By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
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WASHINGTON, D.C.From his outpost on New Zealand's South Island, overlooking the stormy Tasman Sea, Paul Thompson, a young American, might seem like the most unlikely of detectives trying to sort through the historical debris of another hemisphere.
But this former California environmental activist is one of a handful of freelance, unpaid, amateur sleuths who have become a 9-11 Information Centralwhat amounts to an intelligence apparatus aimed at pinning down what the Bush administration knew and didn't know about 9-11, before and after the attacks. The results of this sleuthing often find their way to the 9-11 families, and in particular, to the by now mythic Jersey Girls, as the leaders of the survivors' families have come to be called.
The researchers are in many ways similar to the team Scott Armstrong, the former Washington Post reporter, recruited in the mid 1980s to uncover the roots of Reagan's secret Iran-Contra deals. The National Security Archive, making extensive use of the the Freedom of Information Act, soon established itself as the lead independent investigatory body, and today stands as a major independent research operation in the nation's capital.
At the hub of the 9-11 research is Thompson's intricate timeline on the website of the Center for Cooperative Research (cooperativeresearch.org). As of April 19, the crisply written timeline consists of 1,382 items, beginning with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and running up to the present. In addition to the basic, annotated chronology, there are offshoot timelines for each of the four flights that day, along with a minute-by-minute recounting of President Bush's activities on 9-11. Still other timelines delve into official "lies" from 1979 forward.
Thompson, now in his thirties, grew up in Northern California, attended Stanford, and then moved to New Zealand. A self-described "typical mainstream California Democrat" and former environmental activist who worked on trying to save the rain forests in Borneo, Thompson has pieced together his chronology from myriad sources across the globe. He has pored over 5,000 articles and reports so far and spends most of each day on the project, reading hundreds of incoming e-mails and trolling the Web himself. Among the juiciest items to date:
Thompson's timeline entries go into a database run by a Chico, California, anthropologist named Derek Mitchell, who has made them the focus of his Center for Cooperative Research site. In addition to Thompson's timeline, the center puts up the work of a handful of other researchers, including Mitchell's own timeline on the Iraq war and one called "History of U.S. Interventions," by Michael Bevin. Mitchell's aim is to keep the entries as neutrally written and as well sourced as he can.
A third player in this unpaid, freelance 9-11 research is Allan Duncan, a former New Jersey cop and social worker living in New Hope, Pennsylvania. At the request of the families, Duncan has been exploring not only the security alerts issued in New York City before 9-11, but also the role of the FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force in issuing "threat assessments conducted at the World Trade Center and security heightened at the WTC, which was then called off on September 10, 2001." These topics may well figure prominently at the 9-11 Commission hearing scheduled for mid May in New York City.
Additional reporting: Alicia Ng