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CIA Director Resigns

Aired June 3, 2004 - 11:00   ET


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He told me he was resigning for personal reasons.
I told him, I'm sorry he's leaving. He's done a superb job on behalf of the American people. I accepted his letter.

He will serve at the CIA as a director until mid-July, at which time the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John McLaughlin, will serve as the acting director.

Now, George Tenet is the -- is the kind of public service you like -- servant you like to work with. He's strong; he's resolute. He served his nation as director for seven years. He has been a strong and able leader at the agency. He's been a -- he's been a strong leader in the war on terror, and I will miss him.

I send my blessings to George and his family. I look forward to working with him until the time he leaves the agency. And I wish him all the very best. Thank you.


DARYN KAGAN, ANCHOR: Those comments made at the White House just within the last hour. President George Bush announcing that he's accepting the resignation of George Tenet, who was heading up the CIA, the second longest serving director of the CIA in the history of that agency.

With more on this breaking news, let's go ahead and bring in our Suzanne Malveaux at the White House -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, President Bush and George Tenet are very close. These two men respect each other's leaderships and their styles. As you know, Tenet very much considered a straight shooter, a tough man, all these things that President Bush admires in someone else.

The two of them speaking daily, as Tenet has briefed him on intelligence matters throughout his term. The president, as you know, fiercely loyal to his staffers.

We understand that Tenet, before, had offered his resignation, even before the war. He has talked about, with the White House, his personal aspirations. This is not completely surprising to the White House, but at the same time, of course, it was not going to come from the president. This White House vehemently denying that they pushed him out or pressured him out in any way. The president had expressed on numerous occasions, despite the controversy swirling around Tenet on failed intelligent matters, that he would stick by him, and he has stuck by him until the very end -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Suzanne, a lot of questions for you. But we have someone interesting to talk to on the phone, so I'm going to get back to you in just a moment.

We do have with us on the phone right now Stanfield Turner, the former CIA director, joining us.

Mr. Turner, thank you for being with us.


KAGAN: You had -- You know what this day feels like, the day when it's over, of heading up that agency. Your reaction to George Tenet's news?

TURNER: This is too significant a move at too important a time in the electoral history of our country for this to be just a personal move on the part of Tenet.

KAGAN: So you're not buying the idea that George Tenet goes to George Bush and says, "I'm resigning for personal reasons?" You think he's either a scapegoat or you think he's being pushed out?

TURNER: I think he's being pushed out and made a scapegoat. That is, that the president feels he's got to have somebody to blame, and he's doing it indirectly by asking Tenet to leave.

KAGAN: On the other hand, we heard George Tenet, and we're look at video there of him appearing before a number of congressional hearings, where he says, as we've heard other top administration officials say, the buck stops here. He is responsible for what happens in his agency. And there has been a number of mistakes.

So why can't this just be a man standing up for the job performed underneath his leadership?

TURNER: Tenet has demonstrated over the years, not only at the CIA, but in the Congress as a staffer, that he is very loyal to his superiors, and he has been to President Clinton, and now to President Bush.

I don't think he would pull the plug on President Bush in the middle of an election cycle without having been asked by the president to do that.

KAGAN: He is, as we mentioned, the second longest serving CIA director. As someone who did the job, can you talk about the challenge that he overcame serving a Democratic and a Republican president and lasting for seven years?

TURNER: Lasting for seven years is an endurance race. And I admire him for that. And I can imagine that he's tired and, for personal reasons, does want to leave. I just don't think he would do that to the president at this time.

Seven years is -- as you say, the second longest incumbent in the job. It's a backbreaking job. I can understand his desire to move on.

KAGAN: And as he moves on, I want to ask you about what we've heard and what we expect to get from these 9/11 commission reports. So much talk in Washington that the intelligence agencies as we know them now will be restructured.

Do you think that is appropriate? And what do you think would be a good form going forward?

TURNER: It's not only appropriate, it's much overdue. And if I were in Tenet's shoes right now, I'd be very unhappy with President Bush for not having given him more authority, more support, in the years since 9/11 happened.

Yes, that was a bad intelligence failure. But Tenet did not have the authority, and still does not, to bring all those agencies together to prevent a 9/11. As you know, the FBI and the CIA weren't exchanging enough information. And other agencies similarly.

And so what we need to do, and what has been recommended by the Scowcroft commission, two years ago, recommended by the ongoing commission, for 9/11, is to give the director of central intelligence some real authority to manage this $3.5 billion operation we call our intelligence community.

He does not have that today. He should have been given that right after 9/11 when it was obvious that it was needed.

KAGAN: So before the speculation and the guessing begins as to who would have the job next on a full-time basis, you'd want to wait and see what the structure of those agencies would be?

TURNER: Partly that. But you don't want to try to get somebody confirmed through the Senate with the possibility that he or she will only last until January 20.

Until the election's over and President Bush really whether he's really going to be president for another term or not, I think he won't try to appoint somebody to this job and go through the confirmation process.

KAGAN: Stansfield Turner, former CIA director, thank you for joining us this morning. Appreciate that.

Want to go ahead and bring back in David Ensor.

I wanted to start, David, by asking you something that Mr. Turner was commenting on, and saying he didn't feel that George Tenet even had the proper kind of authority to get the job done that he needed to get done. Do you think that that's a fair criticism of what the Bush administration offered him?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is a very strongly held view among many in the intelligence community, Daryn.

They feel that, for a long time now, the United States has needed to have a director of central intelligence or director of national intelligence who has real authority over all the agencies.

Right now, he's only got actual budget and hiring and firing authority over the CIA. And it's not even the largest of the intelligence agencies.

The National Security Agency, which does code breaking and eavesdropping, and all sorts of signals intelligence work, is bigger than the CIA. The budget is huge. It's classified. I don't know the number. But this is an agency -- and there are several others -- that report basically to the Pentagon.

Now, there's a good reason for that. Much of the intelligence they gather is needed for tactical military purposes. It helps the military do their jobs in Iraq and around the world.

But at the same time, in the post-9/11 world, when our own country has been attacked and when there is clearly a war with some terrorists going on, there are many in the intelligence community who feel, and Admiral Turner mentioned General Scowcroft, who made this case in a private report that was never acted upon, that there needs to be a person who's the head of intelligence who really is in charge of all those budgets, who can hire and fire and -- you know, push people around, if need be, to get things done so that the intelligence community is more oriented towards protecting the national security interests of the whole country, not just the military's tactical interest in the field.

There's been this long debate about this in the United States now. And so far, the Bush administration has, in effect, leaned in the Pentagon's direction by not doing anything, leaving the budget authority, the hiring and firing authority, in the hands of the secretary of defense.

So that's the great debate. And you know, these kinds of things -- there are very powerful people in Washington for and against. It's not clear how it's going to end up at this point.

KAGAN: Well, in terms of debate -- and I think there will be a lot of debate on the service of George Tenet. And I think Admiral Turner made some interesting points.

He was saying -- and the way he feels that the way the intelligence agencies are currently structured you can't blame someone like George Tenet for missing all the clues and not putting it all together.

On the other hand, you did have, accord to Bob Woodward's book and other reports, George Tenet going in there and being the No. 1 source for making the case to President Bush about the weapons of mass destruction that were supposed to be found within Iraq that simply so far have not surfaced. It's all true.

ENSOR: That's right. The criticism of Tenet that you do sometimes hear is that he's someone who tries too hard, in the view of the critics, to please policymakers, who tries a little too hard to make the intelligence, to tailor the intelligence to the policy requirements of the policymakers.

Now, he would strongly reject that. He will tell you that he tells it like it is, that he tells truth to power, and never mind the consequences.

But the criticism of his critics is that too many times over his incumbency incumbency, he has trimmed his sails or tailored the intelligence to fit the requirements of the policymakers.

And of course, the big example that the critics use is the Iraq -- the build up to the Iraq war. The intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq clearly was not good enough. There weren't enough human sources on the ground to really check out some of the allegations that the defectors were making, and some of the information that was really quite out of date by that time, that had been gathered by U.N. arms inspectors in Iraq in previous years. So the intelligence really wasn't good enough.

Now, you can blame George Tenet for that. He was working with what he had. He didn't have enough, clearly.

KAGAN: All right, David Ensor, we'll be back with you.

Right now on the phone with us, we have Peter Earnest, a former CIA operations officer. He is currently the executive director of the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

Thank you for being here with us.

Do we have Peter on the phone with us?


KAGAN: Good morning. If you can give us reaction, please, to George Tenet's resignation.

EARNEST: Yes, certainly. I think it's -- I think it's a real loss to the agency. I don't think it was unexpected. There have certainly been rumors about this in the past.

But he is an extraordinarily dedicated public servant. And I think, you know, people need to understand that he was deeply committed to rebuilding the clandestine service long before 9/11.

I think one the things that characterized George was he was one of the people in town who was trying to alert the government and, by extension, the public, to the threat posed by Osama bin Laden. And he was well known for doing that.

KAGAN: What about the criticism under this intelligence director of the lack of good human intelligence, especially from within Iraq?

EARNEST: Well, human intelligence is tough, and as you well know, after the end of the Cold War, 1991, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, like the military, parts of the intelligence community were allowed to erode, as it were.

And I know that long before 9/11 George was trying very hard to rebuilding the clandestine service. And so they had to go with what they had. As you know, recently he testified before the 9/11 commission he thought it would take something like five years to rebuild the clandestine service.

I think, you know, you do hear from time to time about his producing intelligence that supported the policymakers. I frankly have not seen that. I know there was a lot of pressure from the policymakers in the lead-up to the Iraq war to produce intelligence, and that's what the agency ought to get. I mean, the agency is designed to respond to the needs of the policymakers.

But saying that is one thing. Saying that he's cooking the books or trimming intelligence, I think, is totally inaccurate.

KAGAN: Peter Earnest, former CIA operations officer and currently executive director of the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

By the way, Peter, before we let you go...


KAGAN: ... what kind of display or where do you think would George Tenet fit into your Spy Museum?

EARNEST: I think George Tenet has one of the most popular directors the CIA has had, and I think his commitment to the CIA was known throughout the agency. He's been an extraordinarily popular director of central intelligence -- director of the CIA.

KAGAN: All right, Peter, thank you for your time.

EARNEST: Sure. Thank you.

KAGAN: Appreciate that.

As we mentioned at the top of the hour, as we went with this developing story, that George Tenet has offered his resignation, which has been accepted, as head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

We have mentioned that our viewers -- mentioning -- are joining us from around the world. For more on the international reaction, let's go to the United Nations. Our Richard Roth is standing by there -- Richard.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a little early here in the U.N., because everybody is inside the Security Council chamber, the same chamber that George Tenet appeared in, sitting behind U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, February 5, 2003, at the height of the build-up to the Iraq Gulf War. While the United States was looking for support, looking for votes at the Security Council to support a new resolution.

So the U.S. came in, in grand fashion, with audiotapes, slides, videotapes, telling the world that Iraq was an imminent military threat, through nuclear biological, chemical weapons. You see, over Colin Powell's right shoulder, the CIA director. Also U.S. Ambassador Negroponte, who is soon bound for Baghdad as the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

Powell had concerns in the days and weeks before his presentation. He was briefed multiple times. He then came to the Security Council at one point holding up a fake vial of anthrax, telling the Security Council of the dimensions of Saddam Hussein's arsenal.

Powell mentioned that these were very good sources. Later, it turns out, many of the sources, defectors from Iraq, were not providing accurate information. It has still not been determined whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Hans Blix, then the chief U.N. weapons inspector, had his doubts, said privately he wasn't always getting the -- enough information from U.S. intelligence agencies. While critics were saying that Blix didn't know what to look for.

Blix said whenever his teams came on to sites that U.S. officials had said could be where Saddam had been holding material just minutes before the inspectors arrived, Blix said there was nothing there and they never found any proof.

Subsequent reports from the U.N. weapons inspectors have still not determined anything.

Tenet did not speak that day.

The U.N. happens to be, Daryn, a hot bed for espionage, though it's not evident, of course. But for decades, this place has been where countries have put spies, under the guise of economic adviser, or political consular offices. There are dozens of United Nations missions here on New York's east side.

And we remember before the war, several Iraqi diplomats were booted out of the country. And even during the height of this crisis, it has been later revealed by a British minister that the British, accord to this minister were spying on Secretary-General Kofi Annan, eavesdropping on conversations.

Powell, in his presentation, backed by Tenet, said, quote, "My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence." And he cites examples, and he says they are from human sources. And he repeated, solid sources.

So that is what the countries heard here. And it's hurt the United States at the council as Washington moves forward in its quest to get more support now for turning over more control and sovereignty to the Iraqi people.

Also, the U.S. has deep concerns about North Korea and Iran. While the International Atomic Energy Agency considers what to do about those countries, that's a June 14 meeting in Vienna about Iran, and many countries will always suspect, for a long time now, whether Washington is saying the truth when it makes very big assertions about nuclear capabilities in these countries.

And of course, let's not forget, George Tenet was not just involved in Iraq. He was a major player in the Middle East, Daryn. He went there personally. It was the CIA that was always the party that was called on to either come up with a plan to separate the Palestinian and Israeli security forces or get them back together again.

So George Tenet was not just worrying about Iraq and terrorism. In the summer of 2001, the CIA played a major role in the Sharm el- Sheikh conference and in the aftermath but hasn't had much success there either, or have the diplomats.

Back to you.

KAGAN: Yes, he certainly put in his hours of overtime.

Richard Roth, as you're saying, expect more reaction as the Security Council lets out. What time do you expect that to be, Richard?

ROTH: Well, the Security Council will end in a short time. But they'll be debating Iraq. Iraq's foreign minister in the afternoon, 3 p.m. here, New York time.

KAGAN: All right. Much more ahead. Right now we're at 11:18 on the East Coast in New York City.

Once again, President Bush saying on Thursday that CIA Director George Tenet has offered his resignation. He is resigning, he says, for what he's calling personal reasons. His deputy will temporarily lead the CIA until a successor has been found.

Much more ahead on this developing story out of Washington. Right now, a quick break here on CNN.


KAGAN: Once again, we go back to our developing story, coming out of the White House. President Bush announcing he is accepting the resignation of CIA Director George Tenet, Tenet saying that he's resigning for personal reasons after having served for seven years, making him the second longest serving CIA director.

Let's go ahead and listen once again to President Bush as he made the announcement just moments ago.


BUSH: He's done a superb job on behalf of the American people. I accepted his letter. He will serve at the CIA as a director until mid-July. At which time the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John McLaughlin, will serve as the acting director.


KAGAN: And so you have John McLaughlin as the acting director. But the questions already starting to swirl in Washington as to who will head up the CIA now that George Tenet is leaving.

With more on that, let's bring in our intelligence analyst, former Delta Force member Ken Robinson joining us from Washington, D.C.

Ken, who goes next?

KEN ROBINSON, CNN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, I believe that John McLaughlin likely will be caretaker until -- through the election. It does -- just analytically, it doesn't make sense to me that the Republican administration would want to put themselves through a Senate confirmation, which would raise all the issues of failures of intelligence on discussion during an election year.

KAGAN: What about on the ground? How do you think that this will be received from the troops in the field, Ken?

ROBINSON: Well, he's highly respected. He's highly respected within the agency and without the agency.

Tenet was the head of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence staff, prior to becoming the deputy director. And he has a lot of respect on both sides of the aisle.

Operatives within the community have considered him someone who helped professionalize their service.

And so I think it will be -- it's a loss for the United States, regardless of what people think, left or right of the aisle. He's done a great job.

KAGAN: Well, it is fascinating this is a man that has managed not just to last seven years and two presidents, but a Democratic president and a Republican one, as well.

TENET: And he was central to the Middle East peace process, which is one of the main reasons why he stayed on after the administration changed, because both sides, Palestinian and Israeli, considered him an honest broker in that process.

The Republican administration wouldn't have kept him on because he was a great guy. They kept him on because he was a crucial guy. And his contributions were significant.

KAGAN: And yet, not much has been brokered. A lot has been broken, especially in recent months between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

ROBINSON: Yes, the -- but he was someone who, behind the scenes, was able to bring both sides to the table, and try to keep the process moving. That dynamic of course -- you know, it would take a legion of George Tenets to try to keep it working.

KAGAN: All right, Ken. Thank you for your comments.

Right now, live, congressional minority leader Nancy Pelosi is taking questions on Capitol Hill about George Tenet's resignation.

Let's listen in to that.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: ... I just know that, at that time, as a senior Democrat, the intelligence did not support the threat.

I think there are many questions that are -- that have arisen here. One is, as you know, the CIA never placed much confidence in Chalabi. The White House did; the administration did.

And it was on the -- it appears that it was on the basis of much of the information that Chalabi gave the administration that a decision was made to go to war.

All of the -- the dream team that the president supposedly put together -- and you know who they are -- turned out to be a nightmare for the American people. One of the reasons is the confidence that they placed in Chalabi.

And this was right up to the top, as you well know. In January, Chalabi sat in the president's box at the State of the Union address. As you know, until about two weeks ago, he was alleged to be on the payroll of the Department of Defense. And only a few days after that, his offices were raided, with allegations of very, very serious, serious charges.

I'll say more on that if you -- depending on which direction...


PELOSI: Well, you know that I have said for weeks that it is important that the secretary of defense resign. He has played a very important role in...

KAGAN: All right, listening in to congressional minority leader Nancy Pelosi making comments about the investigation into Ahmed Chalabi. Also, secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

That's actually the next place we're going to go, to the Pentagon, our Barbara Starr standing by with reaction to the breaking news of today, and that is that CIA Director George Tenet has offered has resignation, and it has been accepted -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hello to you, Daryn.

Now the first thing we should remind everybody, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is traveling at this hour. He is in Asia. It's nighttime there. Not clear whether he has been informed of the latest developments.

But every reason to believe, officials tell us, that this had been in the works for some time. As one Pentagon official said this morning, you don't just wake up and decide to resign when you're director of the CIA, that this had been contemplated for some time.

Now, that squares with what I have heard from other sources I've spoken to this morning on a working level in the intelligence community, including sources here, that work in this arena.

Perhaps surprised that it was exactly today a question, though they say, not if, but when, George Tenet might have decided to do that. On a working level, there had been over the last couple of weeks, we are told, a sense that maybe George Tenet might have decided to do this, because of whether he felt he could continue to be effective.

There had been a lot of controversy, a very prickly relationship. Some intelligence analysts we speak to who are involved in weapons of mass destruction, in terrorism, point back and say one turning point might have been the quote from George Tenet in Bob Woodward's book that it was a, quote, "slam dunk" that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

George Tenet never publicly disputed the accuracy of that quote. And within the intelligence community, we are told, there were very bad feelings about that because many intelligence analysts certainly felt it was not a slam dunk, that there were many open questions about whether Iraq had functioning inventories of weapons of mass destruction.

Now, here at the Pentagon, there had been -- although people would formally deny it, of course -- very prickly relationship between the CIA and the Defense Department under Don Rumsfeld.

And the reason is, of course, that Secretary Rumsfeld had very much elevated the question of defense intelligence. It's an area he's very interested in. He created, basically, an intelligence czar, if you will, Steve Cambone, in this building, a new position under secretary of defense for intelligence. A very new, senior intelligence position.

Steve Cambone was put in charge of policymaking, priorities for gathering intelligence on a policy level. And that dipped a bit into what the CIA traditionally had done in some arenas.

And there -- you know, for the record, everybody got along, all very cooperative. But the fact is that there had been some prickliness about that. A bit of controversy as the Pentagon, under Don Rumsfeld, took a more front-line role in policymaking, in setting intelligence priorities, than had ever been done before.

Now, the Pentagon will, of course, tell you, with the war in Afghanistan, with the war in Iraq, it had been very important for the Pentagon to take that role, to make sure that military commanders out in the field were getting exactly what they needed.

But it did get a bit into the CIA's business. Especially in some of those very high-tech, mysterious agencies, like the National Reconnaissance Office, which runs satellites; the National Security Agency, which does signals intelligence.

So it had been very much a new world.

And of course, one of the most interesting things to remember is before Don Rumsfeld was selected by the president to be secretary of defense, there had been a lot of talk about him becoming CIA director. That didn't happen, of course. He came over to the Pentagon.


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