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White House Changes Story on Bush Plane Incident

by Maxwell Smart Friday, Dec. 05, 2003 at 2:14 AM

Would you believe that maybe we thought that the British Airways might have maybe heard the rumbel of our engines? Would you believe a Seagull saw us?

White House Changes Story on Bush Plane Incident

Wed Dec 3, 1:46 PM ET




WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Wednesday changed its story of a British Airways pilot's spotting of Air Force One during President Bush (news - web sites)'s stealth trip to Iraq (news - web sites) last week.

The original story -- which held that the airline's pilot had talked to Air Force One and that he kept the secret of Bush's Thanksgiving Day flight to Baghdad -- had been told by White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett to reporters as he sought to portray the drama of Bush's trip.

But after British Airways denied such a conversation took place, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Wednesday the airline's pilot never contacted Air Force One. "The conversation was between the British Airways plane and the London control tower," McClellan said.

It was also the London control tower, not an Air Force One pilot as in the original story, that misidentified Air Force One as a much smaller "Gulfstream 5" aircraft, McClellan said.

He said Air Force One pilots overheard the conversation while flying over the west coast of England, and the British Airways plane could be identified by its call sign when it spoke to the tower.

McClellan declined to say whether Air Force One had sent a false electronic identification or whether controllers were in on the deception.

British Airways said it could not confirm the new account.

White House officials have said the elaborate secrecy surrounding the trip was needed to ensure Bush's security in Iraq, but some critics accused the administration of dramatizing the trip for political purposes.

CHANGE OF STORY

McClellan explained the change in the White House story by saying, "I don't think everybody was clear on exactly how that conversation happened."

The White House has come under criticism for backtracking on its account of other high profile events.

In October it conceded it had helped with a large "Mission Accomplished" banner on an aircraft carrier where Bush announced in May that major fighting had ended in Iraq.

Bush had initially said his advance team did not put up the banner, whose message critics viewed as premature given continued attacks on occupying forces in Iraq.

The White House also acknowledged in July that a claim by Bush in his State of the Union address last January that Iraq tried to buy African uranium was based partly on forged documents.

British Airways said it could not confirm the White House's new version of the Air Force One story. "We've had no reports from any of our pilots with regard to Air Force One," airline spokeswoman Honor Verrier said.

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Pathological liars OzzyTeppics Friday, Dec. 05, 2003 at 4:26 AM
Liars?? Barney Friday, Dec. 05, 2003 at 5:01 AM
Why? Who's On First Friday, Dec. 05, 2003 at 5:32 AM
This is a non-story Barney Friday, Dec. 05, 2003 at 6:55 AM
Thewhte house never stoped Sergio Leone Friday, Dec. 05, 2003 at 1:13 PM

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