The CIA has internal documents that make clear Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is alive and hiding in greater Baghdad, protected by an underground resistance network of tribesmen and former Baath officials, administration officials told United Press International.
"There is a resistance network and it is stronger than we originally thought," one administration source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Saddam is moving around inside Iraq and he's got a lot of support," another U.S. government official said.
He added: "A lot of what is being reported in the press as `looting' is in fact sabotage by Baath party stay-behind groups."
The underground Baath resistance is made up of former party officials who are funded with money looted from the Iraqi treasury, this source said.
"There is credible evidence that Saddam is still alive and being sheltered," said former CIA chief Vince Cannistraro.
A CIA spokesman did not respond to requests for comment by UPI.
Angelo Codevilla, former senior member of the Senate intelligence committee and now a Middle East expert at Boston University, said that the millions in $100 bills looted just before the start of the war "indicated that Saddam had long planned to simply go underground. It was not a hasty decision."
Administration officials said U.S. forces in Iraq are conducting searches for Saddam in greater Baghdad and in "a small town" just north of the city.
According to U.S. intelligence officials, Saddam and his entourage simply move in with a private family. Members of the family, including children, are taken as hostages so that no other family member will be tempted to inform on Saddam's whereabouts.
These sources said that when Saddam is ready to move to another safe house, the hostages are returned and the family is paid as much as $50,000 for the temporary use of their home.
Iraq's former deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, No. 25 on the U.S. list of most wanted Iraqis who was taken into custody April 25, was quoted in a USA Today story as telling U.S. interrogators that he had seen Saddam alive after two U.S. airstrikes mounted to kill him.
Aziz's statements "bolstered sketchy information flowing into U.S. intelligence" that Saddam survived the March 19 and April 7 airstrikes targeting him and his sons, the story said.
Some 15 other former Iraqi officials are being interrogated in Kuwait, U.S. intelligence officials told UPI.
Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi opposition leader, also claimed in a recent TV interview that he believes that Saddam and his two sons, Uday and Qusay, are both alive although he did not elaborate on his evidence.