- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

George J. Tenet, the second-longest serving director of the CIA, resigned yesterday, ending what he described as seven years “of success and disappointment, of happiness and sorrow.”

Mr. Tenet, whose tenure encompassed the tragedy of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the euphoria over Saddam Hussein’s capture, dismissed the swirl of intrigue over his departure and insisted he simply wanted to spend more time with his wife and teenage son.

“While Washington and the media will put many different faces on the decision, it was a personal decision and had only one basis in fact — the well-being of my wonderful family,” he told CIA employees. “Nothing more and nothing less.”

The White House said it did not ask for Mr. Tenet’s resignation, which had been demanded for years by critics on both the left and right.

President Bush, who has been fiercely loyal to Mr. Tenet throughout his tumultuous tenure, said he was sorry to see him go.

“He’s done a superb job on behalf of the American people,” the president said on the South Lawn of the White House before departing for Europe. “He’s been a strong leader in the war on terror, and I will miss him.”

Mr. Tenet, who broke the news to the president late Tuesday, will remain on the job until July 11, exactly seven years after he was sworn into office. CIA Deputy Director John E. McLaughlin — nicknamed “Merlin” for what Mr. Tenet called his “magical warmth” — will serve as acting director until a new director is nominated, possibly after the November presidential election.

Mr. Tenet, who had been expected to leave the administration after the election, decided instead to depart before the release of reports by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the September 11 commission. Two U.S. officials close to the intelligence community said the pending reports were likely a factor in the timing of the director’s announcement.

The reports, due to be made public in the coming weeks, are highly critical of the CIA and Mr. Tenet.

“There is no question that after these reports, there will be calls for accountability,” one official said.

Speculation on who might replace Mr. Tenet, if the president wins re-election, is focused on a number of candidates. They include: Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone; and Rep. Porter J. Goss, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Others who might be picked include retired Army Lt. Gen. James Clapper, head of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, which conducts photographic spying, and retired Army Gen. Patrick Hughes, a former Defense Intelligence Agency director now working for the Department of Homeland Security.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the resignation was not linked to accusations by Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi that Mr. Tenet was to blame for overstating Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction before last year’s U.S.-led liberation of Iraq.

Mr. Chalabi, who was left out of Iraq’s new interim government, yesterday also said Mr. Tenet falsely had accused him of leaking intelligence to Iran.

“Tenet was behind the charges against me that claimed that I gave intelligence information to Iran,” Mr. Chalabi said in Najaf, Iraq. “I denied these charges and deny them again, and I am sorry that he will not have the chance to appear before Congress now to decide whether this information he provided is correct or not.”

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said Mr. Tenet “has worked extremely hard on behalf of our nation, and we are grateful for his effort.

“There is no question, however, that there have been significant intelligence failures, and the administration has to accept responsibility for those failures,” he added. “Sometimes with change comes opportunity. This is an opportunity for the president to lead.”

News of the resignation broke with very little warning. On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Tenet telephoned White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., who was with the president at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.

When the presidential entourage arrived at the White House shortly after 7 p.m., Mr. Tenet was waiting in the West Wing. He met briefly with Mr. Card and then went to the residence for a 45-minute meeting with Mr. Bush.

A senior administration official said Mr. Tenet’s long years at the CIA had put a “particular strain” on his family in recent months. Still, Mr. Bush resisted accepting the resignation.

“The president did not want him to step down — wanted him to stay, told him he wanted him to stay,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But sometimes you have to do what you have to do, for personal reasons.”

Mr. Tenet’s departure was so unexpected that not even the president’s closest advisers had any advance warning. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said she “learned about it just a few minutes before the president went out” to the South Lawn to make the announcement yesterday morning.

“It’s really a great loss, and I’m personally very sad about it,” she said aboard Air Force One. “It’s been an extraordinary and historic time. And at times it’s been a wild ride.”

Mr. Tenet spoke at length of wanting to “party together” with his son, Michael, who will be senior in the fall at Gonzaga Jesuit High School near the U.S. Capitol.

“I’m going to learn how to instant message his friends — that would be an achievement,” Mr. Tenet said as his son joined employees at CIA headquarters. “You’ve just been a great son, and I’m now going to be a great dad.”

Mr. Tenet’s longevity was surpassed only by Allen Dulles, who ran the agency from 1953 to 1961. He is the most influential member to leave the Bush administration, where turnover is at historic lows.

In addition to Mr. Tenet’s departure, James Pavitt, the agency’s deputy director of operations, planned to announce today that he is retiring after 31 years.

Mr. Pavitt has been the head of clandestine service for the past five years. A CIA official said that there was no connection between Mr. Tenet’s resignation and Mr. Pavitt’s leaving the agency and that Mr. Pavitt made the decision to leave several weeks ago.

Bill Gertz contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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