Tenet Leaves Legacy of Big Successes, but Also Big Failures
But the first managerial accomplishment many of Tenet's colleagues mention is that he brought a human touch to the director's office, where his more effete predecessors included a professor of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a prominent corporate lawyer, a career CIA official and a federal judge -- four men who rotated through the job in a total of six years.
The son of a Greek restaurant owner from Queens, Tenet instead prowled the halls of the CIA with an unlighted cigar in his mouth, slapping backs and extending impromptu invitations for chats in his office. He jogged on the CIA grounds and ate in the cafeteria, behaving like a gregarious politician by meeting with former CIA officials and taking pains to woo the leadership of the agency's historically independent clandestine service.
"The most important thing he did was restore morale and bring in a whole new generation of officers" whose skills more closely matched the agency's new priorities, Smith said. "He was universally admired" inside the building.
Well known for his bluntness, Tenet was unafraid to say "Hell if I know" to his staff if a problem seemed to defy solution, his colleagues said. But he was, at heart, a problem solver given to nervously smacking a carved Irish wooden club into his hand until a path through the thicket became clear.
With a relentlessly pragmatic style and a reputation for loyalty to his employers, Tenet has moved easily in Washington. He worked as a Republican Senate aide, then as a Democratic aide; he worked at President Bill Clinton's White House as a national security aide, then migrated to the CIA as deputy director.
Clinton appointed him director as his second choice, after Anthony Lake failed to win confirmation, and President Bush reappointed him on a recommendation from his father, over the opposition of congressional Republicans.
Tenet quickly established a close rapport with Bush, who officials say admired his broad sense of humor, plain-speaking style and reticence in expressing personal opinions. At Bush's request, Tenet has delivered the president's morning intelligence briefings in person for much of the past four years. "I am not a policymaker," he told the Sept. 11 commission. It is the administration's "job to figure out where I fit into their puzzle."
His priorities on taking the job were to focus on terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and what he saw as a long-term threat from China. But by the accounts of several of his friends, Tenet's sense of priorities did not match those of the Bush administration. Despite the morning chats, they said, Bush has been closer to and more dependent on Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who each expressed more alarm than the CIA about the security threat posed by Iraq.
According to the Sept. 11 commission, Tenet's deputy, John E. McLaughlin, became concerned by the summer of 2001 that top administration officials were unconvinced of the urgency of the threat posed by bin Laden. But Tenet was less worried, telling the commission later he thought the policy machinery was working in "a rather orderly fashion."
After the 2001 attacks, Tenet inserted CIA officers, carrying tens of millions of dollars, into Afghanistan to begin planning for the military campaign against the Taliban. Since then, the agency has played a key role in capturing two-thirds of bin Laden's original group, although bin Laden and his top aide, Ayman Zawahiri, have proved elusive.
Tenet has also told friends that the agency -- which in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks forged new partnerships with intelligence agencies around the globe and also works much more closely with the FBI -- deserves a share of the credit for the absence of any new terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
Yesterday, Clair George, a onetime head of the clandestine service who was caught up in the Iran-contra scandal and received a pardon from President George H.W. Bush, recalled how questions were raised when the inexperienced Tenet took over the agency.
"He did a good job in a tough time," George said. But then he noted speculation about why Tenet -- who never really achieved the status of an insider within the Bush team -- had decided to quit now. "In the normal course of events in Washington," said George, who was around when Richard M. Helms was replaced as CIA director, "we normally push the weakest man off the lifeboats."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
In March 1997, President Bill Clinton announces that he will nominate acting CIA Director George J. Tenet, center, to head the agency. With Tenet are wife, Stephanie, and son John Michael.
(Greg Gibson -- AP)
_____The New Director_____
The CIA's 'Anonymous' No. 2: CIA Deputy Director John E. McLaughlin, Tenet's longtime deputy, will become interim director.
Tenet Resigns: The Post's Walter Pincus narrates a gallery of images from the CIA director's tenure and resignation.
_____Complete Post Coverage_____
Tenet Resigns as CIA Director (The Washington Post, Jun 4, 2004)
For Personal Reasons, Or Is He the Fall Guy? (The Washington Post, Jun 4, 2004)
More Changes Are Needed, Democrats Say (The Washington Post, Jun 4, 2004)
CIA's New Acting Director Is Known for Analytical -- and Magic -- Skills (The Washington Post, Jun 4, 2004)
George Tenet's 'Slam-Dunk' Into the History Books (The Washington Post, Jun 4, 2004)