Just like the administration it replaced, this White House doesn’t know when to keep its mouth shut.
Having won a political coup by producing a dramatic secret trip to Baghdad, the White House continued to whip the horse by telling thrilling tales of the intrigue and danger of the trip. Among the stories they’ve told is a close call with a British Airways jet, which the administration claims puts the secret mission in jeopardy.
The only problem is, according to British Airways, it didn’t happen.
British Airways said on Monday that none of its pilots made contact with President Bush’s plane during its secret flight to Baghdad, contradicting White House reports of a mid-air exchange that nearly prompted Bush to call off his trip.
Honor Verrier, a spokeswoman for British Airways in North America, said two BA aircraft were in the area at the time and neither radioed the president’s plane to ask if it was Air Force One.
“We have spoken to the British Airways captains who were in the area at the time and neither made comments to Air Force One nor did they hear any other aircraft make the statement over the radio,” Verrier said in response to a question from Reuters.
The White House had no immediate comment on the discrepancy.
Bush aides recounted with excitement last week the moment during the flight to Baghdad when they said a BA pilot thought he spotted the president’s blue and white Boeing 747 from his cockpit.
“Did I just see Air Force One?” the pilot radioed, according to the White House.
There was a pause. Then came the response from Air Force One: “Gulfstream 5” — a much smaller aircraft.
As one of Bush’s aides recounted, the BA pilot seemed to sense that he was in on a secret, and replied: “Oh.”
The exchange was one of the most suspenseful moments during Bush’s secret flight to Baghdad, according to the White House.
With three hours to go, Bush had the Secret Service check if his mission was still secret.
Oh, and one more thing — being spotted by British Airways was one of the most suspenseful moments? Yikes… I’ll bet everyone aboard just bit their nails down to the quick.[Update: The White House has backtracked twice on this story now. Their second revision was:
Bartlett said the pilot of a British Airways plane had the conversation with air traffic control in London, not Air Force One, while the two planes were flying off the western coast of England just before daybreak. But British Airways said that did not happen either. And Britain’s National Air Traffic Services agreed.
When confronted with this second example of revisionist history, the White House countered with:
Press secretary Scott McClellan said that the aircraft inquiring about Air Force One was, in fact, “a non-UK operator.” The spokesman said there had been a British Airways plane “that was in the vicinity of Air Force One as it was crossing over for a good portion of that flight.” The presidential pilots thought the query “was coming from a pilot with a British accent, and so that’s why they had concluded that it was a British Airways plane.”
The White House released a statement from Britain’s air traffic service confirming that a “non-UK operator” radioed the control center in Swanwick, England, at “0930 Zulu” time to ask if the aircraft behind it was Air Force One.
That seems to check out, but mysteries remain. Who was this “non-UK operator”? And how is it that a British Airways plane could have been with Air Force One “for a good portion” of the flight if the president’s plane was averaging 665 mph — far beyond the speed of commercial aircraft?
Why does this White House never learn? Didn’t they come up with dozens of excuses to invade Iraq, dozens of explanations for the missing WMD? They are like a lying child, who continually makes up more complex stories to cover his tracks. Why can’t they just shut up and let it die? They just have to keep talking and dig themselves a deeper hole.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching them bury themselves!]