WASHINGTON – After intense scrutiny over the handling of the Sept. 11 attacks and the war in Iraq, CIA Director George Tenet (search) resigned as head of the U.S. intelligence agency, President Bush announced Thursday.
Tenet, 51, informed Bush of his decision Wednesday night and told CIA employees Thursday that he was resigning purely for personal reasons and longed to spend more time with his family.
"It was a personal decision, and had only one basis in fact: the well-being of my wonderful family, nothing more and nothing less," a tearful Tenet told CIA employees Thursday.
Speaking directly to his son, who was in the audience with his wife, Tenet said, "I'm going to be a great father."
During his late-morning remarks Tenet also praised President Bush: "On entering office he immediately recognized the importance of rebuilding our intelligence capabilities. ... He is a great champion for the men and women of U.S. intelligence and a constant source of support.
"It has been an honor for me to serve as his director of Central Intelligence. And I am especially proud of the leadership team that we have assembled in the intelligence community and which will continue fighting the good fight long after I have taken my leave."
The praise was mutual.
"I met with George last night in the White House," Bush said. "I had a good visit with him. He told me he was resigning for personal reasons. I told him I'm sorry he's leaving."
Bush said Tenet has "done a super job" and is the "kind of public servant you like to work with."
Tenet's announcement came amid fresh controversy over intelligence issues, including an alleged Pentagon leak of highly classified intelligence to Ahmad Chalabi (search), an Iraqi politician. At the same time, a federal grand jury is pressing its investigation of the leak of a CIA operative's name, and Bush acknowledged he might be questioned in the case.
The CIA denied that Tenet's resignation was connected with any of those issues. "Absolutely not," said Mark Mansfield, CIA spokesman.
Tenet will serve as the CIA director until mid-July, Bush said, and then CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin (search) will serve as acting director.
The head of the agency's clandestine service, James Pavitt (search), will also announce his retirement Friday — a decision the 31-year CIA veteran made several weeks ago, before he knew of Tenet's decision, a CIA official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Among possible successors is House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss (search), R-Fla., and McLaughlin.
"I send my blessings to George and his family," Bush said from the White House lawn. "I look forward to working with him until the time he leaves the agency, and I wish him all the very best."
Sen. John Kerry, Bush's likely Democratic opponent in this fall's elections, said Tenet "has worked extremely hard on behalf of our nation.
"There is no question, however, that there have been significant intelligence failures, and the administration has to accept responsibility for those failures," he said.
Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., told Fox News that while he appreciates the years of hard work Tenet has put in, his resignation should be looked upon as a fresh start for the intelligence community.
"We should view this as an opportunity to do a better job in the future. The important thing is to ask 'How are we going to do a better job from now on?'"
Tenet had been under fire for months in connection with intelligence failures related to the U.S.-led war against Iraq, specifically assertions the United States made about Saddam Hussein's purported weapons of mass destruction and the threat from the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
In May, a panel investigating the Sept. 11 attacks released statements harshly criticizing the CIA for failing to fully appreciate the threat posed by Al Qaeda before the terrorist hijackings. Tenet told the panel the intelligence-gathering flaws exposed by the attacks would take five years to correct.
Coincidentally the Sept. 11 commission is expected to release their final report in mid- to late July, likely after Tenet has left office.
As director of the CIA, Tenet drew one particularly unusual assignment: trying to ease tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. He tried to curb the violence and prompt talks on strengthening security arrangements. Like virtually all special U.S. mediators, his efforts had mixed results.
During his seven years at the CIA, speculation has swirled at times around whether Tenet would retire or be forced out. This speculation peaked after Sept. 11 and surged again after the flawed intelligence estimates about Iraq's fighting capability.
Lott said the CIA has recently begun to improve under Tenet.
"I think it has been getting better, particularly in last year or so," he told Fox News. "After 9/11 we found that there were a number of problems ... that is beginning to turn around."
Even when his political capital appeared to be tanking, Tenet managed to hang on with what some say was a fierce loyalty to Bush and the CIA personnel. A likable, chummy personality also helped keep him above water.
Conventional wisdom had been that Tenet, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, did not plan to stay on next year, no matter who won the White House. Tenet has been on the job since July 1997, an unusually lengthy tenure in a particularly taxing era for the intelligence community.
Tenet had given some consideration to leaving last summer, but decided to stay on. Some close to him believe he wanted to catch Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden, who remains at large and is believed to be on the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Like many who resign from government, Tenet plans to take time off with his family, and eventually pursue public speaking, teaching, writing or working in the private sector, according to the officials close to him.
Notwithstanding his controversial place in the life of Washington, Tenet's resignation seemed to take the nation's capital by surprise.
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called 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."
House Speaker Dennis Hastert said: "He served his country a long time. History will tell what the implications of his tenure were ... I think history will either vindicate him or say, 'Hey there was a problem there.'"
Tenet is the son of Greek immigrants who grew up in Queens, N.Y.
Some close to Tenet have said the job of overseeing more than a dozen agencies that make up the intelligence community has been taxing for him. He suffered heart problems while at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, although a CIA official said his resignation was not health related.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.