Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) has reprimanded an aide for writing what appeared to be an official Senate letter to Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney that questioned whether President Bush and other administration officials have used a "code word" in speeches on the Persian Gulf situation.

Pell, who has had a longtime interest in the paranormal, said aide C.B. Scott Jones, who is paid to study paranormal phenomena, such as ESP, did not have permission to write to Cheney.

Jones's Oct. 3 letter on Senate stationery, which was sent anonymously to a number of Rhode Island news organizations this week, said the word "Simone" had appeared when speeches by Bush, Cheney and Secretary of State James A. Baker III were played backward.

"I mention this situation in case it is a code word that would not be in the national interest to be known," Jones wrote. "If the word means nothing special to you, this is a non-event, just another mystery in a new technology we are developing."

Pell, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Providence Journal-Bulletin that the reverse-speech theory "sounds wacky, {but} there may be some merit to it." He said he thought Jones was concerned that the alleged code word was accessible and that the letter was "motivated by patriotic reasons."

Pell said he had not known about the letter until reporters questioned him.

Jones said the reverse-speech theory holds that audio tapes played backward can reveal the hidden codes or thoughts behind normal speech. Someone alerted him to the "Simone" theory and he decided to alert Cheney, a personal friend, he said.

Pell, who is running for reelection to a sixth term against Rep. Claudine Schneider (R), said the timing of the letter "certainly isn't helpful."