CIA director resigns amid terror fears

Friday, June 4, 2004

WASHINGTON -- CIA director George Tenet, battered by Sept. 11 fallout and criticism of Iraq intelligence mistakes, said Thursday he would soon resign in a jarring announcement that threw open a key position at a critical time in the war against terrorism.

Tenet, a Democratic appointee whose close relationship to President Bush has helped him survive the intelligence failures, said he was leaving for personal reasons. But some in Congress questioned whether he had been pushed out.

Bush said Tenet's deputy, John McLaughlin, would temporarily lead America's spy agency during a period in which Iraq remains unstable and U.S. officials worry terrorists might strike in hopes of influencing the November elections.

The head of the agency's clandestine service, James Pavitt, will also announce his retirement today -- a decision the 31-year CIA veteran made several weeks ago, before he knew of Tenet's decision, a CIA official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The CIA has been angered over recent allegations that Defense Department civilians may have given highly classified information on Iran to an Iraqi politician, and agency officials still are upset over last summer's leak of a covert CIA operative's name. Bush said Wednesday he was considering hiring a private attorney to give him legal advice in a grand jury investigation into that leak.

In a speech to CIA employees, an emotional 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."

Among names mentioned as a possible successor are House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Giuliani's spokeswoman, Sunny Mindel, discounted any talk of the former mayor assuming the CIA post.

Tenet, 51, spent an hour with Bush at the White House Wednesday night, informing him of his decision to leave his post as head of the CIA and director of the 14 agencies that comprise the intelligence community.

In a hurriedly arranged announcement Thursday before leaving on a trip to Europe, Bush said, "I told him I'm sorry he's leaving. He's done a superb job on behalf of the American people."

Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., who befriended Tenet while serving on the House Intelligence Committee, said he talked to Tenet Thursday afternoon and Tenet told him the president asked him to stay.

It seemed unlikely that Bush would send a nomination to the Senate before the fall -- for what could be a bitter confirmation fight given controversies over recent intelligence failures -- rather than wait until after the election, should he win.

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