Let us count Tenet's "personal reasons"

Published June 3, 2004 11:44PM (EDT)

George Tenet was considered one of Washington's heartiest survivors -- until now. Like many fall guys before him, Tenet explained his departure on the good old fallback: "personal reasons." We can't blame him, with these kinds of personal issues, we'd want to head home, too.

Here are some "personal reasons" George Tenet is leaving Langley:

The game of telephone between an unnamed, allegedly drunk Pentagon employee, Ahmed Chalabi and an Iranian official that reportedly passed highly classified U.S. intelligence along to the Iranian government. (Chalabi is now accusing Tenet of being behind the allegations he's an Iranian spy.)

The Senate Intelligence Committee's scathing, soon-to-be-released several-hundred-page indictment of the CIA's prewar intelligence that, in the words of one panel member, "is not going to be a happy report."

The 9/11 commission's report about holes in intelligence that might have connected the dots before the Sept. 11 attacks isn't expected to be rosy for the CIA either. The staff's preliminary findings concluded with this line: "A question remains: Who is in charge of intelligence?"

Tenet's battle with the White House over the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity to Robert Novak as punishment for Joe Wilson's revealing the yellow-cake claim was bogus. The ongoing grand jury investigation into the Plame leak has prompted Bush to consult a private lawyer, we learned just before news came that Tenet is resigning.

Telling Bush, according to Bob Woodward, that the case against Saddam was a "slam-dunk."

Sitting behind Colin Powell during his U.N. presentation as the secretary laid out intelligence on Iraq's weapons development that Powell now admits was "faulty." Powell's words again, as Tenet looked on: "Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent. That is enough agent to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets. Even the low end of 100 tons of agent would enable Saddam Hussein to cause mass casualties across more than 100 square miles of territory, an area nearly five times the size of Manhattan." Now, Powell's reportedly cracking skulls in Langley for explanations about why he was so misinformed.

Acknowledging in February that the CIA may have overestimated Saddam's weapons, but saying his analysts "never said there was an imminent threat."

Letting George W. Bush make the false claim -- the infamous 16 words -- about yellow-cake uranium in the 2003 State of the Union address, then later taking the fall for it.

Admitting to the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was out of the loop on Doug Feith's Office of Special Plans' briefing the White House about the never-materialized ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida

Saying he sometimes told the White House that its prewar analysis was based on misconstrued and misleading facts, saying he was sometimes "too busy" to check and respond to all of the White House's claims, yet ultimately judging the White House's prewar remarks as generally accurate.

Failure of the CIA to issue a warning before Sept. 11 that hijacked planes could be used as weapons despite an August 2001 report to top CIA officials about Zacarias Moussaoui titled "Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly" and the August 6 presidential briefing memo from the CIA that warned "Bin Laden determined to strike inside the United States."

If Tenet is really serious about leaving the spook world for "personal reasons" and attending to his family, maybe he should start by tackling some household chores. His wife has some suggestions in her book "Dare to Repair," a do-it-herself handbook for women written with another CIA employee's wife. (She also contributed to a cookbook written by CIA families called "Spies, Black Ties & Mango Pies.") Mrs. Tenet, your days of unclogging the toilet are over (If you want them to be, of course). Hand George the plunger.

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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