When Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the U.N. Security Council last year about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, CIA Director George Tenet sat directly behind him. It was a powerful sign of support.
Powell was there to make the case that Saddam Hussein's Iraq possessed and was hiding weapons of mass destruction in open defiance of numerous Security Council resolutions.
But Powell's U.N. speech was nothing like the one Tenet gave today at Georgetown University — the spy chief's first public defense of prewar intelligence.
Tenet said analysts had varying opinions on the state of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs before the United States headed into war with Iraq.
But instead of discussing Iraq's weapons in terms of "possibilities" or "estimates," Powell spoke before the United Nations last February with certainty.
"These are not assertions," Powell told the Security Council. "What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence."
Powell qualified only one of his remarks during the 75-minute presentation, saying there was some "controversy" over the intended use of high-strength aluminum tubes. On all other issues, Powell left no room for debate. He used the phrase "we know" 32 times.
"We know — we know from sources — that a missile brigade outside Baghdad was dispersing rocket launchers and warheads containing biological warfare agents to various locations," Powell said.
CIA Cleared Powell's Speech
Powell told The Washington Post in a recent interview that Tenet was in on the preparation of the speech and that the intelligence community "cleared every word."
During his U.N. speech, Powell backed up his statements with satellite imagery, including what he said was a "chemical complex called al Musayyib."
Images beamed from spy satellites to analysts at Fort Belvoir, Va., showed trucks on the move in Iraq. But the pictures could not show what was inside the trucks or where they were going.
For that, Powell said, there was additional proof.
"What makes this picture significant," Powell told the United Nations, "is that we have a human source who has corroborated that movement of chemical weapons occurred at this site at that time."
But inspectors later visited al Musayyib and other sites, and they found no evidence of chemical or biological weapons.
Powell now says that if he had known that stockpiles of weapons would not be found, he may not have supported an invasion of Iraq.
"I don't know," Powell said. "I don't know because it was the stockpiles that presented the final little piece that made it more of a real and present danger and threat to the region and to the world."