Interim CIA Chief a Stark Contrast to Tenet

The CIA deputy director who makes rare public appearances and is known for magic tricks is in line as the temporary successor to George Tenet (search) at the spy agency.

John E. McLaughlin (search), 61, is unlikely to become the permanent director, in part because he is not considered a very political figure. Also, his confirmation by the Senate could be difficult given his position alongside Tenet in recent intelligence controversies, including the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Tenet had kind words for him McLaughlin, calling him "a man of magical warmth, wit -- you know his nickname is Merlin -- wisdom, and decency, the finest deputy and friend I could ever have and he will be a great acting director."

McLaughlin's professorial appearance and penchant for magic tricks suit the nickname. His calm demeanor starkly contrasts with the more outgoing Tenet.

McLaughlin joined the agency in 1972, working on European and Eurasian issues. He was appointed director of Slavic and Eurasian analysis as the Soviet Union broke up and he focused on Russia and former Soviet states until 1995.

He was deputy director for intelligence from 1997 until he became the agency's deputy director in 2000.

In his current position, McLaughlin has briefed President Bush in Tenet's absence, including in the weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks (search) when the United States was preparing to enter Afghanistan.