The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet, has resigned "for personal reasons," President Bush announced today.
Calling Tenet a "strong and able leader," President Bush told reporters that he accepted his resignation.
Tenet, 51, will not leave his post until mid-July, when the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John McLaughlin, will temporarily serve as the acting director until a successor is found.
Tenet had been under fire for months in connection with intelligence failures preceding the U.S.-led war with Iraq and threats from the al Qaeda terror network.
Senior sources familiar with a key Senate Intelligence Committee report on pre-war intelligence failures say the findings are "devastating" for Tenet. Democratic sources say Tenet was also losing support in the party because of these conclusions reached in the report, which is currently being declassified by the CIA and is expected to be made public on June 17.
Tenet has been director of the Central Intelligence Agency since July 1997, providing stability to an office that had had five different directors in the previous six years. He is the second longest serving director in U.S. history.
A holdover from the Clinton administration, Tenet says he believes bipartisanship is central to his job. He once told The New Republic magazine: "There is no room for either politics or partisanship in the way the intelligence community performs its duties."
He has developed strong personal relationships with Middle East leaders, most notably Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and is viewed within the Bush administration as a key player in Middle East peace negotiations, having tried to negotiate a cease-fire in June 2001.
From Deli Boy to Intelligence Apprentice
Tenet's road to the CIA started long before President Clinton came to office.
A native New Yorker, Tenet grew up in a middle-class Flushing, Queens, neighborhood. He and his twin brother Bill — now a cardiologist in New York — attended public school, attended religious classes and served as altar boys at a Greek Orthodox Church. His father and mother emigrated from Greece and operated a delicatessen, where Tenet worked growing up.
After graduating from Benjamin N. Cardozo High School, he enrolled at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, where he earned his bachelor's degree. He then returned to New York to attend Columbia University, where he earned a master's degree in international affairs.
After stints as research director for the American Hellenic Institute and the Solar Industries Association, Tenet in 1982 began his career in government, serving as a legislative assistant to Sen. John Heinz, R-Pa., dealing with defense, energy and foreign affairs issues. Three years later, he joined the Senate Select Committee under Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., helping direct the committee's oversight of arms control negotiations between the United States and Soviet Union. He ultimately assumed the role of staff director of the committee.
Bringing Stability Amid Turmoil
Tenet resigned from the committee when President Clinton took office to join the national security transition team. Soon, he became senior director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council, where he dealt with issues such as setting confidential intelligence priorities in the post-Cold War era, and instituted new measures to help the FBI and CIA work together to catch spies. When John Deutch was appointed CIA director in 1995, he chose Tenet as his deputy director.
When Deutch resigned in December 1996 under a cloud of controversy over alleged mishandling of classified information, Clinton nominated one of his advisers, Anthony Lake. But Lake withdrew his name after opposition to him in Senate confirmation hearings. Clinton nominated Tenet, who was unanimously confirmed.
During his tenure as CIA director, Tenet has faced an ongoing challenge of restoring morale to an agency racked by scandal and whose mission had been questioned since the fall of the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The shadow of Aldrich Ames, a counterintelligence official who pleaded guilty in 1994 to spying for the KGB, was still hanging over the CIA. Tenet also faced criticism for the agency's handling of an internal investigation of Deutch.
In 1996, as Deutch was leaving office, the CIA discovered that he was keeping some classified material on his home computer, and officials did not tell the Justice Department for more than a year. Deutch was not prosecuted, but Tenet suspended his security clearances indefinitely. Tenet insisted his office did not hold up the investigation, and established a special panel within the CIA to investigate the Deutch case. Clinton pardoned Deutch in his final days as president.
Media Shy, Laid Back
Though he rarely grants media interviews, Tenet is known in the CIA for his laid-back demeanor — and for his habit of bouncing a basketball through the halls of the agency headquarters.
At one point in his career, officials thought Tenet would be sidelined due to health concerns when he suffered a heart attack while working at the White House during the early Clinton years. But Tenet lost weight and started a new exercise regimen that included almost daily jogs on the grounds of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.
Tenet and his wife, Stephanie, the daughter of a former U.S. foreign service officer, have one teenage son, John Michael.