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Publishers Hold Out Hope Tenet Will Turn Author

June 04, 2004|Johanna Neuman | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Peter Osnos, founder and Chief Executive of PublicAffairs Press, was about to board his flight Thursday for BookExpo America in Chicago when he called his office and learned that CIA Director George J. Tenet had resigned.

"One month," he told a staffer. "It'll be less than a month before there's a book proposal."

People who know the tenacious, politically savvy Tenet, say he is unlikely to write "kiss-and-tell" memoirs of his seven years as director of the CIA. But in a year when former Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill and former counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke scored huge bestsellers with their behind-the-scenes accounts of life in the Bush administration, the publishing world is salivating.

"This will be huge," said Phillipa Brophy, president of Sterling Lord Literistic, which represents authors. "He has to say something, but people will pay a lot of money for it no matter what he says."

Two weeks before President Bush made the final decision to go to war in Iraq, according to the recent bestseller by Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward, Tenet told him it was "a slam dunk" that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Now, publishers and book agents are speculating whether Tenet was fired as a fall guy for the administration's mistakes, or fell on his sword to give the president a better chance at reelection.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 08, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Book prospects -- In Friday's Section A, the name of Philippa Brophy, president of Sterling Lord Literistic, which represents authors, was misspelled as Phillipa in an article about CIA Director George J. Tenet's book prospects after he announced his resignation.

"If he was fired, is he going to give up some of his pals sitting around the table?" asked one formidable book agent who asked not to be named. "Will he blame others or go quietly?"

How much could a tell-all book bring? "A buck and a half," another agent in New York said, meaning $1.5 million.

Given production schedules, no one thinks Tenet can write a book to be published before the election -- unless he has been nursing it in the back drawer.

At the CIA, an intelligence official said Tenet was considering writing a book. But whether it would be a policy book or an insider account that named names and spilled private details was unknown.

"He had a unique perspective on the world for the last 12 or 13 years," the official said. "He's got some interesting stories and perspectives."

Peter Earnest, executive director of the International Spy Museum in Washington and a former CIA employee who served under Tenet at the agency, said he would not expect a tell-all book. "If he wrote a book, he would look at the institution," Earnest said. "He has lived through extraordinary times."

If Tenet did write a book, he would not be the first in the family to do so. His wife, Stephanie Glakas-Tenet, co-wrote a book on home repair, called "Dare to Repair: A Do-It-Herself Guide to Fixing (Almost) Anything in the Home."

And authorship is hardly new among former CIA chiefs. Robert M. Gates, who served in the Reagan administration, wrote a policy book, "From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War."

So did retired Adm. Stansfield Turner, chief in the Carter administration. His title -- "Secrecy and Democracy: The CIA in Transition" -- would be just as suitable today.

Tenet has been the first CIA director in decades to remain in office after the presidency changed hands. Bush, who is said to have liked Tenet's crisp, question-and-answer briefings, said of Tenet's resignation, "I will miss him."

Before leading the CIA, Tenet worked for Democrats on Capitol Hill -- for the late Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.) and for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He worked for President Clinton's National Security Council before Clinton appointed him deputy CIA director and then as intelligence chief.

Tenet managed the CIA at a time when intelligence was an unusually prominent subject for the nation.

"Intelligence will be remembered as one of the biggest issues of this period," said Osnos, who noted his company would not bid on a Tenet book because "we can't afford it."

The key, said Osnos, is how Tenet chooses to portray himself. "The real issue is whether Tenet will choose the option of the aggrieved party or decide to be immensely discreet," he said. "The record is that most can't resist the opportunity to hold forth."


Times staff writer Greg Miller contributed to this report.

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