WASHINGTON (AP) _ Late last year, Attorney General Janet Reno successfully sought the appointment of a special counsel whose identity _ or the identity of his target _ have not been revealed.

This was made clear by a recent General Accounting Office report auditing the expenditures of five independent counsels active between Sept. 30, 1996, and March 31, 1997. The report said the investigation started Nov. 27, 1996. The timing suggests that someone in the Clinton Administration was the target.

The appointment of an unidentified independent counsel to investigate allegations against a high administration official is not unusual. At least three have been appointed since 1974, when the office of independent counsel was created by Congress.

If their investigations do not result in indictments, no further announcement of their existence is made.

The Justice Department says that is done to protect the innocent as well as to allow the counsel's investigation to be conducted secretly without tipping off the targets. The department will not identify the subject of the current undercover investigation.

The GAO report said the current investigation spent $48,784 in the six-month period, $38,575 for salaries of the investigator and his staff.

That is a fraction of more than $5 million spent during the same period by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and four other independent counsels active in the six-month period.

Starr's operation alone spent $2.8 million in the six-month period, bringing its total expenses in its investigation of President Clinton, his wife and the Clinton White House to more than $30 million.

Other independent counsels' investigations that were still accumulating expenses, although some were virtually completed, are looking into alleged corruption at the Department of Housing and Urban Development; whether former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros lied to the FBI about payments to a former mistress; and the financial dealings of the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, who died in a plane crash during a trade mission to Bosnia.