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Context of 'March 30, 2004: White House Makes Deal to Prevent Additional Public 9/11 Hearings for Bush Officials'

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Mid-October 1974: Ford Denies Any Pardon Deal

President Ford testifies before a House subcommittee about his pardon of President Nixon (see September 8, 1974). When told, “People question whether or not in fact there was a deal” between Nixon and Ford—the presidency traded for a pardon—Ford replies, “There was no deal, period, under no circumstances.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 333] Ford’s testimony is “only the second time in history that the president had ever done that,” Deputy Chief of Staff Dick Cheney will later recall, marveling at Ford’s near-unprecedented agreement. Cheney is incorrect; not only did Abraham Lincoln testify before the House Judiciary Committee in 1862 about a news leak, but both George Washington and Woodrow Wilson had also testified before Congress. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 28]

Entity Tags: Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

President Clinton creates the new post of National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure, Protection, and Counterterrorism. He names Richard Clarke for the job, and due to the length of the title, Clarke soon becomes known as the counterterrorism “tsar.” [New York Times, 5/23/1998; Washington Post, 4/2/2000] This position is outlined in a new presidential directive on counterterrorism, Presidential Decision Directive 62 (PDD-62), which also outlines goals of fighting terrorism and attempts to strengthen interagency coordination of counterterrorism efforts. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] Clarke, who had been working on terrorism issues since the start of the Clinton administration, has more symbolic than actual power in the new position. For instance, he only has a staff of 12, compared to a staff of hundreds for the drug “tsar,” and by law he is not allowed to order law enforcement agents, soldiers, or spies to do anything. He does not have any control over budgets. But he is allowed to sit on Cabinet level meetings that involve terrorism. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 170; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 101] Clarke has a long record of prior government service, beginning in 1973 as a nuclear weapons analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. [CBS News, 3/30/2004] He came to prominence in the Reagan administration as the deputy assistant secretary of state for intelligence from 1985 to 1989. Having left the State Department in 1992, he has spent the past six years on the National Security Council staff. [Washington Post, 3/13/2003; BBC, 3/22/2004; Associated Press, 3/27/2004] After 9/11 Clarke will become well known for his criticisms of the George W. Bush administration (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), but some who know him consider him to be politically conservative. [Boston Globe, 3/29/2004] According to the Washington Post, many within the Clinton administration view Clarke as a hawk. [Washington Post, 3/23/2004] Robert Gelbard, who worked with him at the State Department in the early 1990s, says he is “no liberal. He is very hawkish.” [US News and World Report, 4/5/2004] Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA official who worked with Clarke in the 1980s, says, “You can’t accuse him of being passive or too liberal on foreign policy.” [Washington Post, 3/23/2004] At the time of the 2000 election he will be a registered Republican, and he votes that year for John McCain in the Republican presidential primary. [New York Times, 3/23/2004; Salon, 3/24/2004; Time, 4/5/2004] Larry DiCara, the former president of the Boston City Council who knew Clarke when he was younger, later recalls: “He was fiercely conservative at a time when just about everyone in Boston was a Democrat.… I’m amazed he worked for [President] Clinton.” Clarke, however, will later praise Clinton, and in an interview in 2002 will describe himself as “not a partisan figure.” [Boston Globe, 3/29/2004]

Entity Tags: Vincent Cannistraro, Larry DiCara, Robert Gelbard, Richard A. Clarke, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Richard Clarke.Richard Clarke. [Source: Robert Flores/ Defense Information Systems Agency]Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke submits a proposal to National Security Adviser Rice and “urgently” asks for a Cabinet-level meeting on the al-Qaeda threat. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 230-31] He forwards his December 2000 strategy paper and a copy of his 1998 “Delenda Plan” (see August 27, 1998). He lays out a proposed agenda for urgent action:
bullet Approve covert assistance to Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
bullet Significantly increase funding for CIA counterterrorism activity. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
bullet Respond to the USS Cole bombing with an attack on al-Qaeda. (The link between al-Qaeda and that bombing had been assumed for months and is confirmed in the media two days later.) According to the Washington Post, “Clarke argue[s] that the camps [are] can’t-miss targets, and they [matter]. The facilities [amount] to conveyor belts for al-Qaeda’s human capital, with raw recruits arriving and trained fighters departing either for front lines against the Northern Alliance, the Afghan rebel coalition, or against American interests somewhere else. The US government had whole libraries of images filmed over Tarnak Qila and its sister camp, Garmabat Ghar, 19 miles farther west. Why watch al-Qaeda train several thousand men a year and then chase them around the world when they left?” No retaliation is taken on these camps until after 9/11. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002]
bullet Go forward with new Predator drone reconnaissance missions in the spring and use an armed version when it is ready (see January 10-25, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
bullet Step up the fight against terrorist fundraising. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
bullet Be aware that al-Qaeda sleeper cells in the US are not just a potential threat, but are a “major threat in being.” Additionally, more attacks have almost certainly been set in motion (see January 25, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Rice’s response to Clarke’s proposal is that the Cabinet will not address the issue until it has been “framed” at the deputy secretary level. However, this initial deputy meeting is not given high priority and it does not take place until April 2001. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 230-31] Henry Shelton, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman until 9/11, says, “The squeaky wheel was Dick Clarke, but he wasn’t at the top of their priority list, so the lights went out for a few months. Dick did a pretty good job because he’s abrasive as hell, but given the [bureaucratic] level he was at” there was no progress. [Benjamin and Simon, 2002, pp. 335-36; Los Angeles Times, 3/30/2004] Some counterterrorism officials think the new administration responds slowly simply because Clarke’s proposal originally came from the Clinton administration. [Time, 8/12/2002] For instance, Thomas Maertenson, on the National Security Council in both the Clinton and Bush administrations, says, “They really believed their campaign rhetoric about the Clinton administration. So anything [that administration] did was bad, and the Bushies were not going to repeat it.” [New York Times, 3/24/2004; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 3/25/2004] The Bush administration will finally address the gist of Clarke’s plan at a cabinet-level meeting on September 4, 2001, just one week before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001). Clarke will later comment that the plan adopted “on Sept. 4 is basically… what I proposed on Jan. 25. And so the time in between was wasted.”

Entity Tags: Henry Hugh Shelton, Northern Alliance, Richard A. Clarke, Condoleezza Rice, Clinton administration, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Thomas Maertenson, Taliban, Ahmed Shah Massoud

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, 2001. Advisors wait with classified briefings.President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, 2001. Advisors wait with classified briefings. [Source: White House]President Bush receives a classified presidential daily briefing (PDB) at his Crawford, Texas ranch indicating that Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. The PDB provided to him is entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” The entire briefing focuses on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the US. [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Newsweek, 5/27/2002] The analysts who drafted the briefing will say that they drafted it on the CIA’s initiative (see July 13, 2004), whereas in 2004 Bush will state that he requested a briefing on the topic due to threats relating to a conference in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001, where Western intelligence agencies believed Osama bin Laden was involved in a plot to crash an airplane into a building to kill Bush and other leaders (see April 13, 2004). The analysts will later explain that they saw it as an opportunity to convey that the threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the US was both current and serious. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260] The existence of this briefing is kept secret, until it is leaked in May 2002, causing a storm of controversy (see May 15, 2002). While National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will claim the memo is only one and a half pages long, other accounts state it is 11 1/2 pages instead of the usual two or three. [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Newsweek, 5/27/2002; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] A page and a half of the contents will be released on April 10, 2004; this reportedly is the full content of the briefing. [Washington Post, 4/10/2004] The briefing, as released, states as follows (note that the spelling of certain words are corrected and links have been added):
bullet Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US (see December 1, 1998). Bin Laden implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and “bring the fighting to America” (see May 26, 1998).
bullet After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a -REDACTED-service (see December 21, 1998).
bullet An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told -REDACTED- service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.
bullet The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden’s first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself (see December 14, 1999), but that bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaida encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaida was planning his own US attack (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001).
bullet Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.
bullet Although bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveyed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993 (see Late 1993-Late 1994), and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.
bullet Al-Qaeda members—including some who are US citizens—have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks (see January 25, 2001). Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were US citizens (see September 15, 1998), and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s (see November 1989 and September 10, 1998).
bullet A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks (see October-November 1998).
bullet “We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [REDACTED] service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman and other US-held extremists” (see 1998, December 4, 1998, and May 23, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223] According to the Washington Post, this information came from a British service. [Washington Post, 5/18/2002]
bullet Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York (see May 30, 2001).
bullet The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related (see August 6, 2001). CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group or bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives (see May 16-17, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223]
In retrospect, the briefing is remarkable for the many warnings that apparently are not included (see for instance, from the summer of 2001 prior to August alone: May 2001, June 2001, June 12, 2001, June 19, 2001, Late Summer 2001, July 2001, July 16, 2001, Late July 2001, Late July 2001, Summer 2001, June 30-July 1, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Early August 2001). According to one account, after the PDB has been given to him, Bush tells the CIA briefer, “You’ve covered your ass now” (see August 6, 2001). Incredibly, the New York Times later reports that after being given the briefing, Bush “[breaks] off from work early and [spends] most of the day fishing.” [New York Times, 5/25/2002] In 2002 and again in 2004, National Security Adviser Rice will incorrectly claim under oath that the briefing only contained historical information from 1998 and before (see May 16, 2002 and April 8, 2004).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Islamic Jihad, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Los Angeles International Airport, Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, World Trade Center, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Commission, Ahmed Ressam, Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice holds a press conference to respond to the public leak (see May 15, 2002) of the title of President Bush’s August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001).
Presidential Daily Brief - She asserts: “It was an analytic report that talked about [Osama bin Laden]‘s methods of operation, talked about what he had done historically, in 1997, in 1998.… I want to reiterate, it was not a warning. There was no specific time, place, or method mentioned.” [White House, 5/16/2002] In April 2004, Rice will testify under oath before the 9/11 Commission and repeatedly assert that it was “a historical memo… not threat reporting” (see April 8, 2004).
Comment by Philip Shenon - Author Philip Shenon will later comment, “She failed to mention, as would later be clear, that the PDB focused entirely on the possibility that al-Qaeda intended to strike within the United States; it cited relatively recent FBI reports of possible terrorist surveillance of government buildings in New York.” After rereading the transcript of the press conference, Shenon will call it a “remarkable document,” because “To many of the Commission’s staff, it offered proof of how, to Condoleezza Rice, everything is semantics. A threat is not a threat, a warning is not a warning, unless she says it is. The word historical appeared to have an especially broad definition to Rice. To her, a warning that was a few weeks or months old was of relatively little value because it was ‘historical.’”
Aircraft as Weapons - Rice also says, “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon—that they would try to use an airplane as a missile.” However, various government agencies were well aware of the concept of planes as missiles, including the FBI (see August 27, 2001), the Defense Department (see April 17-26, 2001), and the White House itself (see June 20, 2001). Shenon will point out that this news conference occurs eight months after the attacks, yet Rice is “suggesting that in all that time, no one had bothered to tell her [of these reports].” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 213, 237-239]

Entity Tags: Philip Shenon, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Richard Clarke, who was counterterrorism “tsar” in the run-up to 9/11, briefs the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry about counterterrorism before the attacks.
Clarke's Status - Normally, a White House official such as Clarke would not be allowed to testify before Congress, but the administration makes an exception for him, although the testimony is behind closed doors and is classified. In addition, Clarke is not placed under oath and is not even considered a witness before the inquiry, just a briefer. Clarke’s boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, will not testify before the inquiry, and it is unable to obtain access to National Security Council files, which are privileged as they relate to advice given to the president.
Content of Briefing - House Intelligence Committee member Tim Roemer will say that Clarke is riveting during the six-hour briefing. According to author Philip Shenon, Roemer thinks that Clarke is “intelligent, articulate, seemingly candid in discussing his own failings as White House counterterrorism [‘tsar’].” Clarke will later be extremely critical of President George Bush and Rice (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), but now he is “coy about certain questions—especially about President Bush and Condoleezza Rice.” Shenon will add: “[I]f anyone knew whether Bush and Rice had reacted appropriately to the threats reaching the Oval office before 9/11, it was Clarke. Yet in front of these lawmakers, Clarke seemed unwilling to make any judgments about the president and Rice. He was certainly volunteering little about his bosses. He was still on the [National Security Council’s] payroll. Perhaps it was understandable that Clarke would want to hold his tongue for now.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 195-196]
Later Positive Briefing about Administration's Record - Two months later, Clarke will give journalists a positive briefing about the Bush administration’s record on terrorism (see August 22, 2002).

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Philip Shenon, Tim Roemer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Although he will later come to prominence for accusing it of failing to adequately address the al-Qaeda threat before 9/11 (see March 21, 2004), in a background briefing to reporters, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke appears to praise the Bush administration for aggressively pursuing al-Qaeda from the outset. [CNN, 3/24/2004]
'Rapid Elimination' - During the briefing, Clarke says that when the Bush administration came into office in January 2001, it had “decided then” to “vigorously pursue the existing policy” on al-Qaeda, “including all of the lethal covert action findings.” He says that in the first week of February 2001, the administration decided in principle “to add to the existing Clinton strategy and to increase CIA resources, for example, for covert action, five-fold, to go after al-Qaeda.” He says the strategy was changed “from one of rollback with al-Qaeda over the course of five years, which it had been, to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of al-Qaeda.”
Response to Time Magazine - Clarke responds to a recent Time magazine article that suggested the Bush administration was unwilling to adopt suggestions made in the Clinton administration because of a general animus against its foreign policy. He says: “This is the one issue where the National Security Council leadership decided continuity was important and kept the same guy around, the same team in place. That doesn’t sound like animus against, uh, the previous team to me.” He is asked, “You’re saying that the Bush administration did not stop anything that the Clinton administration was doing while it was making these decisions, and by the end of the summer had increased money for covert action five-fold?” Clarke replies, “All of that’s correct.”
No Plan, No Delay - One reporter asks about an alleged Clinton administration plan against al-Qaeda, to which Clarke responds, “There was never a plan.” Regarding problems the Clinton administration faced in dealing with the al-Qaeda threat, a reporter asks, “And none of that really changed until we were attacked [on 9/11]?” Clarke says: “No, that’s not true. In the spring, the Bush administration changed—began to change Pakistani policy, um, by a dialogue that said we would be willing to lift sanctions.… So that’s really how it started.” He is asked, “[W]hat you’re saying is that… one, there was no plan; two, there was no delay; and that actually the first changes since October of ‘98 were made in the spring months just after the [Bush] administration came into office?” Clarke replies: “You got it. That’s right.” [Fox News, 3/24/2004]
Comments Published - In March 2004, the White House will violate a long-standing confidentiality policy by authorizing Fox News to publish these comments that Clarke has made off the record (see March 24, 2004). [Columbia Journalism Review, 3/25/2004; FindLaw, 4/9/2004]
Clarke's Explanation - Around that time, when Clarke appears before the 9/11 Commission (see March 24, 2004), Commissioner James Thompson will ask him about the apparent discrepancies between his comments during this briefing and the criticisms he makes of the Bush administration in his book Against All Enemies. Clarke will explain that his briefing was in the context of Time magazine’s critical story. He will say, “So I was asked by several people in senior levels of the Bush White House to do a press backgrounder to try to explain that set of facts in a way that minimized criticism of the administration.” He will add, “I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done, and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done.” [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will defend Clarke, writing, “The truth is that the background briefing simply does not conflict with anything Clarke says openly, if more bluntly, in his book.” [FindLaw, 4/9/2004]
Previous Briefing for 9/11 Congressional Inquiry - Two months before this, Clarke had briefed the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry on the Bush administration’s counterterrorism record and had been largely uncritical of its policies (see June 11, 2002).

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Clinton administration, Bush administration (43), John Dean, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow says that former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke must be placed under oath when he is interviewed by the commission.
'I Know Dick Clarke' - Usually, former and current government officials being interviewed by the commission are not placed under oath; this only happens when there is, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “a substantial reason to doubt their truthfulness.” Zelikow tells the staff, “I know Dick Clarke,” and, according to Shenon, argues that “Clarke was a braggart who would try to rewrite history to justify his errors and slander his enemies, [National Security Adviser Condoleezza] Rice in particular.” Zelikow is close to Rice (see January 3, 2001, May-June 2004, and February 28, 2005). Zelikow had also previously told Warren Bass, the commission staffer responsible for the National Security Council, that Clarke should not be believed and that his testimony was suspect.
Staff Cannot Talk to Zelikow about Rice - Due to Zelikow’s constant disparagement of Clarke and for other reasons, the staff come to realize that, in Shenon’s words, “they could not have an open discussion in front of Zelikow about Condoleezza Rice and her performance as national security adviser.” In addition, “They could not say openly, certainly not to Zelikow’s face, what many on the staff came to believe: that Rice’s performance in the spring and summer of 2001 amounted to incompetence, or something not far from it.”
Effect of Recusal Agreement - Zelikow has concluded a recusal agreement in the commission, as he was involved in counterterrorism on the Bush administration transition team. As a consequence of this agreement, he cannot be involved in questioning Clarke on any issue involving the transition. Shenon will comment: “[Zelikow] had reason to dread what Clarke was about to tell the commission: It was Zelikow, after all, who had been the architect of Clarke’s demotion in the early weeks of the Bush administration, a fact that had never been aired publicly.”
First Interview - Clarke is first interviewed by the commission on December 18, and the interview is mostly conducted by Daniel Marcus, the commission’s lawyer. Marcus and the other staffers present at the interview realize within minutes what an important witness Clarke will be and what damage he could do to Bush and Rice. Marcus will later comment, “Here was a guy who is totally unknown outside the Beltway, who had been a Washington bureaucrat all of his life, who turns out to be a dynamite witness.” Clarke tells the commission of charges he will later repeat publicly (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), saying that Bush and Rice did not take terrorism seriously enough in the run-up to the attacks, that they were more focused on issues left over from the Cold War, and that Bush tried to get him to link the attacks to Iraq. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 145-146, 196-199]

Entity Tags: Warren Bass, Philip Zelikow, Daniel Marcus, 9/11 Commission, Richard A. Clarke, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” from 1998 until October 2001, ignites a public debate by accusing President Bush of doing a poor job fighting al-Qaeda before 9/11. In a prominent 60 Minutes interview, he says: “I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he’s done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11.… I think he’s done a terrible job on the war against terrorism.” He adds: “We had a terrorist organization that was going after us! Al-Qaeda. That should have been the first item on the agenda. And it was pushed back and back and back for months.” He complains that he was Bush’s chief adviser on terrorism, yet he never got to brief Bush on the subject until after 9/11. [CBS News, 3/21/2004; CBS News, 3/21/2004; Guardian, 3/23/2004; Salon, 3/24/2004] Author Philip Shenon will call the interview “gripping” and comment that Clarke is “made for television.” This is because of his “urgent speaking style” and his “shock of white hair and ghostly pallor,” which makes it look like he has “emerged from years of hiding in sunless back rooms of the West Wing to share the terrible secrets he ha[s] learned.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 277] The next day, his book Against All Enemies is released and becomes a bestseller. [Washington Post, 3/22/2004] He testifies before the 9/11 Commission a few days later (see March 24, 2004).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Richard A. Clarke, Philip Shenon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections

The White House responds aggressively to comments made the previous day by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke (see March 24, 2004), who accused the Bush administration of doing little about terrorism prior to 9/11 (see March 21, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will characterize the situation at the White House following the comments as a “near panic” and “genuine alarm,” because Clarke’s allegations are “a direct threat to [President] Bush’s reelection hopes.”
Rice Leads Response - White House chief of staff Andy Card will say that the most upset person is Clarke’s former boss Condoleezza Rice, who takes the lead in responding. She appears on several television shows, claiming—in what Shenon calls a “remarkably angry tone”—on 60 Minutes: “Dick Clarke just does not know what he’s talking about.… Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction, and he chose not to.” Vice President Dick Cheney says that Clarke has a “grudge” against the administration because he did not get a position at the Department of Homeland Security that he wanted, adding that Clarke “wasn’t in the loop, frankly” and “clearly missed a lot of what was going on.” Shenon will comment, “Cheney’s remarks had unintentionally proved exactly what Clarke was saying—that his authority was so diminished in the Bush administration that he had no ability to reach the decision makers in the White house when threats emerged.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 277-279]
Having It Both Ways? - “You can’t have it both ways,” adds retired General Wesley Clark, the former commander of NATO forces in Bosnia. He was “either the counterterrorism czar and was responsible and knew what was going on, or the administration gave him a title and didn’t put any emphasis on terrorism and that’s why he wasn’t in the loop.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
Surrogate Smears - Surrogates try dirty tactics, for example conservative columnist Robert Novak suggests that Clarke is motivated by racial prejudice against Rice, a “powerful African-American woman,” and conservative commentator Laura Ingraham asks why “this single man” is such a “drama queen.” Although Clarke anticipated attacks, he is surprised at their ferocity. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 277-279] Former White House communications director Karen Hughes interrupts her book tour to criticize Clarke for supposedly promoting his own book, Against All Enemies. Right-wing bloggers, perhaps given direction by White House officials, begin swapping lascivious and baseless rumors about Clarke’s sexual orientation. [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119] The Washington Times accuses Clarke of being “a political chameleon who is starved for attention after years of toiling anonymously in government bureaucracies.” Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer calls Clarke “a partisan perjurer.” At the extreme edge of the attack is conservative author Ann Coulter, who with no evidence whatsoever, accuses Clarke of racism: she portrays him as thinking of Condoleezza Rice, “[T]he black chick is a dummy” whom Bush promoted from “cleaning the Old Executive Office Building at night.” [Salon, 3/29/2004] Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the attacks “the most vigorous offensive I’ve ever seen from the administration on any issue.” [Washington Post, 3/28/2004]
Clarke's Counters - Republican leaders also threaten to release testimony Clarke gave in 2002, and Clarke says he welcomes the release. The testimony remains classified. [Associated Press, 3/26/2004; Associated Press, 3/28/2004] Clarke calls on Rice to release all e-mail communications between the two of them before 9/11; these are not released either. [Guardian, 3/29/2004] Despite the attacks, Clarke’s partners in a consulting business stick with him, as does ABC News, which recently hired him as a terrorism consultant. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 277-279]
Mishandled Response? - According to Reuters, a number of political experts conclude, “The White House may have mishandled accusations leveled by… Clarke by attacking his credibility, keeping the controversy firmly in the headlines into a second week.” [Reuters, 3/29/2004]
No Evidence of Contradiction - However, a review of declassified citations from Clarke’s 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. [Washington Post, 4/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Robert Novak, John McCain, Karen Hughes, Philip Shenon, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Krauthammer, Laura Ingraham, Andrew Card, Ann Coulter, Wesley Clark, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard A. Clarke, Washington Times

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw interviews National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Brokaw criticizes Rice’s refusal to appear publicly before the 9/11 Commission because of “national security concerns” while at the same time appearing on a plethora of news broadcasts to defend the administration’s actions surrounding the 9/11 attacks (see March 30, 2004). Brokaw says: “You’ve been meeting with the Commission in private, but you will not go before this very public meeting, citing separation of powers, executive privilege. But your predecessors have gone before Congress in the past. Even President Ford testified about his pardon of Richard Nixon (see Mid-October 1974). Executive privilege is really a flexible concept. Why not go to the president on this issue that is so profoundly important to America, and say, I should be testifying?” Rice defends her decision not to testify under oath and before the cameras, saying: “I would like nothing better than to be able to testify before the Commission. I have spent more than four hours with the Commission. I’m prepared to go and talk to them again, anywhere, any time, anyplace, privately. But I have to be responsible and to uphold the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature. It is a matter of whether the president can count on good confidential advice from his staff.” Brokaw replies: “Dr. Rice, with all due respect, I think a lot of people are watching this tonight saying, well, if she can appear on television, write commentaries, but she won’t appear before the Commission under oath. It just doesn’t seem to make sense.” Rice reiterates that she is defending “a constitutional principle,” and insists, “We’re not hiding anything.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write, “The White House, so often masterly in its TV management, particularly when it came to guarding its 9/11 franchise in an election year, was wildly off its game” during this period. Eventually Rice, unable to defend her refusal to testify in light of her frequent public pronouncements, will agree to testify before the Commission (see April 8, 2004). [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, 9/11 Commission, Tom Brokaw, Frank Rich, NBC News

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The White House discloses to Fox News that former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke was the anonymous official who gave a background briefing to reporters in August 2002 praising the Bush administration’s record on terrorism (see August 22, 2002). This move, which violates a longstanding confidentiality policy, is made hours before Clarke is to testify to the 9/11 Commission (see March 24, 2004). Clarke recently went public with criticism of the administration (see March 21, 2004) and is being attacked by it (see March 22, 2004 and Shortly After). Author Philip Shenon will comment, “In agreeing to allow Fox News to reveal that Clarke had given the 2002 briefing, the White House was attempting to paint him as a liar—a one-time Bush defender who had become a Bush critic in order to sell a book.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says to the media: “There are two very different stories here. These stories can’t be reconciled.” [Fox News, 3/24/2004; Washington Post, 3/25/2004; Washington Post, 3/26/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 280-281]
Opposing Spin? - Shenon will add that in the briefing Clarke was “spin[ning] the facts” in order to try to knock down an article unfavorable to the administration published by Time magazine, although “the spin took him perilously close to dishonesty, albeit the sort of dishonesty practiced every day in official Washington.” Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director and a long-term opponent of Clarke (see January 3, 2001 and January 27, 2003), is delighted by the story and tells a Commission staffer that it might be enough to end the Clarke “circus,” adding, “Does it get any better than this?” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 280-281] Later trying a similar line of attack, Republican Senate leader Bill Frist will ask “[i]f [Clarke] lied under oath to the United States Congress” in closed testimony in 2002, and also ask if Clarke is attempting to promote his book. According to media critic Frank Rich, Frist’s credibility is undermined by his use of his Senate status to promote his own book, a virtually worthless primer entitled When Every Moment Counts: What You Need to Know About Bioterrorism from the Senate’s Only Doctor. Frist’s accusation that Clarke revealed classified information in his book falls flat when Clarke notes that the White House vetted his book for possible security transgressions before publication. [Washington Post, 3/27/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
No Evidence of Contradiction - A review of declassified citations from Clarke’s 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. [Washington Post, 4/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Philip Shenon, Richard A. Clarke, Condoleezza Rice, Philip Zelikow, Washington Times, Frank Rich, Bill Frist

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections

Richard Clarke sworn in before the 9/11 Commission.Richard Clarke sworn in before the 9/11 Commission. [Source: CBC]Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke testifies before the 9/11 Commission. Due to publicity generated by the publication of his book and a controversial appearance on 60 Minutes (see March 21, 2004), it is, in the words of author Philip Shenon, a “true Washington spectacle” and “one of those moments in the capital when anyone of importance in the city [is] in front of a television set.” Shenon will add, “It was being compared by reporters to the sort of drama that John Dean’s testimony provided in Watergate or Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North’s testimony offered in the Iran-Contra affair.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 281-282]
Clarke Offers Apology - Clarke’s opening statement consists of little more than an apology to the relatives of the 9/11 victims. He says: “Your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and I failed you. For that failure, I would ask… for your understanding and forgiveness.” This leads to a moment of silence, then gasps and sobs. Shenon will point out, “It was the first apology that the 9/11 families had heard from anybody of importance in the Bush administration,” adding that it “was the moment of catharsis that many of the wives and husbands and children of the victims had been waiting for.”
Praises Clinton, Criticizes Bush - Under questioning, Clarke praises the Clinton administration, saying, “My impression was that fighting terrorism, in general, and fighting al-Qaeda, in particular, were an extraordinarily high priority in the Clinton administration—certainly no higher priority.” But he is very critical of the Bush administration, stating, “By invading Iraq… the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism.” He says that under Bush before 9/11, terrorism was “an important issue, but not an urgent issue.… [CIA Director] George Tenet and I tried very hard to create a sense of urgency by seeing to it that intelligence reports on the al-Qaeda threat were frequently given to the president and other high-level officials. But although I continue to say it was an urgent problem, I don’t think it was ever treated that way.” He points out that he made proposals to fight al-Qaeda in late January 2001. While the gist of them was implemented after 9/11, he complains, “I didn’t really understand why they couldn’t have been done in February [2001].” He says that with a more robust intelligence and covert action program, “we might have been able to nip [the plot] in the bud.”
Republican Commissioners Ask Tough Questions - However, Clarke faces tough questioning from some of the Republican commissioners. Jim Thompson, who had been in contact with the White House before the hearing (see Morning, March 24, 2004), challenges Clarke over a briefing he gave in 2002 (see August 22, 2002 and March 24, 2004), which, according to Thompson, contradicts what Clarke is saying now. In addition, fellow Republican John Lehman confronts Clarke over what he sees as discrepancies between Clarke’s book and his private interviews with the Commission. Clarke replies that the differences arose because the Commission did not ask him about all the issues he covered in his book, such as his opposition to the invasion of Iraq. He adds that he will not accept any position in any administration formed by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
Clarke Approved Saudi Flights - Clarke also clears up a mystery about the departure of Saudi Arabian nationals after the attacks, which has caused some controversy (see September 14-19, 2001), saying that he was the White House official that approved them. He did this after clearing it with the FBI, although he does not know “what degree of review the FBI did over those names.” [Washington Post, 3/24/2004; New York Times, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 282-289]
Testimony 'Arresting' - Author and media critic Frank Rich will later call Clarke’s testimony “arresting.” Rich will write that Clarke’s forceful, confident demeanor—“sonorous voice, secret-agent aura, and vaguely intimidating body language”—serves to brush back antagonistic Republicans such as Lehman and Thompson. Rich will write that the juxtaposition of Clarke’s damning testimony with President Bush’s bizarre comedy routine that same evening (pretending to hunt for Iraqi WMD under the Oval Office furniture—see March 24, 2004) is jarring. [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]

Entity Tags: John Lehman, Clinton administration, Richard A. Clarke, Bush administration (43), Frank Rich, 9/11 Commission, James Thompson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections

Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, lambasted by Bush administration supporters (see March 24, 2004) for his criticism of the administration’s foreign policies (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), counters some of that criticism by noting that when he resigned from the administration a year earlier, he was highly praised by President Bush (see January 31, 2003).
Differing Characterizations from Administration - On Meet the Press, Clarke reads aloud the handwritten note from Bush that lauds his service, telling host Tim Russert: “This is his writing. This is the president of the United States’ writing. And when they’re engaged in character assassination of me, let’s just remember that on January 31, 2003: ‘Dear Dick, you will be missed. You served our nation with distinction and honor. You have left a positive mark on our government.’ This is not the normal typewritten letter that everybody gets. This is the president’s handwriting. He thinks I served with distinction and honor. The rest of his staff is out there trying to destroy my professional life, trying to destroy my reputation, because I had the temerity to suggest that a policy issue should be discussed. What is the role of the war on terror vis-a-vis the war in Iraq? Did the war in Iraq really hurt the war on terror? Because I suggest we should have a debate on that, I am now being the victim of a taxpayer-paid—because all these people work for the government—character assassination campaign.”
Never Briefed Bush on Terrorism - Clarke also notes that the letter proves he never briefed Bush on terrorism because he was not allowed to provide such a briefing (see Early January 2001). He tells Russert: “You know, they’re saying now that when I was afforded the opportunity to talk to him about cybersecurity, it was my choice. I could have talked about terrorism or cybersecurity. That’s not true. I asked in January to brief him, the president, on terrorism, to give him the same briefing I had given Vice President Cheney, Colin Powell, and [Condoleezza] Rice. And I was told, ‘You can’t do that briefing, Dick, until after the policy development process.’” [MSNBC, 3/28/2004; Salon, 3/29/2004]
Administration Should Declassifiy August 2002 Briefing - Clarke also calls on the administration to declassify “all six hours” of the briefing he gave to top officials in August 2002 about the impending threat of a terrorist attack (see August 22, 2002). The administration has selectively declassified material from that briefing to impugn Clarke’s honesty and integrity. “I would welcome it being declassified,” Clarke says. “But not just a little line here and there—let’s declassify all six hours of my testimony.” He also asks that the administration declassify the strategy reports from 2001 that he authored, and all of his e-mails between January 2001 and September 2001, to prove that the charges laid against him by the administration are false. He calls on the White House to end what he calls the “vicious personal attacks” and “character assassination,” and focus on issues. “The issue is not about me,” he tells a CNN reporter. “The issue is about the president’s performance in the war on terrorism.” [MSNBC, 3/28/2004; CNN, 3/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (43), Richard A. Clarke, Tim Russert

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2004 Elections

The Bush administration bows to growing pressure in the wake of former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission (see March 21, 2004) and agrees to allow National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify before the Commission in public and under oath. It also agrees that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney can be interviewed in private by the whole Commission. However, according to the New York Times, “In exchange for her appearance, the [9/11 Commission] agreed not to seek testimony from other White House aides at public hearings, although it can continue to question them in private.” [New York Times, 3/31/2004] There was some debate in the administration over whether Rice would testify or not. As she is national security adviser and there are no allegations of criminal wrongdoing, there are good grounds for Rice refusing to testify under the doctrine of executive privilege, and this argument is made in particular by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and David Addington, Vice President Cheney’s counsel. However, Rice insists that she wants to testify. According to author Philip Shenon, she is “uncharacteristically frantic” over the issue. White House chief of staff Andy Card will say, “Condi desperately wanted to do it.” Shenon will write of the decision, which is made by President Bush: “The political pressure on the White House was too great, and Rice’s persuasive powers with the president were more than a match for Alberto Gonzales’s. Rice was as strong-willed as any member of the White house staff. Gonzales was strong-willed until the president told him otherwise.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 289-292] Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “The dirty little secret about the uproar over Clarke’s revelations were that many of them had been previously revealed by others, well before he published his book. But as the Bush administration knew better than anyone, perception was all, and perception began with images on television. Clarke had given the charges a human face.” The administration is sending Rice to testify publicly before the Commission, Rich will write, in part because she is the most telegenic of Bush’s top advisers, and has the best chance of “rebranding” the story with her face and testimony. [Rich, 2006, pp. 119]

Entity Tags: White House, Frank Rich, Philip Shenon, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, 9/11 Commission, David S. Addington, Andrew Card

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections

Condoleezza Rice sworn in before the 9/11 Commission.Condoleezza Rice sworn in before the 9/11 Commission. [Source: Larry Downing/ Reuters]National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice testifies before the 9/11 Commission under oath and with the threat of perjury. The Bush administration originally opposed her appearance, but relented after great public demand (see March 30, 2004). [Independent, 4/3/2004] The testimony is a huge media event and major television networks interrupt their programming to carry it live. First, the Commission’s Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton reads a statement trying to establish a tone of non-confrontation and saying that the Commission’s purpose is “not to put any witness on the spot,” but “to understand and to inform.”
Rice Reads Lengthy Statement - Knowing that she has a deal to appear only once and for a limited time, Rice begins by reading a statement much longer than those read by other witnesses testifying before the Commission, a move specifically approved by Hamilton and the Commission’s chairman Tom Kean. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 293, 295] In the statement she repeats her claim that “almost all of the reports [before 9/11] focused on al-Qaeda activities outside the United States.… The information that was specific enough to be actionable referred to terrorists operation overseas.” Moreover, she stresses that the “kind of analysis about the use of airplanes as weapons actually was never briefed to us.” But she concedes: “In fact there were some reports done in ‘98 and ‘99. I think I was—I was certainly not aware of them.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2004]
Heated Questioning from Democrats - The exchanges with the Republican commissioners are polite, but Rice’s interactions with the Democrats on the Commission become heated. According to author Philip Shenon, her strategy is to “try to run out the clock—talk and talk and talk, giving them no chance to ask follow-up questions before the 10 minutes that each of the commissioners had been allotted had run out.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 295] During questioning several subjects are discussed:
bullet Why didn’t counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke brief President Bush on al-Qaeda before September 11? Clarke says he had wished to do so, but Rice states, “Clarke never asked me to brief the president on counterterrorism.”
bullet What was the content of the briefing President Bush received on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001)? While Rice repeatedly underlines that it was “a historical memo… not threat reporting,” commissioners Richard Ben-Veniste and Tim Roemer ask her why it cannot therefore be declassified. [Washington Post, 4/8/2004] Asked what the PDB item’s still-secret title is, Rice gives it as “Bin Laden Determined to Attack inside the United States,” leading to an audible gasp from the audience. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 298] Two days later, the White House will finally publish it, and it will be shown to contain more than just historical information.
bullet Did Rice tell Bush of the existence of al-Qaeda cells in the US before August 6, 2001? Rice says that she does not remember whether she “discussed it with the president.”
bullet Were warnings properly passed on? Rice points out: “The FBI issued at least three nationwide warnings to federal, state, and law enforcement agencies, and specifically stated that although the vast majority of the information indicated overseas targets, attacks against the homeland could not be ruled out. The FBI tasked all 56 of its US field offices to increase surveillance of known suspected terrorists and to reach out to known informants who might have information on terrorist activities.” But commissioner Jamie Gorelick remarks: “We have no record of that. The Washington field office international terrorism people say they never heard about the threat, they never heard about the warnings.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2004]
bullet Under questioning from Democratic commissioner Bob Kerrey, she admits that she worked with Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, during the Bush administration transition, and that they discussed terrorism issues.
bullet She claims that a plan Clarke presented to her to roll back al-Qaeda in January 2001 (see January 25, 2001) was not actually a plan, but merely “a set of ideas and a paper” that had not been implemented. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 299-300]
Central Issues Unresolved - Rice does not apologize to the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, as Clarke did weeks earlier. The Associated Press comments, “The blizzard of words in Condoleezza Rice’s testimony Thursday did not resolve central points about what the government knew, should have known, did, and should have done before the September 11 terrorist attacks.” [Associated Press, 4/8/2004]
Testimony an 'Ambitious Feat of Jujitsu' - The Washington Post calls her testimony “an ambitious feat of jujitsu: On one hand, she made a case that ‘for more than 20 years, the terrorist threat gathered, and America’s response across several administrations of both parties was insufficient.’ At the same time, she argued that there was nothing in particular the Bush administration itself could have done differently that would have prevented the attacks of September 11, 2001—that there was no absence of vigor in the White House’s response to al-Qaeda during its first 233 days in office. The first thesis is undeniably true; the second both contradictory and implausible.” [Washington Post, 4/9/2004]
'Cherry-Picking' Rice's Testimony - In 2009, Lawrence Wilkerson, who is chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2004, will recall: “John [Bellinger, the legal adviser to the National Security Council] and I had to work on the 9/11 Commission testimony of Condi. Condi was not gonna do it, not gonna do it, not gonna do it, and then all of a sudden she realized she better do it. That was an appalling enterprise. We would cherry-pick things to make it look like the president had been actually concerned about al-Qaeda. We cherry-picked things to make it look as if the vice president and others, Secretary Rumsfeld and all, had been. They didn’t give a sh_t about al-Qaeda. They had priorities. The priorities were lower taxes, ballistic missiles, and the defense thereof.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Jamie Gorelick, Lee Hamilton, Lawrence Wilkerson, George W. Bush, John Bellinger, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bob Kerrey, Bush administration (43), Tim Roemer, Condoleezza Rice, Thomas Kean, Richard Ben-Veniste, 9/11 Commission, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections

White House chief of staff Andy Card learns what the 9/11 Commission Report contains before it is published, as the various chapters are sent to the White House for classification review before the publication date. Card then hears back from the review teams. Despite fears about allegations made by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke (see March 21, 2004) and a key Presidential Daily Brief item (see August 6, 2001), in the words of author Philip Shenon, Card can see “that the Commission’s final report posed no threat to [President] Bush’s re-election.” This is because the report does not “single out individuals for blame. Certainly not George Bush.” The allegations by Clarke, related in a “he-said, she-said” manner in the report, also do not damage National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 411]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Andrew Card

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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