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TV reveals little about Hussein

Intelligence specialists disagree on whether recent TV appearances were taped before the war, but either way, they reveal little.

[AP photo]
This image of Saddam Hussein was broadcast Thursday.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 4, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Some military intelligence analysts have concluded that all of Saddam Hussein's television appearances since the beginning of the war in Iraq were prerecorded, most likely before the fighting started, but the CIA says it has made no such determination.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press Thursday that an in-depth analysis of various aspects of the video images has led some analysts to believe the tapes were recorded before the war. The official declined to provide details.

But the CIA, which has analysts with long experience of studying speeches and appearances by foreign leaders, has no conclusive information that suggests when the videotapes were made, officials said. It is possible, but not certain, that they were recorded before the war, they said.

The difference in the military and CIA assessments underscores how many eyes, from a number of government agencies, are looking for signs of the Iraqi president.

But a determination from the Pentagon that all the tapes were made before military action got under way would shed no light on Hussein's status. He has not been detected since March 19, when American bombs struck the Baghdad compound where he was believed to be sleeping.

Hussein may have ordered prerecorded messages be used to inspire his followers without exposing him to attack, or others in the Iraqi government may be using the tapes to conceal Hussein's death or wounding.

Intelligence officials do not know whether Hussein and his sons are alive or dead. It is unclear who is giving orders in the Iraqi government.

The most puzzling videotape remains the one aired hours after the strike on his compound. In it, a disheveled Hussein appeared on Iraqi television, reading what appeared to be an impromptu speech. But nothing in the speech proved it was not prerecorded.

He has since looked much more composed in television appearances.

All of his video messages have lacked the specific sort of information -- akin to holding up that day's newspaper -- that would confirm Hussein is alive, officials said.

One early message seemed to refer to battles that took place after the strike at Hussein, but officials said the references were to battle sites that would have been obvious before the war.

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