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U.S. officials downplay report on Navy pilot in Iraq

Michael Scott Speicher
Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher's aircraft was shot down on the first day of the Iraqi air war in 1991.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. officials Monday downplayed a published report that a Navy pilot initially thought to have been killed in action during the Persian Gulf War might be alive and held in Iraq.

The report in Monday's Washington Times said the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency received new information several months ago from British intelligence about Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher.

A Pentagon source told CNN that new information came from a former Iraqi citizen who did not have firsthand knowledge of Speicher's fate. The Pentagon has an active investigation to determine what happened to the pilot, officials said.

The Washington Times reported that U.S. intelligence officials said the British information came from someone who had been in Iraq and had learned that an American pilot was being held captive in Baghdad.

Last year, based on information from an Iraqi defector, the Navy changed Speicher's status from killed in action/body not recovered to missing in action, the newspaper reported.

However, few U.S. officials are said to believe Speicher is alive, and several said the latest intelligence adds little to what is already known about his fate.

Speicher's F/A-18 Hornet was shot down on January 17, 1991, the first day of the air war over Iraq. He was placed on MIA status the next day.

Several U.S. officials who talked to CNN dismissed the Washington Times article.

"We've had a number of leads over the years," one Pentagon official said. "This is among the slimmest."

Another U.S. official said, "If Scott Speicher were still alive, Saddam Hussein would have brought him out for propaganda."

He added, "We get reports all the time that we check out."

The United States continues to seek a full accounting from Iraq about what happened to Speicher, but one official said the assumption is that he died shortly after the crash.

On May 22, 1991, after a Navy status review board found "no credible evidence" to suggest Speicher had survived, the pilot's status was changed from missing in action to killed in action.

In December 1995, working through the International Committee of the Red Cross, investigators from the Navy and Army's Central Identification Laboratory entered Iraq and conducted a thorough excavation of the crash site.

In September 1996, based on a comprehensive review of evidence accumulated since the initial killed-in-action determination, the Navy secretary reaffirmed the presumptive finding of death.

CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.




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