towers would handle the impact of a 707 traveling at 600 mph without collapsing (see February 27, 1993). In 2002, though, Robertson will write, “To the best of our knowledge, little was known about the effects of a fire from such an aircraft, and no designs were prepared for that circumstance.” (Robertson 3/2002) The planes that hit the WTC on 9/11 are 767s, which are almost 20 percent heavier than 707s. (Ashley 10/9/2001; Seabrook 11/19/2001)

A chunk of hot metal being removed from the North Tower rubble about eight weeks after 9/11.
A chunk of hot metal being removed from the North Tower rubble about eight weeks after 9/11. [Source: Frank Silecchia]In the weeks and months after 9/11, numerous individuals report seeing molten metal in the remains of the World Trade Center:
bullet Ken Holden, who is involved with the organizing of demolition, excavation, and debris removal operations at Ground Zero, will later tell the 9/11 Commission, “Underground, it was still so hot that molten metal dripped down the sides of the wall from [WTC] Building 6.” (9/11 Commission 4/1/2003)
bullet William Langewiesche, the only journalist to have unrestricted access to Ground Zero during the cleanup operation, will describe, “[I]n the early days, the streams of molten metal that leaked from the hot cores and flowed down broken walls inside the foundation hole.” (Langewiesche 2002, pp. 32)
bullet Leslie Robertson, one of the structural engineers responsible for the design of the WTC, describes fires still burning and molten steel still running 21 days after the attacks. (Williams 10/2001 pdf file)
bullet Alison Geyh, who heads a team of scientists studying the potential health effects of 9/11, reports: “Fires are still actively burning and the smoke is very intense. In some pockets now being uncovered, they are finding molten steel.” (Johns Hopkins Public Health Magazine 2001)
bullet Ron Burger, a public health advisor who arrives at Ground Zero on September 12, says that “feeling the heat” and “seeing the molten steel” there reminds him of a volcano. (Lyman 9/2003, pp. 40 pdf file)
bullet Paramedic Lee Turner arrives at the World Trade Center site on September 12 as a member of a federal urban search and rescue squad. While at Ground Zero, he goes “down crumpled stairwells to the subway, five levels below ground.” There, he reportedly sees, “in the darkness a distant, pinkish glow—molten metal dripping from a beam.” (McDonald 9/12/2002)
bullet According to a member of New York Air National Guard’s 109th Air Wing, who is at Ground Zero from September 22 to October 6: “One fireman told us that there was still molten steel at the heart of the towers’ remains. Firemen sprayed water to cool the debris down but the heat remained intense enough at the surface to melt their boots.” (Lounsbury 12/2001)
bullet New York firefighters will recall “heat so intense they encountered rivers of molten steel.” (Lumenick 3/3/2004)
bullet As late as five months after the attacks, in February 2002, firefighter Joe O’Toole sees a steel beam being lifted from deep underground at Ground Zero, which, he says, “was dripping from the molten steel.” (Lin 5/29/2002)
Steven E. Jones, a physics professor from Utah, will claim this molten metal is “direct evidence for the use of high-temperature explosives, such as thermite,” used to deliberately bring down the WTC towers. (MSNBC 11/16/2005) He will say that without explosives, a falling building would have “insufficient directed energy to result in melting of large quantities of metal.” (Jarvik 11/10/2005) There will be no mention whatsoever of the molten metal in the official reports by FEMA, NIST, or the 9/11 Commission. (Federal Emergency Management Agency 5/1/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004; National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005) But Dr. Frank Gayle, who leads the steel forensics aspects of NIST’s investigation of the WTC collapses, will be quoted as saying: “Your gut reaction would be the jet fuel is what made the fire so very intense, a lot of people figured that’s what melted the steel. Indeed it didn’t, the steel did not melt.” (Field 2/7/2004) As well as the reports of molten metal, data collected by NASA in the days after 9/11 finds dozens of “hot spots” (some over 1,300 degrees) at Ground Zero (see September 16-23, 2001).


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