Tuesday, March 2, 2004

An FBI laboratory is investigating evidence obtained in Iraq regarding missing Navy pilot Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, U.S. officials say.

Investigators are trying to determine whether the initials “MSS” found carved on a wooden beam at an Iraqi prison were made by Capt. Speicher, who might have been held captive there after his F-18 jet was shot down in 1991.

Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, stated in Senate testimony that evidence related to the case was turned over to the laboratory in Quantico, Va., as part of “a relatively small number of active leads still being pursued” by investigators in Iraq.

“There’s still some forensic work being done by FBI laboratories on the beam with the initials on it and some other materials that have been brought back, and we don’t have a final report out from them,” Adm. Jacoby said.

A defense official said yesterday the investigation is ongoing. The FBI is using its high-technology resources at the laboratory to analyze the letters to find out what kind of carving tool might have been used.

Adm. Jacoby said the search for Capt. Speicher remains “an active case.”

The Navy’s top admiral said yesterday there is no evidence to change Capt. Speicher’s status from “missing-captured.”

“We have not found out new specific intelligence revelations that have changed our fundamental conclusion,” said Adm. Vern Clark, the chief of naval operations.

Cindy Laquidara, a Florida lawyer who represents Capt. Speicher’s family, said yesterday she has heard about talk in the Pentagon of changing Capt. Speicher’s status back to “killed in action.”

A Navy official, however, said there is not enough evidence to reclassify Capt. Speicher as killed in acton.

Mrs. Laquidara said the U.S. military has top Iraqi officials in custody who would have information on Capt. Speicher and that she wants to interview them.

Iraq insisted before the recent war that Capt. Speicher was dead, and Saddam Hussein had told military interrogators in December, shortly after his capture, that he knew nothing about the fate of the pilot.

The letters “MSS” were found scrawled on a cell wall in the Hakmiyah prison in Iraq where informants have said an American prisoner was held.

Capt. Speicher went missing on Jan. 17, 1991, after his F-18 Hornet was hit by a missile on the first night of the Persian Gulf war.

The Navy initially classified Capt. Speicher as killed in action, but later reclassified him as missing, based on intelligence that he had survived the crash and that Iraq was holding an American pilot. During a visit to the crash site several years ago, investigators found Capt. Speicher’s flight suit.

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