Are President Bush and his top aides inserting a secret code word into their Persian Gulf speeches that can only be heard by listening to them backward?

Sen. Claiborne Pell, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says that while the theory "sounds wacky, there may be some merit to it." But on Friday he reprimanded his aide who raised the issue.The aide, C.B. Scott Jones, had written to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney saying he'd found what may be a recurring code word in presidential speeches.

It's "Simone."

Jones knows the mystery word is there because a group of psychologists he is working with has put in hours listening to the speech tapes backward.

"In statements made about Iraq by President Bush, Secretary of State (James) Baker and yourself, a word that we have never seen in a speech reversal has appeared. The word is `Simone,' " Jones wrote to Cheney in a letter dated Oct. 3.

"I mention this situation in case it is a code word that would not be in the national interest to be known," wrote Jones, who is a longtime friend of Cheney.

Pentagon spokesman Bob Hall said Friday he had no knowledge of any code words in Cheney's speeches or anyone else's.