A top-secret U.S. intelligence operation, working in Baghdad weeks before the war, provided the crucial targeting information for the attack on Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, which may have killed Saddam's son Qusay, administration officials said.
The highly clandestine targeting effort, directed at top Iraq leaders, involved specialized CIA and military teams under command of the CIA, these sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A senior, former covert operative of the CIA told United Press International Friday that the "most important" information was obtained by a small group of Delta Force operatives who infiltrated a fiber optic communication center in Baghdad, compromising its communications.
"They were able to triangulate phone calls and determine their point of origin," this source said.
Fiberoptic lines are considered one of the most secure forms of telephone communications, according to a former Bell Atlantic official.
Delta Forces are part of the Joint Special Operations Command based at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Two administration officials with access to sensitive intelligence told UPI that Saddam and his two sons definitely were in one of the three buildings of the compound in a Baghdad suburb when it was flattened by bombs from F-117 fighters and cruise missiles from U.S. ships and submarines early Thursday Iraq time.
The attack came after expiration of an ultimatum from U.S. President George W. Bush that Saddam and his sons leave Iraq or face war.
"Saddam was in the building when that stuff went off," said one U.S. official.
Another U.S. official said: "Within the (intelligence) community there is a general belief that Saddam is still alive, and the rest is wishful thinking."
A CIA source said Saddam it is believed "sustained two burst ear drums" during the attack on the three-building compound. Saddam "also sustained damage from concussion" and was "extremely disoriented...almost in a vegetative state" for a time.
He confirmed that Delta units had infiltrated a fiberoptic relay station in Bahgdad and "intercepted a number of calls by senior Iraqi leaders." The
targeting data was based on those intercepts although Defense Intelligence Agency analysts had the lead in putting together the targeting package.
One former senior U.S. intelligence official said that the administration is examining "highly credible" reports that Saddam's son, Qusay, had been killed in the raid.
An administration official acknowledged the report is in "circulation" but said: "We don't know yet if it's accurate."
A former senior CIA analyst, who said he also thinks that Qusay is dead, pointed to a quote Saddam made in his broadcast after the attack in which the Iraqi leader said: "This family has sacrificed in this war."
The former senior analyst said he believed this was a reference to Qusay's death. "I'm surprised more people haven't picked up on this," he said.
Qusay, 37, a low-key personality known by critics as Mr. Snake, was being groomed by Saddam to be his successor, U.S. officials said.
In addition to Qusay's death, an administration official said there were "very credible reports" that Izzet al Douri, the red-headed commander of Iraq's Northern Region, had also been killed in the raid.
"We have the reports on these people; we don't have an definite answer yet," this official said.
Administration officials also said that it was definitely Saddam who appeared Friday in broadcast on Iraqi TV.
According to U.S. government officials, the CIA-directed intelligence collection effort was tasked to focus on Iraqi military and residential sites used by the senior leadership for meetings and get-togethers.
A congressional staffer told UPI: "We know that certain places in Baghdad were kept under visual surveillance by U.S. intelligence -- both human and technical surveillance."
The CIA/military teams consisted of operatives, many of whom are black or Middle Easterners "who could pass for Iraqis -- they were swarthy, fluent in Arabic, knew the dialects," according to one former senior CIA official. Saddam, for example, speaks Arabic with a heavy Tikrit accent, he said.
Tikrit is Saddam's hometown.
Arabic-speaking analysts from the Defense Intelligence Agency made a key contribution in putting together "the final targeting package," a former senior Pentagon official said.