Moments in Time


3 June 2004

The pressure on D/CIA George J. Tenet, finally caught up with the besieged head of the world's most powerful intelligence agency. The man who presided over a major reorganisation of the CIA abruptly resigned on 3 June 2004 after a traumatic seven years heading the Langley organisation.

Both Mr Tenet and President George Bush said the resignation was for 'personal reasons.' However, intelligence watchers believe the CIA's failure to detect the plotters behind al-Qaida's 11 September 2001 attack on America, and the Agency's assessment that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), were responsible for his decision.

Just hours after Mr Tenet's resignation, James Pavitt, the head of the agency's clandestine service, announced he too was retiring. The retirement of Mr Pavitt, a CIA veteran whose official title was Deputy Director of Operations, had been planned for some time and had nothing to do with Mr Tenet's resignation.

President Bush said: 'I met with George in the White House. I had a good visit [meeting] with him. 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.'

A tearful Mr Tenet, told CIA employees at Langley, 'it is the most difficult decision I have ever had to make' and added that it was for 'the well-being of my wonderful family.'

When George J. Tenet testified in mid-April 2004 before the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks, he revealed a little secret of his own: 'I sit back at night and look at a war in Iraq, a war on terrorism, conflict in Afghanistan and all the things I have to do, and recognise, you know, no single human being can do all these things.

'If I've failed or made a mistake, I've been evolutionary in terms of the intelligence community. Maybe I should have been more revolutionary.'

Tenet's undeniable successes - including the CIA's role in the recent disarming of Libya and the dissolving of a nuclear trafficking network - have been vastly overshadowed by two of the worst intelligence failures in US history: the CIA's inability to prevent the terrorist attacks on mainland America, and the misjudgements of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's illicit weapons.

The CIA also failed to foresee India's underground tests of nuclear weapon designs in May 1998, learning about the tests on CNN. And the CIA was responsible a year later when US bombers were given the wrong coordinates and mistakenly struck the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during NATO's air war against Yugoslavia. In this case, Eye Spy learned the coordinates for the embassy were taken from an outdated tourist map.

The CIA never had any authentic HUMINT on al-Qaida's high command, (though this was to change dramatically). And Tenet never ordered a formal intelligence estimate - a highly vetted, official judgment by the entire intelligence network - of the threat posed by Osama bin-Laden. Doing so might have exposed what critics have called the CIA's complacency.

Mr Tenet will undoubtedly face increasing blame after his departure. His long-time enemy, former Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi, is already smiling. Mr Tenet's CIA colleagues maintain that the Iraqi leaked highly classified materials to Iran. Chalabi in turn said Tenet provided 'erroneous information about weapons of mass destruction to President Bush, which caused the government much embarrassment at the United Nations and his own country.'

A source close to Tenet said: 'It would be unwise for many in Washington's inner circle to criticise Mr Tenet too much. He does after all, hold more secrets than most...'


At the same time of Tenet's departure, Tony Blair appointed John Scarlett, 55, head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, to succeed Sir Richard Dearlove as head of MI6 on 1 August 2004. The JIC is a body which includes all the chiefs of all the intelligence agencies, and was responsible for what became known as the 'dodgy Iraq WMD dier'.


Previous 'Moments in Time'

Flight 77 The Pentagon Crash
The Assassination of CIA Man Richard Welch
The Yeti Conspiracy and the CIA
Checkpoint Charlie's Bay of Pig's
George Blake Escapes from Prison