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US Pilot Reportedly Held in Iraq - 2002-03-14

The Pentagon is looking into new reports that an American fighter pilot shot down during the Gulf war 11 years ago may still be alive and held captive in Baghdad.

Lieutenant Commander Speicher's F-18 was shot down by Iraqi fire on the first day of the Gulf war. He was first declared killed in action after the wreckage of his fighter jet was located in the Iraqi desert. But a year ago, the Pentagon reclassified his status as 'missing in action', after various leads surfaced suggesting he might have ejected and survived.

The Pentagon has repeatedly sought information from Iraq about Commander Speicher's fate - only to be rebuffed. Now, U.S. intelligence officials say the CIA has informed Congress about new information regarding the Speicher case. Without going into details, Defense Intelligence Agency Spokesman Jim Brooks will only say that top Pentagon commanders are not ruling anything out. "We do investigate every lead, and we keep Congress abreast of what's going on with this investigation," he said. "I think the Lieutenant Commander Speicher case is a front-burner interest item for all senior leadership."

No remains of the fighter pilot have ever been turned over to the United States and the Pentagon has said it does not know if Commander Speicher is dead or alive. Still, U.S. intelligence officials say they believe the Iraqi government knows more about the case than it is willing to admit.