Lou Ann Pearthree, an anti-war activist in Charlottesville, is convinced the Bush administration is deceiving the country.

"Of course, we feel like the draft is coming back," she said Friday at the headquarters of the Coalition for Peace in the Middle East. "With the numbers of people they are using, it just seems logical."

White House and Defense Department officials say the persistent rumors that the draft will be revived are like the Scud missile: an outdated, inaccurate concept that they have to keep shooting down.

"We don't have a policy on the draft because, as far as we are concerned, it doesn't exist," said Maj. Douglas Hart, a Pentagon manpower spokesman. "The Department of Defense does not want, will not ask Congress for and does not feel we need the draft."

Administration officials, from President Bush on down, have declared repeatedly that they might mobilize up to 1 million reserve and National Guard personnel -- but not enlist draftees -- to fight Iraq. "Really, nobody that I know of who is a serious student of this has raised {the draft} issue," said Martin Binkin, a military manpower specialist at the Brookings Institution.

Reinstituting the draft would require an act of Congress and the mere suggestion of that would set off a political firestorm that would undermine the support Bush has built for the war, Binkin said.

Yet the rumors the draft will be reinstated persist.

Binkin and others suggest the rumors may be fueled by a number of factors, including the "draft counseling" centers that a number of peace groups have established, often in college towns like Charlottesville. The Vietnam War protests were in large part built around a cadre of college students who opposed induction and Binkin said the protest leaders may be seeking to build their coalition by enlisting more college-age students.

The protest leaders call the administration's statements false. "I'd like to point out we're getting a lot of disinformation," said Pearthree, citing what she called early optimistic news stories about a quick defeat of Iraqi forces. "The assurances coming out of the administration are taken with a great deal of skepticism."

No one, however, disputes the Selective Service System's claim that it could quickly reinstitute the draft. Barbi Richardson, a spokeswoman for the system, said last week that the agency has all the equipment needed to begin a national lottery stored at its headquarters on 31st Street NW. "Within hours" of a presidential directive, it could hold a lottery picking the first draftees by their date of birth, she said.

"Our mission is to be ready, and we are ready," Richardson said.

Young men have been required to sign up with the agency since draft registration was resumed in 1980 after a seven-year hiatus. The names are stored in a large computer the service maintains at Building 3400 at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Chicago. The computer could print millions of mailgrams giving young men the "greetings" that they are needed by Uncle Sam within hours after their birth dates are selected.

Within 13 days the system could supply some inductees and within 30 days could provide 100,000, Richardson said. The current system is programmed to call up 20-year-olds first, followed by those 21, 22, 23, 24, and 25 years old. Then, 19- and 18-year-olds would be called under the current plans.

Selective Service says there are 1.5 million to 2 million men in each age group and that, thanks to federal rules linking college scholarships and other federal benefits to registration, 97 percent of the men age 18 to 25 are in its computer files.

Despite all the planning, Richardson said, Selective Service has no plans for activating the draft. As for readiness, "that's simply our job. It's business as usual for the Selective Service," she said.

Richardson also provided an official agency statement: "Neither Congress, the White House, nor the Department of Defense indicates that a draft is under consideration and the president has said that a draft is not necessary."

Some military experts argue that a draft is needed to make military service more equitable. But Charles H. Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University and one of those who makes such an argument, acknowledged,"There is no way we're going to have a draft to fight war in the Persian Gulf."

The United States has instituted a draft only twice "after bullets started flying" -- in the Civil War and World War I -- and both times, Moskos said, the result was widespread civil unrest.

"It's just a non-starter," Moskos said. "On the other hand, without a draft, we can't fight a war for very long."

Moskos and Binkin said they doubt reservists can play the major combat roles that have been assigned to some Army Reserve and National Guard units. If the conflict lasts more than a year, then a draft could be necessary, Binkin said.

The resulting furor would be too much for the Bush administration, Moskos predicted. "It's not going to happen. We'd lose, rather than go to the draft," he said.

Even if a draft were instituted tomorrow, Binkin said, it would be impossible for the military to train draftees and send them to the gulf in time to participate in the war. At a minimum there would be a debate over whether women, homosexuals and marijuana smokers should be inducted, he said.

Given the amount of training recruits need today, "at a minimum you're talking eight or nine months" from induction to deployment with a combat unit, he said. By then, the gulf war should be over, according to most estimates.