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Context of 'February 9-15, 2005: Faux Journalist Quits after Exposure as Conservative Mouthpiece, Gay Prostitute'

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Valerie Plame Wilson.Valerie Plame Wilson. [Source: PEP]In response to questions from Vice President Dick Cheney (see (February 13, 2002)), CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson and officials from the CIA’s DO counterproliferation division (CPD) meet to discuss what the agency should do to determine the validity of recent Italian intelligence reports (see October 15, 2001 and February 5, 2002) alleging that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Niger. During the meeting, Plame Wilson suggests sending her husband, Joseph Wilson, an Africa expert and former US diplomat, to Niger to investigate the reports. [US Congress, 7/7/2004] The meeting is chronicled in an internal agency memo obtained by the Wall Street Journal in October 2003. [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/2003] Intelligence officials subsequently will not deny that Plame Wilson was involved in the decision to send Wilson to Niger, but will say she was not “responsible” for the decision. [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/2003]
CIA Alerted to Cheney's Concerns - In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson recalls that shortly after Cheney’s initial questions, a young officer rushes into her CPD office and tells her “someone from the vice president’s office” just called the officer on her secure telephone line. The caller, apparently a member of Cheney’s staff, wants information about an intelligence report that the Italian government has passed to the US, alleging that in 1999 Iraq attempted to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Cheney is, according to the staffer, “interested and want[s] more information.” Plame Wilson will write, “If the report was true at all, I knew that it would be damning evidence indeed that Iraq was seeking to restart its nuclear program.”
'Nonplussed' at White House Contact - “I was momentarily nonplussed that someone from the vice president’s office had reached down into the junior working levels of the agency to discuss or find an answer to an intelligence report,” she will write. “In my experience, I had never known that to happen. There were strict protocols and procedures for funneling intelligence to policy makers or fielding their questions. Whole offices within the agency were set up and devoted to doing just that. A call to a random desk officer might get the policy maker a quick answer in the heat of the moment, but it was also a recipe for trouble. Handing a senior policy maker ‘raw’ intelligence that had not been properly vetted, placed into context, or appropriately caveated by intelligence professionals usually led to misinterpretation—at a minimum.” She adds that at the time, she is “not aware of the unprecedented number of visits the vice president had made to our headquarters to meet with analysts and look for any available evidence to support the Iraq WMD claims the administration was beginning to make.… I was still blissfully ignorant of any special visits or pressure from the administration vis-a-vis Iraq. I just wanted to get some answers.”
Decision to Ask Wilson Originates with Records Officer, Not Plame Wilson - Plame Wilson tables her concerns about the unusual contact, and begins pondering how best to find answers to Cheney’s questions. The “first and most obvious choice,” she will write, “would be to contact our [REDACTED] office in Niger and ask them to investigate these allegations using local sources available on the ground.” But the budget cuts of the mid-1990s had forced the closing of numerous CIA offices in Africa, including its station in Niamey, Niger. Plame Wilson will recall, “A midlevel reports officer who had joined the discussion in the hallway enthusiastically suggested, ‘What about talking to Joe about it?’” The reports officer is referring to Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. “He knew of Joe’s history and role in the first Gulf War (see September 5, 1988 and After and September 20, 1990), his extensive experience in Africa, and also that in 1999 the CIA had sent Joe on a sensitive mission to Africa on uranium issues. Of course, none of us imagined the firestorm this sincere suggestion would ignite. At the moment, the only thought that flashed through my mind was that if Joe were out of the country for an extended period of time I would be left to wrestle two squirmy toddlers into bed each evening.… So I was far from keen on the idea, but we needed to respond to the vice president’s office with something other than a lame and obviously unacceptable, ‘We don’t know, sorry.’” Plame Wilson and the reports officer make the suggestion to send Wilson to Niger; her supervisor decides to meet with Wilson “and the appropriate agency and State [Department] officials.” At her supervisor’s behest, Plame Wilson sends an e-mail to her division chief (whom she will only identify as “Scott”), informing him of the decision and noting that “my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former minister of mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed some light on this sort of activity.” Plame Wilson will write that her words are intended to “gently remind [her division chief] of Joe’s credentials to support why my boss thought he should come into headquarters in the first place.” She will note: “Months later, those words would be ripped out of that e-mail and cited as proof that I had recommended Joe for the trip (see February 13, 2002). But at the time, I simply hit the ‘send’ button and moved on to the other tasks that were demanding my attention.” That night, Plame Wilson broaches the subject of going to Niger with her husband; he agrees to meet with her superiors at the CPD. [US Congress, 7/7/2004; Wilson, 2007, pp. 108-110]
Cheney Later Denies Knowledge of Iraq-Niger Claims - During the investigation of the Plame Wilson leak (see September 26, 2003), Cheney will repeatedly deny any knowledge that the CIA was following up on his request for more information. This is a lie. Among other refutations, the Senate Intelligence Committee will report in 2004 that he was told on February 14 that CIA officers were working with clandestine sources to find out the truth behind the Niger allegations (see July 9, 2004). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 368]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterproliferation Division, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Joseph Wilson.Joseph Wilson. [Source: public domain]The CIA sends Joseph C. Wilson, a retired US diplomat, to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from that country (see February 13, 2002). The CIA pays Wilson’s expenses for the trip, but does not pay him in any other respect. The identity of the party who requests the mission is later disputed. While Wilson will claim the trip was requested directly by Dick Cheney’s office, other sources will indicate that the CIA had decided (see February 19, 2002) that a delegation to Niger was needed in order to investigate questions raised by one of Dick Cheney’s aides (see (February 13, 2002)). [New York Times, 5/6/2003; Washington Post, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Independent, 6/29/2003; New York Times, 7/6/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004]
Reason behind Request - Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman will later note that “Wilson was asked to go to Niger for one specific purpose. It was the CIA’s idea to get Cheney off their backs. Cheney would not get off their backs about the yellowcake documents. They couldn’t get Cheney to stop pressing the issue. He insisted that was the proof of reconstitution of [Iraq’s nuclear] program.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 214]
Normal Skepticism - Wilson goes into the situation with a healthy dose of skepticism. “My skepticism was the same as it would have been with any unverified intelligence report, because there is a lot of stuff that comes over the transom every day,” he will recall in 2006. Wilson knows nothing of the influence of the Pentagon neoconservatives (see July 8, 1996, January 26, 1998, July 1998, September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, Shortly after January 20, 2001, and Shortly After September 11, 2001) or the growing rift in the intelligence community over the reports: “I was aware that the neocons had a growing role in government and that they were interested in Iraq,” he will recall. “But the administration had not articulated a policy at this stage.” He is not given a copy of the Niger documents before leaving for Africa, nor is he told of their history. “To the best of my knowledge, the documents were not in the possession of the [CIA] at the time I was briefed,” he will recall. “The discussion was whether or not this report could be accurate. During this discussion, everyone who knew something shared stuff about how the uranium business worked, and I laid out what I knew about the government in Niger, what information they could provide.” With this rather sketchy preparation, Wilson leaves for Niger. [Unger, 2007, pp. 240; Wilson, 2007, pp. 113] Wilson’s wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will later write, “He figured that if the vice president had asked a serious and legitimate question, it deserved a serious answer and he would try to help find it.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 111]
No Trouble Finding Information - Wilson, who knows the Nigerien government and many of its officials, has little trouble finding the information he needs in the following week. In 2006, he will recall: “Niger has a simplistic government structure. Both the minister of mines and the prime minister had gone through the mines. The French were managing partners of the international consortium [which handles Niger’s uranium]. The French mining company actually had its hands on the project. Nobody else in the consortium had operators on the ground.” Wilson also personally knows Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican who supposedly negotiated the uranium deal with Niger (see February 1999). Wilson will later observe: “Wissam al-Zahawie was a world-class opera singer, and he went to the Vatican as his last post so he could be near the great European opera houses in Rome. He was not in the Ba’athist inner circle. He was not in Saddam [Hussein]‘s tribe. The idea that he would be entrusted with the super-secret mission to buy 500 tons of uranium from Niger is out of the question.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 240-241] Wilson meets with, among other officials, Niger’s former minister of mines, Mai Manga. As later reported by the Senate Intelligence Committee (see July 9, 2004), Manga tells Wilson “there were no sales outside of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) channels since the mid-1980s,” and he “knew of no contracts signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of uranium.” Manga says a “French mining consortium controls Nigerien uranium mining and keeps the uranium very tightly controlled from the time it is mined until the time it is loaded onto ships in Benin for transport overseas,” and, “it would be difficult, if not impossible, to arrange a special shipment of uranium to a pariah state given these controls.” [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
Meeting with US Ambassador - Wilson arrives in Niger on February 26, two days after Marine General Carlton W. Fulford Jr.‘s meeting (see February 24, 2002) with Nigerien officials. Wilson first meets with US Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, a veteran Foreign Service official, whom Wilson will later describe as “crisp” and well-informed. Over tea in the US Embassy offices in Niamey, Niger’s capital, Owens-Kirkpatrick tells Wilson that she has already concluded that the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq are unfounded. “She had already debunked them in her reports to Washington,” Wilson will later recall. “She said, yeah, she knew a lot about this particular report. She thought she had debunked it—and, oh, by the way, a four-star Marine Corps general had been down there as well—Carlton Fulford. And he had left satisfied there was nothing to report.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 20-22]
Details of Alleged Uranium Production - Niger extracts uranium from two mines, both located in remote locations in the Sahara Desert. It takes well over a day to drive from the mines to Niamey. The mines are owned by a consortium of foreign companies and the Nigerien government, and managed by a French mining company, COGEMA. Because of a recent upswing in the production of Canadian uranium, Niger’s uranium is mined at a net loss, and its only customers are consortium members. Wilson will later write, “[T]he Nigerien government has sold no uranium outside the consortium for two decades.” If Iraq had bought 500 tons of uranium, as the story is told, that would have represented a 40 percent production increase. “There is no doubt,” Wilson will later write, “that such a significant shift from historic production schedules would have been absolutely impossible to hide from the other partners, and most certainly from the managing partner, COGEMA. Everyone involved would have known about it.” Any Nigerien government decision to produce such an amount of uranium would have involved numerous government officials and many well-documented meetings. Because the transaction would have been to a foreign country, Niger’s Foreign Ministry would also have been involved in the decision. To sell Iraq uranium during that time would have been a violation of international law and of UN sanctions against Iraq, a weighty decision that would have ultimately been made by the president of Niger in conjuction with the foreign minister and the minister of mines. Such a decision would have been published in the Nigerien equivalent of the Federal Register and would have dramatic tax and revenue implications. The unexpected huge infusion of cash from the sale would have had a strong impact on the Nigerien economy, and would have been much anticipated and talked about throughout the Nigerien business community. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 22-25]
Off-the-Books Production Virtually Impossible - It is conceivable that such an enormous operation could have been conducted entirely “off the books,” Wilson will write, but virtually impossible to pull off. True, a military junta was in power at the time of the alleged sale, one that felt no responsibility or accountability to the Nigerien people. But even a secret transaction would have been impossible to conceal. Such a transaction would have involved thousands of barrels of clandestinely shipped uranium, extensive and complex adjustments to shipping schedules, and other ramifications. “It simply could not have happened without a great many people knowing about it, and secrets widely known do not remain hidden for long. And again, COGEMA, as the managing partner, would have had to know and be complicit.” Add to that Niger’s dependence on US foreign economic aid and its unwillingness to threaten the loss of that aid by secretly shipping uranium to a country that the US considers a dangerous rogue nation. All told, Wilson concludes, the possibility of such a clandestine operation is remote in the extreme. [Wilson, 2004; Wilson, 2004]
1999 Meeting with Iraqi Official - While speaking with a US Embassy official, Wilson learns about a 1999 meeting between the embassy official and an Iraqi representative in Algiers, perhaps in concert with a similar meeting between Iraqi officials and Niger’s prime minister (see June 1999). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 27-28]
Confirmation that Allegations are Unrealistic - After spending several days talking with current government officials, former government officials, and people associated with the country’s uranium business, Wilson concludes the rumors are completely false. He will later call the allegations “bogus and unrealistic.” [Washington Post, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; Independent, 6/29/2003; New York Times, 7/6/2003; CBS News, 7/11/2003; Vanity Fair, 1/2004; Wilson, 2004, pp. 20-28, 424; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 282; Wilson, 2007, pp. 113]

Entity Tags: Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, Wissam al-Zahawie, Carlton W. Fulford, COGEMA, Mai Manga, Valerie Plame Wilson, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, Melvin A. Goodman, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

’Jeff Gannon’ taking part in a White House press briefing.’Jeff Gannon’ taking part in a White House press briefing. [Source: C-SPAN / Media Bistro]Gay prostitute James Guckert, who moonlights as conservative “journalist” Jeff Gannon (see January 26, 2005), writes a series of articles for the conservative Internet news site Talon News in an attempt to discredit the South Dakota Argus Leader and its veteran political writer, David Kranz. Gannon/Guckert writes a series of articles falsely alleging that Kranz, who had gone to college with Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD), was not only sympathetic to Daschle’s re-election campaign, but was actually working for Daschle. (The National Journal later writes that the blog assault “opened a new and potentially powerful front in the war over public opinion.”) The stories get a tremendous amount of play on right-wing blogs and conservative news Web sites, and the resulting barrage of complaints to the Argus Leader results in that newspaper altering its coverage to more strongly favor Daschle’s opponent, Republican John Thune. Thune’s campaign manager Dick Wadham is an old political crony of White House political guru Karl Rove. Several of the so-called “independent” bloggers decrying the Argus Leader’s coverage are actually working for Wadham. The bloggers and Gannon/Guckert continue their string of allegations, with Gannon/Guckert alleging that Daschle had claimed an improper tax exemption on his Washington home, a story instantly picked up on by Wadham’s cadre of “independent” bloggers. Thune uses the story as the basis of a political ad claiming Daschle is a resident of Washington, not South Dakota. Daschle aides call Gannon/Guckert “the dumping ground for opposition research.” Gannon/Guckert, who also hosts an Internet radio show called “Jeff Gannon’s Washington,” has Thune on as a guest; already having some experience as a member of the White House press corps (see February 18, 2005), he is touted as South Dakota’s “resident DC expert” by Wadham’s paid bloggers. Thune, who narrowly defeats Daschle, later gives interviews touting the impact of independent Internet bloggers and correspondents—without revealing the fact that neither Gannon/Guckert nor the bloggers were actually independent agents. [CBS News, 2/18/2005; Salon, 2/18/2005]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, David Kranz, Dick Wadham, John Thune, National Journal, Tom Daschle, James Guckert, South Dakota Argus Leader, Talon News

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador to Gabon and a former diplomatic official in the US embassy in Iraq during the Gulf War (see September 20, 1990), writes an op-ed for the New York Times entitled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” Wilson went to Africa over a year ago (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) to investigate claims that the Iraqi government surreptitiously attempted to buy large amounts of uranium from Niger, purportedly for use in nuclear weapons. The claims have been extensively debunked (see February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Wilson opens the op-ed by writing: “Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq? Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” Wilson notes his extensive experience in Africa and the Middle East, and says candidly: “Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That’s me” (see May 6, 2003). He makes it very clear that he believes his findings had been “circulated to the appropriate officials within… [the] government.”
Journey to Niger - Wilson confirms that he went to Africa at the behest of the CIA, which was in turn responding to a directive from Vice President Cheney’s office. He confirms that the CIA paid his expenses during the week-long trip, and that, while overseas, “I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government.” About Nigerien uranium, Wilson writes: “For reasons that are understandable, the embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger’s uranium business. I was not surprised, then, when the ambassador [Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick] told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq—and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington” (see November 20, 2001). Wilson met with “dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country’s uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.” Wilson notes that Nigerien uranium is handled by two mines, Somair and Cominak, “which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German, and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister, and probably the president. In short, there’s simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.” Wilson told Owens-Kirkpatrick that he didn’t believe the story either, flew back to Washington, and shared his findings with CIA and State Department officials. “There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my report,” he writes, “just as there was nothing secret about my trip.”
State of the Union Reference - Wilson believed that the entire issue was settled until September 2002, when the British government released an intelligence finding that asserted Iraq posed an immediate threat because it had attempted to purchase uranium from Africa (see September 24, 2002). Shortly thereafter, President Bush repeated the charges in his State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Wilson was surprised by the charge, but put it aside after discussing the issue with a friend in the State Department (see January 29, 2003). Wilson now knows that Bush was indeed referring to the Niger claims, and wants to set the record straight.
Posing a Real Nuclear Threat? - Wilson is now concerned that the facts are being manipulated by the administration to paint Iraq as a looming nuclear threat, when in fact Iraq has no nuclear weapons program. “At a minimum,” he writes, “Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president’s behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.” He is quite sure that Iraq has some form of chemical and biological weapons, and in light of his own personal experience with “Mr. Hussein and his thugs in the run-up to the Persian Gulf war of 1991, I was only too aware of the dangers he posed.” But, he asks, are “these dangers the same ones the administration told us about? We have to find out. America’s foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information.… The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.” [New York Times, 7/6/2003]
'Playing Congress and the Public for Fools' - Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004 that after Wilson’s editorial appears, he checks out the evidence behind the story himself. It only takes Dean a few hours of online research using source documents that Bush officials themselves had cited, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Department of Energy, the CIA, and the United Nations. He will write: “I was amazed at the patently misleading use of the material Bush had presented to Congress. Did he believe no one would check? The falsification was not merely self-evident, it was feeble and disturbing. The president was playing Congress and the public for fools.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 145-146]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, United Nations, Somair, Office of the Vice President, Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, New York Times, Cominak, John Dean, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Robert Novak.Robert Novak. [Source: MediaBistro (.com)]Conservative columnist Robert Novak, after being told by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and White House political guru Karl Rove that Valerie Plame Wilson is a CIA officer (see July 8, 2003), writes a syndicated op-ed column that publicly names her as a CIA officer. The column is an attempt to defend the administration from charges that it deliberately cited forged documents as “evidence” that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003). It is also an attempt to discredit Joseph Wilson, Plame Wilson’s husband, who had gone to Niger at the behest of the CIA to find out whether the Iraq-Niger story was true (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Novak characterizes Wilson’s findings—that an Iraqi deal for Nigerien uranium was highly unlikely—as “less than definitive,” and writes that neither CIA Director George Tenet nor President Bush were aware of Wilson’s report before the president’s 2003 State of the Union address where he stated that Iraq had indeed tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Novak writes: “Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials [Armitage and Rove, though Novak does not name them] told me that Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counterproliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. ‘I will not answer any question about my wife,’ Wilson told me.” Wilson’s July 6 op-ed challenging the administration’s claims (see July 6, 2003) “ignite[d] the firestorm,” Novak writes. [Town Hall (.com), 7/14/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 312-313] Novak also uses the intelligence term “agency operative,” identifying her as a covert agent and indicating that he is aware of her covert status. Later, though, Novak will claim that he came up with the identifying phrase independently, and did not know of her covert status. [American Prospect, 7/19/2005]
Asked Not to Print Plame Wilson's Name - Novak will later acknowledge being asked by a CIA official not to print Plame Wilson’s name “for security reasons.” Intelligence officials will say they thought Novak understood there were larger reasons than Plame Wilson’s personal security not to publish her name. Novak will say that he did not consider the request strong enough to follow (see September 27, 2003 and October 1, 2003). [Washington Post, 9/28/2003] He will later reveal the CIA official as being agency spokesman Bill Harlow, who asked him not to reveal Plame’s identity because while “she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment… exposure of her agency identity might cause ‘difficulties’ if she travels abroad.” In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write: “This struck Novak as an inadequate reason to withhold relevant information from the public. Novak defended his actions by asserting that Harlow had not suggested that Plame or anybody else would be endangered, and that he learned Plame’s name (though not her undercover identity) from her husband’s entry in the well-known reference book Who’s Who in America.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173-174] McClellan will note, “Whether war, smear job, or PR offensive gone haywire, the CIA took the leak of Plame’s name very seriously.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 174]
Plame Wilson Stricken - According to Wilson’s book The Politics of Truth, his wife’s first reaction is disbelief at Novak’s casual destruction of her CIA career. “Twenty years of loyal service down the drain, and for what?” she asks. She then makes a checklist to begin assessing and controlling the damage done to her work. She is even more appalled after totalling up the damage. Not only are the lives of herself and her family now endangered, but so are those of the people with whom she has worked for 20 years (see July 14, 2003). [New York Times, 5/12/2004] In 2005, Joseph Wilson will tell a reporter: “[Y]ou can assume that even if 150 people read the Novak article when it appeared, 148 of them would have been the heads of intelligence sections at embassies here in Washington and by noon that day they would have faxing her name or telexing her name back to their home offices and running checks on her: whether she had ever been in the country, who she may have been in contact with, etc.” [Raw Story, 7/13/2005]
Intimidation of Other Whistle-Blowers? - In 2007, author Craig Unger will write: “The implication from the administration was that the CIA’s selection of Wilson was somehow twisted because his wife was at the CIA. But, more importantly, the administration had put out a message to any and all potential whistle-blowers: if you dare speak out, we will strike back. To that end, the cover of Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA operative specializing in WMD, had been blown by a White House that was supposedly orchestrating a worldwide war against terror.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 312-313]
Outing about Iraq, Not Niger, Author Says - In 2006, author and media critic Frank Rich will write: “The leak case was about Iraq, not Niger. The political stakes were high only because the scandal was about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a CIA operative who posed for Vanity Fair. The real victims were the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprits—the big enchilada, in John Ehrlichman’s Nixon White House lingo—were not the leakers but those who provoked a war in Iraq for their own motives and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from the fight against those who did attack America on 9/11, and had since regrouped to deadly effect.… Without Iraq, there never would have been a smear campaign against an obscure diplomat or the bungled cover-up [that followed]. While the Bush White House’s dirty tricks, like [former President] Nixon’s, were prompted in part by a ruthless desire to crush the political competition at any cost, this administration had upped the ante by playing dirty tricks with war.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 184]
Elevating Profile of Controversy - In 2008, McClellan will write, “By revealing Plame’s status, Novak inadvertently elevated the Niger controversy into a full-blown scandal.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 173]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, George J. Tenet, Joseph C. Wilson, Bill Harlow, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Central Intelligence Agency, Frank Rich, George W. Bush, Craig Unger

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove declares that covert CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, recently outed by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003), is now “fair game,” presumably for media attacks. Plame Wilson learns of Rove’s declaration when she walks into her den to find her husband Joseph Wilson just getting off the phone. She will later write: “[H]e had a look on his face that I’d never seen before. He said he had just been talking with journalist and Hardball host Chris Matthews [the host of a political discussion show on MSNBC], who had told [Wilson] that he had just spoken with the powerful presidential adviser Karl Rove.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 147] Wilson himself will later write that Matthews tells him: “I just got off the phone with Karl Rove. He says, and I quote, ‘Wilson’s wife is fair game.‘… I will confirm that if asked.” Wilson will write: “Those are fighting words for any man, and I’d just had them quoted to me.… Rove was legendary for his right-wing zeal and take-no-prisoners operating style. But what he was doing now was tantamount to declaring war on two US citizens, both of them with years of government service.… For a president who promised to restore dignity and honor to the White House, this behavior from a trusted adviser was neither dignified nor honorable. In fact, it was downright dirty and highly unethical even in a town where the politics of personal destruction are the local pastime.” He cannot be sure why he and his wife are being targeted. Surely, he muses, no one believes that his wife sent him on his mission to Niger (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 19, 2002), or that his trip to one of the poorest countries in Africa had been some sort of pleasure jaunt. He realizes that the ultimate target might not be either his wife or himself, but others who may feel impelled to speak out against the administration, a point he makes later in the day to two reporters from Newsday (see July 21, 2003). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 1-5] Wilson will later write: “To make a political point, to defend a political agenda, to blur the truth that one of the president’s own staffers had scripted a lie into the president’s mouth, one of the administration’s most senior officials found it perfectly acceptable to push a story that exposed a national security asset. It was appalling.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 351]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Chris Matthews, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first publicly outed Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003), denies being fed the information of Plame Wilson’s identity by White House officials (see June 13, 2003, July 7, 2003, July 8, 2003, and Before July 14, 2003). The subject arose when he was inquiring about her husband’s trip to Niger (see July 6, 2003), Novak says. Shortly after the leak, he said of Plame Wilson’s identity, “I didn’t dig it out, it was given to me” by White House officials (see July 21, 2003). However, Novak’s story is now quite different. He says of the outing: “Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this. In July, I was interviewing a senior administration official on Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson’s report when he told me the trip was inspired by his wife, a CIA employee working on weapons of mass destruction. Another senior official told me the same thing. When I called the CIA in July, they confirmed Mrs. Wilson’s involvement in a mission for her husband on a secondary basis… they asked me not to use her name, but never indicated it would endanger her or anybody else. According to a confidential source at the CIA, Mrs. Wilson was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operative (see Before July 14, 2003 and February 2004), and not in charge of undercover operatives. So what is the fuss about, pure Bush-bashing?” [American Prospect, 2/12/2004; New York Times, 2006; National Journal, 5/25/2006] The same day that Novak issues his denial, he tells White House political strategist Karl Rove, one of his sources, that he will protect Rove from the Justice Department’s investigation into the leak (see September 29, 2003).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Valerie Plame Wilson, Bush administration (43), Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson sits down with Jeff Gannon of Talon News to discuss the outing of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003), his trip to Niger that helped debunk the claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003), and his concerns over the Iraq war. Wilson is unaware that Gannon is in reality James Guckert, a gay prostitute who moonlights as a fake journalist for the right-wing Talon News (see January 26, 2005 and January 28, 2005). Little of what Gannon/Guckert elicits is new information.
Access to Classified Information? - However, early in the interview, Gannon/Guckert refers to a classified memo when he says, “An internal government memo prepared by US intelligence personnel details a meeting in early 2002 where your wife, a member of the agency for clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested that you could be sent to investigate the reports.” The FBI will investigate Gannon/Guckert’s knowledge of the memo, but he will deny ever having seen it. It is not clear from whom he learned of the memo [Talon News, 10/28/2003; Wilson, 2007, pp. 216] , though he will insist that he received the information from “confidential sources.” [Antiwar (.com), 2/18/2005]
America Did Not Debate Redrawing the Middle East as a Rationale for War - Wilson notes that he considered “the invasion, conquest, and occupation of Iraq for the purpose of disarming Saddam [Hussein] struck me as the highest risk, lowest reward option.… [W]e ought to understand that sending our men and women to kill and to die for our country is the most solemn decision a government has to make and we damn well ought to have that debate before we get them into harm’s way instead of after.” He explains why the idea that his wife selected him for the Niger mission is incorrect. When Gannon/Guckert attempts to pin him down by citing the initial meeting in which Plame Wilson suggested Wilson for the mission (see February 13, 2002), Wilson notes, “[T]hat fact that my wife knows that I know a lot about the uranium business and that I know a lot about Niger and that she happens to be involved in weapons of mass destruction, it should come as no surprise to anyone that we know of each others activities.” Wilson says that the aims of the administration’s neoconservatives—to redraw “the political map of the Middle East,” is something that has not been debated by the nation. The US did not debate the war with Iraq “on the grounds of redrawing the map of the Middle East,” he notes.
Wilson Did Not Violate CIA Secrecy in Revealing Niger Mission - Gannon/Guckert asks if Wilson violated CIA secrecy in going public with the results of his Niger mission, as some on the right have asserted. Wilson reminds Gannon that his was not a clandestine trip, “not a CIA mission,” but an aboveboard fact-finding journey. Those circumstances were well understood by the CIA before he left for Niger.
Implications of French Complicity in Niger Allegations Debunked - Gannon/Guckert tries to insinuate that the French may have had something to do with keeping the alleged uranium sales secret, and Wilson quickly shoots that line of inquiry down, saying, “The fact that you don’t like the French or that the French seem to have favored a different approach on this is far different from the French violating UN Security Council resolutions of which they are signatories, and clandestinely transferring 500 tons of uranium to a rogue country like Iraq is a real reach.” He then describes just how impossible it would have been for the French to have facilitated such a secret uranium transfer even had it wished.
Refuses to Accuse Rove Directly - Wilson refuses to flatly name White House political strategist Karl Rove as the person behind the leaks of his wife’s clandestine identity, though he notes that Rove indeed labeled his wife “fair game” to the press (see July 21, 2003) and that Rove was in a perfect position to have orchestrated the leak. When Gannon/Guckert tells Wilson that conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first published Plame Wilson’s name and occupation, denies that the White House gave him the information on her identity, Wilson retorts, “Novak has changed his story so much that it’s hard for me to understand what he is talking about” (see September 29, 2003).
When a Leak Is Not a Leak - Gannon/Guckert brings up the allegation from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that Plame Wilson was revealed as an undercover agent by Russian spy Aldrich Ames in 1994. Because Ames may have revealed Plame Wilson’s identity to the Russians, Gannon/Guckert asks, isn’t it possible that she was no longer an undercover agent? Wilson refuses to validate the Ames speculation, and finally says that the CIA would not be treating this so seriously if it were as frivolous an issue as Gannon/Guckert suggests. “[R]emember this is not a crime that has been committed against my wife or against me,” he says. “If there was a crime, it was committed against our country. The CIA has referred the matter to the Justice Department for further investigation, I don’t believe that’s a frivolous referral.” [Talon News, 10/28/2003]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Guckert, Talon News, Robert Novak, Karl C. Rove, US Department of Justice, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

James Guckert, a.k.a. ‘Jeff Gannon,’ being interviewed at the National Press Club in 2007.James Guckert, a.k.a. ‘Jeff Gannon,’ being interviewed at the National Press Club in 2007. [Source: Crooks and Liars (.com)]A reporter calling himself Jeff Gannon asks a question of President Bush during a White House press conference: “Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the US economy,” Gannon says. “[Minority Leader] Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock solid and there’s no crisis there. How are you going to work—you said you’re going to reach out to these people—how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?” (Reid never mentioned soup lines; that reference comes from a satire of Reid by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.) In earlier conferences, Gannon attempted to link Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to actress Jane Fonda, a favorite target of the right, and questioned why anyone would dispute Bush’s National Guard service record. [Boston Globe, 2/2/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 332-333]
Works for Fake News Site - The Internet media watchdog site Media Matters, intrigued by Gannon’s highly partisan questions, soon learns that he works for an obscure news Web site called Talon News, itself a front for the extremist Internet organization GOPUSA (see January 28, 2005). New York Times media critic Frank Rich will call Talon News a fake news site staffed by Republican activists and filled with regurgitated press releases from the White House and the Republican National Committee. Rich will go on to note that Talon News is owned by a Texas delegate to the 2000 Republican presidential convention, and took part in an effort to falsely smear Kerry with allegations of infidelity. The Boston Globe soon reports of Gannon, “The Bush administration has provided White House media credentials to a man who has virtually no journalistic background, asks softball questions to the president and his spokesman in the midst of contentious news conferences, and routinely reprints long passages verbatim from official press releases as original news articles on his Web site.” (Gannon will call his practice of passing off quotes from the White House as objective news reports “the ultimate in journalistic honesty.”) Examination of press conference transcripts shows that White House press secretary Scott McClellan often calls on Gannon when other reporters begin asking difficult questions; Gannon is a reliable source of “softball” questions that allow McClellan to get back on track and resume issuing White House talking points.
Reporter Actually Male Prostitute - After Gannon becomes a figure of interest to media observers and Internet bloggers, they soon learn that he is really James Guckert, a male prostitute who posts nude pictures of himself on gay escort sites such as “hotmilitarystud.com” and numerous others, and charges $200 an hour (or $1,200 a weekend) for his services. [Boston Globe, 2/2/2005; Salon, 2/15/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 172-173; Unger, 2007, pp. 332-333] Though McClellan will deny that the White House press staff knew anything of Gannon/Guckert’s false identity until just before the story broke in early February 2005, former Reagan official Bruce Bartlett will say that “if Gannon was using an alias, the White House staff had to be involved in maintaining his cover.” Further investigation will show that Gannon/Guckert has been posing as a reporter for two years. [Rich, 2006, pp. 172-173]
Regular Visits to White House on Days with No Briefings - According to White House logs, Gannon/Guckert has regularly visited the White House on days when no press conferences are being held, and on at least 12 occasions was checked in but not checked out. Gannon/Guckert’s visits raise speculation that he might have visited the White House for licentious purposes, though he will deny ever spending the night there for any reason. The Gannon/Guckert story highlights the existence of the so-called “Lavender Bund,” the cadre of closeted Republican gays who help the religious right and the GOP advance their openly anti-gay agendas. [Raw Story, 4/24/2005; CounterPunch, 5/21/2005]
Accusations of Plagiarism - Gannon/Guckert will also be accused of plagiarizing other journalists’ work, further calling into question his journalistic credentials. [Raw Story, 3/31/2005]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Frank Rich, GOPUSA, Bush administration (43), Bruce Bartlett, Boston Globe, Scott McClellan, Rush Limbaugh, Talon News, Media Matters, Republican National Committee, Jane Fonda, John Kerry, James Guckert, Lavender Bund, Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Talon News logo.Talon News logo. [Source: Talon News / AmericaBlog (.com)]Media Matters, the left-leaning media watchdog organization, questions White House reporter Jeff Gannon’s credentials as well as the legitimacy of the Internet news organization he works for, Talon News. Media Matters is as yet unaware that Gannon’s true name is James Guckert, and that he has no journalistic experience and his livelihood is apparently made by moonlighting as a gay prostitute (see January 26, 2005). The organization shows that several Gannon/Guckert pieces for Talon News are little more than what it calls “reprints of Republican and Bush administration releases,” and demonstrates that Gannon is a frequent “lifesaver” for White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who regularly calls on Gannon/Guckert when he needs a safe question to allow him to get back on track. Media Matters has found out more about Talon News itself; it reports that the information unearthed “casts additional doubt on Talon’s claim to be a media outlet and raises questions about whether Gannon/Guckert should be a credentialed member of the White House press corps.” Talon News is owned by Bobby Eberle, a Texas Republican Party operative who also owns the conservative Internet organization “GOPUSA,” which proclaims itself to be a “conservative news, information, and design company dedicated to promoting conservative ideals.” Though Eberle claims that GOPUSA and Talon News are separate organizations, in fact they are not. Eberle is the owner and chief operator of both entities. Both domain names—“TalonNews.com” and “GOPUSA.com”—are registered to the same Pearland, Texas, street address, which appears to be Eberle’s home address. The domain name contact is Eberle’s GOPUSA email address. Most of the articles on Talon News’s Web site consist of short introductory paragraphs with “Read more” links that take the reader to a page that announces, “This story can be found on our #1 client—GOPUSA!” Readers are then redirected to the GOPUSA.com site. GOPUSA and Talon News are both staffed by Eberle, Gannon/Guckert, and several volunteers. Media Matters concludes that the two organizations are “virtually indistinguishable.” Interestingly, both Eberle and Gannon/Guckert post on the right-wing Internet forum Free Republic, and Gannon/Guckert has hosted a radio show on Radio Free Republic. Another poster once suggested that McClellan “appreciated” Gannon/Guckert’s questions “from the smirk he was trying to hold back,” and Gannon/Guckert responded, “It’s hard to say with Scott but he usually knows what he’s going to get from me.” None of the other volunteers on Talon News seem to have any journalistic experience, but all are heavily involved in Republican politics, including a high school student who is president of his school’s Young Republicans’ Club; the owner of the Wisconsin Conservative Digest; a county GOP chairman and campaign manager for a Maine Republican candidate for the House of Representatives; a South Carolina GOP campaign operative; and a Nebraska freelance writer who has worked as a speechwriter for conservative candidates and organizations. Members of GOPUSA’s board of directors have no more journalistic experience than the writers of Talon News, but all are active GOP operatives, consultants, and financial managers. [Media Matters, 1/25/2005]

Entity Tags: James Guckert, Bobby Eberle, Bush administration (43), GOPUSA, Media Matters, Scott McClellan, Talon News, Texas Republican Party, Free Republic

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

One of the photos Gannon/Guckert posted of himself on the Internet advertising his services as a male prostitute.One of the photos Gannon/Guckert posted of himself on the Internet advertising his services as a male prostitute. [Source: The Fruit Fly (.com)]Conservative faux journalist and gay prostitute Jeff Gannon, whose real name is James Guckert, quits as a White House reporter following his exposure by media watchdog organization Media Matters and Internet bloggers. For years, Gannon/Guckert has functioned as a “safe” White House reporter for conservative Internet news site Talon News, providing “softball” questions to President Bush and his press secretaries and representatives that allow the White House to reiterate and emphasize its talking points (see January 26, 2005). He also resigns as a Talon correspondent. Gannon does not apologize for his flatly partisan questioning, and says his questions merely counterbalance those of other reporters, whom he says are largely liberal and hostile towards the Bush administration: “Perhaps the most disturbing thing has been the notion that there isn’t room for one conservative voice in the White House press corps.” Gannon/Guckert refuses to acknowledge his second vocation as a gay prostitute, which he pursues under his given name, and merely says his use of a pseudonym for his journalistic pursuits is a “very innocent… commercial consideration.” Besides, he says, many journalists change their names for broadcast purposes. He does not name any journalists who operate under such pseudonyms. [National Public Radio, 2/9/2005]
White House Knew of Pseudonym - Gannon/Guckert’s boss at Talon, Bobby Eberle (see January 28, 2005), says that the White House issued press passes to the “reporter” under his real name, which indicates the White House knew he was writing under a pseudonym. And Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), noting that Gannon/Guckert was denied Congressional press passes because he could not demonstrate that he worked for a legitimate news service, wants to know why Gannon/Guckert was able to pass muster at the White House. “This issue is important from an ethical as well as from a national security standpoint,” Lautenberg says. “It is hard to understand why a man with little real journalism experience was given a White House press corps credential.” [Salon, 2/15/2005] White House press secretary Scott McClellan denies knowing about Gannon/Guckert’s pseudonym until just recently, and says, “People use aliases all the time in life, from journalists to actors.” [Washington Post, 2/16/2005]
Admission and Defense - Days later, in a CNN interview conducted by Wolf Blitzer, Gannon/Guckert admits that he is a “former” gay prostitute, admits his real name, says no one at the White House knew about his sexual past, and says: “I’ve made mistakes in my past. Does my past mean I can’t have a future? Does it disqualify me from being a journalist?” He says he used a pseudonym because his real name is difficult to pronounce. Liberal gay activist John Aravosis, whose AmericaBlog first published pictures of Gannon/Guckert advertising his sexual favors on gay escort Web sites, says the issue is not Gannon/Guckert’s right to be a journalist but his “White House access.… The White House wouldn’t let him in the door right now, knowing of his background.” Aravosis says Gannon/Guckert is guilty of “what I call family values hypocrisy. Basically, he’s asking the gay community to protect him when he attacks us.” Gannon/Guckert wrote numerous articles blasting 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry’s support of gay rights and wrote that Kerry would, if elected, be the country’s “first gay president.” [Washington Post, 2/19/2005] On his blog, Aravosis adds: “This is the conservative Republican Bush White House we’re talking about. It’s looking increasingly like they made a decision to allow a hooker to ask the president of the United States questions. They made a decision to give a man with an alias and no journalistic experience access to the West Wing of the White House on a ‘daily basis.’” [Salon, 2/15/2005]
Softballing Gannon/Guckert - New York Times columnist Frank Rich accuses Blitzer of asking “questions almost as soft as those ‘Jeff’ himself had asked in the White House.” Blitzer accepted without question Gannon/Guckert’s assertion that he used the name Gannon because Guckert was too hard to pronounce, and never questioned Gannon/Guckert’s claim that Talon News “is a separate, independent news division” of GOPUSA. Blitzer, Rich notes, waited until a brief follow-up interview to ask why Gannon/Guckert was questioned by FBI investigators about his knowledge of the Valerie Plame Wilson affair (see October 28, 2003). Blitzer did not ask if his knowledge came from the same officials who took care of his White House press credentials, nor did he ask if Gannon/Guckert has any connection with conservative journalist and CNN commentator Robert Novak, who outed Plame Wilson. “The anchor didn’t go there,” Rich writes. [New York Times, 2/19/2005]
'Politics of Personal Destruction' - Gannon/Guckert will later say that his resignation from Talon News and from the White House press corps is an example of “the politics of personal destruction.” [New York Times, 3/20/2005]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Frank Rich, Frank R. Lautenberg, Wolf Blitzer, Valerie Plame Wilson, John Kerry, James Guckert, John Aravosis, Talon News, Bobby Eberle, Media Matters, Scott McClellan

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Investigative reporters for CBS and other mainstream outlets find ties between faux journalist “Jeff Gannon” (see January 26, 2005) and White House political guru Karl Rove. Gannon, a conservative Internet “reporter” and gay male escort whose real name is James Guckert, says he only met Rove once, at a White House Christmas party. But the ties between Gannon/Guckert and Rove run much deeper. Circumstantial evidence includes the ease with which Gannon/Guckert obtained White House press corps day passes, and the fact that Rove has talked with the extremist Internet political organization GOPUSA, which owns Talon News. Gannon/Guckert formerly wrote for Talon. Both GOPUSA and Talon are owned by Bobby Eberle, a Texas Republican and business associate of conservative direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie. Bobby Eberle has boasted of Talon’s “conservative slant” and GOPUSA’s “instant built-in bias.” Gannon/Guckert also played a key role in the defeat of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) in his 2004 bid to keep his Senate seat (see Summer 2003 - November 2004). CBS political editor Dotty Lynch calls Gannon/Guckert and Talon News “mini-Drudge Reports: a ‘news’ source which partisans use to put out negative information, get the attention of the bloggers, talk radio, and then the [mainstream media] in a way that mere press releases are unable to achieve.” [CBS News, 2/18/2005] Eberle has posted what author and media critic Frank Rich later calls “effusive thanks on the Web to both [talk show host G. Gordon] Liddy and Karl Rove ‘for their assistance, guidance, and friendship.’” [Rich, 2006, pp. 171]

Entity Tags: G. Gordon Liddy, Bush administration (43), Bobby Eberle, CBS News, Frank Rich, Karl C. Rove, Richard Viguerie, James Guckert, GOPUSA, Talon News, Tom Daschle, Dotty Lynch

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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