President Bush early this year signed official orders authorizing the Central Intelligence Agency to aid rebel factions inside Iraq, according to several intelligence sources.

The authorizations, if carried out, would add concrete actions to the verbal encouragement Bush was giving the rebels to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.Meanwhile, NBC reported that the Voice of Free Iraq, a clandestine anti-government radio station that operated during the conflict over Kuwait, was a CIA-sponsored operation. Clandestine anti-government broadcasts are a common covert action tool used by the agency.

According to three intelligence sources, Bush in January signed one or more presidential "findings" - official documents authorizing covert actions - that broadly described plans to help Iraq's rebel factions.

Such documents by law must be communicated to the House and Senate intelligence committees, but they were handled at the most sensitive level.

Knowledge of their existence was confined to the so-called "Gang of Eight," a group made up of the chairman and ranking minority member of the two committees, plus the House speaker and minority leader and the Senate majority and minority leaders.

The findings were approved at about the same time Bush ordered the start of the air war against Iraq, and at a time when his public statements were directly encouraging the Iraqi people to rise up and overthrow their president.

The administration has come under increasing criticism for leading Iraq's rebels, particularly the Kurds in the north and the Shiite Muslims in the south, to believe that they would get U.S. support if they followed through on Bush's exhortations.

The feelings of betrayal have mounted as Saddam's forces have brutally re-established control over cities in rebel strongholds and created a flood of refugees fleeing what they fear is an impending mass slaughter.

Repeated administration statements have made it clear that U.S. forces will not be used to interfere in the conflict because to do so would be outside the scope of the United Nations mandate that called for Iraq to be driven from Kuwait.

Quizzed about the administration's policy on Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler called the attacks on rebels "appalling" and "heart wrenching" but rejected any suggestion that the United States was responsible in any way for the uprising.