View Full Version : 'Secret' report adds to Speicher mystery

09-05-03, 07:44 AM
'Secret' report adds to Speicher mystery
Disinformation campaign suspected in case of missing Navy pilot

Posted: September 5, 2003

By Timothy W. Maier
2003 News World Communications Inc.

When someone leaked to the Washington Times last month the so-called "secret two-page Pentagon report" that suggested U.S. Navy aviator Capt. Michael Scott Speicher died when his F-18 Hornet was shot down Jan. 17, 1991, the feisty Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., figured it was a message to back off of his crusade to find out what had happened to the pilot still missing from the Persian Gulf War.

An infuriated Nelson slammed the pessimistic news story in the Times, claiming it was full of faulty information, such as labeling as a liar an Iraqi defector who claims to have seen Speicher alive. Nelson demanded to see the Pentagon report.

But, to his surprise, the Pentagon told him straight out that there is no Pentagon report. After a little more digging Nelson's staff learned that this two-page document, dated June 23, actually was written by the Defense Intelligence Agency, or DIA, which also repeatedly had debunked stories that U.S. servicemen were left behind in Vietnam.

"There was nothing new in the report," insists Nelson, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who helped push Speicher's promotion last year to captain.

The DIA report rebukes allegations by an Iraqi defector known as "2314" who claims to have given Speicher a ride to a Baghdad hospital. The report says the assessment that Speicher survived the crash primarily is based on information provided by "2314," although Nelson insists there are more witnesses and more intelligence information, such as the recovery of the American pilot's flight suit, which when put together lead to a probability that Speicher survived. The DIA's bleak picture appeared to suggest Speicher probably died in the fiery crash.

It's not the first time Speicher has been presumed dead. Vice President Dick Cheney, who was the defense secretary in 1991, reported the pilot's death as the first casualty of Gulf War I. The Pentagon assured Speicher's family a full search-and-rescue mission had been launched but they later learned the assurance was a lie.

At present a specialized search team of 15 personnel at the DIA, the CIA and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency are interrogating Iraqi prisoners and surveying Saddam Hussein's known prisons for clues in hopes of finding Speicher.

The DIA report conflicts with an earlier CIA report delivered to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in March 2001. The CIA report stated, "Iraq can account for Lt. Cmdr. Speicher, [but] is concealing information about his fate." It also claimed Speicher ejected with at least an "85 to 90 percent chance of surviving. ... We assess Speicher was either captured alive or his remains were recovered and brought to Baghdad."

It was the CIA report that forced president Bill Clinton to change Speicher's status from killed in action to missing in action/captured, or MIA, 10 days before Clinton left office on Jan. 11, 2001. The DIA report also fails to mention that the Iraqi defector, who claimed to have driven Speicher to Baghdad, had passed two lie-detector tests. Instead the report says he will be given a lie-detector test.

"Somebody is leaking disinformation that is incorrect," says Nelson, who made a trip to Iraq in July and visited a cell in Hakmiya Prison in Baghdad where Speicher's initials, M.S.S., were carved into a wall of a prison cell. "He didn't die in the crash. I truly believe that someone is trying to kill the Speicher investigation," the Florida senator insists.

Sources familiar with the DIA report say the analysis in the two-page document did not come from senior intelligence officials but nonetheless was handed to Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The DIA report amounted to field observations but did take into account some recent findings including one set of the M.S.S. initials etched onto the Baghdad prison wall in cell 46, Insight sources say. The report did not take into account another set of initials that were discovered, M.J.M., which some believe represent his two children, Meghan and Michael, and his former wife, Joanne, who remarried after being told her husband was killed in action. She has declined this magazine's request for an interview.

According to the DIA report, the defector known as 2314 worked for Saddam Hussein's special security organization and claims he saw Speicher alive in 1998. The DIA report claimed, "None of the information provided by 2314 has proven accurate." Witnesses cited by 2314 to support his story have denied the defector's account. One called him a "born liar." Two physicians, his supervisor and a psychiatrist whom 2314 said would confirm his story since have been interrogated and denied having any knowledge that 2314 saw Speicher in 1998. All four passed lie-detector tests.

However, the DIA report also notes that an Iraqi prisoner reported to U.S. Marines that he heard two prison guards discussing the "U.S. pilot," providing enough doubt for Nelson to continue his campaign to find or account for Speicher.

Pentagon sources say Nelson's high-profile approach of holding press conferences and posting pictures on his website of himself pointing at the initials found in the prison cell have created an adversarial relationship between the senator and the Pentagon. Says one senior official, "Nelson is handling this just as badly as Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., handled the Vietnam MIA issue."

Asked if he was being a publicity hound, as suggested by senior Pentagon personnel, Nelson snapped, "I am doing this for the family. And I am not going to stop until I get some answers!"

Family attorney Cindy Laquidara of Jacksonville, Fla., also takes offense at what she considers cheap shots at Nelson.

"I asked him to go over there," she says. "They should be mad at me." Laquidara adds that many news stories have been riddled with falsehoods, including allegations that it may not be Speicher's flight suit that was recovered and that he may not have ejected.

"It is his flight suit. It's not alleged. It's his," she says, noting that witnesses have identified it as belonging to Speicher. "And he did eject!" The aviator's Hornet was found with the seat ejected. Laquidara also expresses anger that the Pentagon has done little to advertise or promote the $1 million reward for information that helps to solve the Speicher mystery.

Congressional sources close to Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and also outspoken on the Speicher case, tell Insight they believe the timing of the "Pentagon report" may indicate a backlash to Nelson's "political showboating" as compared to Roberts' persistent but low-key approach.

That might help explain the sea of negative reports, such as that investigators searched 50 prisons and seven graves but found nothing. Even in the prison cell where Speicher's initials were found a genetic test of hair recovered from a drain proved it did not belong to the missing pilot. While forensic scientists continue to test other material taken from that cell, Nelson doesn't expect a breakthrough from that trail.

"I wasn't surprised that they didn't find anything. The cell looked clean to me," Nelson says. "It looked like someone had gone in there and cleaned and scrubbed the cell."

Nelson believes there still is a secret underground prison system being run by Saddamist holdouts that may contain not only Speicher but also hundreds of missing Kuwaiti prisoners. In late August about a dozen Kuwaiti prisoners were freed, but no one seems to know what happened to the 600 others reportedly still being held, Nelson says.

Roberts, however, thinks Speicher is possibly being moved about as Saddam's trophy prisoner.

Asked if he saw any evidence on his recent trip to Iraq suggesting that Speicher still is alive, Nelson replied, "No. But I didn't see any evidence that he was not alive." In fact, one piece of evidence that has raised hopes is a 90-page Iraqi document found in a prison in July. The report, dated January 2003, lists prisoners of war, or POWs, being held, and Speicher is among those named. While it remains unclear whether the names of those so listed include the subsequently deceased, the Pentagon still is analyzing these records along with thousands of other POW-related files.

Former officials from Iraq continue to claim Speicher is dead, but few believe they are telling the truth. Saddam attempted as early as March 1991 to pass off the remains of someone else as Speicher, but DNA tests proved otherwise. In fact, officials now are retesting that DNA to determine if the unidentified body was that of a Gulf War I veteran who may have died a month after Speicher was shot down. According to a 90-page document turned over to a U.S. intelligence officer by an Iraqi general, those remains belong to an American pilot.

The retesting also comes at a time when Speicher's family has been considering asking that the remains be tested again to rule out any possibility it is Speicher.

In the meantime, both Roberts and Nelson plan to press for congressional hearings to determine who is at fault for the failure to make a timely and thorough search for Speicher. "We would certainly encourage John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the [Senate] Armed Service Committee, to hold hearings. We are constantly in his ear. And I will tell you that if Speicher is not found, I am not walking away never," Nelson vows.