The Washington Times

Army bid to locate pilot turns up empty

April 22, 2003
Section: NATION

Page: A09


A U.S. military search team in Iraq has checked three sites in the country for signs of a Navy pilot missing from the 1991 Persian Gulf war but has found nothing, defense officials said yesterday.

A team of Army specialists given the job of looking for Capt. Michael Scott Speicher conducted the searches in the past several days acting on intelligence information obtained before Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The specialists visited facilities and residences where the Iraqis were suspected of holding a U.S. pilot, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"They came up empty," said one official. "The search is continuing."

A U.S. intelligence official said there have been two recent reports indicating that Capt. Speicher is being held in Iraq.

In addition, numerous intelligence reports in the months leading up to the ongoing Iraq campaign indicated that Saddam Hussein's government had been holding a U.S. pilot.

The U.S. Army has formed a special team to search for terrorists, weapons of mass destruction and Capt. Speicher.

Additional intelligence teams are in Kuwait, waiting for Iraq to be stabilized before conducting searches and investigations related to Capt. Speicher, who went missing in January 1991 on the first night of the Gulf war.

At the time, he was declared killed in action, but several years later, new evidence surfaced indicating that the pilot had ejected from his F-18 jet and survived the crash. His status was reclassified twice, with the latest category being "missing captured."

Disclosure of the recent searches for Capt. Speicher comes amid growing pressure on the Pentagon to resolve the fate of the missing pilot.

Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, said Sunday that Capt. Speicher may be alive in a Baghdad prison cell.

Family and friends of the Navy pilot are "pulling on a full-court press to find him," Mr. Roberts said.

A spokeswoman for the Speicher family, Cindy Laquidara, said last week that the military should do more to find out about Capt. Speicher's fate.

Mr. Roberts said teams in Iraq are looking at documents and talking to people who can help locate Capt. Speicher.

Earlier this month, the U.S. military took over Iraq's Rasheed military prison in eastern Baghdad, where the Iraqis were known to have kept foreign nationals prisoner. The prison provided some intelligence on inmates, a U.S. defense official said.

A U.S. intelligence report from March 14 stated that Capt. Speicher had been seen being moved in Baghdad recently, officials said.