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Context of 'May 18, 2004: Row between Commissioner and Giuliani Subordinates Derails 9/11 Commission Hearings'

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Bomb damage in underground levels of the WTC in 1993.Bomb damage in underground levels of the WTC in 1993. [Source: Najlah Feanny/ Corbis]An attempt to topple the World Trade Center fails, but six people are killed and over 1000 are injured in the misfired blast. An FBI explosives expert later states that, “If they had found the exact architectural Achilles’ heel or if the bomb had been a little bit bigger, not much more, 500 pounds more, I think it would have brought her down.” Ramzi Yousef, who has close ties to bin Laden, organizes the attempt. [Village Voice, 3/30/1993; US Congress, 2/24/1998] The New York Times later reports on Emad Salem, an undercover agent who will be the key government witness in the trial against Yousef. Salem testifies that the FBI knew about the attack beforehand and told him they would thwart it by substituting a harmless powder for the explosives. However, an FBI supervisor called off this plan, and the bombing was not stopped. [New York Times, 10/28/1993] Other suspects were ineptly investigated before the bombing as early as 1990. Several of the bombers were trained by the CIA to fight in the Afghan war, and the CIA later concludes, in internal documents, that it was “partly culpable” for this bombing (see January 24, 1994). [Independent, 11/1/1998] 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is an uncle of Yousef and also has a role in the WTC bombing (see March 20, 1993). [Independent, 6/6/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] One of the attackers even leaves a message which will later be found by investigators, stating, “Next time, it will be very precise.” [Associated Press, 9/30/2001]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Ramzi Yousef, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Emad Salem, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Giuliani’s emergency command center.Giuliani’s emergency command center. [Source: CNN]New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani opens a $13 million emergency command center on the 23rd floor of World Trade Center Building 7. [Newsday, 9/12/2001] The center is intended to coordinate responses to various emergencies, including natural disasters like hurricanes or floods, and terrorist attacks. The 50,000 square foot center has reinforced, bulletproof, and bomb-resistant walls, its own air supply and water tank, beds, showers to accommodate 30 people, and three backup generators. It also has rooms full of video monitors from where the mayor can oversee police and fire department responses. It is to be staffed around the clock and is intended as a meeting place for city leaders in the event of an act of terrorism. [CNN, 6/7/1999; London Times, 9/12/2001; Glanz and Lipton, 2004, pp. 233] The center is ridiculed as “Rudy’s bunker.” [Time, 12/22/2001] Author Philip Shenon will later comment that it “seemed the supreme example of how Giuliani’s ego and arrogance knew no bounds after four years in office,” and: “WABC Radio mocked Giuliani with a name-that-bunker contest for its listeners. Among the most popular entries: ‘Rudy’s Nuclear Winter Palace’ and ‘The Nut Shell.’” It is criticized because of the cost and because of the location, next to the WTC towers, one of the city’s top terrorist targets. In addition, the high floor it is on means it is vulnerable to power, water, and elevator outages. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 346-347] Most controversial is the 6,000-gallon fuel tank. In 1998 and 1999, Fire Department officials warn that the fuel tank violates city fire codes and poses a hazard. According to one Fire Department memorandum, if the tank were to catch fire it could produce “disaster.” Building 7 will be destroyed late in the day on 9/11; some suspect this tank helps explains why. [New York Times, 12/20/2001]

Entity Tags: Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Office of Emergency Management, World Trade Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In the lobby of the north WTC tower, just after the South Tower is hit, Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen speaks briefly to Fire Chief Ray Downey. According to Von Essen, Downey—who is a highly respected expert on building collapses—says to him, “You know, these buildings can collapse.” Von Essen later recalls, “He just said it in passing, not that these buildings will collapse in 40 minutes and we have to get everybody out of here, or not that they’ll collapse by tomorrow, or not that they necessarily will collapse at all. Just that they can collapse.” [Fink and Mathias, 2002, pp. 229; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004] But other firefighters do not appear to have shared this concern. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Fire Department command officers who are planning for operations inside the Twin Towers expect that there will “be localized collapse conditions on the damaged fire floors,” but do “not expect that there [will] be any massive collapse conditions or complete building collapse.” At the end of its three-year investigation of the WTC collapses, NIST will report, “No one interviewed indicated that they thought that the buildings would completely collapse.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 72 and 75-76] In fact, Deputy Fire Commissioner Lynn Tierney will meet up with Downey and others—including Von Essen—slightly later, on the south lawn of the WTC complex, where a new command center is set up. At that time, according to Tierney, Downey will only be concerned that the 360-foot antenna atop the North Tower will fall, and “No one ever thought the towers were going to come down.” [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/11/2006] However, shortly before the first tower comes down, EMT Richard Zarrillo will be asked to relay a message to some senior firefighters that the mayor’s Office of Emergency Management “says the buildings are going to collapse” (see (Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). And later in the day, Mayor Giuliani will recount that around the same time, he had been told “that the World Trade Center was going to collapse” (see (Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will state, “The best estimate of one senior [fire] chief, provided to the chief of the department sometime between 9:25 and 9:45, was that there might be a danger of collapse [of the South Tower] in a few hours, and therefore units probably should not ascend above floors in the sixties.” The Commission does not state, however, whether this fire chief was referring to a total building collapse or just a localized collapse. [9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004] Ray Downey is killed when the second tower collapses at 10:28 a.m. [New York Times, 9/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Lynn Tierney, New York City Fire Department, Ray Downey, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Thomas Von Essen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After spending about 40 minutes at the disaster scene, on the World Trade Center site, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani relocates to a small office building at 75 Barclay Street, about two blocks from the WTC, hoping to establish a command post there. His usual command center, in WTC 7, was evacuated at around 9:30 a.m. (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). With him are several colleagues, including Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and Office of Emergency Management Director Richard Sheirer. [Kerik, 2001, pp. 334; Giuliani, 2002, pp. 10; 9/11 Commission, 5/18/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004; Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 10] While at Barclay Street, Giuliani is able to get in touch with the White House, and speaks to Chris Henick, the deputy political director to President Bush (see 9:58 a.m. September 11, 2001). Immediately afterwards, he receives a phone call from Vice President Cheney, though this is cut off before either one is able to speak. Giuliani also claims he is given advance warning of the South Tower’s collapse while at this command post (see (Before 9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After the South Tower collapses outside, Giuliani and his colleagues all decide to evacuate, going through the basement into a neighboring building, 100 Church Street. They will then leave this and head north, being joined by cameras and press. [Fink and Mathias, 2002, pp. 112; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004; Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 348]

Entity Tags: Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Bernard Kerik, Richard Sheirer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Someone falling from the WTC. Well over 50 jumped or fell from the North Tower, none from the South Tower.Someone falling from the WTC. Well over 50 jumped or fell from the North Tower, none from the South Tower. [Source: Associated Press]At some point between the collapse of the two WTC towers, it is claimed that fire chiefs order the firefighters to come down. It has not been reported exactly who issued this order or when. Witnesses claim that scores of firefighters, unaware of the danger, were resting on lower floors in the minutes before the second tower collapsed. “Some firefighters who managed to get out said they had no idea the other building had already fallen, and said that they thought that few of those who perished knew.” At least 121 firefighters in the remaining tower die. The Fire Department blames a faulty radio repeater. However, the Port Authority claims later transcripts of radio communications show the repeaters worked. [New York Times, 11/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bernard Kerik.Bernard Kerik. [Source: Publicity photo]After leaving 75 Barclay Street (see (9:50 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001), New York City Mayor Giuliani and the group accompanying him search for somewhere to establish a new temporary headquarters. Soon after the North Tower’s collapse, they break into a vacant firehouse at the corner of Houston Street and Sixth Avenue. Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who is part of the group, wants the location kept secret. He gives out the order, “Okay, we’re going to establish a command center [here]. We’re not going to let anybody know. I don’t want it over the radio. We don’t know what’s happening. We don’t want them [presumably meaning the attackers] to know where we’re all going to be.” Giuliani is able to find a phone, and speaks with New York Governor George Pataki, the White House, and the Defense Department. At around 10:57, he speaks to the television channel New York 1 and offers a message of reassurance to the people of New York City. [Fink and Mathias, 2002, pp. 108; Giuliani, 2002, pp. 15-16; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004; Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 13] Deciding that they need to be somewhere larger and more secure, Kerik suggests they move to the Police Academy on East 20th Street. [Kerik, 2001, pp. 342] Thus, Giuliani’s group—which now numbers more than twenty people plus a press contingent—gets into cars and drives to the academy, arriving around midday. [Giuliani, 2002, pp. 18-19; Barrett and Collins, 2006, pp. 13] This will remain as the city’s command center for several days, until it is replaced later in the week by a larger space at Pier 92 on the Hudson River. [Center for Biosecurity, 2/3/2003; 9/11 Commission, 5/19/2004]

Entity Tags: Bernard Kerik, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick is attacked for her role in extending the ‘wall’.9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick is attacked for her role in extending the ‘wall’. [Source: Associated Press / Charles Dharapak]Attorney General John Ashcroft’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission (see April 13, 2004) sparks a wave of attacks against 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick, who was Deputy Attorney General during the Clinton administration. In 1995 Gorelick played a leading role in extending the “wall,” a set of procedures that regulated the passage of information from FBI intelligence agents to FBI criminal agents and prosecutors (see March 4, 1995 and July 19, 1995). Ashcroft calls the wall “the single greatest structural cause for September 11.” The attacks include:
bullet On April 14 James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, calls on Gorelick to resign because of her “crippling conflict of interest.” He says “the public cannot help but ask legitimate questions about her motives” and argues that the commission will be “fatally damaged” if she continues. Other Republican congresspersons repeat this call;
bullet On April 16 House Majority Leader Tom Delay writes to Commission Chairman Tom Kean saying Gorelick has a conflict of interest and accusing the commission of “partisan mudslinging, circus-atmosphere pyrotechnics, and gotcha-style questioning,” as well as undermining the war effort and endangering the troops;
bullet Criticism of Gorelick also appears in several media publications, including the New York Times, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, and Wall Street Journal. For example, an op-ed piece published in the New York Times by former terrorism commissioners Juliette Kayyem and Wayne Downing says the commissioners are talking too much and should “shut up.” [National Review, 4/13/2004; National Review, 4/19/2004; Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 200-203]
bullet On April 22 Senator Christopher Boyd and ten other Republican senators write to the commission calling on Gorelick to testify in public;
bullet On April 26 Congressman Lamar Smith and 74 other Republicans write to Gorelick demanding answers to five questions about her time as deputy attorney general;
bullet On April 28 the Justice Department declassifies other memos signed by Gorelick;
bullet In addition to hate mail, Gorelick receives a bomb threat, requiring a bomb disposal squad to search her home.
Commission Chairmen Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton will call this an “onslaught” and say her critics used the wall “as a tool to bludgeon Jamie Gorelick, implicate the Clinton administration, and undermine the credibility of the commission before we had even issued our report.” Gorelick offers to resign, but the other commissioners support her and she writes a piece for the Washington Post defending herself. [Washington Post, 4/18/2004; Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 200-205] When the commission meets President Bush and Vice President Cheney at the end of the month (see April 29, 2004), Bush tells Kean and Hamilton he does not approve of memos being declassified and posted on the Justice Department’s website. At this point, the commissioners realize “the controversy over Jamie Gorelick’s service on the commission was largely behind us.” That afternoon, the White House publicly expresses the president’s disappointment over the memos and the effort to discredit Gorelick loses momentum. [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 208, 210]

Entity Tags: Lee Hamilton, Wayne Downing, Lamar Smith, Thomas Kean, Juliette Kayyem, Jamie Gorelick, James Sensenbrenner, Andrew McCarthy, John Ashcroft, Christopher Boyd, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Tom DeLay

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission’s staff team that is investigating the emergency response on 9/11 comes to the conclusion that New York City was, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “shockingly ill-prepared for the attacks.” It is clear to the investigators that former Mayor Rudy Giuliani was largely responsible for what went wrong.
Two Major Problems - One problem was that New York’s emergency command center, based on the 23rd floor of World Trade Center 7, was knocked out early in the attacks, leaving the emergency response without a focal point, and the police and fire departments set up separate command posts (see (9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (9:50 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (After 10:28 a.m.-12:00 pm.) September 11, 2001). The command center, sometimes referred to as “Rudy’s bunker,” was criticized when it was built precisely because this problem was foreseen (see June 8, 1999). In addition, the radios used by firefighters in the World Trade Center failed to work on 9/11. The same problem was encountered during the response to the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993), but the solution that was implemented—a repeater to boost the radios’ signal—did not work on the day of the attacks. This problem was especially grave, as many firefighters were instructed to flee the about-to-collapse towers, but did not hear the instruction due to the poor radio system and died as a result (see (Between 9:59 a.m. and 10:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Tempering Criticism - However, the team, led by former New Jersey attorney general John Farmer, is aware that Giuliani’s image as a global hero after the attacks could complicate matters. Shenon will describe their thinking: “But would the Commission be willing to take on the most popular political figure in the country—the president-in-waiting, it seemed?… [Giuliani] was a hero, the embodiment of everything Americans wanted to believe about themselves about 9/11.” Therefore, “Farmer and his team always qualif[y] their criticism of the former mayor.” Nevertheless, the Commission’s two staff statements issued during the hearings about this topic in New York will be extremely critical of Giuliani. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 347-350]

Entity Tags: John Farmer, 9/11 Commission, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The 9/11 commissioners meet with John Farmer, head of the Commission’s team investigating the emergency response on 9/11, to discuss their strategy for hearings in New York on the next two days, when former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s performance before the attacks will be discussed. Farmer and his team have worked up a list of pages and pages of questions (see Before May 17, 2004) about why Guiliani built his emergency response center next to a top terrorist target, about city radios that failed to work on 9/11, miscommunication between the police and the fire departments, and 911 telephone operators who told people trapped in the Word Trade Center to remain where they were, instead of trying to escape. However, Farmer is aware that tough questioning could be fraught with danger, given Giuliani’s hero status after the attacks. According to author Philip Shenon, he tells the commissioners that “they need[…] to be careful; they need[…] to remember where they [are],” because “[New York]‘s not Washington. It’s different here.” Shenon will add: “Farmer told the commissioner[s] that they should ask tough questions, but they should be careful not to give a platform to Giuliani and his loyalists to counterattack; John Ashcroft’s campaign against [commissioner] Jamie Gorelick (see April 13-April 29, 2004) would look like a ‘garden party’ by comparison. The city’s take-no-prisoners tabloid newspapers were Giuliani’s defenders, and they could be expected to weigh in to defend him if the Commission’s questioning of the former mayor became too fierce.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 350-351]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, John Farmer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The first of two days of 9/11 Commission hearings in New York is overshadowed by a row between commissioner John Lehman and two subordinates of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and former Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen. Despite Giuliani’s hero status after the attacks, the Commission’s staff discovered serious errors in New York’s preparations for a potential terrorist attack before 9/11 (see Before May 17, 2004), but realized the commissioners had to be sensitive in how these errors were handled in public (see May 17, 2004).
Aggressive Beginning - When Lehman has his turn to put questions to a panel, he makes an aggressive beginning, saying that New York’s police, fire, and Port Authority police departments are the finest in the world but also “the proudest,” and adds, “But pride runneth before the fall.” He then calls the command, control, and communications “a scandal,” and says the emergency response system was “not worthy of the Boy Scouts, let alone this great city.” This draws some applause from the crowd and Lehman adds: “I think it’s a scandal that the fire commissioner has no line authority. It’s a scandal that there’s nobody that has clear line authority and accountability for a crisis of the magnitude that we’re going to have to deal with in the years ahead. It’s a scandal that after laboring for eight years, the city comes up with a plan for incident management that simply puts in concrete this clearly dysfunctional system.”
Counterattack - Kerik and Von Essen, both now partners in Giuliani’s consulting firm, push back. Von Essen says: “I couldn’t disagree with you more. I think that one of the criticisms of this committee has been statements like you just made, talking about scandalous procedures and scandalous operations and rules and everything else. There’s nothing scandalous about the way that New York City handles its emergencies.… You make it sound like everything was wrong about September 11th or the way we function. I think it’s outrageous that you make a statement like that.” Kerik and Von Essen also make similar comments for the press after the hearing, when Von Essen calls Lehman’s questioning “despicable” and adds, “If I had the opportunity, I probably would have choked him because that’s what he deserved.”
Chance to Meaningfully Question Giuliani Lost - The commissioners and the Commission’s staff immediately realize Lehman has destroyed any chance the Commission had of getting to the bottom of why things went badly with the emergency response in New York on 9/11. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “Any hope of forcing Giuliani to answer hard questions the next day had evaporated. The dynamic would now turn in Giuliani’s favor.”
Lehman Claims He Was Set Up - According to Shenon: “[Lehman] was certain he had been set up by Kerik and Von Essen on behalf of Giuliani. He suspected they had come to the hearing with a script. They were waiting for the right question from one of the commissioners that would allow them to launch a pre-scripted fusillade of insults back at the Commission, turning the hearing into an us-versus-them fight that the city’s tabloids would devour.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 351-354]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Thomas Von Essen, Bernard Kerik, John Lehman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Rudolph Giuliani testifying before the 9/11 Commission.Rudolph Giuliani testifying before the 9/11 Commission. [Source: Gotham Gazette]The second day of the 9/11 Commission hearings about the emergency response on the day of the attacks is dominated by questioning of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, which Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will describe as the Commission’s “low point.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 226-228] Giuliani had become a hero after the attacks, winning the Time magazine Person of the Year award, and the Commission was aware that it had to be careful about how it handled material it had uncovered putting him in a bad light (see Before May 17, 2004 and May 18, 2004). [Time, 12/22/2001] However, commissioner John Lehman had attacked the city’s preparedness the previous day, leading to a major row (see May 18, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will describe the hearing as a “Rudy Giuliani lovefest,” pointing out that, “Many of the questions directed at Giuliani by the commissioners barely qualified as softballs, they were so gentle.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 355-356]
'The Captain Was on the Bridge' - Kean and Hamilton will admit that every commissioner “opens his or her questioning with lavish praise.” For instance, Richard Ben-Veniste says, “Your leadership on that day and in the days following gave the rest of the nation, and indeed the world, an unvarnished view of the indomitable spirit and the humanity of this great city, and for that I salute you.” Jim Thompson thanks Giuliani for “setting an example to us all.” Lehman says: “There was no question the captain was on the bridge.” Kean says, “New York City on that terrible day in a sense was blessed because it had you as a leader.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 226-228]
'Stop Kissing Ass!' - However, Giuliani suggests that hundreds of firefighters died when the North Tower collapsed because they had chosen to remain in the building, not because they had not received the order to evacuate due to problems with their radio system. This angers some of the audience members, who shout out, “Talk about the radios!” “Put one of us on the panel—just one of us!” “Stop kissing ass!” and: “My brother was a fireman, and I want to know why three hundred firemen died. And I’ve got some real questions. Let’s ask some real questions. Is that unfair?” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 355-356]
'We Did Not Ask Tough Questions' - Kean and Hamilton will later write: “The questioning of Mayor Giuliani was a low point in terms of the Commission’s questioning of witnesses at our public hearings. We did not ask tough questions, nor did we get all of the information we needed to put on the public record. We were affected by the controversy over Lehman’s comments, and by the excellent quality of the mayor’s presentation.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 226-228]

Entity Tags: Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Richard Ben-Veniste, Philip Shenon, John Lehman, James Thompson, Lee Hamilton, Thomas Kean

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the former chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, release a book giving a behind-the-scenes look at their 20-month investigation of the September 11 attacks. [Associated Press, 8/4/2006] They begin their book, titled Without Precedent, saying that, because their investigation started late, had a very short time frame, and had inadequate funding, they both felt, from the beginning, that they “were set up to fail.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/21/2006; Rocky Mountain News, 8/25/2006] They explain the difficulties they faced in obtaining certain government documents and describe how the commission almost splintered over whether to investigate the Bush administration’s use of 9/11 as a reason for going to war. It says that if original member Max Cleland—a strong proponent of this line of inquiry—had not resigned (see December 9, 2003), the commission probably would not have reached unanimity. It also calls their gentle questioning of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani during his May 2004 testimony, “a low point” in the commission’s handling of witnesses at its public hearings (see May 19, 2004). [Associated Press, 8/4/2006; New York Daily News, 8/5/2006; New York Times, 8/6/2006] Despite the problems it faced, when discussing his book with the CBC, Hamilton says he thinks the commission has “been reasonably successful in telling the story” of 9/11. [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/21/2006] Without Precedent, however, contains little new information about the events of 9/11. Intelligence expert James Bamford says there is “an overabundance of self-censorship by the authors.” [New York Times, 8/20/2006]

Entity Tags: Thomas Kean, Lee Hamilton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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