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Context of 'October 1999: CIA Does Not Share Information with Able Danger Program'

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Hua Di.Hua Di. [Source: Stanford University]A report commissioned in mid-1999 by Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) looks into possible Chinese front companies in the US seeking technology for the Chinese military. Dr. Eileen Preisser and Michael Maloof are commissioned to make the report. Dr. Preisser, who runs the Information Dominance Center at the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) and will later become closely tied to Able Danger, uses LIWA’s data mining capabilities to search unclassified information. According to Maloof, their results show Chinese front companies in the US posing as US corporations that acquire technology from US defense contractors. When the study is completed in November 1999, the General Counsel’s office in the Office of the Defense Secretary orders the study destroyed. Weldon complains about this to Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, and apparently delays the destruction of the report. Weldon also writes a letter to FBI Director Louis Freeh requesting an espionage investigation into these Chinese links, but Freeh never responds to this. [Washington Times, 10/9/2005] As part of this report, LIWA analysts had produced a chart of Chinese strategic and business connections in the US. But this data mining effort runs into controversy when the chart apparently shows connections between future National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and other prominent US figures, and business deals benefiting the Chinese military. [New York Post, 8/27/2005; Washington Times, 9/22/2005] The China chart was put together by private contractor James D. Smith, who will come forward in August 2005 to corroborate revelations about the Able Danger unit and its findings (see August 22-September 1, 2005). The New York Post later says there is “no suggestion that Rice or any of the others had done anything wrong.” [New York Post, 8/27/2005] However, articles first appear one month later and through 2001 in the conservative publications WorldNetDaily and NewsMax, which connect Perry and Rice to Hua Di, a Chinese missile scientist and possible spy, and question the nature of their relationship with him. [WorldNetDaily, 12/21/1999; WorldNetDaily, 4/5/2000; NewsMax, 1/24/2001] Di defected to the US in 1989 and worked most of the 1990s at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Arms Control, which was co-directed by Perry. Di later returned to China and is subsequently sentenced to ten years in prison for writing influential articles said to reveal vital Chinese state secrets. [Stanford Report, 2/7/2001] However, other accounts claim that he was in fact passing on disinformation through these articles, successfully misleading the US military for a couple of years about the abilities of certain Chinese missile programs. [WorldNetDaily, 12/21/1999] Additionally, Hua Di teamed in 1994 with Stanford professor Dr. John Lewis and William Perry to buy an advanced AT&T fiber-optic communications system for “civilian” use inside China that instead is used by the Chinese army. The General Accounting Office later criticized the sale. In 1997, Stanford University investigated Dr. Lewis for his role in it, but Condoleezza Rice, serving as a Stanford provost at the time, apparently stopped the investigation. [WorldNetDaily, 4/5/2000; NewsMax, 1/24/2001] Able Danger and LIWA’s data mining efforts will be severely proscribed in April 2000 as part of the fallout from this China controversy (see April 2000), and the destruction of their collected data will follow shortly thereafter (see May-June 2000).

Entity Tags: F. Michael Maloof, William Perry, James D. Smith, Eric Shinseki, Hua Di, Eileen Preisser, Condoleezza Rice, Land Information Warfare Activity, Curt Weldon, Louis J. Freeh, China

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer.Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer. [Source: Sandy Schaeffer]Capt. Scott Phillpott, head of the Able Danger program, asks Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer to talk to a representative of CIA Director George Tenet and attempt to convince him that the new Able Danger program is not competing with the CIA. Shaffer later recalls the CIA representative replying, “I clearly understand the difference. I clearly understand. We’re going after the leadership. You guys are going after the body. But, it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is, CIA will never give you the best information from ‘Alex Base’ [the CIA’s covert action element targeting bin Laden] or anywhere else. CIA will never provide that to you because if you were successful in your effort to target al-Qaeda, you will steal our thunder. Therefore, we will not support this.” Shaffer claims that for the duration of Able Danger’s existence, “To my knowledge, and my other colleagues’ knowledge, there was no information ever released to us because CIA chose not to participate in Able Danger.” [Government Security News, 9/2005]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Scott Phillpott, Anthony Shaffer, Able Danger, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

James D. Smith.James D. Smith. [Source: Getty Images/ Alex Wong]James D. Smith is working for the private company Orion Scientific Systems on a contract that assists the Able Danger project. Smith will later claim that around March or April 2000, armed federal agents come into Orion and confiscate much of the data that Orion had compiled for Able Danger. Orion’s contract stops at this time and Smith has no further involvement with Able Danger. However, Smith happens to have some unclassified charts made for Able Danger in the trunk of his car when the agents raid his office. The chart with Mohamed Atta’s picture on it will thus survive and be remembered well by Smith, though it will be destroyed in the summer of 2004 (see August 22-September 1, 2005). Smith will later state, “All information that we have ever produced, which was all unclassified, was confiscated and to this day we don’t know who by.” [US Congress, 9/21/2005; US Congress, 2/15/2006]

Entity Tags: Able Danger, Mohamed Atta, James D. Smith, Orion Scientific Systems

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Kie Fallis, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) terrorism intelligence analyst, has been gathering evidence of an upcoming al-Qaeda attack or attacks. In 2002, he will describe to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry a research process similar to what Able Danger is using at the same time: “I began to notice there was a voluminous amount of information, as others have testified, regarding al-Qaeda. Most of it appeared to be unrelated to other pieces of information. It appeared to be almost chat. By using a piece of [commercial software called ‘Analyst’s Notebook’] I was able to put these small snippets of information into, and graphically represent them as well, I was able to, over a course of many months, to determine certain linkages between these items—linkages that would never be apparent without the use of this tool. It would be lost in the weeds. And there were a lot of weeds to look through.” [Washington Times, 8/26/2002; US Congress, 10/8/2002] In his research, he claims to find links between al-Qaeda and Iranian intelligence. By May 2000, he writes a classified report on his conclusion that “terrorists were planning two or three major attacks against the United States. The only gaps were where and when.” Apparently, he envisions at least one of these attacks will use a small boat to blow up a US warship. However, the DIA has already issued a report concluding that such a method of attack would be impossible to carry out successfully, and the agency sticks by this assessment. A video message put out by bin Laden in mid-September convinces Fallis that an al-Qaeda attack will happen in the next month or two.(see Mid-September 2000). Shortly after learning about this message, Fallis reaches “the ‘eureka point‘… in determining an impending terrorist attack.” This comes “from a still-classified intelligence report in September 2000, which he will not discuss.” [Washington Times, 8/26/2002] This may be a reference to a lead by the Able Danger team on increased al-Qaeda activity in Yemen at this time (see Late September 2000), and/or it may refer to other intelligence leads. Fallis goes to his supervisor and asks that at least a general warning of an attack in the Middle East be issued. He hopes such a warning will at least put US military forces in the region on a higher alert. His superior turns him down, and other superiors fail to even learn of his suggested warning. The USS Cole will be successfully attacked in the port of Aden, Yemen, by a small boat of terrorists on October 12, 2000 (see October 12, 2000) . [Washington Times, 8/26/2002] One day after the Cole attack, Fallis will resign in protest. According to Senator John Warner (R-VA),“What [Fallis] felt is that his assessment was not given that proper level of consideration by his superiors and, as such, was not incorporated in the final intelligence reports provided to military commanders in the [Middle East region].” [CNN, 10/25/2000]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Able Danger, Iran, Osama bin Laden, Kie Fallis, John W. Warner

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer will later claim that Captain Scott Phillpott, leader of the Able Danger program, briefs General Peter Schoomaker, head of Special Operations Command (SOCOM), that Able Danger has uncovered information of increased al-Qaeda “activity” in Aden harbor, Yemen. Shaffer, plus two other officials familiar with Able Danger later tell the New York Post that this warning was gleaned through a search of bin Laden’s business ties. Shaffer later recalls, “Yemen was elevated by Able Danger to be one of the top three hot spots for al-Qaeda in the entire world.” This warning, plus another possibly connected warning from Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst Kie Fallis (see May 2000-Late September 2000), go unheeded and no official warning is issued. The USS Cole is attacked by al-Qaeda terrorists in Aden harbor in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). Shaffer later claims that Phillpott tells the 9/11 Commission about this warning in 2004 to show that Able Danger could have had a significant impact, but the Commission’s findings fail to mention the warning, or in fact anything else about Able Danger (see July 12, 2004). [New York Post, 9/17/2005; Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005] Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) will similarly tell Fox News: “[T]wo weeks before the attack on the Cole, in fact, two days before the attack on the Cole, [Able Danger] saw an increase of activity that led them to say to the senior leadership in the Pentagon at that time, in the Clinton administration, there’s something going to happen in Yemen and we better be on high alert, but it was discounted. That story has yet to be told to the American people.” [Fox News, 10/8/2005]

Entity Tags: Scott Phillpott, Peter J. Schoomaker, Curt Weldon, Al-Qaeda, Able Danger, Clinton administration, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A satellite photo of the port of Yemen.A satellite photo of the port of Yemen. [Source: National Geographic]Special Operations Command official Christopher Chope will later claim that in early October 2000, “one of the intelligence analysts assigned to the Able Danger effort began to get what he calls gut feel that things were going awry in Yemen; he didn’t have any hard intelligence. He asked then Commander Scott Philpott if that could be briefed at a high level briefing.” The briefing takes place on this day during a VIP visit to Garland, Texas, where the Able Danger program is based in late 2000 (see Late September 2000). [US Congress, 2/15/2006] Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) will later describe the warning in more serious terms than Chope, saying, “They saw information that led them to unequivocally understand that something was going to happen in the port at Yemen involving an American entity. Two days before the attack, they were jumping up and down because they knew something was going to happen… at the port of Aden.” [Hearst Newspapers, 11/10/2005] Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer will also later describe the warning in serious terms, claiming that the Able Danger team he was on determined that Yemen was one of the three most dangerous locations for al-Qaeda activity in the world (see Late September 2000). According to Shaffer, General Pete Schoomaker, commander of Special Operations Command, attends the briefing. Shaffer says that “Philpott requested they do something with it, they take action on it,” but apparently the warning does not reach the military commanders in Yemen before the USS Cole is bombed in Yemen two days later. Weldon will later say that the commander of the Cole told him in an interview that he “had three options on that day. He could have refueled the ship at sea. He had two other harbors. If he would have had any indication that there was a problem with Aden in Yemen, he would not have gone there. He was never given that information.” [US Congress, 2/15/2006]

Entity Tags: Scott Phillpott, Curt Weldon, Anthony Shaffer, Able Danger, Christopher Chope, Peter J. Schoomaker

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

October 12, 2000: USS Cole Bombed by Al-Qaeda

Damage to the USS Cole.Damage to the USS Cole. [Source: Department of Defense]The USS Cole is bombed in the Aden, Yemen harbor by two al-Qaeda militants, Hassan al-Khamri and Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras). Seventeen US soldiers are killed and 30 are wounded. The CIA will later conclude that with just slightly more skilled execution, the attack would have killed 300 and sunk the ship. [ABC News, 10/13/2000; Coll, 2004, pp. 532; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 191] The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) immediately takes credit for the attack. This is a Yemen-based Muslim militant group widely believed to have close ties to al-Qaeda (see 1996-1997 and After). [Guardian, 10/14/2000] The IAA statement is released by its spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997, (June 1998), and December 28, 1998 and After). Abu Hamza says that the attack was timed to mark the anniversary of the execution of the IAA’s former commander (see October 17, 1999). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 184] The prime minister of Yemen at the time of the bombing will say shortly after 9/11, “The Islamic Army was part of al-Qaeda.” [Guardian, 10/13/2001] The US soon learns the names of some al-Qaeda operatives involved in the attack, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Tawfiq bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso (see Early December 2000), and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000). 9/11 hijackers Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see October 10-21, 2000) and Khalid Almihdhar (see Around October 12, 2000) may also have been involved. This is a repeat of a previously attempted attack, against the USS The Sullivans, which failed and was apparently undetected (see January 3, 2000). [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002] The 9/11 Commission will later say the Cole bombing “was a full-fledged al-Qaeda operation, supervised directly by bin Laden. He chose the target and location of the attack, selected the suicide operatives, and provided the money needed to purchase explosives and equipment.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 190]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Khallad bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Islamic Army of Aden, USS Cole, Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim al-Thawar, Khalid Almihdhar, Fahad al-Quso, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hassan al-Khamri, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


Maj. Gen. Rod Isler.
Maj. Gen. Rod Isler. [Source: US Defense Department]The new Director of Operations for the DIA, General Ron Isler, has Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer brief him on a series of operations. According to Shaffer, Isler strongly objects to Shaffer assisting Able Danger. “I said, ‘Well, sir, with all due respect, this is an important operation focused on the global al-Qaeda target,’ and he said, ‘You’re not hearing me, Tony. This is not your job.’” After further disagreement, Shaffer recalls the argument ending, “‘Tony, I’m the two star here. I’m the two star. I’m telling you I don’t want you doing anything with Able Danger.’ ‘Sir, if not us then who?’ ‘I don’t know, but it’s not your job.’ And that effectively ended my direct support and my unit’s [Stratus Ivy] support to Able Danger.” Recalling how this helped end Able Danger, Shaffer says, “I remember the last conversation I had with Captain Scott Phillpott on this was a desperate call from him asking me to try to help use one of my operational facilities to at least try to exploit the information [Able Danger had collected] before it got lost.” However, Isler says he cannot recall any discussion with Shaffer about Able Danger. [Government Security News, 9/2005]

Entity Tags: Anthony Shaffer, Able Danger, Scott Phillpott, Ron Isler

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ten days before the 9/11 Commission releases its final report, a senior member of its staff, Dietrich Snell, accompanied by another commission staff member, meets at one of the commission’s Washington, DC offices with a US Navy officer who worked with a US Army intelligence program called Able Danger, which had been tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks around the world. This officer, Captain Scott Phillpott, tells them he saw an Able Danger document in 2000 that described Mohamed Atta as part of a Brooklyn al-Qaeda cell. He complains that this information about Atta, and information about other alleged members of the Brooklyn cell, was deleted from the document soon after he saw it, due to the concerns of Department of Defense lawyers. However, despite having this meeting with Phillpott, and having met previously with an Army intelligence officer who was also involved with Able Danger (see October 21, 2003), the 9/11 Commission makes no mention of the unit in their final report. The commissioners later claim that Phillpott’s information “[does] not mesh with other conclusions” they are drawing from their investigation. Consequently, the commission staff conclude “that the officer’s account [is] not sufficiently reliable to warrant revision of the report or further investigation.” Able Danger is not mentioned in their final report, they claim, because “the operation itself did not turn out to be historically significant.” [Associated Press, 8/11/2005; New York Times, 8/11/2005; Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 pdf file; New York Times, 8/13/2005; Washington Post, 8/13/2005; New York Times, 8/22/2005] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer additionally claims, “Captain Phillpott actually told the 9/11 Commission about the fact that Able Danger discovered information regarding the Cole attack.… There was information that Able Danger found that related to al-Qaeda planning an attack. That information unfortunately didn’t get anywhere either. So that is another clue that was given to the 9/11 Commission to say, hey, this [Able Danger] capability did some stuff, and they chose not to even look at that.” [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005]

Entity Tags: Able Danger, Mohamed Atta, US Department of Defense, Al-Qaeda, Anthony Shaffer, Scott Phillpott, 9/11 Commission, Dietrich Snell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A US Army intelligence officer comes forward, saying he was involved with a secret military intelligence unit, which had identified Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers by mid-2000. He says the unit, called Able Danger, had tried to meet with agents at the FBI’s Washington field office that summer to share its information, but was prevented from doing so by military lawyers (see September 2000). Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who served as a liaison officer between Able Danger and the Defense Intelligence Agency, is the first military officer associated with Able Danger to publicly acknowledge his involvement with the unit. Shaffer says that, had they been allowed to alert the FBI to Mohamed Atta being in the US, they might have been able to prevent 9/11. [New York Times, 8/17/2005; Guardian, 8/18/2005; New York Post, 8/18/2005] A week prior to Shaffer’s coming forward, Able Danger was brought to the public’s attention in a New York Times front page article (see August 9, 2005). Shaffer says he met privately with staff from the 9/11 Commission in Afghanistan in October 2003, and explicitly mentioned Atta as a member of the “Brooklyn” al-Qaeda cell (see October 21, 2003).

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Able Danger, 9/11 Commission, Anthony Shaffer, FBI Washington Field Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Several individuals come forward and corroborate claims made about a military intelligence unit called Able Danger that, by mid-2000, allegedly identified Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers. Days previously, a US Army intelligence officer called Anthony Shaffer made claims about the unit (see August 17, 2005). On August 22, Scott J. Phillpott, an active-duty Navy captain who managed the Able Danger program for the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command, comes forward and corroborates Shaffer’s claims. He says, “My story is consistent. Atta was identified by Able Danger in January-February of 2000.” Phillpott states that he was the officer who met with staff from the 9/11 Commission in July 2004, and told them about the program (see July 12, 2004). [New York Times, 8/22/2005] Claims about the program are further corroborated when a former employee of a defense contractor who says he worked on the technical side of the unit, also comes forward. James D. Smith, who worked for Orion Scientific Systems [Times Herald (Norristown), 9/22/2005] , states that in 2000 he helped create a chart for Able Danger. He says, “I am absolutely positive that he [Atta] was on our chart among other pictures and ties that we were doing mainly based upon [terror] cells in New York City.” [Fox News, 8/28/2005] Furthermore, the Pentagon admits that they have found three others, apart from Anthony Shaffer and Scott Phillpott, associated with Able Danger who assert that the program identified Mohamed Atta as an al-Qaeda suspect inside the US more than a year before 9/11. An official says that the five individuals associated with the program (including Shaffer and Phillpott) were all considered “credible people,” and that four of them recalled a photo of Mohamed Atta accompanying the chart they produced. [Reuters, 9/1/2005] Eleven people ran Able Danger. [Bergen Record, 8/14/2005] The Pentagon interviewed a total of 80 people who had some kind of association with the Able Danger program. [New York Times, 9/1/2005]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Mohamed Atta, Able Danger, Anthony Shaffer, Al-Qaeda, US Department of Defense, Scott Phillpott, James D. Smith

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Former members of the 9/11 Commission dismiss recent allegations regarding a secret military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which had been set up in 1999 to bring together information about al-Qaeda. Several former members of the unit have come forward claiming the program identified Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers more than a year before the attacks (see August 17, 2005; August 22-September 1, 2005). The 9/11 Commission has been criticized for not mentioning Able Danger in its final report. In response, its former chairman, Thomas Kean, claims there is no evidence that anyone in the government knew about Mohamed Atta before 9/11, and there are no documents that verify the claims made by former members of the unit. However, the Pentagon has recently confirmed that documents associated with Able Danger were destroyed in accordance with regulations about gathering intelligence on people inside the US. Another former commissioner, Slade Gorton, says, “Bluntly, it just didn’t happen and that’s the conclusion of all 10 of us.” But a spokesman for Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), who helped bring to light the existence of the program, says that none of the commissioners met with anyone from Able Danger, “yet they choose to speak with some form of certainty without firsthand knowledge.” [Associated Press, 9/15/2005; Fox News, 9/16/2005] The commission’s claim that no one in the US knew about Mohamed Atta before 9/11 is further contradicted by reports stating that the CIA had been tracking him while he was still in Germany, early in 2000 (see January-May 2000). And soon after 9/11, Newsweek reported US officials stating that Atta “had been known as [an associate] of Islamic terrorists” well before 9/11. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Able Danger, Thomas Kean, Slade Gorton, Curt Weldon, 9/11 Commission, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Sen. Arlen Specter.
Sen. Arlen Specter. [Source: C-SPAN]The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), holds a public hearing to investigate an intelligence program called Able Danger, to explore allegations that it identified Mohamed Atta and three other hijackers more than a year before 9/11, and to learn why the Pentagon disbanded it and destroyed the information it had gathered. [Government Computer News, 9/21/2005; New York Times, 9/21/2005; United Press International, 9/21/2005] The committee is seeking testimony from several former Able Danger members. Among these are Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer, Navy Captain Scott Phillpott, Dr. Eileen Preisser, and civilian analyst James D. Smith; all but Preisser have recently come forward with allegations about the unit (see August 17, 2005; August 22-September 1, 2005). However, the day before the hearing, Defense Department lawyers ordered them and other former Able Danger members not to testify. [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005; United Press International, 9/21/2005] Shaffer says in an interview, “I was told by two [Defense Department] officials today directly that it is their understanding that [Defense Secretary Rumsfeld] directed that we not testify…” [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005] The Defense Department’s only reason for doing so, offered by a spokesman, is that they have “expressed [their] security concerns and believe it is simply not possible to discuss Able Danger in any great detail in an open public forum open testimony of these witnesses.” [New York Times, 9/21/2005] Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter says, “That looks to me like it may be obstruction of the committee’s activities, something we will have to determine.” He complains that the Pentagon only delivered hundreds of pages of documents related to Able Danger late on the eve of the hearing, leaving no time for committee staff to review the material. [Reuters, 9/21/2005] Furthermore, the Pentagon’s representative at the hearing, William Dugan, admits that he has very limited knowledge of Able Danger. Specter tells him, “You were sent over—perhaps with the calculation you wouldn’t have the information.” [Associated Press, 9/21/2005; Government Computer News, 9/21/2005]

Entity Tags: Scott Phillpott, Mohamed Atta, US Department of Defense, William Dugan, James D. Smith, Eileen Preisser, Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, Able Danger, Donald Rumsfeld, Anthony Shaffer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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