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“And then I lit a match to see if there was any gas left …”

April 27th, 2009 - 10:14 pm

The Associated Press reported that an Air Force One type of aircraft was flown over New York city to update the file photograph that is used for publicity purposes. Instead of being a photo opportunity of the aircraft itself, the episode ended up taking a snapshot of the bureaucratic mind.

WASHINGTON (AP) — An administration official says a presidential Boeing 747 and a fighter jet flew low near ground zero in New York City Monday because the White House Military Office wanted to update its file photo of the president’s plane near the Statue of Liberty.

This official said the White House Military Office told the Federal Aviation Administration that it periodically updates file photos of Air Force One near national landmarks, like the statute in New York harbor and the Grand Canyon.

MSNBC reported New York City officials were told about the flight but were instructed not to tell the public about it. Photos of the the VC-25 were said to be taken from an F-16 chase plane. The photographic opportunity mission was said to be combined with an unspecified training mission to ‘save money’.

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An Air Force combat photographer took pictures from one of the fighter jets, administration officials said.

The photo op was combined with a training exercise to save money, according to another administration official who also spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly about the behind-the-scenes discussions about the flight.

The FAA notified the New York Police Department of the flyover, telling them photos of the Air Force One jet would be taken about 1,500 feet above the Statue of Liberty around 10 a.m. Monday. It had a classified footnote that said “information in this document shall not be released to the public or the media.”

That last injunction more or less guaranteed that the public would be taken by surprise by the aircraft since even the officials who knew about it were enjoined from informing the public.

Assuming that the story as told is accurate, it demonstrates the occasional inability of bureaucracies to see the logical conclusion of their own actions. Nobody asked themselves what would happen when a surprised public, kept in the dark by explicit instructions, saw the airplanes buzzing the city. But in bureaucracies it is sometimes the case that if nobody asks the question, then the question doesn’t exist.

When one financial regular was asked why he never suspected Bernard Madoff of dishonest practices even when Madoff returned consistently high earnings independent of market behavior he answered that Madoff was in full documentary compliance. Bureaucrats often see nothing but boxes and check marks. Wall Street before the meltdown was full of companies in ‘compliance’ that were doing stupid things. But although armies of functionaries were paid to check that the forms had been filled how many were tasked with finding out whether any of it makes sense?

It’s distressing to realize that not all the high-tech computer systems and intelligence fusion capabilities in the world are going to work if the Mark I brain is disconnected.

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