An intelligence officer whose job was to help look for missing American servicemen in Vietnam says the administration doesn't really want any of them found or accounted for.

In a vituperative letter of resignation, Army Col. Millard A. Peck says the administration is only going through the motions of searching for the estimated 2,276 servicemen listed as missing from the 10-year war in Indochina."The entire charade does not appear to be an honest effort and may never have been," Peck wrote his superiors on Feb. 12, asking to be relieved of his duties as chief of the Special Office for Prisoners of War and Missing in Action at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Defense Secretary Dick Cheney has authorized an investigation of Peck's allegations, a spokesman said.

Sen. Bob Smith, D-N.H., says 1,425 eyewitness accounts of Americans held in captivity have been ignored. Smith, a Vietnam vet, has introduced legislation to establish a congressional committee to oversee the administration's handling of the MIA/

POW issue.

But the chairman of the inter-agency group on MIA/POWs, Kenneth Quinn, recently testified in Congress that the administration had sent investigators to look into every credible report of live sightings. He said a special presidential envoy, retired Gen. John Vessey, has focused on 119 cases which "represent the greatest possibility that the men involved might still be alive."

Peck, a three-time decorated Vietnam vet, said he took the job last year in response to allegations that the government was covering up its failure to pursue leads on MIAs.

"My plan was to . . . aggressively pursue innovative actions and concepts to clear up the live-sighting business, thereby refurbishing the honor of DIA," he said in his memo, copies of which were obtained by news organizations this week.

But "I became painfully aware that I was not really in charge of my own office but was merely a figurehead or whipping boy for a larger and totally Machiavellian group of planners outside DIA."

Peck didn't offer evidence in his memo that any of the Americans listed as missing in action or unaccounted for were alive.

But he said the Bush administration was focusing its efforts on making sure MIAs were never accounted for in order to cover up the fact that they might have been abandoned to the communist governments that assumed control of Indochina after the United States withdrew in defeat in 1975.

"From what I have witnessed, it appears that any soldier left in Vietnam, even inadvertently, was, in fact, abandoned years ago, and that the farce that is being played is no more than political legerdemain done with smoke and mirrors to stall the issue until it dies a natural death," Peck wrote.

Peck said "practically all analysis (at the DIA office) is directed to finding fault with the source. Rarely has there been any effective, active follow-through on any sightings."

In any case, he said, his office was buried under "busy work" generated by officials outside the DIA in order to forestall any serious investigative work.

The National League of Families, representing relatives of POWs and MIAs, issued a statement saying Peck was "falsely" targeting the very people who tried to help his office.

It said that the administration's "apathetic" policy of the 1970s was reversed by former President Reagan, who turned the search for MIAs into a sincere and active effort that has been continued by President Bush.

The communist government in Hanoi, eager for U.S. economic aid and a lifting of its international diplomatic isolation, has just agreed to let the United States open an office there to speed up the search for U.S. remains.

Officials of the Army's Central Identification Laboratory and the Casualty Resolution Center are setting up the office. It is expected to become operational next month.

The Bush administration has said Vietnam must cooperate on the MIA issue and on efforts to settle the civil war in neighboring Cambodia before the United States will establish normal relations with Hanoi.