The Baghdad building destroyed in a controversial air raid yesterday by F-117A "stealth" fighters was placed on the U.S. military's target list months ago after intelligence experts concluded it was a bunker designed to shelter senior Iraqi government officials from air attack, several senior U.S. officials said yesterday.

That conclusion was based on the design of the building, which included a large open space on the top floor, and on intelligence reports from foreign engineers who had helped to construct and modify it years ago, said the officials, who declined to be identified.

They said it was one of about 20 such bunkers scattered throughout the Iraqi capital in residential neighborhoods where elite government officials are believed to have homes and that there was broad speculation in advance of the raid that some of these officials would take shelter in the building during bombing raids.

But target planners made no special effort to determine if it was indeed being used for a nighttime shelter and based their assessment of its principal functioning as a military command post on monitoring of daytime activities there during the weeks preceding the nighttime raid, they said.

In public comments yesterday, military officials said that the building had been "converted" for military use in the late 1980s and that command and control activities had "recently" been detected in the building.

Asked whether it was possible that the facility had still been in use as a "privileged sanctuary" for the Iraqi elite, Lt. Gen. Thomas Kelly, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at an afternoon Pentagon briefing that "anything's possible." He said he had no information as to any dual use of the structure.

But one U.S. government source, speaking of the original placement of the structure on the target list, said there is a gray area between so-called civilian and military targets. If key government officials and their families are believed to be using such a building for shelter, U.S. military officials believe that puts it in a category vulnerable to wartime destruction, the source said.

Brig. Gen. Richard I. Neal, deputy operations director of the U.S. military's Central Command in Saudi Arabia, told reporters yesterday that he and other officials felt confident that "it was a military bunker. It was a command and control facility. It's one of many that have been used by the Iraqi government."

But Neal also said "there was nothing to give us any indication at any time in our surveillance of that particular activity and other activities that in fact there were any civilians associated with it, and it's contrary to his {Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's} method of operation."

U.S. officials said the building initially had been constructed as an air raid shelter in the early 1980s but was "upgraded" in the late 1980s as a site for future military communications. "We talked to folks that worked in the construction area," who described the installation of sophisticated equipment that was hardened against military attack, Neal said.

This cooperation included obtaining detailed blueprints of the two-tiered structure, which together with satellite imagery were used as the basis for a sketch shown to reporters yesterday, officials said.

The improvements included air filtration systems, special wiring and various "communications and other electronic equipment," they said. Special oxygen and fuel tanks were also added to support the equipment and its inhabitants during war.

Officials also said that the building's top floor was reinforced by large sheets of steel, the roof was painted in camouflage colors, and the structure was surrounded by chain link and barbed wire fencing, some of which could be seen in television pictures broadcast from Baghdad yesterday.

These circumstances indicated the building was owned by the military, said Capt. David Herrington, deputy director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He added, the Iraqis "had to know that we knew."

Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams, alluding to the building's longstanding military role, said it was "on the target list {for aerial bombardment} before the {U.S. war} operation began."

But Neal and others said the building was not actually used to transmit military messages until early this month, causing it then to be given a much higher priority on the target list. The messages, which included orders for Iraqi troops deployed inside Kuwaiti territory, were monitored by extensive U.S. electronic intelligence-gathering assets in the region.

"There is very little we don't know about what is going on" inside the Iraqi military, because of communications monitoring by satellites, airplanes and ground-based receivers, said an informed diplomatic source.

No official contacted yesterday expressed any uncertainty that military messages were sent from the building destroyed in the raid. "Signal intelligence {analysis} can confirm and therefore determine the emitter location . . . so we do have all the confidence," Saudi Col. Ahmed Robayan told reporters in Riyadh.

But other officials, who declined to be named, said target planners evidently had made no special efforts to determine if civilians might be inside at the time of the air strike because of the target's longstanding identification as a "leadership bunker" closed to ordinary citizens, which therefore had military significance.

Some buildings of this type are located near Republican Guard garrisons in the Iraqi capital and were evidently intended for their use during war. Others were located near residences of senior members of the ruling Baath Party, one official said, adding that he was unsure about exactly who was using the facility destroyed yesterday.

Another official said that based on its design and location, "we believe this was reserved for the upper class, for high government officials. It was not a civilian shelter." To find out more, he added, would have required direct intelligence from residents in the war-torn capital, an impractical task in the context of the massive air war against more than a hundred targets each day.

A source outside the government noted that even in the absence of information about specific inhabitants of the building, "the number of bunkers they have in Baghdad is fairly small -- so small that they're liable to contain somebody worth blowing up."

While Neal said "we have no explanation at this time, really, why there were civilians in this bunker," other officials said on condition of anonymity that the Iraqis must have been staying there routinely because the "stealth" attack did not trigger any air raid sirens.

Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney said of the plane yesterday that "we found it comes and goes pretty much as it pleases, and in all of the missions that have been flown to date, it's been virtually invisible to enemy radar."

Herrington said the air strike was deliberately conducted during the night to spare the civilians expected to be present at a school and a mosque located in the next block during the day.

The officials said the most recent satellite imagery of the building destroyed in the air raid early yesterday morning was taken several days earlier and provided no information on its nighttime use by civilians. They said this was consistent with routine preparation of "strike packages" of airplanes and munitions several days in advance of actual bombing runs.

"We get a lot more intelligence data than we have time to look at," one official said, "and there are literally thousands of targets worth looking at. It's hardly surprising that we didn't look at this the day before the raid" even if such photos were available.

Intelligence officials said normal U.S. photoreconnaissance satellites are capable of observing key military targets in Iraq more than once each day, but cannot produce images of objects shrouded in darkness. Even special satellites equipped with thermal imaging sensors cannot distinguish several hundred civilians entering or leaving a building at night, they added.

Herrington said "over a period of time . . . we observed military vehicles . . . leadership vehicles . . . {and} a whole range of associated equipment" outside the building.

"We didn't know that civilians were in it," said White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater.

Staff writer Kathy Sawyer contributed to this report.


Iraq claims the facility was used only as a civilian air raid shelter. The Pentagon points to its construction as one evidence of its military use as a command and control center.

The roof, at least 10 feet thick, was constructed of concrete reinforced with steel sheeting. It was "EMP"* hardened to protect communications in the event of nuclear attack.

*Electromagnetic Pulse

SOURCE: Pentagon briefings