April 28th, 2009
11:33 AM ET
14 years ago

Former Bush aide: Plane photo-op was 'felony stupidity'

(CNN) – A former homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush is slamming the decision by an Obama White House official to use lower Manhattan as the location for a low-flying presidential plane photo-op.

Francis Townsend, a CNN security contributor, called the fly-over "crass insensitivity" Tuesday on CNN's American Morning. "And, frankly, as I would say as a former prosecutor, I would call this felony stupidity," the lawyer and former Bush homeland security adviser added.

Townsend also suggested that Louis Caldera, the Director of the White House Military Office, may not be fit to continue serving in the Obama administration.

"What makes this almost more disturbing is the fact that that's the office responsible for the movement of the president and his staff in a time of emergency," Townsend told Kiran Chetry. "So, of course, the most important thing is that the person leading it has good judgment. . . . at its best this is bad judgment. This is probably not the right job for Mr. Caldera to be in if he didn't understand the likely reaction of New Yorkers."

"This was not necessary," Townsend added. "If you needed pictures of Air Force One over a national icon, fly it over the Grand Canyon. But flying it over lower Manhattan, which to many of us is a sacred ground now where we lost thousands of Americans, I just think it wrong."

Caldera issued a statement Monday evening regarding the fly-over. "[I]t's clear that the mission created confusion and disruption," he said. "I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused."

President Obama was reportedly furious after learning that a plane in his fleet was flown over the same vicinity as the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

At a press conference Monday afternoon, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also criticized the flight and said had he known of the White House's plan, he would have asked that the flight not take place.

UPDATED 11:33 a.m.: President Obama said Tuesday the fly-over incident "was a mistake." "It will not happen again," the president also said.

Full story

soundoff (329 Responses)
  1. Avi Shlomo

    If this is a felony.How about telling the truth about 9-11 or all the things your former boss in the name of patriotism.. may be that qualifies for a trip to the Hague!!

    April 28, 2009 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  2. Matthew Peacock

    While it was insensitive, the FAA and Department of Defense let numerous people know, including the office of the governor. I feel like it was partly their responsibility to pass on the information to New York City officials and then the public.

    Yes, a blunder, but really? Does it need this much attention? Seems slightly trivial to me.

    April 28, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  3. Linda

    I find it incomprehensible that the DOD staged this event. I'm sorry that the people of New York had to re-live what was the worst event in many of their lives. Why the secrecy, did the government think that people wouldn't notice a 747 sweeping through their city? With all the media gushing about the president's first 100 days, I can't help but think that this was an attempt to have a "hip" photo taken by the most "arrogant" president I can ever remember. I am "sorry" for him, residents of New York.

    April 28, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  4. KJ

    Yeah, it was stupid, but if there is any "felony stupidity" accusations going around, just look at the Bush administration. What would you rather have, a screw up like post Katrina or a fly over.

    April 28, 2009 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  5. Robin

    Anyone else find it funny when this administration screws up, they cry "Bush's fault."

    News Flash, Bush is not president anymore. So Obama should stop campaigning and start working.

    April 28, 2009 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  6. Albe

    I see, if it was a success Obama is a hero, but since it wasn't, we don't blame Obama for this or any other blunder/mistake. When will people wake up he is not God.

    April 28, 2009 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  7. Justin

    So, none of the elites in our government knew that the White House was using Manhatten for a photo-op for a low-flying presidential plane? That's a real tight ship they run in DC these days.

    We already knew this to be true, but this puts a stamp on the fact that certain people in the government have little empathy for those that experienced the horrors of 9/11.

    April 28, 2009 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  8. Mike

    I am an Obama supporter, and yes, I agree, this was a big mistake. But anyone who tries to paint Obama and his entire administration on the basis of this one incident is simply showing that they are just looking for excuses to not support this President.

    Mistakes get made in every administration. The question is, will that administration admit their mistakes, learn from them, and work to prevent them in the future. This one is already doing that with this incident. I cannot say the same happened in the last administration.

    April 28, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  9. Tammy

    I voted for Obama and support him in his efforts. However, Louis Caldera, the Director of the White House Military Office, should be FIRED for this STUPID stunt.

    I don't blame the people of NY for being in an uproar over this and he should not be in a position that would allow him to make decisions like this.

    April 28, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  10. Kevin

    I can tell you this: Blood is going to run heavily in the White House after this episode, more so since it come at President Obama's 100 day milestone. The last thing he needs right now is something gievously stupid to happen right now.

    But for some one from the former Bush Administration calling what happened a "Felony Stupid" move, shouldn't be so quick to talk. The Justice Department has a few words they want to talk to them about authorizing illegal torture practices. Then there's that stint with Hurricane Katrina, the War in Iraq, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Abu Graib, the list goes on.

    April 28, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  11. fella from Chicago

    Wow! This touched a nerve from the Liberal Left. Darn, somebody in the Messiah's administration did something stupid; right behind the Dems who passed the stimulus bill leaving our children's children in debt, accelerated the war in Afghanistan, released CIA memos that has compromised our agents lives across the world and kissed up to enemies who have sworn to murder Americans whenever they have the chance. In hindsight, maybe the above stunt wasn't all that bad.

    April 28, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  12. Cliff

    Felony stupidity is invading Iraq under false pretenses.

    April 28, 2009 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  13. Bob

    Incredibly poor judgement and he has probably not paid his income taxes either....he absolutely is qualified to be a Democrat.

    April 28, 2009 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  14. Denverguy

    if a plane scares the whole city and people start demanding apologies for taking a picture, then the terrorist have really won. We are so terrified that ordinary mundane tasks now take on a sinister tone. We are at war and this obsession over this picture taking exercise makes us look weak and foolish. How do you win a war? divide and conquer. Wake up people we are already divided.

    April 28, 2009 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  15. dominican mama 4 Obama

    It was a blunder guys! The guy responsible for it actually held himself totally accountable (now that's a refreshing concept!) and apologized for it. He took full responsibility.

    However, being a New Yorker, I would say that if anybody screwed up BIG TIME it was the city of New York! Caldera notified every authority in the state that he needed to notify. NY should have taken the 'ball' and notified it's citizens. I would think the office of Mayor B. should've made that call.

    By the way Townsend, after the beautiful way you guys handled Katrina, I'd shut up about using the word 'felony'.

    April 28, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  16. steve

    again the obama administration shows us their arogrance when it comes to security for the USA. and if this was the bush administration that did this there would be accusations flying all over cnn/msnbc about how stupid this was...good thing it only cost us about 100,000 for gas and another 50-60,000 for lost wages/productivity but that is ok we can afford this

    April 28, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  17. Ad West

    Townsend is over-reacting BIG time. I can see why New Yorkers are upset, but not why Townsend feels the need to blow this out of proportion and suggest that Caldera step down.

    April 28, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  18. Greg

    Stupid, yes... felony, no way... its a double-edge sword. Its no different than not broadcasting to the masses a particular route the president might take to a speaking engagement or other photo-op, they did right by alerting the authorities, it was up to them at that point to answer the calls that came in and dispel the hysteria. I understand the sensitivity of low flying planes around NY skyline, but come on, if America was that traumatized, someone with the name Barak Hussein Obama could never have been elected POTUS just seven short years after 9/11!?! The man is a political novice, of course there are going to be mistakes... presuming that if we play nice the rest of the world will act in kind, for example... but if flying a presidential plane around NY is worst thing his advisors convince him is the ok to do, then maybe things aren't going to be that bad. Little mistakes like this remind us he is after all human, not a demigod or the Second Coming! Juvenile mistake... a haircut on the runway-type mistake. Signing over our kids to the UN, now that would be something to get all riled up about. If I was him though I would be ticked at the person that thought this might be a good idea in the first place. Let's wait to see the finished product before we get mad, and just how much did this thirty minute fly-by cost the taxpayers?!? Break out the Lipton!

    April 28, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  19. Lisa B

    Terrorists are laughing at how afraid we still are about a plane flying over Manhattan. Even if it was not handled perfectly –get a grip people, and stop giving them exactly what they want. Acknowledging my discomfort at seeing the footage of the low-flying plane that landed in the river, and acknowlegding that I am not a New Yorker and did not personally go through the experience of 9/11, it gives me some sense of victory and comfort to see the President's plane flying over the area.

    April 28, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  20. Matt

    So Obama is outraged. Is it the same way he was outraged about the AIG bonuses once the public found out even though he had already known about it.

    April 28, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  21. enough already

    Haven't they heard of Photoshop?

    April 28, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  22. Sniffit

    Funny how Bloomberg, a former Dem now mascerading as a GOPer, claims that even though someone in his office was informed ahead of time, he wasn't told and word didn't get out or around to the public so that nobody panicked...

    April 28, 2009 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  23. Pat i Atlanta

    If I had been a member of the Bush administration, I would not say the word felony out loud.

    Not to say this photo op was not a dumb thing to do, but does anyone except the most rabid Republican really believe that Obama was involved in the decision. Maybe the President has more important things on his desk.

    April 28, 2009 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  24. Allie in San Diego

    This plan was not well thought out, and I understand why people in New York were upset, but to call it "felony stupidity" is beyond a joke. Felony stupidity would be ordering White House attorneys to legally justify torture because a special investigator was getting too close to the truth in the Plame investigation. Felony stupidity would be telling Brownie he was doing a heck of a job when people were dying in New Orleans. Felony stupidity would be lying to the American people in order to gain support for a war that has drained our economy, and our credibility in the world. Felony stupidity would be electing Bush the second time.

    April 28, 2009 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  25. Denise in MD

    While I agree with Townsend that this decision wasn't the best anyone's ever made, I don't think Mr. Caldera should completely shoulder the blame, as the local authorities never bothered to alert local media of the impending photo shoot. Furthermore, this whole tirade screams of opportunism. Mr. Townsend and his ilk salivate at the opportunity to exascerbate outrage at any perceived lapse in judgement by this administration. If the new dog digs a hole in the South Lawn, then it's the OBAMA administration who's guilty of defacing park grounds. I'm over it already.

    April 28, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
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