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Context of 'September 8, 2002: Rice Warns that ‘Smoking Gun’ of Proof of Iraqi Nuclear Weapons May Be a ‘Mushroom Cloud’'

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Condoleezza Rice appears on CNN to discuss the alleged threat posed to the US by Saddam Hussein. She insists that Iraq is intent on developing a nuclear weapon. “We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments going into Iran, for instance—into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to—high-quality aluminum tools that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs. We know that he has the infrastructure, nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon. And we know that when the inspectors assessed this after the Gulf War, he was far, far closer to a crude nuclear device than anybody thought, maybe six months from a crude nuclear device. The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t what the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” [CNN, 9/8/2002; CNN, 9/8/2002; New York Times, 7/20/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004] In his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, author Ron Suskind writes, “The statement sent off shock waves. Rice was criticized for fear-mongering, for suggesting that there was evidence that Hussein might have such a weapon. Arguments about proof, though, were missing the point—Rice’s roundabout argument was that the United States should act whether or not it found a “smoking gun.” She was showing an edge of the actual US policy: the severing of fact-based analysis from forceful response; acting on any inkling was now appropriate—to be safe, to be sure, to get an opponent before he can develop capability, so others know to not even start down that path.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 170]

Entity Tags: White House Iraq Group, Ron Suskind, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Eleven days after the New York Times published a front-page article detailing Iraq’s supposed attempt to procure components for creating nuclear weapons (see August 2002 and September 8, 2002), the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick has a story published, “Evidence on Iraq Challenged; Experts Question if Tubes Were Meant for Weapons Program,” that disputes the Times’ article and questions whether the components—aluminum tubes—are indeed intended for nuclear use. Warrick cites “a report by independent experts” from the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) questioning the conclusion that the tubes must be for use in constructing nuclear weapons (see September 23, 2002). The ISIS report also notes that the Bush administration is trying to rein in dissent among its own analysts about how to interpret the evidence provided by the aluminum tubes. “By themselves, these attempted procurements are not evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons,” the report says. “They do not provide evidence that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant or when such a plant could be operational.” In recent days, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has told television viewers that the tubes “are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs” (see September 8, 2002). But Warrick’s story is buried on page 18 of the Post and widely ignored. Author Craig Unger will later write: “No one paid attention. Once the conventional wisdom had been forged, mere facts did not suffice to change things.” [Washington Post, 9/19/2002; Unger, 2007, pp. 254]

Entity Tags: Institute for Science and International Security, Condoleezza Rice, Craig Unger, New York Times, Joby Warrick, Washington Post

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

A Wall Street Journal op-ed claims that President Bush never claimed the Iraqis posed an “imminent threat” with their putative WMD programs, and that former ambassador Joseph Wilson is unfairly “moving the goalposts” by saying that the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD never passed what they call the “imminent threat test.” As far back as September 2001, after the attacks on New York and Washington, the Bush administration began claiming that Iraq posed a serious threat to the US (see September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 14, 2001, August 2002, and September 6, 2002). Bush had apparently characterized Iraq as an “imminent threat” even before becoming president (see May 17, 2000). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has used the term “imminent threat” (see September 18, 2002), as have other members of the administration, such as press secretary Ari Fleischer, communications chief Dan Bartlett, and Defense Policy Board chief Richard Perle. Vice President Dick Cheney had publicly threatened Iraq with military action as far back as December 2001 (see December 11, 2001). Bush had included Iraq as one of the now-infamous “Axis of Evil” in early 2002 (see January 29, 2002). And Bush, Cheney, and top White House officials had characterized Iraq and Saddam Hussein as a threat since March 2002 (see March 24, 2002, August 15, 2002, August 20, 2002, August 26, 2002, Fall and Winter 2002, September 7, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 13, 2002, September 18, 2002, September 19, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 26, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 3, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, January 10, 2003, and March 6, 2003). Wilson will later observe, “While the Journal may have been technically correct that the president had not uttered those exact words, he [and his top officials] walked right up to the phrase.” He will note that Bush’s “staff and administration allies, of course, had been less concerned about splitting hairs as they promoted the invasion.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 367-368]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Ari Fleischer, Dan Bartlett, Richard Perle, Wall Street Journal, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh informs his listeners of a Harris poll showing a majority of those surveyed believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction when the war began over a year before (see March 19, 2003). Limbaugh blames the misconception on the “liberal media,” not on the government officials and conservative pundits, including Limbaugh, who pushed the idea of Iraqi WMD on the public before the invasion (see July 30, 2001, Mid-September, 2001, Mid-September-October 2001, October 17, 2001, November 14, 2001, December 20, 2001, 2002, February 11, 2002, Summer 2002, July 30, 2002, August 26, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 3, 2002, December 19, 2002, January 2003, January 9, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 17, 2003, March 16-19, 2003, March 23, 2003, May 21, 2003, May 29, 2003, and June 11, 2003), and uses the incident to warn his listeners about getting their news from the “liberal media.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 151]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Greg Thielmann, a former director of the Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs Office at the State Department’s intelligence bureau, compares the aluminum tubes allegations (see Between April 2001 and September 2002 and September 8, 2002) to the Iraq-Niger uranium allegations (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), and finds the aluminum tubes allegations an “even more egregrious case of policymakers’ contamination of the intelligence process than the” Iraq-Niger uranium allegations, in the words of former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang. Lang goes on to quote Thielmann as saying: “What was done with the aluminum tubes was far worse than what was done with the uranium from Africa. Because the intelligence community had debated over a period of months, and involved key scientists and engineers in the national laboratories—and foreigners as well—in a long and detailed discussion. The way I would have characterized it, if you had asked me in July 2002, when I turned over the leadership of my office, there was a growing consensus in the intelligence community that this kind of aluminum was not suitable for the nuclear weapons program. So I was really quite shocked to see—I was just retired—the National Intelligence Estimate say that the majority of agencies came to the opposite interpretation, that it was going into the nuclear weapons program.” Anyone in the White House or the National Security Council should have, in Lang’s words, “seen through the subterfuge and drawn the proper conclusion.” Again, Lang quotes Thielmann: “If they had read the NIE [National Intelligence Estimate—see October 1, 2002] in October, it is transparent that there were different views in the intelligence community. They could have read, for example, that the Department of Energy and the State Department INR [intelligence bureau] believed that the aluminum tubes were not going into the nuclear weapons program and instead were going into conventional artillery rockets. And, if one assumes a modicum of intelligence understanding at the [National Security Council], they should know that the agency that is most able to judge on this would be the Department of Energy. They control all the laboratories that actually over the years have enriched uranium and built centrifuges.” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]

Entity Tags: Greg Thielmann, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Bush administration (43), US Department of Energy, US Department of State, Patrick Lang, Strategic, Proliferation and Military Affairs Office, National Security Council

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

Outgoing Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, one of the key architects of the Iraq occupation, is bemused by the fact that, despite his predictions and those of his neoconservative colleagues, Iraq is teetering on the edge of all-out civil war. He has come under fire from both political enemies and former supporters, with Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) accusing him of deceiving both the White House and Congress, and fellow neoconservative William Kristol accusing him of “being an agent of” disgraced Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see November 6-December 18, 2006). Feith defends the invasion of Iraq, calling it “an operation to prevent the next, as it were, 9/11,” and noting that the failure to find WMD is essentially irrelevant to the justification for the war. “There’s a certain revisionism in people looking back and identifying the main intelligence error [the assumption of stockpiles] and then saying that our entire policy was built on that error.” Feith is apparently ignoring the fact that the administration’s arguments for invading Iraq—including many of his own assertions—were built almost entirely on the “error” of the Iraqi WMD threat (see July 30, 2001, Summer 2001, September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 14, 2001, September 19-20, 2001, September 20, 2001, October 14, 2001, November 14, 2001, 2002, 2002-March 2003, February 2002, Summer 2002, August 26, 2002, September 3, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 10, 2002, September 12, 2002, Late September 2002, September 19, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 3, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 9, 2003, February 3, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 8, 2003, March 22, 2003, and March 23, 2003, among others).
Cultural Understanding Did Not Lead to Success - Feith says he is not sure why what he describes as his deep understanding of Iraqi culture did not lead to accurate predictions of the welcome the US would receive from the Iraqi people (see November 18-19, 2001, 2002-2003, September 9, 2002, and October 11, 2002). “There’s a paradox I’ve never been able to work out,” he says. “It helps to be deeply knowledgeable about an area—to know the people, to know the language, to know the history, the culture, the literature. But it is not a guarantee that you will have the right strategy or policy as a matter of statecraft for dealing with that area. You see, the great experts in certain areas sometimes get it fundamentally wrong.” Who got it right? President Bush, he says. “[E]xpertise is a very good thing, but it is not the same thing as sound judgment regarding strategy and policy. George W. Bush has more insight, because of his knowledge of human beings and his sense of history, about the motive force, the craving for freedom and participation in self-rule, than do many of the language experts and history experts and culture experts.”
'Flowers in Their Minds' - When a reporter notes that Iraqis had not, as promised, greeted American soldiers with flowers, Feith responds that they were still too intimidated by their fear of the overthrown Hussein regime to physically express their gratitude. “But,” he says, “they had flowers in their minds.” [New Yorker, 5/9/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 228-229]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Carl Levin, William Kristol, Douglas Feith

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Bill Moyers, John Walcott, Jonathan Landay, and Greg Mitchell on PBS’s ‘Journal.’Bill Moyers, John Walcott, Jonathan Landay, and Greg Mitchell on PBS’s ‘Journal.’ [Source: PBS]In his regular “Journal” broadcast, PBS political commentator Bill Moyers focuses on the role of the media in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. “America was deceived, with the media’s help,” Moyers declares, and interviews three media figures to help explain how: John Walcott, Washington bureau chief of McClatchy News; Jonathan Landay, one of Walcott’s “ace reporters;” and Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher, “known to many of us as the watchdog’s watchdog.” Part of the discussion focuses on the failure of most media reporters and broadcasters to question the Bush administration’s assertions about the Iraq war. Landay says, “I was just I was left breathless by some of the things that I heard where you heard correspondents say, ‘Well, we did ask the tough questions. We asked them to the White House spokesmen,’ Scott McClellan and others. And you say to yourself, ‘And you expected to get real answers? You expected them to say from the White House podium—“Yeah, well, there were disagreements over the intelligence, but we ignored them”’ when the President made his speeches and the Vice President made his speeches. No, I don’t think so.” Mitchell agrees, noting that ABC reporter Charles Gibson said that we “wouldn’t ask any different questions.” Mitchell says he found Gibson’s remarks “shocking.” Mitchell continues: “[T]hat someone would say we would even with the chance to relive this experience and so much we got wrong—going to war is—which is still going on over five years later, all the lost lives, all the financial costs of that. And then to look back at this, you know, this terrible episode in history of American journalism and say that if I could do it all over again, I’m not sure we would ask any different questions.” Walcott takes a different tack, saying that reporters “may have asked all the right questions. The trouble is they asked all the wrong people.” Landay notes that “you have to take the time to find those people,” and Mitchell adds that when you do find real information, “[y]ou can’t bury it.” Landay adds that some powerful, public admission of error and self-examination might go far to counter the perception that the media is just as untrustworthy as the government.
Drowned Out - Walcott notes that even when reporters found informed sources willing to talk about the realities behind the push for war, they were drowned out by “Donald Rumsfeld at the podium or Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice saying, ‘We can’t allow the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud’” (see September 4, 2002 and September 8, 2002). “Over and over again,” Moyers notes. “Over and over again on camera,” Walcott continues. “[T]hat trumps the kind of reporting that John and [Landay’s partner] Warren Strobel did from these mid-level guys who actually know that there’s no prospect of any smoking gun let alone a mushroom cloud. And so when it gets to packaging television news, it’s picture driven, it’s celebrity driven, and that doesn’t allow much room for this kind of hard-nosed reporting under the radar.” Mitchell says, “There’s been at least six opportunities in the last two months for the media to do this long delayed and much needed self-assessment, self-criticism to the American public and it hasn’t happened.”
Liberal vs. Conservative Media - Moyers notes that many conservative media outlets “do not believe they got it wrong. I mean, Fox News was reinforcing the administration’s messages back then and still does today.” Walcott notes, “You know, if Fox News’s mission is to defend Republican administrations then they’re right, they didn’t fail.” He notes that in his book, McClellan draws a distinction between the conservative and the “liberal” media (presumably the New York Times, Washington Post, etc). “I don’t understand what liberal versus conservative has to do with this,” Walcott says. “I would have thought that conservatives would be the ones to ask questions about a march to war. How much is this gonna cost us? What’s the effect of this gonna be on our military, on our country’s strength overseas? I don’t think it’s a liberal conservative question at all. I think that’s, frankly, a canard by Scott.”
Celebrity 'Experts' - Moyers asks about the “experts” who predicted that the war would be quick, bloodless, and successful. Even though they were “terribly wrong,” Moyers notes that most of them are “still on the air today pontificating. I mean, there seems to be no price to be paid for having been wrong about so serious an issue of life and death, war and peace.” Walcott says they are not news analysts so much as they are celebrities. Big name actors can make bad movies and still draw million-dollar salaries for their next film: “It’s the same phenomenon. A name is what matters. And it’s about celebrity. It’s about conflict. It’s about—” Landay completes Walcott’s sentence: “Ratings.”
'Skunks at the Garden Party' - Perhaps the most disturbing portion of the discussion is when Walcott notes that the kind of old-fashioned investigative reporting exemplified by Landay and Strobel is “by definition… unpopular.… Because the public doesn’t wanna hear it.… Doesn’t wanna hear the President lied to them. Doesn’t wanna hear that the local police chief is on the take. You know, people don’t like necessarily to hear all that kind of stuff. And when you’re worried about, above all, your advertising revenue, you become more vulnerable to those kinds of pressures.… Well, the skunks don’t get invited to the garden party. And part of our job is to be the skunks at the garden party.” [PBS, 6/6/2008]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Gibson, Bush administration (43), Bill Moyers, ABC News, Fox News, Washington Post, Public Broadcasting System, Editor & Publisher, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, McClatchy News, Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay, Greg Mitchell, Scott McClellan, John Walcott, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

The recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report on misleading, exaggerated, and inaccurate presentations of the prewar Iraqi threat by the Bush administration (see June 5, 2008) leaves out some significant material. The report says that the panel did not review “less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the executive branch.” The committee made no attempt to obtain White House records or interview administration officials because, the report says, such steps were considered beyond the scope of the report. Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus notes that “[o]ne obvious target for such an expanded inquiry would have been the records of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a group set up in August 2002 by then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.” WHIG (see August 2002) was composed of, among other senior White House officials, senior political adviser Karl Rove; the vice president’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas Calio; and a number of policy aides led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley.
WHIG Led Marketing of War - Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, recently wrote in his book What Happened that WHIG “had been set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the war to the public.… The script had been finalized with great care over the summer [for a] “campaign to convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary.” On September 6, 2002, Card hinted as much to reporters when he said, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). Two days later, the group scored its first hit with a front-page New York Times story about Iraq’s secret purchase of aluminum tubes that, the story said, could be used to produce nuclear weapons (see September 8, 2002). The information for that story came from “senior administration officials” now known to be members of WHIG. The story was the first to make the statement that “the first sign of a ‘smoking gun’ [proving the existence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program] may be a mushroom cloud” (see September 4, 2002); that same morning, the same message was repeated three times by various senior administration officials on the Sunday talk shows (see September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 8, 2002). WHIG did not “deliberately mislead the public,” McClellan claimed in his book, but wrote that the “more fundamental problem was the way [Bush’s] advisers decided to pursue a political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the American people.… As the campaign accelerated,” caveats and qualifications were downplayed or dropped altogether. Contradictory intelligence was largely ignored or simply disregarded.”
Records Perusal Would 'Shed Light' - If indeed the White House “repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even nonexistent,” as committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) has said, then an examination of WHIG’s records would, Pincus writes, “shed much light” on the question. [Washington Post, 6/9/2008]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Karen Hughes, John D. Rockefeller, James R. Wilkinson, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Karl C. Rove, Mary Matalin, Senate Intelligence Committee, Stephen J. Hadley, Walter Pincus, White House Iraq Group, Nicholas E. Calio, Scott McClellan, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Reflecting on the Bush administration’s prewar insistence that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program (see September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 8, 2002, among others), Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain’s former ambassador to the UN and its former special representative in Iraq, says: “When I arrived in New York, in July 1998, it was quite clear to me that all the members of the Security Council, including the United States, knew well that there was no current work being done on any kind of nuclear weapons capability in Iraq. It was, therefore, extraordinary to me that later on in this saga there should have been any kind of hint that Iraq had a current capability. Of course, there were worries that Iraq might try, if the opportunity presented itself, to reconstitute that capability. And therefore we kept a very close eye, as governments do in their various ways, on Iraq trying to get hold of nuclear base materials, such as uranium or uranium yellowcake, or trying to get the machinery that was necessary to develop nuclear-weapons-grade material. We were watching this the whole time. There was never any proof, never any hard intelligence, that they had succeeded in doing that. And the American system was entirely aware of this.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, Bush administration (43), United Nations, Jeremy Greenstock

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

According to a poll just released by Dartmouth professor Benjamin Valentino, 63 percent of self-identified Republicans still believe that Iraq under Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction when the US invaded in March 2003 (see March 19, 2003). Twenty-seven percent of self-identified independents and 15 percent of self-identified Democrats hold that view. The question was: “Do you believe that the following statement is true or not true? ‘Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded in 2003.’” Reporter Dan Froomkin, commenting on the poll results, writes: “The Bush administration’s insistence that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction and might give them to terrorists was a key selling point in its campaign to take the country to war (see September 30, 2001, 2002-2003, July 30, 2002, August 26, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 12, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 2003, January 9, 2003, 9:01 pm January 28, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 8, 2003, March 16-19, 2003, March 21, 2003, March 22, 2003, March 22, 2003, March 23, 2003, March 24, 2003, March 30, 2003, Late March 2003 and After, April 10, 2003, April 20, 2003, Between April 20, 2003 and April 30, 2003, May 28, 2003, May 29, 2003, June 2003, June 1, 2003, June 3, 2003, June 9, 2003, June 11, 2003, July 31, 2003, September 14, 2003, January 22, 2004, and March 24, 2004). It turned out to be untrue.… There is no reality-based argument that Iraq actually had WMD, after extensive searches found none (see 2002-March 2003, 2002, Mid-January 2002, March 22, 2002, May 2002-September 2002, September 2002, Late September 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, Before October 7, 2002, December 2002, End of December 2002, December 3, 2002, January 9, 2003, January 28-29, 2003, February 20, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, May 4, 2003, May 25, 2003, May 30, 2003, June 2003, Early June 2003-Mid-June 2003, Between June 3, 2003 and June 17, 2003, Mid-June 2003, Early July 2003, July 11, 2003, July 20, 2003, July 29, 2003, July 30, 2003, August 16, 2003, October 2, 2003, October 2003, November 2, 2003, December 2003, December 2003, December 17, 2003, Mid-January 2004, January 20, 2004, January 23, 2004, January 27, 2004, January 28, 2004, February 8, 2004, and July 9, 2004), but this is hardly the first time many Americans have been certain of something that simply wasn’t true” (see May 14, 2003-May 18, 2003). The 65-question poll was conducted by YouGov from April 26 through May 2, 2012, and surveyed 1,056 respondents. It has a margin of error of plus/minus 3.18 percent. [Valentino, 6/20/2012 pdf file; Jim Lobe, 6/20/2012; Huffington Post, 6/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Dan Froomkin, Saddam Hussein, Benjamin Valentino

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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