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George Tenet
18th Director of Central Intelligence

In office
December 15, 1996 – July 11, 2004
Acting: December 15, 1996 – July 11, 1997
President Bill Clinton
George W. Bush
Preceded by John Deutch
Succeeded by Porter Goss
Personal details
Born George John Tenet
January 5, 1953(1953-01-05) (age 69)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Stephanie Glakas
Alma mater Georgetown University
Columbia University

George John Tenet (born January 5, 1953) was the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, and is Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.

Tenet held the position as the DCI from July 1997 to July 2004, making him the second-longest-serving director in the agency's history—behind Allen Welsh Dulles—as well as one of the few DCIs to serve under two U.S. presidents of opposing political parties.

In February 2008, he became a managing director at the merchant bank Allen & Company.


Tenet was born in Flushing, Queens, New York, the son of Greek immigrants Evangelia and John Tenet.[1][2][3] His father was a Greek born in modern-day southern Albania, his mother was a Greek from Greece, Epirus.[4][5] His father worked in a coal mine in France before arriving in the United States.[6] Tenet was raised in Little Neck, Queens, where he and his brother Bill worked as busboys in their family's diner (later renamed Scobee Diner). He attended Public School 94, Louis Pasteur Junior High School 67, and Benjamin N. Cardozo High School (he was a classmate of Ron Jeremy and actor Reginald VelJohnson).[7] Tenet graduated from Georgetown University in 1976 with a Bachelor of Science degree in foreign service and received a Master of International Affairs degree from Columbia University in 1978.

Tenet is married to Stephanie Glakas-Tenet. They have one son.[citation needed]

Early career

Tenet became research director of the American Hellenic Institute from 1978 to 1979[8] and worked for the Solar Energy Industries Association until 1982.[9] He then began working for the Senate, first as a legislative assistant and later as Legislative Director to former Senator H. John Heinz III of Pennsylvania (1982–1985). He was a staff member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) from 1985–1988, then Staff Director of the SSCI from 1988–1993. Later, Tenet joined President-elect Bill Clinton's national security transition team. Clinton appointed Tenet Senior Director for Intelligence Programs at the National Security Council (1993–1995).[10][11]

CIA career

Tenet was appointed Deputy Director of Central Intelligence in July 1995. After John Deutch's abrupt resignation in December 1996, Tenet served as acting director. This was followed by the reluctant withdrawal of Anthony Lake, after it became apparent to Lake that his nomination had been successfully blocked by Republicans in Congress.[12] Tenet was then officially appointed Director on July 11, 1997, after a unanimous confirmation vote in the Senate. While the Director of Central Intelligence has been replaced by an incoming administration since Jimmy Carter replaced DCI George H. W. Bush, Tenet served through the end of the Clinton administration and well into the term of George W. Bush. In 1999 the Director declined to reveal the overall budget for intelligence operations (including the CIA) which was a departure from his release the previous two years. This led to criticism from government transparency experts.[13]

Tenet embarked on a mission to regenerate the CIA, which had fallen on hard times since the end of the Cold War. The number of agents recruited each year had fallen to an all-time low, a 25% decline from the Cold War peak. Tenet appealed to the original mission of the agency, which had been to "prevent another Pearl Harbor". The trick was to see where danger might come from in the post-Cold War world. Tenet focused on potential problems such as "the transformation of Russia and China", "rogue states" like North Korea, Iran and Iraq, and terrorism.[14]

1999 Bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade

On May 7, 1999, during the Kosovo War, U.S. bombers struck the Chinese embassy in Belgrade with five JDAM precision guided bombs, killing three Chinese reporters and injuring 20 others. The United States claimed the attack was accidental. In testimony before a congressional committee, Tenet later admitted the strike was the only one in the campaign organized and directed by his agency, though he still claimed it was not deliberate.[15][16] Later analysis has suggested that a 100-yard error in a military targeting database maintained by the Pentagon was not corrected or updated in a timely manner and that other systems intended to prevent such incidents failed to perform as expected. As a result of this and other incidents, systematic changes were made to pre-strike Rules of Engagement (ROE) for U.S. pilots, including checklists verifying target information and coordinates. China has never accepted the United States' version of events, although Tenet in a published work noted in a bit of black humor that in the prelude to the bombing of Iraq, China had, through unofficial channels, provided the Agency with the exact GPS coordinates of their Embassy in Baghdad so as to ensure the CIA knew the precise location.[17]

Al-Qaeda and the War on Terror

By 1999 al-Qaeda had emerged as a significant terrorist threat. The 1998 bombings of two U.S. African embassies were the latest in a string of attacks on American interests in the west Indian-Ocean region. And in 2000 the USS Cole was bombed in Aden in an attempt to sink her, killing 17 naval personnel.

Bin Laden Plan

In 1999 Tenet put forward a grand "Plan" for dealing with al-Qaeda. In preparation, he selected new leadership for the CIA's Counterterrorist Center (CTC). He placed Cofer Black in charge of the CTC, and Richard Blee (a "top-flight executive" from Tenet's own suite) in charge of the CTC's Bin Laden unit. Tenet assigned the CTC to develop the Plan. The proposals, brought out in September, sought to penetrate Qaeda's "Afghan sanctuary" with U.S. and Afghan agents, in order to obtain information on and mount operations against Bin Laden's network. In October, officers from the Bin Laden unit visited northern Afghanistan. Once the Plan was finalized, the Agency created a "Qaeda cell" (whose functions overlapped those of the CTC's Bin Laden unit) to give operational leadership to the effort.

The CIA concentrated its inadequate financial resources on the Plan, so that at least some of its more modest aspirations were realized. Intelligence collection efforts on bin Laden and al-Qaeda increased significantly from 1999. "By 9/11", said Tenet, "a map would show that these collection programs and human [reporting] networks were in place in such numbers as to nearly cover Afghanistan". (But this excluded Bin Laden's inner circle itself.)[18]

Predator drone

The CIA also experimented with a small remote-controlled reconnaissance aircraft, the Predator, to try to spot Bin Laden in Afghanistan. A series of flights in autumn 2000, overseen by CTC officials and flown by USAF drone pilots from a control room at the CIA's Langley headquarters, produced probable sightings of the al-Qaeda leader.[19]

Black and others became advocates of arming the Predator with adapted Hellfire anti-tank missiles to try to kill Bin Laden and other Qaeda leaders in targeted killings. But there were both legal and technical issues. Tenet in particular was concerned about the CIA moving back into the business. And a series of live-fire tests in the Great Basin Desert in Nevada in summer 2001 produced mixed results.

Tenet advised cautiously on the matter at a meeting of the Cabinet-level Principals Committee on September 4, 2001. If the Cabinet wanted to empower the CIA to field a lethal drone, Tenet said, "they should do so with their eyes wide open, fully aware of the potential fallout if there were a controversial or mistaken strike". National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice concluded that the armed Predator was required, but evidently not ready. It was agreed to recommend to the CIA to resume reconnaissance flights. The "previously reluctant" Tenet then ordered the Agency to do so. The CIA was authorized to "deploy the system with weapons-capable aircraft".[20]

Strategic assessments branch

In late 2000 Tenet, recognizing the deficiency of "big-picture" analysis of al-Qaeda, appointed a senior manager in the Counterterrorist Center to investigate "creating a strategic assessment capability". In the spring of 2001 the CTC got back to him, requesting the hiring of "a small group of contractors not involved in day-to-day crises to digest vast quantities of information and develop targeting strategies".

The CTC's Strategic Assessments Branch was formally set up in July. But it struggled to find personnel. The head of the branch finally took up his post on September 10, 2001.[21]

September 11 attacks

After the September 11 attacks, many observers criticized the Intelligence Community for numerous "intelligence failures" as one of the major reasons why the attacks were not prevented.[22]

Tenet testified before a public hearing of the Sept. 11 Commission investigating 9/11, that he did not meet with Bush in August 2001, the month before the September 11 attacks. The same evening after the hearings, a CIA spokesman corrected Tenet’s testimony, stating that Tenet did indeed meet with Bush twice in August.[23] Tenet in his memoir writes of his memorable visit to Bush at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in August 2001.[12]

In August 2007, a secret report written by the CIA inspector general was made public (originally written in 2005 but kept secret). The 19-page summary states that Tenet knew the dangers of Al Qaeda well before September 2001, but that the leadership of the CIA did not do enough to prevent any attacks. Tenet reacted to the publication of this report by calling it "flat wrong", citing in particular the planning efforts of the past two years.[24]

Tenet immediately increased the size and capability of the CIA's special operations component housed in the Special Operations Group of the Special Activities Division. This force had been allowed to diminish under the early Clinton administration. These Paramilitary Operations Officers were the first to enter both Afghanistan and Iraq. Once in these countries these officers organized and led the Northern Alliance against the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Kurds against Ansar Al-Islam and Saddam's forces in Iraq. The rebuilding of this capability and the successful employment of these elite commandos is considered one of Tenets greatest achievements in the Global War on Terror.[25][26][27]

Worldwide Attack Matrix

Tenet considered that his Al-Qaeda plan had placed the CIA in a better position to respond after the September 11 attacks. As he put it,

How could [an intelligence] community without a strategic plan tell the president of the United States just four days after 9/11 how to attack the Afghan sanctuary and operate against al-Qa'ida in ninety-two countries around the world?[28]

Tenet (left, in pink tie) briefs President George W. Bush in the Oval Office along White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Dick Cheney (face not seen).

This was at a meeting of the restricted National Security Councilor "war council"—at Camp David on September 15, 2001. Tenet presented the Worldwide Attack Matrix, a blueprint for what became known as the War On Terror.[22] He proposed firstly to send CIA teams into Afghanistan to collect intelligence on, and mount covert operations against, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The teams would act jointly with military Special Operations units. "President Bush later praised this proposal, saying it had been a turning point in his thinking."[29]

Water boarding and enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs)

The CIA was authorized by President Bush to use water boarding (a method of torture) and other forms of "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" during interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, all suspected Al Qaida members, during Tenet's directorship.[30][31]

Iraq WMD controversy

According to a report by veteran investigative journalist Bob Woodward in his book Plan of Attack, Tenet privately lent his personal authority to the intelligence reports about weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq.[32] At a meeting on December 12, 2002, he assured Bush that the evidence that Iraq had WMDs amounted to a "slam dunk case." After several months of refusing to confirm this statement, Tenet stated that it was taken out of context. He indicated that it was made pursuant to a discussion about how to convince the American people to support invading Iraq.[33] The search following the 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S., British and international forces yielded no significant WMDs.

In September 2002, the Senate Intelligence Committee met with Tenet in a closed-door session. Sen. Bob Graham requested a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq. Tenet responded by saying "We've never done a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq" and resisted the request to provide one to Congress. Graham insisted “This is the most important decision that we as members of Congress and that the people of America are likely to make in the foreseeable future. We want to have the best understanding of what it is we're about to get involved with." Tenet refused to do a report on the military or occupation phase, but reluctantly agreed to do a NIE on the weapons of mass destruction. Graham described the Senate Intelligence Committee meeting with Tenet as “the turning point in our attitude towards Tenet and our understanding of how the intelligence community has become so submissive to the desires of the administration. The administration wasn't using intelligence to inform their judgment; they were using intelligence as part of a public relations campaign to justify their judgment."[34]

Congress voted to support the Iraq war based on the NIE Tenet provided in October 2002. However, the bipartisan “Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Prewar Intelligence” released on July 7, 2004, concluded that the key findings in the 2002 NIE either overstated, or were not supported by, the actual intelligence. The Senate report also found the U.S. Intelligence Community to suffer from a “broken corporate culture and poor management” that resulted in a NIE which was completely wrong in almost every respect.[35]


Citing "personal reasons", Tenet submitted his resignation to President Bush on June 3, 2004. James Pavitt, his Deputy Director for Operations at the CIA, announced his resignation the following day, leading to speculation that the exit of both senior intelligence officials was related to the controversy over alleged Iraqi WMDs and the decision to go to war. Admiral Stansfield Turner, director of the CIA under President Jimmy Carter, said, "I think the president feels he's in enough trouble that he's got to begin to cast some of the blame for the morass that we are in Iraq on to somebody else and this was one subtle way to do it." (Boston Herald, June 4, 2004) However, Bush voiced support for Tenet's efforts, stating, "George Tenet did a superb job for America. It was a high honor to work with him, and I'm sorry he left." (Reuters, June 5, 2004)

Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Bush awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Tenet on December 14, 2004.

Tenet's seven-year term as Director of Central Intelligence was the second-longest in U.S. history. On December 14, 2004, President Bush awarded Tenet the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This was controversial, both because George Tenet had been wrong in his assertion that there were nuclear weapons in Iraq and because many critics felt that it was given more for political reasons than merit.[36]

Recent activities


In October 2006 Tenet joined QinetiQ as an independent non-executive director.[37] Tenet then stepped down from the board in February 2008 to become the managing director of the secretive investment bank Allen & Company.[38] Tenet also sits on the boards of directors of L-1 Identity Solutions, a major supplier of biometric identification software, and Guidance Software, which makes forensic software used to search computer hard drives for evidence.[39] Along with a number of other notable Greek Americans, he is a member of the advisory board of The Next Generation Initiative, a leadership program aimed at getting students involved in public affairs.


In April 2007 Tenet released his memoir titled At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA. He appeared on 60 Minutes on April 29, 2007, offering much criticism of the Bush administration. The book was the top-selling book in sales in the first week after publication.

The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of its Enemies since 9/11 (2006) by Ron Suskind claims that Abu Zubaydah, once said to be al-Qaida chief of operations, was a low-level functionary and mentally ill.[40] In his memoirs, Tenet commented as follows:

A published report in 2006 contended that Abu Zubaydah was mentally unstable and that the administration had overstated his importance. Baloney. Abu Zubaydah had been at the crossroads of many al-Qa'ida operations and was in position to—and did—share critical information with his interrogators. Apparently, the source of the rumor that Abu Zubaydah was unbalanced was his personal diary, in which he adopted various personas. From that shaky perch, some junior Freudians leapt to the conclusion that Zubaydah had multiple personalities. In fact, Agency psychiatrists eventually determined that in his diary he was using a sophisticated literary device to express himself. And, boy, did he express himself.[41]

Critics pointed out a factual error in Tenet's book. On the book's first page, Tenet tells of a conversation with then-Pentagon advisor Richard Perle on September 12, 2001 in which Tenet claims Perle told him in person that "Iraq had to pay for the attack". But the conversation could not have occurred on that day, because Perle was stranded in Paris, France, on September 12 and did not return to Washington until three days later. Perle later stated that the two men indeed crossed each other one morning, as claimed by Tenet, but only later in the same week and not on September 12. But Perle insisted that he and Tenet exchanged no words in that encounter.[42][43]

See also

  • Bin Laden Issue Station: The CIA's Osama bin Laden-tracking unit, 1996–2003.


  1. editor, Stephen E. Atkins,. The 9/11 encyclopedia (2nd ed. ed.). Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. pp. 402. ISBN 9781598849219. "...and his mother was an ethnic Greek who had fled Communist Albania." 
  3. "Paid Notice: Deaths TENET, EVANGELIA". The New York Times. April 13, 2008. 
  4. Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, by Steve Coll, pub Penguin Books, 2005, ISBN 0143034669
  5. A Pretext For War: 9/11, Iraq, And The Abuse Of America's Intelligence Agencies, by James Bamford, pub Anchor Books, 2005, ISBN 140003034X
  6. Tenet, George; Bill Harlow (2007). "Chapter I: The Towpath, p.10". At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA. HarperCollins. pp. 576. ISBN 0-06-114778-8. 
  7. Queens Tribune Online, QConfidential
  8. Hellenic News of America
  9. [1]
  10. Diamond, John (October 14, 2002). "CIA director's allies outrank his enemies". USA Today. Retrieved May 3, 2010. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Tenet, George; Bill Harlow (2007). At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-114778-8.
  13. Ackerman, Spencer (20 June 2012). "Washington's Five Worst Arguments for Keeping Secrets From You". Wired. ( Retrieved June 21, 2012.
  14. Steve Coll, Ghost Wars (Penguin, 2005 edn), pp.317, 354, 359–62.
  15. Tenet, George (July 22, 1999). "DCI Statement on the Belgrade Chinese Embassy Bombing House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Open Hearing". Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved October 4, 2006. 
  16. Schmitt, Eric (July 23, 1999). "In a Fatal Error, C.I.A. Picked a Bombing Target Only Once: The Chinese Embassy". New York Times. Retrieved October 22, 2009. 
  17. "Strong Protest by the Chinese Government Against The Bombing by the US-led NATO of the Chinese Embassy in the Federal Yugoslavia". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China. November 17, 2001. Retrieved October 22, 2009. 
  18. Steve Coll, Ghost Wars (Penguin, 2005 edn), pp.436–7, 451–2, 455, 456, 466–72, 485, 646 note 42, 654 note7; 9/11 Commission Report, chapter 11, p.357 (HTML version); ibid., chapter 4, p.142-3 (HTML version); cf. ibid, chapter 6, p.204 (HTML version); Tenet statement to the Joint Inquiry on 9/11, Oct. 17, 2002; Tenet, At The Center Of The Storm, pp.119, 120.
  19. Steve Coll, Ghost Wars, pp.527, 532; 9/11 Commission Report, chapter 6, pp. 189–90 (HTML version)
  20. Coll, Ghost Wars, pp. 580–1; Tenet statement to the 9/11 Commission, March 24, 2004, pp.15, 16; Barton Gellman, "A Strategy's Cautious Evolution", Washington Post, Jan. 20, 2002, p. A01; 9/11 Commission Report, chapter 6, pp. 210–14 (HTML version); ibid, Notes, p. 513, note 258 (see note 255) (HTML version)
  21. Joint Inquiry Final Report, Part Three, p.387; 9/11 Commission Report, chapter 11, p.342 (HTML version)
  22. 22.0 22.1 CCC – Intelligence Failure and 9/11
  23. Newsmine.og, retrieved February 5, 2010
  24. "CIA criticises ex-chief over 9/11". BBC. August 21, 2007. Retrieved February 29, 2008. 
  25. Woodward, Bob (18 November 2001). "Secret CIA Units Playing a Central Combat Role", Washington Post.
  26. Woodward, Bob (2002) "Bush at War", Simon and Schuster.
  27. Woodward, Bob (2004) "Plan of Attack", Simon & Schuster.
  28. Tenet, At the Center of the Storm, pp.121–2; cf. p.178.
  29. 9/11 Commission Report, chapter 10, p.332 (HTML version)
  30. Tran, Mark (February 8, 2008). "CIA admit 'waterboarding' al-Qaida suspects". London: The Guardian. Retrieved February 29, 2008. 
  31. "CIA's Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described". ABC news (USA). November 18, 2005. Retrieved February 29, 2002. 
  32. Goldberg, Jeffrey (May 21, 2007). "Woodward vs. Tenet: The New Intelligence War". The New Yorker. Retrieved February 6, 2008. 
  33. Shane, Scott; Mazzetti, Mark (April 27, 2007). "Ex-C.I.A. Chief, in Book, Assails Cheney on Iraq". The New York Times. Retrieved May 3, 2010. 
  34. “Frontline interview with Sen. Bob Graham” January 31, 2006.
  35. “Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Prewar Intelligence” July 7, 2004
  36. "Bush honours controversial trio". BBC News. December 14, 2004. 
  37. Buncombe, Andrew (October 25, 2006). "Former CIA chief joins the board of QinetiQ". The Independent. London. Retrieved May 3, 2010. 
  38. United Press International. "Tenet gets job at secretive N.Y. bank". Retrieved February 18, 2008. 
  39. Shorrock, Tim (May 7, 2007). "George Tenet cashes in on Iraq". Retrieved June 18, 2008. 
  40. The Shadow War, In a Surprising New Light
  41. George Tenet. "At the Center of the Storm: My years at the CIA". HarperCollins. p. 243. 
  42. William Kristol (2007-04-27). "George Tenet's Imaginary Encounter...". The Weekly Standard. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  43. Katherine Shrader (2007-04-30). "Tenet Memoir Draws Heat From Key Players". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 

External links

Government offices
Preceded by
Bill Studeman
Deputy Director of Central Intelligence
Succeeded by
John Gordon
Preceded by
John Deutch
Director of Central Intelligence
Succeeded by
Porter Goss

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