George Tenet

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George W. Tenet, Director of Central Intelligence from July 1997 to July 2004. A career Congressional and White House staffer, he was appointed Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (DDCI) in July 1995, by Bill Clinton. After John Deutch's abrupt resignation in December 1996, Tenet served as acting director until he was officially appointed the position on July 11, 1997, after a unanimous confirmation vote in the Senate. Continuing under George W. Bush, he served until July 2004.

The son of Greek immigrants to the United States, he worked in their diner while attending New York public schools, which he credits for his development of hard work and people skills — which, after he graduated from Georgetown University, stood him well in the culture of the U.S. Congress.[1] After graduating from Georgetown, he received from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University in 1978. He worked for Senator H. John Heinz III of Pennsylvania, first as a legislative assistant and later as Legislative Director.[2]From Heinz's office, he joined the staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1985, without experience in the field. "He really had to learn, and he grew immensely," says Charles Battaglia, who worked with Tenet for seven years. "His warm personality stood him in good stead;" he rose to staff director. During that time,he developed a warm relationship with George H.W. Bush, then Director of Central Intelligence.

Transferring to the National Security Council staff in the Clinton Administration, as director for intelligence programs, he was named deputy DCI and then director in July 1997. Battaglia recalled that no one on President Bush's transition team thought Tenet had a chance of staying on, except for one asset: "George Bush senior liked him very much." [1]

Appointment as DCI

This was followed by the withdrawal of Anthony Lake, whose nomination had been blocked by Republicans in Congress. While the Director of Central Intelligence has typically been replaced by an incoming administration ever since Jimmy Carter replaced DCI George H. W. Bush, Tenet served through the end of the Clinton administration and well into the term of George W. Bush.

Restructuring the CIA

Tenet embarked on a mission to regenerate the CIA, which had fallen on hard times since the end of the Cold War. The number of agents recruited each year had fallen to an all-time low, a 25-percent decline from the Cold War peak. Tenet appealed to the original mission of the agency, which had been to "prevent another Pearl Harbor". The trick was to see where danger might come from in the post-Cold War world. Tenet focused on potential problems such as "the transformation of Russia and China", "rogue states" like North Korea, Iran and Iraq, and terrorism.[3]


In 1999 Tenet put forward a grand "Plan" for dealing with al-Qaeda. This effort placed the CIA in a better position to respond after the September 11, 2001 attacks. As Tenet put it in his book,[4]

How could [an intelligence] community without a strategic plan tell the president of the United States just four days after 9/11 how to attack the Afghan sanctuary and operate against al-Qa'ida in ninety-two countries around the world?

On September 15, 2001. Tenet presented a blueprint for what became known as the War On Terror.[5] He proposed firstly to send CIA teams into Afghanistan to collect intelligence on, and mount covert operations against, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The teams would act jointly with military Special Operations units. "President Bush later praised this proposal, saying it had been a turning point in his thinking."[6]

After the September 11 attacks , many observers criticized the [United States Intelligence Community]] for numerous "intelligence failures" as one of the major reasons why the attacks were not prevented.[5] In August 2007, a secret report written by the CIA inspector general was made public (originally written in 2005 but kept secret). The 19-page summary states that Tenet knew the dangers of Al Qaeda well before September 2001, but that the leadership of the CIA did not do enough to prevent any attacks. Tenet reacted to the publication of this report by calling it "flat wrong".[7]

Intelligence preparation for Iraq War

Bob Woodward, in his book Plan of Attack,[8] wrote that Tenet privately lent his personal authority to the intelligence reports about weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. At a meeting on December 12, 2002, he assured Bush that the evidence against Saddam Hussein amounted to a "slam dunk case." After several months of refusing to confirm this statement, Tenet later stated that this remark was taken out of context. He said that the comment was made pursuant to a discussion about how to convince the American people to support invading Iraq, and that, in his opinion, the best way to convince the people would be by explaining the dangers posed by Iraq's WMD i.e., the public relations sale of the war via the WMD, according to Tenet, would be a "slam dunk).[9]

Tenet wrote that the words "slam dunk" were an offhand comment, in a meeting in December 2002, after the decision to invade already had been made. He said that it was a response to the President wanting a better way of presenting the public case on Iraqi WMD, and it referred purely to the presentation.[10]

The search following the 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S., British and international forces yielded no stockpiles of WMDs, however. Tenet and James Pavitt, Deputy Director of Operations, resigned at approximately the same time, and it was suggested this was in penance over the WMD issue in Iraq. Others have suggested that Tenet was looking for an opportunity to leave government service, having no independent wealth and children going to college.


  1. 1.0 1.1 U.S. News and World Report, June 6, 2004
  2. Cardozo High School alumni newsletter
  3. Coll,Steve (2005). Ghost Wars. Penguin, pp.317, 354, 359-62.. 
  4. Tenet, George (2007). At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780061147784. , pp.121-2; p.178
  5. 5.0 5.1 Porch, Douglas & James J. Wirtz (September 2002), "Surprise and Intelligence Failure", Strategic Insights I (7) Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "navy" defined multiple times with different content
  6. 9/11 Commission Report, chapter 10, p.332 (HTML version)
  7. CIA criticises ex-chief over 9/11. BBC (2007-08-21). Retrieved on 2007-08-21.
  8. Woodward, Bob (2004). Plan of Attack. Simon & Schuster. 
  9. Shane, Scott & Mark Mazzetti (27 April 2007), "Ex-C.I.A. Chief, in Book, Assails Cheney on Iraq", New York Times
  10. Tenet, p. 359, p. 362