The Washington Times

Progress reported in search for Speicher

April 25, 2003
Section: NATION

Page: A06


Caption: Speicher [NO CREDIT]

CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency officials said they are making progress in finding a missing Navy pilot and have dismissed months of faulty intelligence reports.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded this week that they were fed false information on Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, who has been missing since the 1991 Persian Gulf war, as the result of the searches of three sites in Iraq, one intelligence official said yesterday.

The searches by an Army team of three sites in Iraq where Capt. Speicher was reported by Iraqis to be held came up empty.

"As a result, we are now eliminating some sources [of intelligence] whose veracity is questionable," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

"All the rash of reports we had from late last year to early this year on Speicher were found to be intentionally false," the official said. "It appears the Iraqis were really good at putting out misleading information."

A special team of intelligence officers recently arrived in Iraq to begin searching for Capt. Speicher and were led to a prison earlier this week where the initials "MSS" were found on a prison wall.

The initials found at the Kahmiyah prison may have been written by Capt. Speicher, officials said.

Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the MSS initials were found at an Iraqi prison known as the "judgment center," where interrogations of prisoners were carried out.

"Obviously finding the initials is encouraging," said Mr. Roberts, who for years has been pressing the Pentagon to resolve the Speicher case.

"It's another piece of the puzzle. Scott left his own record," he said.

U.S. investigators in Iraq are looking for Iraqi records on the case and are trying to locate Iraqi officials who may know about Capt. Speicher's fate and whereabouts, he said.

"We know the Iraqis kept very detailed records, so we're hopeful more information will be forthcoming soon," Mr. Roberts said in an interview.

Capt. Speicher initially was classified as killed in action during the 1991 Persian Gulf war. But his status was changed in 2001 and again earlier this year to "missing-captured" based on intelligence reports.

An Iraqi informant led the U.S. intelligence team to the prison, where other English-language words were found scrawled on walls, the official said.

U.S. officials have said one problem with investigating the case of Capt. Speicher is legislation signed into law in October by President Bush. The law, known as the Persian Gulf War POW/MIA Accountability Act, gives the U.S. government the power to grant refugee status to any Iraqi or Middle Eastern national who helps the United States rescue a living American Persian Gulf war prisoner.

The increase in bogus intelligence reports on Capt. Speicher followed passage of the law.

The recent searches helped prove that the source of the bad intelligence on Capt. Speicher cannot be trusted, the intelligence official said.

"We don't know whether it was intentional disinformation, or whether it was the result of someone seeking personal gain," the official said.

The discovery of the bad informant has helped searchers focus their efforts on more promising leads, the official said.

CIA and DIA investigators in Iraq now are looking for several key officials who are believed to have knowledge of Capt. Speicher's fate.

The pilot went missing after his F-18 jet was shot down southwest of Baghdad on the first night of the 1991 Gulf war.

A later search of the crash scene revealed that the pilot had ejected and was probably taken prisoner by the Iraqis.

Numerous intelligence reports from Iraq in the past two years have indicated that the now-ousted regime of Saddam Hussein was holding an American pilot believed to be Capt. Speicher.