The Pentagon and Air Force are reviewing whether their officials may be partly to blame for a $328,835 photo-op of Air Force One soaring above New York City that has already forced the White House military director to step down.
Former Army Secretary Louis Caldera, the White House aide who authorized the flyover, resigned under fire yesterday as the Obama administration tried to move past the embarrassing incident that sent panicked workers rushing into the streets amid flashbacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The White House released the findings of an internal review that portrayed Caldera as out of the loop in a cycle of missed messages and questionable judgments as plans for the photo shoot proceeded.
But the investigation is hardly the end of the matter.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered a review at the Pentagon; the Air Force is conducting its own review as well.
In a May 5 letter to Sen. John McCain, the former Republican presidential nominee, Gates apologized for the incident, saying "we deeply regret the anxiety and alarm that resulted from this mission."
McCain posted the letter on his Web site yesterday.
"I am concerned that this highly public and visible mission did not include an appropriate review and approval by senior Air Force and (Defense Department) officials," Gates wrote.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama has ordered a review of how the White House Military Office is set up, and how it reports to the White House and the Air Force.
That review, to be conducted by deputy chief of staff Jim Messina and Gates, will also offer recommendations to Obama designed to ensure that such an incident will not happen again, Gibbs said.
According to the findings released yesterday, Caldera said he didn't know the plane, known as Air Force One when the president is on board, would fly at 1,000 feet during the April 27 photo promotion. He also failed to read an e-mail message describing the operation and seemed unaware of the potential for public fear, the findings said.
Local officials had been notified in advance. But it was a shock to New Yorkers who looked up to see the Boeing 747 and its fighter jet escort flying near the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan's financial district, a terrifying reminder of the 2001 terrorist attacks in which jets brought down the two towers of the World Trade Center.
The Federal Aviation Administration told local officials in advance of the flight, but asked them not to disclose it to the public, the White House report said. There was a prepared statement for the FAA's New York regional office and for the Air Force in Washington to release if anyone called to ask about the flight.
In his resignation letter, released by the White House, Caldera said the controversy had "made it impossible for me to effectively lead the White House Military Office," which is responsible for presidential aircraft.
Caldera's office approved the photo-op, which cost $35,000 in fuel alone for the plane and two jet fighter escorts. The Air Force estimated the photo shoot cost taxpayers $328,835. The purpose of the flight was to update the official photo of the plane, known as Air Force One when the president is aboard.