U.S. intelligence agencies are monitoring one or more facilities in Libya on the suspicion that the regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi may seek to produce poison gas after staging a hoax fire in March at an alleged chemical weapons complex at Rabta, 60 miles southwest of Tripoli, administration officials said yesterday.

White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater yesterday reiterated the Bush administration's concern over Libya's suspected chemical weapons program, saying, "We are prepared to believe the worst."

He declined to specify the location of the facilities that have become the focus of U.S. attention, but another administration official added, "there are a couple of places {in Libya} indicated as possible sites and they are being watched, but nothing has panned out so far."

Fitzwater said, "we are making an assessment. We just don't have any conclusions to give."

Other administration officials familiar with the intelligence reports on the Libyan chemical program cautioned that it is too early to draw any conclusions about possible new production of poisonous gases.

It was the suspected start of such production last December at the Rabta facility that mobilized the Bush administration to send a series of stern warnings to Gadhafi through third countries that the United States would not tolerate a facility that could supply poison gas to terrorist organizations or potential Mideast belligerents.

Administration officials said that a report in The Washington Times yesterday asserting that Gadhafi is building a new underground chemical complex several hundred miles south of Tripoli was not correct and had not been confirmed by a Central Intelligence Agency report, as the newspaper said.

"Our basic position is that we think Gadhafi is not finished with chemical weapons," one administration official said, adding, "Do we think there is a new facility now? No."

Fitzwater said that the apparent hoax in March at the Rabta chemical facility has given the Bush administration "a pretty clear indication of intentions and willingness to deceive the world in order to further their own intents on this issue."

The White House spokesman added that Gadhafi's deception in March "has bred our suspicion about the possibility of a second plant as well."

The March blaze, which was detected by reconnaissance satellites, led administration officials to declare that the Gadhafi poison-gas venture had gone up in smoke. Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams declared that the facility had suffered "extensive damage" in the fire, and other administration officials said several foreign nationals working in Libya had been arrested, leading to widespread speculation that the fire resulted from foreign sabotage.

But in subsequent weeks, U.S. intelligence officials detected signs that the fire was a deliberate deception, including possibly the use of burning tires to create smoke in the Rabta plant and painted-on scorch marks.

As these concerns were expressed in Washington, Gadhafi was exhorting the Libyan public to "work day and night" to produce an Arab atomic bomb "in defiance of America," according to a report from the Libyan news agency, JANA.