View Full Version : Team to search for pilot lost since first Gulf war

03-22-03, 02:59 PM
Team to search for pilot lost since first Gulf war
By Bill 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 1991.
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 statement.
"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 action.
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 case.
"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 the Iraqis."

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03-22-03, 03:06 PM
Missing Navy Pilot's Kin Look for Answers

.c The Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - The family of a Navy pilot shot down over Iraq in 1991 hopes the latest war against Saddam Hussein's regime may help resolve lingering questions about what happened to the missing aviator.

U.S. troops will be looking for evidence of Lt. Cmdr. Scott Speicher's fate as they move throughout Iraq, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said before the latest conflict began.

Speicher and three other pilots flew off the USS Saratoga for a bombing run over Iraq on Jan. 17, 1991. Another FA-18 Hornet pilot saw a flash and lost sight of Speicher.

The next morning, the Defense Department announced that Speicher's plane had been downed by an Iraqi missile. The Pentagon has classified the pilot as ``missing in action, captured''; Iraq officials said Speicher was killed in the crash.

``I know that we're going to be looking for him big time as we go into Iraq,'' Nelson said. ``The flip side of that is if you're Saddam Hussein, and if you have Scott Speicher alive, you're probably going to use him for propaganda purposes or for some kind of shield. So, we just don't know.''

Nelson, a Florida Democrat and a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, has urged the Pentagon to make finding Speicher a priority. He has worked with Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, on the Speicher issue.

Lt. Cmdr. Paula Storum, a Navy spokeswoman in Washington, said she could not discuss operational details, but said, resolving Speicher's fate ``is always a priority for the Navy and its leadership.''

An attorney for Speicher's relatives, Cindy A. Laquidara, said Wednesday that she could not discuss any possible rescue plans the government may have to free the pilot. She said the family would not be available for comment, fearing it might complicate his case.

``Our goal is to bring Scott home after 12 years,'' she said.

Speicher's flight suit was found at the crash site and there have been persistent intelligence reports about a U.S. pilot held in Baghdad. He is only case still unaccounted for from the war.

Speicher was declared killed in action several months after the crash. The Navy redesignated him missing in action last year on the basis of what officials said were intelligence reports from several sources.

Former high school classmates and former Navy pilots who flew with Speicher have formed Friends Working to Free Scott Speicher. They have staged rallies and put up signs reading, ``Free Scott Speicher'' around north Florida on billboards and in store windows.

On the Net:

Friends Working for Free Scott Speicher: http://freescottspeicher.com



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