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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 June, 2004, 17:38 GMT 18:38 UK
George Tenet: A high-wire act
File photo of CIA director George Tenet
Clinton appointee: George Tenet
George Tenet's resignation as the head of US foreign spying operations comes after a year in which he has appeared to be under almost constant pressure.

The quality - or lack of quality - of the intelligence filtering through the Central Intelligence Agency and informing US foreign policy has come under intense scrutiny.

Recurring themes have been the failure to prevent the 11 September 2001 attacks and find weapons of mass destruction in post-war Iraq.

Despite this, President George W Bush has always publicly defended Mr Tenet, and the intelligence generated by his agency.

His resignation marks the departure of the final senior Clinton appointee from office in the US government, and a period of stability at the top of the CIA. Prior to his appointment more than seven years ago, the agency had had five directors in six years.

American dream

A big, cheerful man, George John Tenet rose through the ranks to become one of the most public and influential of CIA directors.

Married with one son, he has spent most of his life living in the state of Maryland.

His background has something of the American dream about it.

We all understood (Osama) Bin Laden's attempt to strike the homeland, but we never translated this knowledge into an effective defence of the country.
George Tenet

Born on 5 January 1953 in New York to Greek immigrant parents who owned a diner, he went on to study at two of America's most prestigious educational institutions.

He received his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University in Washington, before going on to New York's Columbia University to study for a master's degree in international affairs - an indicator of his future career path.

After three years on Capitol Hill working in the Office of Senator John Heinz, Mr Tenet became a staff member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1985, moving up to the post of staff director in 1988.

Following the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, he was appointed to the president's National Security Council, serving as special assistant to the president and senior director for intelligence programmes.

In 1995, Mr Tenet was made deputy director of the CIA, moving up to the top job in an acting capacity less than 18 months later following the departure of John Deutch.

However, he was not President Clinton's first choice to become the next confirmed CIA director, and only came into the reckoning after the first presidential nominee for the post, Anthony Lake, pulled out after a rough ride at congressional confirmation hearings.

Mr Tenet was sworn in as the new director of the CIA by a unanimous vote of the Senate on 10 July, 1997.

'Slam dunk'

His first brush with trouble came in 1998 when the CIA was caught on the hop by the rapidly escalating nuclear crisis in South Asia, which saw India and Pakistan test nuclear weapons in quick succession, raising the spectre of an imminent nuclear war between the two.

But criticisms of the CIA and its director over this were as nothing compared with the brickbats that would rain down following the intelligence community's failure to predict and prevent the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Earlier this year, in an appearance before the commission set up to examine this failure, Mr Tenet admitted mistakes had been made.

"We all understood (Osama) Bin Laden's attempt to strike the homeland, but we never translated this knowledge into an effective defence of the country. Doing so would have complicated the terrorists' calculation of the difficulty in succeeding in a vast, open society that in effect was unprotected on September 11," he said.

Although Mr Tenet was widely credited for the CIA's role in swiftly toppling the Taleban regime sheltering the al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan following 9/11, he was soon in trouble again over Iraq.

In the run-up to the war, he said the evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was overwhelming, describing it in basketball parlance as a "slam dunk" in a conversation with President Bush.

But when no such weapons materialised following the invasion of Iraq, Mr Tenet took much of the blame.

Despite insisting that the CIA had never told the White House that the threat from Iraq was imminent, Mr Tenet conceded last summer that he had allowed unsubstantiated claims about Iraq pursuing uranium to be included in President Bush's State of the Union address.

While it marked a career low for Mr Tenet, this admission - and his statement that the CIA had not come under political pressure from the White House on the WMD issue - took a great deal of pressure off his political master.

The BBC's Ian Pannell
"This is a resignation, not a retirement"

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