March 22, 2003
Team to search
for pilot lost since first Gulf war
By Bll Gertz
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Defense and intelligence agencies have formed a special unit
that will go into Iraq to search for Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, a
missing U.S. Navy pilot believed to have been held captive in Iraq since
Creating the special unit comes as U.S. intelligence agencies
reported last week that an American pilot believed to be Capt. Speicher
was spotted alive in Baghdad earlier this month.
A classified intelligence report circulated to officials March 14
stated that Capt. Speicher was seen as he was being moved in Baghdad,
although officials said the sighting could not be confirmed.
The joint program by officials of the Defense Intelligence Agency,
the CIA, U.S. Central Command and other agencies also will conduct a
nationwide search of Iraq for terrorists and chemical, biological and
nuclear weapons, said Lt. Cmdr. James Brooks, a DIA spokesman.
"The intelligence community has established a unit to do a
country-wide discovery, exploitation and interrogation effort to
identify and disrupt terrorist operations; and to identify, examine and
eliminate [weapons of mass destruction]," Cmdr. Brooks said in a
"Another function is to determine and resolve the fate of Capt.
Speicher," Cmdr. Brooks said.
Capt. Speicher was declared killed in action after his F-18 jet was
shot down by a missile over Iraq on Jan. 17, 1991.
Later, intelligence reports indicated that his plane had
crash-landed and that Capt. Speicher had ejected. His flight suit was
later found during a Red Cross mission to Iraq.
Several intelligence reports from the 1990s also indicated that
Iraq was holding an American pilot believed to be Capt. Speicher, and in
2001 the Navy reclassified him from killed in action to missing in
In October, Navy Secretary Gordon England changed the status again
to "missing in action, captured," effectively declaring Capt. Speicher a
prisoner of war.
The Navy determined at the time that wreckage from the F-18, the
recovery of Capt. Speicher's flight suit, Iraqi tampering with the
downed plane and recent intelligence "continues to suggest strongly that
the government of Iraq can account for him."
Baghdad has denied that it was holding Capt. Speicher and invited a
U.S. team to visit Iraq last year to investigate. The Pentagon and State
Department declined the offer.
U.S. officials hope the ouster of Saddam Hussein in the U.S.-led
war will produce definitive proof on whether Capt. Speicher is a
prisoner or whether he died in captivity.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters yesterday that
finding terrorists and deadly unconventional weapons are among eight key
U.S. objectives in Iraq.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the United States hopes to "identify, isolate and
eventually eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, their delivery
systems, production capabilities, and distribution networks."
U.S. forces also will "search for, capture, drive out terrorists
who have found safe harbor in Iraq."
The troops also will "collect such intelligence as we can find
related to terrorist networks in Iraq and beyond" and intelligence on
"the global network of illicit weapons of mass destruction activity,"
the defense secretary said.
Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate
Intelligence Committee, said in an interview that he and other
interested members of Congress have "come a long way from where we
were," a reference to bureaucratic resistance to pursuing the Speicher
"Every hearing we have, every [congressional delegation] we have,
we always mention this issue," said Mr. Roberts, whom intelligence
agencies brief regularly on the Speicher case.
The Kansas senator said the Pentagon's Defense Prisoner of War
Missing Person Office and the DIA are working on a new assessment of the
case, based on the numerous intelligence reports that indicate Iraq is
holding an American pilot.
"We're talking about a considerable number of people [in Iraq] who
say they've seen an American POW," Mr. Roberts said.
The senator said he is holding out hope for the day when "we see
him getting off an airplane" as a free man.
Saddam has admitted holding some POWs for decades. On Tuesday, Iran
and Iraq exchanged about 200 prisoners captured by each side during
their eight-year war in the 1980s, according to reports from official
Iranian and Iraqi news services.
The Washington Times disclosed in March 2002 that U.S. intelligence
agencies had new information indicating that Baghdad was holding an
American pilot believed to be Capt. Speicher.
A U.S. intelligence report produced in March 2001 stated that "we
assess that Iraq can account for Capt. Speicher, but that Baghdad is
concealing information about his fate."
The report also stated that Capt. Speicher was "either captured
alive or his remains were recovered and brought to Baghdad."
It also concluded that Capt. Speicher "probably survived the loss
of his aircraft, and if he survived, he almost certainly was captured by