Posted on Fri, May. 30, 2003

U.S. using reward, posters in search for pilot
The Kansas City Star

Michael Scott Speicher

WASHINGTON - In their thus-far fruitless search in Iraq for Navy pilot Capt. Scott Speicher, U.S. investigators plan to use two old-fashioned tools: reward money and wanted posters.

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida backed a "sense of the Senate" resolution urging Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to use his authority to offer rewards for information about missing military personnel.

"We've pretty well hit a dead-end street," Roberts said of the need to try new methods to recover the pilot shot down over Iraq in 1991. "It's a little hard not to be discouraged. We had hoped by this time that we would have had more specific word. That doesn't mean we aren't persevering, that we aren't making every effort."

The Senate provision, included in the defense authorization bill passed last week, calls for publicizing a $1 million reward for information "resolving the fate" of Speicher.

Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin said members of the former Iraqi regime, terrorists or others who might have been involved in Speicher's captivity would not be eligible for the money.

The reward also applies to the search for members of the armed forces from the Korean and Vietnam wars still considered to be missing, held prisoner or killed in action, but who remain unaccounted for.

"It might flush somebody out who knew about Scott," said Roberts, a leader in the efforts to recover Speicher. "There were probably three, four or five people who even knew about him. He was more or less a pet prisoner of Saddam."

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, his two sons and dozens of other top Iraqi officials are still considered at large, assuming they survived U.S. air attacks.

Roberts, who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, acknowledged that in a recent closed-door briefing with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz he had pushed the idea of circulating posters with Speicher's photograph because he wanted "every Iraqi citizen to know exactly what Captain Speicher looks like."

The posters and the prospect of a reward should produce a flood of information, Roberts said, although much of it is likely to be useless. But he said the searchers were starting to run out of options.

Roberts said a new team of investigators would be on the ground soon in Iraq to aid the search, although he said its primary task would be to look for evidence of weapons of mass destruction. The new team is called the Iraq Survey Group and is made up mainly of scientists.

The existing team searching for Speicher is a joint operation of about a dozen persons from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and other intelligence operations.

Speicher, a Kansas City native, was the first U.S. casualty of the 1991 conflict. Although he was initially declared killed in action, subsequent evidence showed that he probably survived the crash of his fighter jet and was taken prisoner by Iraq.

His status was first changed to missing in action, but reports continued to surface that he was alive. The military now considers him to be a prisoner of war.

Once the latest war ended and military and intelligence teams began roaming Iraq, optimism was high that Speicher -- or at least evidence of his fate -- would be found.

"Obviously as years go by, the possibility of bringing him home alive realistically seems to diminish," said Larry Greer, a spokesman for the Pentagon's POW/MIA office. "But we've got to be vigilant and exercise all the resources we've got."

Expectations rose several weeks ago when investigators found Speicher's initials carved into a wall at the Hakmiyah Prison, a site where an informant reportedly said an American pilot had been held in the mid-1990s.

Amy Waters Yarsinske, a former naval intelligence officer who wrote a book last year about the Speicher case, said she understood that investigators had also found other symbols inside the prison that might have been left by Speicher.

"The symbols he was using are something he was taught in survival training," she said. "The Iraqis would have no idea what they were, even if they noticed. They are the same symbols Scott has left everywhere."

But Lt. Cmdr. Jim Brooks, a spokesman for the Defense Intelligence Agency, cast doubt on whether such symbols had been found, or if they were, that Speicher was responsible. He said the Army was conducting forensic tests.

"In all the prisons they've been through, everyone carves on the wall," he said. "I haven't seen anything definitive. The search continues."

But as more time passes without a clear resolution of Speicher's fate, his friends and supporters grow more anxious.

"The days just go by and we just keep hearing nothing," said Barry Hull, a fellow pilot in Speicher's squadron. "I was flying with Spike that night. I've had this feeling like I've been on this journey and I'm getting close to the end, and the end is going to be absolutely wonderful or just terrible.

"My optimism is fading as the days go by."

To reach David Goldstein, Washington correspondent, call (202) 383-6105, or send email to

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