An Unusually Close Relationship Comes to an End

By MARIA NEWMAN
Published: June 3, 2004

Even among top administration officials in Washington, the relationship between President Bush and George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, was unusually close.

The only holdover from the Clinton administration, Mr. Tenet has had half-hour meetings with Mr. Bush almost daily, usually starting at 8 a.m. The president has seen Mr. Tenet more often than he does Secretary of State Colin L. Powell or even Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

"I wanted Tenet in the Oval Office all the time," Mr. Bush said at a news conference in April, talking about how concerned he was about keeping up with the threat of terror.

And even as criticism has continued to mount almost daily about intelligence failures that preceded the 9/11 attacks on Mr. Tenet's watch, the president has stuck by his C.I.A. chief.

But no more. Today, President Bush announced that Mr. Tenet would be leaving his post by next month, for "personal reasons."

"I told him I'm sorry he's leaving," the president, appearing grim, said today on the South Lawn of the White House, before leaving for Italy. "He's done a superb job on behalf of the American people."

The resignation will bring to an end the second-longest tenure of C.I.A. chiefs in the country's history. Mr. Tenet will have been on the job seven years in July, a term surpassed only by that of Allen W. Dulles, who served as director of central intelligence from 1953 to 1961.

It might seem surprising that a warm and close relationship would develop between Mr. Bush, the Texas-born, Yale-educated son of prominent New England political family, and Mr. Tenet, the voluble and barrel-chested Clinton appointee who as a youth worked as a busboy in his father's Greek diner in Queens. But those who know them say they have had a chemistry born out of both men's penchant for bluntness and straight talk.

"The most important factor in determining the director of central intelligence's success is his relationship with the president of the United States," John M. Deutch, Mr. Tenet's immediate predecessor as C.I.A. chief, told the New York Times in 2002. "And George Tenet has that as well as anybody ever has."

Sen. Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida, also told The Times that same year, "They're pragmatists, they talk sort of `male talk."'

"George is a very smart person, but his rhetoric isn't theoretical," Mr. Graham added. "It's blunt. It's straightforward."

Some in Washington expressed surprise today that Mr. Tenet was going, while others said he should not be blamed for the administration's growing public problems with the continuing conflict in Iraq.

Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, called Mr. Tenet "an honorable and decent man who has served his country well in difficult times, and no one should make him a fall guy for anything."

And while he was well-liked personally, many in Washington held him partly responsible for leading the Bush administration down a path to war in Iraq without adequate reason.

"Director Tenet's resignation is long overdue," said Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama, a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who over seven years went from a strong supporter of Mr. Tenet to one of his biggest critics.

"There were more failures of intelligence on his watch as director of the C.I.A. than any other D.C.I. in our history," Mr. Shelby said. "I have long felt that, while an honorable man, he lacked the critical leadership necessary for our intelligence community to effectively operate, particularly in the post-9/11 world."

Mr. Tenet's leadership of the Central Intelligence Agency has been under fire since 9/11, and he has faced repeated criticism for overstating the case for Iraq's possession of unconventional weapons. In a now much-quoted passage from a new book by Bob Woodward, "Plan of Attack," he is said to have told the president that evidence about Iraq's illicit weapons added up to a "slam dunk."

When he faced questioning in April by the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Tenet offered an aggressive defense and often seemed combative with his answers. He insisted that his agency had provided "clear and direct" intelligence about the larger danger posed by Al Qaeda before Sept. 11.

"Warning was well understood, even if the timing and method of attacks was not," he said.