Tenet Resigns as CIA Director
Intelligence Chief Praised by Bush, But Critics Cite Lapses on Iraq War
By Dana Priest and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 4, 2004; Page A01
Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet, who presided over intelligence failures and successes of historic proportions, said yesterday that he will leave the job, telling CIA employees in a tearful speech that his decision had "only one basis in fact," a desire to spend time with his wife and teenage son.
President Bush named deputy director John E. McLaughlin, a mild-mannered, professorial analyst, as acting director and is not expected to name a successor before the election. James L. Pavitt, the CIA's deputy director of operations, told associates recently that he will leave his position in midsummer, leaving the agency with new leaders at a time of a heightened threat of terrorist attacks during political conventions and the Summer Olympics in Greece.
Current and former intelligence officials described Tenet, a gregarious schmoozer who has held the job for seven years, as being psychologically worn down by the pace of clandestine counterterrorism operations and by the barrage of public criticism over the CIA's inability to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and accurately characterize the threat from Iraq's prewar weapons programs.
Tenet told CIA employees yesterday that he will step down on July 11; he wanted to leave the job more than a year ago, but Bush asked him to stay. Bush has maintained a close, almost chummy working relationship with the director. Yesterday, the president said that Tenet had "done a superb job on behalf of the American people."
"He's been a strong leader in the war on terror, and I will miss him," Bush said.
A senior administration official with firsthand knowledge, however, said that although no one at the White House asked Tenet to leave, nobody asked him to stay, either.
"Relations haven't been good for some time," one former White House official said. "But the friction had achieved an equilibrium where it was a sustainable working relationship, even though it was tense."
White House officials have sought to blame Tenet for leading the president into war based on bad intelligence. But even before the intelligence community had produced its definitive reports on Iraq, Vice President Cheney and other top administration officials were describing the threat from Saddam Hussein in more dramatic and unequivocal terms than the intelligence ever supported.
Tenet's relationship with White House staff members grew tense when he refused to take sole blame for an inaccurate statement about Iraq in the president's State of the Union address in 2003. It worsened after a speech by Tenet at Georgetown University in February, in which he pointed out that the agency had never used the word "imminent" to characterize the threat from Hussein's weapons.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One that Bush met with Tenet in the White House residence for about 45 minutes on Wednesday evening and that Bush had received no notice of Tenet's decision.
Asked if Bush tried to talk Tenet out of his decision, McClellan said, "I think the president understood his reasons for leaving." McClellan replied with a firm "no" when asked if Bush had at any time sent a signal to Tenet that he should spend more time with his family.
The Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), said Tenet had worked "extremely hard on behalf of our nation." Kerry added: "There is no question, however, that there have been significant intelligence failures, and the administration has to accept responsibility for those failures."
Some critics said they believe Tenet was being made the scapegoat for Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq and for the Defense Department's mishandling of the war's aftermath.
"There were clearly errors in our country's intelligence gathering and handling," said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). "I hope that he's not taking the fall as a sacrificial lamb."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company