WASHINGTON – CIA Director George Tenet (search) bid farewell to the agency he oversaw during the emergence of the modern terrorist threat at a ceremony Thursday at the agency's headquarters.
Tenet officially resigns Sunday, marking the end of a seven-year tenure and making him the second longest-serving director of central intelligence. President Bush is still deciding when to nominate a permanent replacement and who the candidate should be.
More than 1,500 employees landed tickets to bid farewell to Tenet under a white tent on the agency's grassy quadrangle in the Virginia suburbs. Even more watched on the CIA's closed-circuit televisions as Tenet gave one last rallying cry to his troops and heard goodbyes from FBI Director Robert Mueller (search), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) and the agency's soon-to-be acting director, John McLaughlin, among others.
Tenet's departure comes as counterterrorism officials are cautioning the public to be on alert for strikes from Muslim extremists who seek to influence the November elections. A wave of reports on the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and prewar Iraq intelligence are also expected to be released soon, including a Senate Intelligence Committee (search) report coming out Friday.
At times, Tenet's words seemed addressed to those who are questioning the agency's performance, rather than to his audience.
Tenet said the American people will weigh the agency's record and -- aware of the difficulties and limitations -- will recognize and honor the service of its personnel.
"My only wish is that those whose job it is to help us do better show the same balance and care. In recognizing how far we have come. In recognizing how bold we have been. In recognizing what the full balance sheet says," he said, according to a transcript released on the CIA's Web site.
"This much is clear right now: Your work is far too important for distractions," Tenet added.
Tenet has not finalized his future plans, but is considering doing some public speaking and writing. When he announced his resignation last month, he cited family reasons alone -- not the pressure of the around-the-clock job or the upcoming reports.
He was known as a clubby but decisive director, which endeared him to Bush during stressful moments after Sept. 11. He was also well-liked among many in the agency because he was quick to defend personnel there.
Tenet's two-hour farewell was closed to the public so undercover operatives could attend. However, one attendee said Mueller got laughs when he spoke of how much he would miss Tenet, particularly testifying with him before Congress.
At times, Mueller told the audience, Tenet would cover up his microphone after Mueller got a question, lean over and begin offering what Mueller expected to be advice.
Instead, Mueller would hear: "Bob, this is ridiculous. I'm walking out. You with me?"