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E-mail on Speicher draws flak


May 17, 2002

photo: news Family and friends of missing Jacksonville Navy pilot Scott Speicher expressed disappointment yesterday about an e-mail from a Pentagon official with the lead agency investigating the case.

Adrian Cronauer, special assistant to the deputy assistant secretary of defense for POW/MIA affairs, sent the e-mail Monday to the National Alliance of Families. He was responding to a report in the prisoner of war activist group's newsletter on a meeting he had with its leaders.

According to the e-mail, he told the group foreign intelligence reports about Speicher being alive were unconfirmed, a photo lineup from which a defector picked Speicher's picture "was very questionable," and news media accounts were inaccurate.

"I'm not here to whitewash anything nor to deceive anyone -- but I'm not going to just tell you what you want to hear, either, if I don't believe it's true," Cronauer wrote in the e-mail obtained yesterday by the Times-Union.

But groups working to bring Speicher home say the e-mail is typical of how the Pentagon has downplayed the Cecil Field flyer's case since he was shot down over Iraq 11 years ago.

"That's been their mindset all along. That was their mindset an hour after his plane went down," said Suzanne Hayes, a leader in the group Friends Working to Free Scott Speicher.

And Speicher's family's attorney said they have had no contact with the Pentagon's POW/MIA office even though it's the lead agency in the investigation. She said the family has expressed its reservations about the POW/MIA office to the undersecretary of the Navy.

"The people in the trenches, the people working this day to day, they're doing a great job, but at the level that can solve the problem, I don't see the engagement or the will," said Cindy Laquidara. "It is our position that this matter should be handled by the State Department."

Cronauer countered that it is the Defense Department's job to find out what happened to missing military personnel.

"Congress has given us this job," he said yesterday. "We're trying to leave no stone unturned."

The Pentagon declared Speicher dead immediately after he was shot down the first night of the Persian Gulf War over the Iraqi desert. But the Navy changed his status to missing in action last year.

Cronauer also appears to contradict a report last year by the Central Intelligence Agency that concluded Speicher ejected from his FA-18 Hornet fighter jet, probably survived and was captured by the Iraqis.

"There is no evidence he survived the crash," Cronauer wrote. "There also is no evidence he died either ... The only thing we are certain of is that Iraq knows more than it's telling us."

Staff writer Paul Pinkham can be reached at (904) 359-4107 or ppinkham@jacksonville.com.
Staff writer Rachel Davis can be reached at (904) 359-4614 or racheldavis@jacksonville.com.

By Paul Pinkham and Rachel Davis. Copyright © The Florida Times-Union


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