WASHINGTON – As attention turns to who will run the CIA, investigators are about to issue reports that are expected to castigate the spy agency and its top leaders for intelligence failures on Sept. 11 and Iraq. A version of one report has been in the CIA's hands for three weeks.
A day after CIA Director George Tenet's (search) sudden resignation announcement, many in Washington were still grappling for an explanation, despite assurances from Tenet and others close to him that he simply wanted to spend more time with his wife and teenage son.
Upcoming reports are expected to place significant blame for recent intelligence failures on the CIA, especially the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into the flawed weapons estimates on Iraq. A critical report is also expected this summer from the president's commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"That had no bearing whatsoever on Director Tenet's decision," said CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield. "As he said yesterday, it was a personal decision."
Sen. Carl Levin (search), D-Mich., and congressional aides have said the Intelligence Committee report is expected to be highly critical of the agency for overestimating the threat posed by Iraq. The report is expected to identify titles and positions of a number of people.
One congressional aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, said the CIA was given all but the conclusions three weeks ago for declassification and fact-checking. The document makes clear the extent of the problem behind the Iraq weapons estimates, the aide said.
The Iraqi National Congress (search) and its leader, Ahmad Chalabi (search), are expected to be part of the report. Allegations that he leaked classified U.S. intelligence secrets to Iran were overshadowed this week only by Tenet's resignation.
Still unclear is whether President Bush will nominate Tenet's replacement soon or steer clear during the presidential election campaign, avoiding debate over intelligence failures in what could be a tough confirmation fight. Bush has asked Tenet's deputy, John McLaughlin (search), to temporarily head the agency after Tenet leaves in mid-July.
Current and former intelligence officials say Bush may seek to keep McLaughlin in place for now. However, some do not rule out the idea that Bush may soon select a popular nominee who wouldn't get too much Senate resistance, perhaps House Intelligence Chairman Porter Goss (search), R-Fla., a former CIA officer.
On Capitol Hill last week, officials privately questioned how much credibility McLaughlin will have, given that he had a hand in significant amounts of the intelligence analysis during the Iraq weapons miscalculations.
John Brennan, director of the federal Terrorist Threat Integration Center, said that McLaughlin will provide continuity because he's been "attached to George's hip in the past several years." Tenet and McLaughlin work in adjoining offices.
"George won't be there, but his alter ego will remain in place," Brennan said.
Bush and Tenet were thought to have a collegial, if not chummy, relationship. But some officials say Tenet's relationship with senior members of the Bush administration, while professional, has been tense over intelligence estimates. That includes the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons programs indicating Saddam Hussein may have had chemical and biological weapons and was reconstituting a nuclear program.
At the agency, Tenet was known as an advocate for the rank-and-file. It was not unusual for him to sit down at a table in the cafeteria to talk with agency employees over a slice of pizza. Tenet and his wife had lunch there, after his announcement Thursday.
Trying to rebuff suggestions that Tenet is being scapegoated or that he fears the upcoming reports, those close to Tenet noted that he has been the second-longest serving director, working seven years in that position and two prior to that as the CIA's deputy director.
"That is a 24-7 job," said Brennan, who has worked with Tenet for a decade. "There is never a time when you take your pack off. He is someone that has given every ounce of effort."