View Full Version : Navy pilot's fate now looks grim

07-16-03, 09:12 AM
Navy pilot's fate now looks grim

By Rowan Scarborough

A secret Pentagon report states that once-promising leads in the hunt for Capt. Michael Scott Speicher in Iraq have turned up no evidence of his whereabouts, contradicting public official comments that the search was producing positive results.
The classified document also cast serious doubt on the credibility of the Iraqi defector who first raised hopes in the United States that the Navy pilot was alive and a captive in Iraq after his plane was shot down in 1991.
The defector claims to have seen Capt. Speicher alive in 1998. But Iraqis interviewed by U.S. investigators say he is lying, according to the report prepared for Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.
The internal report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, quotes one Iraqi as saying the defector is a "born liar." U.S. officials are said to now have serious questions about the unnamed defector's veracity.
"No significant evidence of [Capt. Speicher´s] status has been discovered," says the two-page classified report dated June 23. It says investigators have obtained an "alleged Speicher flight suit," which is being examined for DNA evidence.
The report presents a much more pessimistic outlook for the search than has been generally presented in public by some U.S. congressmen who have received official briefings.
Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, said he saw classified information on a trip to Iraq that made him think the mystery would be solved. Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, made similar upbeat comments.
A day after the date of the Pentagon report, titled "Personnel Recovery Efforts in Support of Capt. Speicher," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was asked about the Speicher search at a Pentagon press conference.
"I read two reports today, and what they told me is that the senior people involved in, I guess the Iraqi Survey Group, are focused on this issue, attentive to it. ... There is nothing that has been turned up thus far that I could elaborate on that would be appropriate."
The report is stamped "secret" and written as an update on the extensive search for the pilot, whose F-18 was shot down during Desert Storm.
The report reveals that the main source for a report last year that Capt. Speicher survived the crash is a defector from Saddam Hussein's Special Security Organization (SSO), which maintained the dictator's rule in Baghdad.
The defector, whom U.S. officials call "defector No. 2314," provided names of witnesses who he says support his story. But when contacted by the U.S. search team, the Iraqis deny the defector's account.
"None of the information provided by 2314 has proven accurate," the Pentagon report states.
The hunt for Capt. Speicher is one of the Bush administration's chief postwar inquiries, topped only by the search for Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.
The Iraq Survey Group, a large team put together to collect and analyze intelligence in Iraq, contains a cell devoted to solving the Speicher mystery and other missing-in-action cases.
The cell looking for Capt. Speicher has 15 personnel at the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington. They are aided by the CIA, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, and six other cell personnel working in Iraq.
The pilot was shot down on Desert Storm's first day, Jan. 17, 1991. He appeared to have ejected, raising speculation he landed in the desert and was taken prisoner, but originally was listed as killed in action.
But the defector's story, in part, prompted the Navy to change his status to missing-captured and to promote him from commander to the rank of captain.
This information created a storm of prewar news coverage that Saddam might still be holding an American he was supposed to release, with all other prisoners of war, after the March 1991 cease-fire.
But the secret Pentagon report lists a number of leads that turned out to be bogus:
•Defector No. 2314 provided the names of several doctors who he said had knowledge of Capt. Speicher's whereabouts. "All denied having any knowledge; two have passed a polygraph exam," the Pentagon report says.
•The defector said his supervisor at SSO also knew of Capt. Speicher's imprisonment. But the supervisor denied this, passed a polygraph and called No. 2314 "a born liar."
•The source said a psychiatrist at the Rashid prison worked there during Capt. Speicher's purported captivity. But the psychiatrist "denied any knowledge."
•U.S. Central Command has recovered thousands of POW-related files in Iraq. "To date, analysts have found only one reference to Speicher. The reference indicates he ejected and lists his status as 'unknown.' "
The report says a search team tried to reach the crash site in mid-June, after the successful U.S.-led war to overthrow Saddam but was foiled by enemy fire.
It has previously been reported that investigators found the initials "MSS" on a cell wall in the Hakimiyah prison. Criminal investigators speculated that MSS might stand for Michael Scott Speicher, but made no determination.
Concludes the report, "U.S. CentCom has searched every known location associated with Speicher. Other than at Hakimiyah prison, where U.S. forces found the initials 'MSS' carved in a cell wall, no significant evidence of his status has been discovered."
As next steps, the Army's Criminal Investigative Command is examining items taken from Hakimiyah prison. The items include sponges, clothing, shoes and manacles.
"Process consists of cataloging, chemical and DNA analysis and will take weeks to months to complete," the secret report says.
The Iraq Survey Group cell was also to interview an ethnic Iraqi U.S. citizen who had been held at another Baghdad prison, Abu Ghurab. "This individual reported to U.S. Marines that he heard Iraqi guards discussing the 'U.S. pilot.' "
The paper says the cell administered a polygraph exam to the defector, but it does not give the results. It says the military has asked the CIA "to conduct an independent polygraph of 2314."
A CIA spokesman yesterday said the agency does not comment on polygraph issues.