The Central Intelligence Agency believes that the Soviet Union acted as a double-agent during the Persian Gulf crisis - professing support for the U.S.-led position while secretly supplying the Iraqis.

President Bush and other top administration officials had cited Soviet cooperation in the gulf as a key test of the much-touted New World Order - and of American aid for the battered Soviet economy.The only consolation the Bush administration can hope to cling to is whether the double-dealing was done covertly by renegade Red Army cowboys, as opposed to official policy sanctioned by President Mikhail Gorbachev. Last September, Gorbachev publicly and diplomatically lined up with the United States, though he refused to send along soldiers with the coalition forces of 28 other countries. But some Soviet soldiers were fighting with the Iraqis, according to highly classified intelligence reports.

For instance, before the Jan. 16 war began, intercepts by the National Security Agency determined that several Soviet officers were commanding or serving with Iraqi units - including a Soviet lieutenant colonel who was actually commanding an Iraqi tank battalion. No Soviet soldier was ever captured, however. The Soviet Defense Ministry announced unequivocally on Jan. 9 that "there are no Soviet military experts left in Iraq." Yet the CIA believes that, at the least, several dozen suddenly materialized in the Soviet Embassy in Baghdad.

One CIA report speaks of approximately 100 or so Soviets going AWOL to fight with Iraqi comrades, although they were promised there would be no punishment when the battle was over and that they would be reinstated into the Soviet military. On the high end, another CIA report says there may have been as many as 1,000 Soviet military personnel assisting the Iraqi military by the time the war broke out. And a French intelligence report weighs in with the fact that several radio intercepts were obtained of Soviet voices using codewords from forward Iraqi battle positions.

At the least, the Soviet military, loath to abandon its longtime client state, Iraq, continued to fuel the Iraqi war machine at a time when the Soviets had publicly pledged to adhere to the embargo. Between Aug. 8 and Jan. 15, one intelligence report charges, Soviet military equipment came into Baghdad on Soviet transport planes at the rate of 12 flights a day. Intelligence sources also allege that Soviet ships in the area were intercepted on Jan. 3 and Jan. 15 carrying Soviet military equipment. On Jan. 3, the ship's military cargo was stored below deck and wasn't listed on the ship's manifest.

After the Baghdad airport was knocked out, dozens and possibly hundreds of trucks were used to haul Soviet military cargo into Iraq via Jordan.

Iraq was also receiving Soviet intelligence that may have informed the Iraqis each time critical non-stationary U.S. spy satellites were making a pass, which would have allowed the Iraqis enough time to hide their military equipment from the spies in the sky.

Why have voices in the White House and State Department remained muted? The answer seems to be one part diplomacy, one part pragmatism. It wasn't believed that the Soviet aid was enough to make a difference in the outcome of the war. Moreover, Bush didn't want to rock the boat with Gorbachev, particularly if it was proved that Gorbachev was duped along with the United States by the Red Army. But the real question will be, if Congress opts to investigate, did any of the aid to Iraq result in the death of one or more Americans - or any of our allies? The fate of superpower relations hangs in the balance.