Person of the Week: George Tenet

CIA Director George Tenet is leaving his post on Sunday, a position he held for seven years.

His departure will come two days after a scathing report from the Senate Intelligence Committee on the CIA's handling of intelligence that led to the Iraq war. The report was highly critical of Tenet's leadership.

During a farewell address he gave at CIA headquarters last month, Tenet told his colleagues: "These have been eventful years filled with exhilaration and triumph, with pain and sorrow, and, yes, with questions about our performance. Such is the nature of a tough, essential business."

Tenet's decision to resign was not a simple one.

"I did not make this decision quickly or easily," Tenet told ABC News in an interview conducted before the Senate report was released. "But I know in my heart that the time is right to move on to the next phase of my life."

The CIA is facing more criticism now than at any time in recent history, and Tenet has been a polarizing figure. In the middle of a campaign year, many say he has also been a liability for President Bush.

"Somebody had to take a fall. I think he felt a couple of months ago that he had to do something," said former CIA Director Stansfield Turner.

But Tenet insists he is leaving purely for personal reasons, saying his family has spent far too long without him around.

"[My son] John Michael is going to be a senior next year," Tenet said during the ceremony. "I'm going to be a senior with him in high school. We're going to go to class together. We're going to party together. I'm going to learn how to instant message his friends — that would be an achievement."

Life-Changing Moment

The strain of the job had apparently reached a critical point one night last year, when Tenet took the family for a drive in Virginia.

"Suddenly the windshield shattered and there was a huge thump, and Tenet slumped over the steering wheel," said family friend and Washington Post reporter Sally Quinn. "[His wife] Stephanie said this was it. She knew for sure this was a terrorist attack and he was dead. The Secret Service came running over and as it turned out, a deer had leapt out of the forest and landed on the windshield and crashed the whole thing. But I think that brought home to them how tense they all were."

Working-Class Roots

President Clinton appointed Tenet to the director post in 1997.

The son of working-class Greek immigrants, Tenet often skipped the limos and the fancy lunches and instead dined close to his office in the cafeteria.

During the late 1990s, the agency was in a state of chaos — its mission in question. The Cold War had ended, so the national enemy was no longer the Soviet Union.

Until the terror attacks of 9/11, Tenet's political skills had served him well. Even the incoming President Bush was said to be an admirer. But after the attacks, it became clear that the CIA, under Tenet's charge, had missed the signs.

Making Case for War

It was, by many accounts, Tenet who helped convince Bush that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction — which subsequently led to war. In a comment that has now become famous, Tenet reportedly told the president the case for war was a "slam dunk."

"The president of the United States gets his intelligence from one person and one community — me. And he has told me firmly and directly that he's wanted it straight and he's wanted it honest, and he's never wanted the facts shaded. And that's what we do every day," Tenet told reporters in February.

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