Air Force One flyover fiasco - private emails compare it to Three Stooges
Appearing to want to string out this story as long as possible, the Air Force released more photos on Friday of the infamous Air Force One flyover of the Statue of Liberty that panicked thousands of New Yorkers in April.
Adding to the continuing public relations fiasco, emails written about the event (before and after) have been released as a result of Freedom of Information Act requests by many news outlets.
Had the photographs and emails been released months ago, it would no longer be a news story prompting some to wonder if those who orchestrated the ill-fated mission have also been in charge of the continuing handling of the event.
Regardless, the emails between those involved in the screw-up show that they knew just how big of a mistake the flight was. Unfortunately, that understanding was recognized after the fact.
Before the event, Col. Scott Turner, commander of the Presidential Airlift Group, appeared to be optimistic about the flight even providing a cheerful weather forecast in an email to George Mulligan, the deputy director of the White House Military Office.
"So far we appear to be on track for our photo shoot around the Statue of Liberty on Monday," he writes. "Wx looks like it will cooperate and the FAA has aligned 'all the stars' to protect the airspace for us."
Just to be sure nothing could go wrong, Turner asks Mulligan, "Do you have any issues/reservations, whatsover?"
Not at all. Mulligan even asked for a souvenir of the flyby.
"Sec Caldera and I have no issues," writes a confident-sounding Mulligan. "Wish I was flying with you (or at least on the ground to see it) . . . it's going to be quite a sight. Score me a 8x10 glossy if you think of it when you get the pics back."
A seemingly excited Turner responded, "You bet -- Boeing has agreed to the cost of the prints; you can wallpaper your new office with 8x10s!"
You can say this for Mulligan, he shouldn't have any problems scoring any photos with the release of 146 of them yesterday.
Unlike the jolly exchange between Mulligan and Turner, at least one person expressed concern about the mission. USAF Maj Gen Brian P. Meenan, wrote, "Odds could be remote but for your SA -- NYC populace can be sensitive to airplanes that appear lower than normal or tracks not normally seen over the NYC area. Influenced by 9/11. Have seen one or two instances of civil aircraft cleared for visual arrivals that triggered inquiries to media and local officials concerning unusual flt activity from folks on the ground."
Apparently his concern was dismissed, however, and the flight commenced that Monday morning.
Shortly after the flight, things got gloomy. One email provided a real-time assessment of how the public was reacting to the mission.
"Web site blog comments 'furious' at best. Twitter search reveals 'tweets' regarding two F-16's chasing commercial airliner. Rate of 1 tweet per minute and growing," it reads.
We had plenty of those blog comments. Like:
"We are hurtling toward a government of the stupid, by the stupid, for the stupid”. just another example." and "Haven’t these DoD dimwits ever heard of PHOTOSHOP???" and "This just proves that you don’t need a “brain” to get a job in the Federal Government."
No way out
Credit this same person, however, in realizing that there was no way out of it. "No positive spin is possible. Admit mistake," the email reads.
As you recall, this advice was taken. Only hours after the event, Louis Caldera, the director of the White House Military Office, released a statement taking full responsibility for the fiasco. Less than two weeks later Caldera resigned.
Of course, the objective of the flyover -- despite its result -- was not to create panic as Turner explained in an email: "Again, my apologies sir. Real intent here was to honor NYC, not cause mass chaos," he said.
One Pentagon spokeswoman summed up the event appropriately: "Nothing like having everyone point the finger at someone else so we ALL look like a big bunch of buffoons ... can you say Moe, Larry & Curly!??!?!"
You can read the full report here. Be cautioned, however, that the report is 553 pages and is 121mb (it takes awhile to download).