- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

A U.S. intelligence report on the case of Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher provides the most complete explanation by the U.S. government on why the pilot probably was captured alive by Iraqis after ejecting from his F-18 in 1991.
"We assess Lt. Cmdr. Speicher was either captured alive or his remains were recovered and brought to Baghdad," said the report, "Intelligence Community Assessment of Lieutenant Commander Speicher Case."
A six-page unclassified summary of the report based on CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency data states that Cmdr. Speicher "probably survived" the loss of his aircraft, and if he survived, he almost certainly was captured by the Iraqis.
The report was produced at the request of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, and a note stated that the unclassified version is "incomplete" because secret data was omitted.
The Navy F-18 pilot disappeared Jan. 17, 1991, the first night of the Persian Gulf war. He was the only U.S. serviceman lost over land during the war, and he was classified "killed-in-action, body not recovered" until last year.
On Jan. 11, 2001, his status was changed to missing in action.
President Bush said on Wednesday that Cmdr. Speicher could be alive and expressed disgust at Saddam Hussein, "who would be so cold and heartless as to hold an American flier for all this period of time without notification to his family."
The intelligence report is dated March 27, 2001, but its contents were not disclosed until Monday, after a copy was obtained by The Washington Times.
U.S. intelligence officials told The Times that they had obtained new information in the past several months since the report was issued indicating that Cmdr. Speicher is being held in Iraq.
According to the intelligence report, all coalition airmen were accounted for at the end of the Gulf war except for Cmdr. Speicher and a Saudi Arabian pilot.
Suspicions about his fate were raised in 1991 when Baghdad gave the United States a small amount of human remains it identified as part of a pilot named "Mickel." Laboratory analysis revealed the remains were "human, but not those of Lt. Cmdr. Speicher," the report said.
Afterward, the Iraqi government said the pilot was "devoured by animals and that no remains were found," the report said.
The F-18 initially was thought to have blown up in flight. But in 1993, U.S. intelligence was informed that Cmdr. Speicher's downed F-18 was located in southwestern Iraq, and two years later a U-2 spy aircraft photographed the site.
A team of investigators, working with the International Committee of the Red Cross, visited the site in December 1995 and found that the area had "been expertly searched within a month prior to the team's arrival" by the Iraqis.
"The Iraqis excavated the cockpit area of the wreckage and removed all significant cockpit debris," the report said.
But a key finding of crash investigators was that Cmdr. Speicher "initiated the ejection sequence, jettisoned the canopy and likely ejected from the stricken aircraft prior to the crash."
Officials said the evidence of ejection, combined with agent reports saying Iraq held an American pilot, eventually led to Cmdr. Speicher's reclassification as missing in action.
At the crash site, the canopy was found nearby but the ejection seat "could not be found," the report said.
Navy investigators later concluded that the pilot of the downed aircraft was "not incapacitated" by the missile that it and that Cmdr. Speicher had an "85 to 90 percent chance of surviving."
The team at the crash site also was given a flight suit by the Iraqis that purported to be Cmdr. Speicher's. Its condition revealed that "the pilot was not in the aircraft at ground impact." It also contained what was possibly a trace of blood, the report said.
The report said the lack of evidence at the crash site that Cmdr. Speicher died combined with the condition of the flight suit "suggest that he probably survived the crash of his F/A-18."
The Iraqi government's handling of Cmdr. Speicher's case providing false human remains, tampering with the crash site and planting the flight suit "raises troubling questions about his fate," the report said.
"The regime had made it a high priority to capture enemy personnel or recover remains inside Iraqi-controlled territory, and Baghdad would have thoroughly investigated the matter until the pilot was captured or the remains recovered," the report said.
"Baghdad's efforts to recover coalition airmen downed over Iraqi controlled territory were highly successful."
The report said Iraq's government "was aware of Western press reports during the war that indicated Cmdr. Speicher was dead."
The press reports "would have caused Iraqi intelligence to investigate, and the information very likely helped Baghdad focus its search for the wreckage and the pilot," the report said.
The State Department said earlier this week that efforts to obtain information from Baghdad about the pilot's fate were unsuccessful. The Pentagon also called on Iraq to tell what it knows about the case.
Iraq's government has said it does not know what happened to Cmdr. Speicher. However, an Iraqi government spokesman said in January 2001 that Baghdad had documents on the Speicher case that have not been disclosed yet, according to U.S. diplomat Andrew Morrison in Geneva.

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