CIA's George Tenet, the Spy Who Came in With the Gold
Wednesday, July 5, 2006
What do you get the spy who has everything?
If you're an unidentified foreign leader, you might get the CIA director a set of five Bahranian 22-karat gold coins, estimated to be worth $1,500.
The State Department's Office of the Chief of Protocol detailed that gift, given in July 2004, and dozens of others last month in a public notice of gifts from foreign governments to U.S. officials. Since 1978, federal employees have been required to file reports with their agencies detailing gifts worth more than $305 received from foreign government sources. Employees are permitted to keep gifts worth less that that; gifts worth more are considered gifts to the agency, although the employee has the option of purchasing the item.
Even the CIA has to list gifts to employees, although the identity of the giver and receiver may not be disclosed. But the descriptions of the gifts provide a hint or two about the origin of the generosity.
For example, one can speculate which foreign country decided in October 2002 to give "an Agency employee" what the report describes as a "Pakistan 'Tabriz' design rug," about 9 feet by 7 feet, colored red, ivory and navy blue, valued at $500. A "Pakistan Bokhara rug," light brown and blue and valued at $500, was given to a CIA employee in December 2002.
Intriguingly, a CIA employee received a "Qum silk rug" on May 8, 2004, about 7 feet by 4 feet, in emerald green and red. Qum, a city famous for its ornate rugs, is in Iran, which has no diplomatic relations with the United States.
The only CIA employee identified in the disclosure announcement is former director George J. Tenet. On Jan. 14, 2004, Tenet accepted from an unnamed foreign donor a 16-inch bronze statuette of an Arab man helping a woman from a bath, mounted on a black-slate base, valued at $300. A month later, he was given an Elizabeth II silver, Turkish-design coffee ewer, marked by the maker with "GGM, London, 2001" valued at $350.
On March 9, 2004, Tenet accepted one of the odder-sounding gifts, a "Middle Eastern filigree silver and partial gilt palm tree form night-light," estimated at a value of $500.
Guns were a popular gift for the CIA director. Three months later, on June 13, a foreign official gave Tenet a "chased brass rosette mounted figured wood percussion rifle" from the 19th century; together with a ramrod and leather powder flask, all in a display case. Two days later, Tenet received another antique, a steel-mounted walnut percussion rifle, stamped "Tower/1856" and valued at $750.
Coins were the gift of choice from another foreign official, who gave an unnamed CIA employee a set of eight Saudi Arabian "Hashemite" coin proofs, minted in Mecca for King Ali Hussein bin Ali between 1916 and 1924.
In each case, the gift was accepted because "non-acceptance would have caused embarrassment to donor and the U.S. government," according to the State Department report published in the June 15 Federal Register. The gifts are retained by the agency for official display.
The State Department's report covered other agencies, as well. Italian President Silvio Berlusconi gave $540 in silk ties to senior presidential adviser Karl Rove on June 4, 2004. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) received a Versace leather wallet and purse from Shobha Oza, secretary of the Madhya Pradesh Mahila Congress in July 2004. (The purse and wallet were turned over to the secretary of the Senate.) Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, gave the New York senator a rug -- value unknown -- that is displayed in her office.
Shortly before Christmas 2004, King Abdullah and Queen Rania of Jordan gave Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld an "aromatherapy gift set" valued at $380. It may never be known if the collection of scents soothed the secretary's nerves; the gift was turned over to the General Services Administration.