George Tenet Slam Dunks Himself

If outgoing Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet has the correct information on his own sudden resignation, no one forced him out of office.

After President Bush announced Tenet’s surprise resignation Thursday, Tenet gave a very personal and emotional speech to the staff at the Central Intelligence Agency. In it, he effusively praised President Bush and cited a desire to spend more time with his wife and teenage son as reasons for his resignation.

“I want to say a word of special thanks to President Bush,” Tenet said. “On entering office he immediately recognized the importance of rebuilding our intelligence capabilities. He spends time with us almost every day. He has shown great care for our officers. He is a great champion for the men and women of U.S. Intelligence and a constant source of support. It has been an honor for me to serve as his Director of Central Intelligence.”

These remarks preempted the anxiety that had already started to grow in Republican circles that Tenet could emerge after his resignation, which takes effect July 11, as a super-charged version of former National Security Council aide Richard Clarke, who like Tenet was a Clinton Administration holdover. Clarke wrote a kiss-and-tell book bashing Bush and became a star of television talk shows.

Bush reciprocated Tenet’s kindness. Announcing the director’s resignation, the President said: “George Tenet is the kind of public servant you like to work with. He’s strong. He’s resolute. . . . And I will miss him. I send my blessings to George and his family.”

Few in Washington, however, were willing to believe there wasn’t more to Tenet’s resignation than his professed desire to spend more time with his family.

Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, published last month, depicted a dramatic late 2002 White House meeting at which Tenet and Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin briefed Bush, who was unimpressed by the case they made for Saddam’s possessing weapons of mass destruction. When the President expressed his skepticism, Tenet stood up, dramatically gestured with his hands, and twice told the President the case was a “slam dunk.”

The Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee is soon expected to release a report based on its own extensive investigation of the CIA’s failures in gathering intelligence about Iraq. Notably, Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts (R.-Kan.) and former ranking member Richard Shelby (R.-Ala.) were critical of Tenet immediately after he resigned.

“Simply put,” said Roberts: “I think the community is somewhat in denial over the full extent . . . of the shortcoming of its work on Iraq and also on 9/11.” Said Shelby: “There were more failures of intelligence on his watch as director of the CIA than any other CIA director in our history.”