Will Bush Retain Tenet as CIA Chief?

CIA Director George Tenet is not commenting publicly on speculation that he may be asked by the Bush administration to stay on as director, at least for the first few months.

But, hewing to a vaunted Washington tradition of telegraphing one’s desires, Tenet is allowing his friends to let it be known that he would love to accept, should the offer materialize.

“Those who know George Tenet and know how much he loves his job and cares about the future of U.S. intelligence know that he would willing to stick around for a while, if he were asked to do so,” one person close to Tenet tells ABCNEWS.

A Laid-Back Sort of Guy Tenet worked in the Senate for both Republicans and Democrats, having handled arms control and foreign policy issues for Sen. John Heinz, R.-Pa., Pat Leahy, D-Vt., and having served as chief of staff for the bipartisan staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, then chaired by David Boren, D-Okla., and vice-chaired by William Cohen, R-Maine.

A native New Yorker who attended Georgetown University as an undergraduate and studied arms control as a graduate student at Columbia University, 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.

Tenet was tapped in 1992 by the incoming Clinton administration to move from Capitol Hill to the White House, to serve on the National Security Council, as the director in charge of intelligence. He was then promoted to deputy director of central intelligence — helping oversee the CIA and other agencies — by incoming director John Deutch.

When Clinton NSC adviser Anthony Lake was selected to succeed Deutch, Tenet expected to stay on as deputy under his former boss at the National Security Council. But when Lake’s confirmation was torpedoed by the Senate, Clinton went with Tenet — a man largely unknown to the outside world but popular on Capitol Hill and within the corridors of the various intelligence agencies he oversees.

Propagating a Legacy

If Tenet stays on under Bush, it will provide the incoming administration with an important link to the ongoing Middle East peace negotiations. Having developed a strong personal relationship with Middle East leaders, most notably Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Tenet is viewed within the administration as a key player in the peace process and will be traveling this weekend to Cairo to negotiate with Egyptian, Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

Although Tenet has strong personal ties with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, he has withstood his share of criticism from Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, for his handling of security lapses regarding former director Deutch, who put classified material on his unsecured home computer.

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, now 47, lost weight and started a new exercise regimen that now includes almost daily jogs on the grounds of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.

His father and mother emigrated from Greece and operated a deli in New York City, where Tenet worked growing up. His wife Stephanie is the daughter of a former U.S. foreign service officer and they have one son, John Michael, a teenager.