Byline: Timothy W. Maier, INSIGHT
When someone leaked to the Washington Times last month the so-called "secret two-page Pentagon report" that suggested U.S. Navy aviator Capt. Michael Scott Speicher died when his F-18 Hornet was shot down Jan. 17, 1991, the feisty Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) figured it was a message to back off of his crusade to find out what had happened to the pilot still missing from the Persian Gulf War. An infuriated Nelson slammed the pessimistic news story in the Times, claiming it was full of faulty information, such as labeling as a liar an Iraqi defector who claims to have seen Speicher alive. Nelson demanded to see the Pentagon report.
But, to his surprise, the Pentagon told him straight out that there is no Pentagon report. After a little more digging Nelson's staff learned that this two-page document, dated June 23, actually was written by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) which also repeatedly had debunked stories that U.S. servicemen were left behind in Vietnam. "There was nothing new in the report," insists Nelson, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who helped push Speicher's promotion last year to captain. The DIA report rebukes allegations by an Iraqi defector known as "2314" who claims to have given Speicher a ride to a Baghdad hospital. The report says the assessment that Speicher survived the crash primarily is based on information provided by "2314," although Nelson insists there are more witnesses and more intelligence information, such as the recovery of the American pilot's flight suit, which when put together lead to a probability that Speicher survived. The DIA's bleak picture appeared to suggest Speicher probably died in the fiery crash.
It's not the first time Speicher has been presumed dead. Vice President Dick Cheney, who was the defense secretary in 1991, reported the pilot's death as the first casualty of Gulf War I. The Pentagon assured Speicher's family a full search-and-rescue mission had been launched but they later learned the assurance was a lie [see "Turning Their Backs on Speicher," May 27, and "Forgotten Flier," June 17, 2002]. At present a specialized search team of 15 personnel at the DIA, the CIA and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency are interrogating Iraqi prisoners and surveying Saddam Hussein's known prisons for clues in hopes of finding Speicher.
The DIA report conflicts with an earlier CIA report delivered to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in March 2001. The CIA report stated, "Iraq can account for Lt. Cmdr. Speicher, [but] is concealing information about his fate." It also claimed Speicher ejected with at least an "85 to 90 percent chance of surviving. ... We assess Speicher was either captured alive or his remains were recovered and brought to Baghdad." It was the CIA report that forced president Bill Clinton to change Speicher's status from killed in action to missing in action/captured (MIA) 10 days before Clinton left office on Jan. 11, 2001. The DIA report also fails to mention that the Iraqi defector, who claimed to have driven Speicher to Baghdad, had passed two lie-detector tests. Instead the report says he will be given a lie-detector test.
"Somebody is leaking disinformation that is incorrect," says Nelson, who made a trip to Iraq in July and visited a cell in Hakmiya Prison in Baghdad where Speicher's initials, M.S.S., were carved into a wall of a prison cell. "He didn't die in the crash. I truly believe that someone is trying to kill the Speicher investigation," the Florida senator insists.
Sources familiar with the DIA report say the analysis in the two-page document did not come from senior intelligence officials but nonetheless was handed to Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The DIA report amounted to field observations but did take into account some recent findings including one set of the M.S.S. initials etched onto the Baghdad prison wall in cell 46, Insight sources say. …