Secret Service airbrushes aerial photos

Friday, 19 December 2003, 2:25 PM EST

Call it the case of the missing White House. Users of Mapquest's free aerial photo database recently noticed that details of several Washington D.C. government buildings were no longer discernable in overhead images of the U.S. capital.

A comparison of old and new images posted on the government secrecy watchdog site Cryptome shows that portions of overhead color photos of the Capitol building and the grounds of the Naval Observatory, where the Vice President's residence is located, have been distorted -- pixilated into an digital blur.

The White House and the adjacent Old Executive Office Building and Treasury Department headquarters were subject to more subtle tampering: the buildings are still sharp, but the roofs have been digitally painted over with featureless solid colors seeming picked from the surrounding landscape. The lot at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue now resembles a White House-shaped dirt field more than the seat of executive power.

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