Peoria Journal Star

June 4, 2004

LaHood shocked at Tenet's timing
Durbin upset that skilled public servant is Bush's 'scapegoat'

By DORI MEINERT
of Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - When Rep. Ray LaHood accompanied CIA Director George Tenet for a speech in Peoria in April, Tenet told the Republican lawmaker that he was thinking of stepping down.

But Tenet indicated he would resign at the end of the year, after the November presidential election, LaHood said.

So LaHood was as surprised as anyone in Washington, D.C., on Thursday when Tenet announced his resignation effective mid-July.

"I'm very sad about it," the Peoria Republican said. "I agree with the president. I think he's done a superb job. He's been a very good director, very professional. He's represented men and women who work in dark places in the world, collecting information."

With speculation swirling on Capitol Hill that Tenet was being pushed out by the Bush administration, LaHood asked Tenet directly when the outgoing director called him Thursday afternoon.

"He said, 'Absolutely not. This is a personal decision. The president tried to persuade me to stay. I decided for my family and for myself that it's time for me to leave,' " recounted LaHood, who developed a personal relationship with Tenet as a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, also praised Tenet as a "skilled and knowledgeable public servant." Tenet was appointed by then-President Clinton seven years ago.

However, Durbin said the Bush administration is seeking someone to blame for its failed Iraq policies.

The decision to accept Tenet's resignation "is a suggestion that the president is going in a new direction," Durbin said. "Unfortunately, they chose the wrong person to send that message."

"I think George Tenet has been picked out of the flock as a scapegoat, and I don't think it's going to work. This is a man who is a professional. ... He is respected by both parties on the Hill," he added.

While Durbin said he had his differences with Tenet, "to suggest the problems we had in Iraq were the creation of George Tenet is a gross overstatement," he said.

"The problem is those in the Bush administration who are misinterpreting or ignoring intelligence, who are misusing intelligence and who are setting up their own intelligence gathering agencies that actually compete with the CIA. The problems we are seeing today rest farther up the chain of command than the director of the CIA," Durbin said.

He said that Tenet's resignation opens the way for Congress to reform the nation's intelligence gathering operations, eliminating competition between agencies.

"You need someone who not only has real control over the U.S. intelligence operations so there is a seamless gathering of intelligence from start to finish, you also need budgetary control," Durbin said.