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CIA Director, Under Fire for Agency Lapses, Resigns

George J. Tenet was at the helm during 9/11 and Iraq weapon claims. Bush praises his service, but some in Congress welcome his departure.

June 04, 2004|Greg Miller | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — CIA Director George J. Tenet, who presided over a string of intelligence failures that included the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, announced Thursday that he would resign the post he has held for seven years.

Tenet submitted his letter of resignation -- effective next month -- to President Bush, who said he had accepted it reluctantly.

"I met with George last night in the White House," Bush said in brief remarks before departing on a trip to Europe. "He told me he was resigning for personal reasons. I told him I'm sorry he's leaving. He's done a superb job on behalf of the American people."

Tenet's departure was welcomed by Democrats in Congress who have been increasingly critical of his leadership, Republicans who saw him as a potential political liability for Bush and members of both parties who believed his resignation was necessary to make way for reforms in the intelligence community.

While Tenet cited personal reasons for his decision, his exit comes at a time when the CIA is confronting an avalanche of fresh criticism.

The Senate Intelligence Committee recently delivered to the agency a still-classified draft report that sources said offered a scathing assessment of the CIA's prewar intelligence on Iraq. The agency's belief that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons provided the basis for the Bush administration's case for war.

An investigation by the committee has uncovered deep problems with the intelligence on Iraq, including evidence that the CIA and other agencies were duped by defectors, had misinterpreted intercepts and satellite photographs, and had disregarded dissenting voices.

A congressional official familiar with the inquiry described it as "extremely critical across the board." Asked whether Tenet was singled out in the committee's report, the official said: "He's in charge."

When Tenet formally steps down July 11, it will be just weeks before the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks is scheduled to deliver its final report. The panel has found deep faults with the CIA's counterterrorism efforts, and singled out Tenet for serious criticism.

The timing of the Tenet announcement, coming when the CIA is being stretched to its limits by the war on terrorism and the Iraq insurgency, caught many in Washington off-guard. Even those close to the 51-year-old director had expected him to stay until this fall's presidential election.

The White House must decide not only whether Bush should nominate a new director before November, but also whether the structure of the intelligence community -- and the position of the person who oversees it -- should be overhauled.

Bush did not address those questions Thursday, saying only that the deputy director of the CIA, John E. McLaughlin, would serve as acting chief after Tenet steps down.

White House officials insisted that Tenet was not forced or encouraged to resign.

Jim Pavitt, who leads the CIA's clandestine service, also will be leaving the agency this summer, a CIA official said. Pavitt has been the deputy director of operations for the last five years. He is a 31-year veteran of the agency who made his decision to retire several weeks ago, the official said.

Tenet is expected to name Pavitt's successor today. A CIA official said that Tenet had selected Stephen R. Kappes, a former Marine and 23-year agency official who has served as the associate deputy director of operations since June 2002.

Speaking to employees at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., on Thursday morning, Tenet pointed to the agency's accomplishments during his tenure and portrayed his decision to leave as personal. In particular, he said, he intended to spend more time with his son, who will be a senior in high school next year.

"While Washington and the media will put many different faces on the decision," Tenet said, "it was a personal decision and had only one basis in fact: the well-being of my wonderful family. Nothing more and nothing less."

He acknowledged that the CIA's record on his watch was "not without flaws," but stressed that the CIA and other spy agencies were "stronger now" than they were when he took over. And many of the intelligence community's successes, Tenet said, would "for most Americans be forever unknown and uncounted."

The July 11 resignation date falls on the seventh anniversary of his swearing in as CIA director. Only Allen Dulles had a longer tenure, serving more than eight years in the administrations of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy.

Tenet is widely credited with providing direction and stability to an agency that was demoralized by budget cuts after the Cold War and that seemed to have a revolving door on its top office, with three directors coming and going in three years.

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