Some criticise 9/11 conspiracy theories because they say must have involved "thousands of people", but that's missing the point. Governments work on a "need to know" basis, people may have some local knowledge of their own involvement, but only a few need to have the full picture.
We've seen this argument used several times, and consider it misleading in the extreme. Why? Let's consider one example.
The "Flight 77 didn't hit the Pentagon" argument has to explain the debris that appeared, and damage like the broken street lights. Some suggest the answer is simple: the debris was planted, the street light damage faked. Now, if that happened, it's certainly most unlikely that those involved would also have in-depth knowledge of explosives in the WTC, but so what? That doesn't matter. If one person came forward to say "I was in a secret army team that planted fake debris at the Pentagon on 9/11", then don't you think that's going to be enough to create some considerable headlines?
And it's the same in many other areas. Planting explosives at the WTC, say. Being a member of Bush's secret service detail on 9/11 and saying you had advance knowledge of the attack, therefore knew he was in no danger. Being on the NIST or FEMA teams and explaining how you were leaned on to produce a conclusion that you don't believe makes sense. None of these people need know everything about 9/11, but they would all have enough information to completely change what we think about the event.
What's more, the "small conspiracy" argument also ignores what's supposed to be a huge coverup. Have you ever looked at the list of people involved in the FEMA and NIST WTC reports, for instance? What's the explanation for these academics, engineers and scientists producing something that others would have us believe is an incompetent tissue of lies? Why they've been "leaned on", of course, or they're scared of speaking out. In which case they're now also a part of the conspiracy, if only after the fact, and have to be included in the total.
What is the total? It's hard to say, not least because some people could have more than one conspiracy or coverup-related task. Still, here are some of the people who have very useful knowledge about 9/11 events (assuming you accept all the 9/11 conspiracy theories; cross off names here for the ones you don’t)
- CIA agent Larry Mitchell for meeting with bin Laden in the months before 9/11, and everyone else in the CIA who knows they're not actually trying to capture him after all
- GW Bush and various family members (if you're to believe the relevance of Bush family members being involved with the WTC security company Stratesec)
- Condoleezza Rice (if you believe she had enough knowledge to warn Willie Brown that he might be in danger)
- John Ashcroft (if you believe he had enough knowledge to decide not to fly commercial flights)
- Larry Silverstein (if you believe he knew 9/11 was coming and that there were explosives in WTC7)
- The 19 people who played the part of the hijackers, if you believe they were just their to play a role and were never on the planes
- Enough senior people at the FBI to block progress in the Moussaoui case, ensure the Phoenix memo was ignored, and more
- Ahmad Umar Sheikh for funding the hijackers, General Mahmoud Ahmad for ordering him to do so, and enough of the ISI to get the money and cover up that they were doing this for the US
- Everyone who found out about the attacks in advance, and chose not to go into work rather than warn anyone else, and didn't mention this after the fact (thousands of Israelis in the towers, and so on), and everyone who warned them
- Everyone responsible for the insider trading before the attacks, the CIA for supposedly monitoring these transactions but doing nothing about them, and enough of the SEC and FBI to ensure that the report was a whitewash
- The members of Bush’s secret service team on 9/11 (who presumably either knew in advance that he was safe, or haven’t spoken out about their surprise about what happened subsequently)
- The five "dancing Israelis" who filmed the attack "as it happened", and presumably many others in Israeli Intelligence, and enough people in the police or FBI to cover up the details of the case and get them shipped out
- Everyone responsible for planting evidence in the hijackers cars, bags and so on
- Everyone responsible for planting evidence in the WTC wreckage (passports etc), or removing it (WTC black boxes)
- Air Traffic Control and flight schedulers at the takeoff airports (to cope with the double flights), and to make sure they didn't follow procedure in reporting the hijackings promptly
- Whoever prepared the "special" planes swapped for the real flights, complete with "missile pod" for firing into the towers just before impact, and the ATC and Norad staff who didn't mention the swap
- Norad and senior officers working at the day (so they could lie about the war games and their lack of response)
- Fighter pilots who deliberately flew too slowly so they wouldn't reach the aircraft in time
- Whoever shot down Flight 93, and the senior officers who helped cover it up
- Everyone who researched the passengers, then all the actors who used that research to make fake mobile calls to their relatives, and either the phone company or the FBI for covering up the phone records
- Everyone involved in killing hundreds of passengers, assuming they didn't die in the crashes and were killed later
- Everyone involved in transporting their bodies to the various scenes if they did, or faking the DNA evidence if they didn't
- The people who researched the WTC to find out the best place to place explosives
- The people who planted the explosives through the WTC towers and WTC7
- Whoever detonated the WTC explosives at various different times of the day
- Enough of the New York Fire and Police Departments to shut up everyone else and make sure they didn't try to investigate why all their friends and colleagues died
- Everyone who prepared the remote control plane that really flew into the Pentagon, and whoever remote-controlled it, and the Washington Air Traffic Controllers who aren't allowed to talk about the extra radar blip they saw over the Pentagon (if Flight 77 really flew over it)
- The Sheraton hotel staff who reportedly saw the video of the plane as it flew past to the Pentagon, but have never said that it wasn't the "official" flight
- The people who ensured the Pentagon missile defence systems were disabled to the plane could hit
- The people who planted the fake Pentagon evidence, from body parts to black boxes, and those who prepared it
- The people who faked additional evidence around the Pentagon, bringing down lampposts etc in an effort to make it look like a large winged plane carried out the attack
- Rudolph Giuliani for having advance knowledge that the WTC was going to collapse, and for helping to ensure that the steel was disposed of quickly
- Enough people at American and United Airlines to keep quiet about the absence of the hijackers names from the passenger manifests
- Enough people at CNN not to question the absence of the hijackers names from the flight manifests, if you believe that's what their victims lists really are
- Enough people at FEMA and NIST to ensure any reports and analyses produced were whitewashes
- Enough senior officials at the many WTC insurance companies to ensure the doubts were ignored and claims were paid
- Everyone involved in producing the fake bin Laden "confession" video(s)
- Khalid Al-Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Bin Al-Sheeba for discussing how they planned 9/11 on audio tape even though this didn’t happen, and perhaps al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda for getting the interview (if we assume he knows it isn't true)
- All the other Al Qaeda members who've either implicitly or explicitly accepted responsibility for 9/11, even when they know it was carried out by someone else
- The staff of the 9/11 Commission for deliberately obscuring the truth
Sounds reasonable, I think, but this is only the start. If you discuss 9/11 conspiracies online anywhere, try keeping your own list, and add to it everyone someone implies that another person or group was “in on it”. Then produce the list after a month or two and see just how realistic it looks...