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“The Central Intelligence Agency and other spy services are also putting their muscle behind the effort to safeguard mustard gas and other chemical-weapons agents that the colonel’s regime had stockpiled at sites around the cou

U.S., Allies Join Manhunt for Gadhafi

Intelligence Agencies Believe They Have Identified Possible Hiding Places; a Plan to Safeguard Chemical Weapons, Missile.

By ADAM ENTOUS 
&  SIOBHAN GORMAN

WASHINGTON—The U.S. and its allies are joining the rebel-led manhunt for Col. Moammar Gadhafi, repositioning intelligence agents and targeting surveillance equipment to narrow the search for the elusive Libyan strongman, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

The Central Intelligence Agency and other spy services are also putting their muscle behind the effort to safeguard mustard gas and other chemical-weapons agents that the colonel’s regime had stockpiled at sites around the country, the officials said.

ReutersCol. Gadhafi, right, playing chess with World Chess Federation President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in Tripoli in June.

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U.S. intelligence agencies say they believe Col. Gadhafi slipped out of his main security compound in Tripoli ahead of the rebel advance into the capital this week. But officials believe they have identified several possible sites where Col. Gadhafi could be hiding.

The hunt for Col. Gadhafi has become a top priority because of concerns that the six-month conflict won’t end as long as the man who has ruled the country for 42 years remains at large and can threaten a comeback.

“Clearly, locating Gadhafi is important for closure, so it will be one of several key collection priorities in this next phase of the conflict,” said a U.S. official.

CIA operatives on the ground in Libya have been supporting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s air campaign, as well as the rebel leadership, the National Transitional Council. Those intelligence operations are supplemented with other collection methods, including satellites and unmanned surveillance aircraft.

Associated PressLibyan rebels patrolled near a building in Tripoli on Wednesday after hearing rumors that one of Moammar Gadhafi’s sons was hiding inside. The U.S. said it had no evidence that the colonel has left the country.

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If Col. Gadhafi’s location is pinpointed, the response could take any number of forms depending on the situation, said U.S. officials. Among the options: The position could be bombed from the air, the CIA could send its own operatives, or special forces from Britain and France could move in. The U.S. doesn’t have military personnel on the ground inside Libya, and President Barack Obama has made clear that situation won’t change.

In addition to chemical-weapons agents, Tripoli also maintains control of aging Scud B missiles, U.S. officials said, as well as 1,000 metric tons (1,100 tons) of uranium yellowcake and vast amounts of conventional weapons that Col. Gadhafi had, in the past, provided to militants operating in such hot spots as Sudan and Chad.

The Obama administration considers securing those weapons and materials a clear priority now that Col. Gadhafi appears to have lost his grip on power.

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Rebels Fight for Control

Agence France-Presse/Getty ImagesRebels gathered at Col. Gadhafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli Wednesday.

Timeline: Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya

See some key dates in Col. Gadhafi’s 42-year reign.

Daniel Acker/Bloomberg NewsCol. Gadhafi addressed the U.N. General Assembly in September 2009.

Map: Regional Upheaval

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State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the U.S. has been monitoring the known missile and chemical-agent storage facilities since the start of the conflict.

“We believe that these known missile and chemical agent storage facilities remain secure, and we’ve not seen any activity, based on our national technical means, to give us concern that they have been compromised,” she said.

Taking lessons from the chaos that followed the 2003 toppling of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the U.S. and its allies have been advising the Libyan rebel council on detailed plans to prevent revenge killings and looting of, among other things, weapons depots and chemical storage facilities.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. is concerned about Col. Gadhafi’s weapons falling into the wrong hands. The administration, he said, is consulting with the rebel leadership about those concerns.

Col. Gadhafi agreed in 2003 to scrap his weapons-of-mass-destruction program, but is thought to have kept several tons of mustard gas and large supplies of precursor chemicals that could be used to create chemical weapons.

Intelligence agencies have long believed that al Qaeda and its allies have been seeking such materials for use in terror attacks.

U.S. intelligence agencies worry that al Qaeda-affiliated militants operatingin North Africa could take advantage of the post-Gadhafi chaos to try to secure new weapons to use against Western targets. They also fear that Col. Gadhafi, in desperation, will either use the weapons himself or sell them to America’s enemies.

With the rebels solidifying their hold on Tripoli, the U.S. believes, Col. Gadhafi is quickly losing day-to-day command and control of his forces. “What is clear is that the whole Col. Gadhafi apparatus is crumbling,” a senior Obama administration official said.

“Right now, Gadhafi’s No. 1 concern is probably self-preservation, not commanding whatever remains of his regime,” another U.S. official said.

Col. Gadhafi apparently abandoned his Bab al-Aziziya fortress compound in Tripoli up to “several days” before the rebels overran it Tuesday, a senior U.S. defense official said. Other officials said the intelligence was far from clear-cut.

While the U.S. hasn’t pinpointed Col. Gadhafi’s precise location, officials say intelligence agencies have identified several places inside and outside of Tripoli where the leader may be seeking refuge. Those sites, which officials declined to identify, are the focus of the intelligence-gathering efforts aimed at finding Col. Gadhafi.

“We have some ideas” about where Col. Gadhafi is likely to be hiding, a senior U.S. defense official said. The U.S. is sharing the information it collects with NATO allies and rebel representatives, and vice versa, officials said.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe Col. Gadhafi has been seriously considering abandoning Tripoli for several months and has established several safe-houses outside of the capital where he could hide in the event Tripoli was overrun by the rebels.

Still, officials are keeping an open mind about where he might seek refuge.

“Gadhafi’s options are more limited each passing day,” the U.S. official said. “But as history suggests, people who don’t want to be found can be pretty resourceful, so it makes sense to keep an open mind on where he might be.

Mr. Earnest, the White House spokesman, said the administration still has “no evidence” that Col. Gadhafi has left Libya.

ntry, the officials said.”

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