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U.S. officials: Saddam's TV spots may have been taped

Television in background might date latest appearance

From Jamie McIntyre and David Ensor

Iraqi TV broadcast pictures of Saddam on Thursday while an anchor read a statement purporting to come from the Iraqi leader.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The grainy image on a television screen could provide U.S. intelligence with a vital clue about when the latest video of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was taped.

Defense and intelligence officials have been scrutinizing his appearances on Iraqi TV since the two-week-old war began with a "decapitation attack" aimed at Saddam, his two sons and other top government officials.

The officials say it is likely all the appearances were recorded before the conflict, raising more questions about whether the Iraqi leader was killed or injured in that initial airstrike.

"We think it is quite likely, but we have reached no such conclusion," a CIA spokesman said.

A senior defense official with access to classified U.S. intelligence said all the Saddam tapes appear to have been prerecorded. The official cautioned that the conclusion was "not 100 percent," but said the analysis -- based on such things as the contents of the rooms, the dress of the people in the rooms and the people themselves -- has found no evidence that the tapes were made after March 19.

In the video shown Thursday on Iraqi TV, Saddam is seen in green fatigues with about a dozen top advisers sitting in a barren room, with drawn yellow curtains. As the camera pans, a television can be seen over the shoulder of one of the men.

The television is on, the image on the screen is difficult to make out.

U.S. military and intelligence officials said the television is drawing scrutiny for any clues it might yield.

The tape has not been analyzed, but officials said figuring out when the television images were broadcast might tell them when the tape was made.

"It may or may not be possible," one U.S. official said.

Iraqi officials have maintained that their leader is alive, though he has not been seen in public and has made no live television appearances. Iraqi TV had said it would broadcast a live statement from Saddam on Tuesday, but an aide read the statement instead.

In recent days, Pentagon officials have publicly questioned whether Saddam is alive or in control of his military.

"Where are Iraq's leaders?" Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday.

"The night before the ground war began, coalition forces launched a strike on a meeting of Iraq's senior command and control, and they have not been heard from since," he said. "The fact that Saddam Hussein did not show up for his televised speech [Tuesday] is interesting."

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