2009-05-07 / This Week's Attitude

This Week's Attitude

FAA Secrecy Dumb; Photo Op Mission Dumber
By Neil S. Friedman

By now everyone has heard about the birdbrained scheme pulled last week by some government officials. But, just in case the swine flu outbreak had you distracted…

In a idiotically ill-conceived exploit — just to take some pictures — an Air Force One backup, accompanied by a couple of F-16 fighter jets, flew over the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, as well as Ground Zero, scaring the wits out of residents and morning commuters on April 27th. For some, the startling image and engine roar of a jumbo jet buzzing low overhead, particularly at that time of day, prompted dreadful, painful flashbacks of September 11, 2001, a date no one willingly summons up. Naturally, the scenario caused consternation among many who witnessed it and caused some workers to quickly flee area office buildings.

Within minutes of seeing the planes over the vicinity, hundreds of telephone calls were placed to 911. A short time earlier emergency operators had apparently been prepared for the circumstances going on in the skies over lower Manhattan and calmly relayed the reality to anxious callers that there was no urgent situation.

The director of the White House Military Office, Louis Caldera, subsequently admitted he approved the mission in conjunction with the Federal Aviation Administration, which specifically insisted the mission be kept secret, except "to notify proper state and local authorities."

President Obama was said to be infuriated, and wasn't informed until after the commotion erupted.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was also left in the dark and was furious when he learned about it, via inquiring text messages on his Blackberry. In fact, he later learned that at least two of his aides had been forewarned, but were sworn not to relay the details to him.

After the furious mayor cooled down, the FAA explained that details of the exercise were shared only "on a need-to-know" basis with a pledge not to mention it "to the public or media." As a result, a few in the NYPD knew what to expect, which is why 911 bureaucrats were promptly alerted.

But the mayor of the nation's largest city that endured the worst devastation on American soil wasn't important enough to notify? Perhaps they knew he'd do everything he could to prevent it.

What were the morons who planned the execution of the exercise thinking? And why didn't one of them say, "Wait a minute, is this a good idea less than eight years after such a horrible disaster in that vicinity?"

You can bet they'd never pull a surprise stunt like that over the Pentagon or the White House!

What's next? Testing the premise that yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater to determine if it would actually set off a stampede to see how many get trampled?

Aside from the fact that not alerting the public was dumber than dumb, the cost to taxpayers — especially in these dire economic times — was unnecessary and a complete waste of taxpayer money.

Is this sort of mission to capture the presidential jet near national landmarks repeated every few years? Let's see, the Statue of Liberty hasn't moved one inch since it arrived in pieces from France and was assembled on Bedloe's (now Liberty) Island in 1886. The federal government should have a sufficient number of similar photographs of the familiar American icon in its archives by now? Does the federal budget really include the cost for fresh photos every few years?

The FAA knew there'd be a chorus of disapproval over the idea, not to mention the $328,000 cost while the nation is in the midst of an economic slump, which is probably the primary motive it wanted to keep the event hush-hush.

That was later confirmed by an FAA memo that indicated the agency was aware "that low flying planes could cause panic" at the location, yet threatened sanctions if anyone in the NYPD, Secret Service or FBI, all of which were clued-in about the mission, if the secret was leaked.

When did the FAA get so much power?

Nevertheless, neither the federal agency nor the White House, which issued a formal apology about six hours after the photo op, has yet to logically clarify why the mission was secret. Yesterday, it was reported that the White House planned to release a photo from the controversial fly over, despite earlier claims it would not.

Who was it for anyway? Friends of the FAA's chief administrator? Big donors? Can any citizen request a copy of the picture?

No one can expect a president to know what every member of the federal government is doing every hour of the work day, but those who knew and arranged for this photo op should have had the common sense to suggest the details trickle up to Obama or, at least, his chief-of-staff.

Let's hope no one calls for a waste-of-time Congressional investigation into the matter — which'll cost another few hundred thousand bucks. However, the president swiftly ordered an "internal review," so I can't wait for that! The government dummies involved should be harshly reprimanded, if not downgraded a civil service rank or two, and the agencies involved forced to follow new guidelines to make sure such irresponsible, wasteful photo-taking missions don't happen again without White House and local government approval — not to mention a boldface line item budget footnote.

Heck, anyone with a degree of hi-tech savvy knows that any picture can be doctored with a computer program known as Photoshop to make it appear that Air Force One is flying over the famed copper-clad statue. And who'd know? Moreover, who'd care?

Dozens of Daily News readers sent the tabloid their own photoshopped versions of the Air Force One jumbo jet embedded into all sorts of pictures.

Heck, the Courier staff decided to get in on the fun last week and came up with a picture of the jet passing Canarsie Pier that we featured on our front page.


P.S. For those into trivial trivia, today is one of the oddest days of the year — 5/7/9. "Three odds in a row to tell you the date, we've only three more, then a 90-year wait." According to the Odd Day Web site: three consecutive odd numbers make up the date only six times in a century. This day marks the halfway point in this parade of Odd Days, which began with 1/3/5 then 3/5/7. The previous stretch of six dates like this started with 1/3/1905. So, if you're feeling a little odd today, you have a good excuse!

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