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CIA covert operations chief retiring

Agency says departure unrelated to Tenet's resignation

James Pavitt, the CIA's deputy director of operations
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CNN's Barbara Starr on the question of Tenet and accountability.

CNN's John King on the timing of the resignation.

CIA chief George Tenet comments on his resignation.
Interactive: John E. McLaughlin

• Gallery: Reaction
• On the Scene:  David Ensor
•  Closing in on Tenet
James Pavitt
George J. Tenet
George W. Bush
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The official in charge of the CIA's covert operations announced he was retiring Friday, a day after agency Director George Tenet said he was leaving for personal reasons.

James Pavitt, a 31-year CIA veteran who has been deputy director of operations for five years, decided to retire a month ago, according to a statement, which said his departure is unrelated to Tenet's.

"I could not be prouder of the men and women of America's clandestine service," Pavitt said in the statement. "The creativity, resourcefulness and courage they display each and every day to acquire the information our country needs has saved many lives."

Pavitt, 58, appeared before the 9/11 commission in mid-April, the first time in the agency's history that an official in his position testified publicly.

Pavitt told the panel that the United States is "in the midst of inflicting irreversible damage on the al Qaeda organization" but admitted that the fight continues "with no clear end in sight."

Stephen Kappes, an assistant deputy director of operations for two years, will succeed Pavitt. Kappes, 52, joined the CIA in 1981 after five years as a Marine.

President Bush announced Tenet's resignation before leaving Thursday on a trip to Europe to attend ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in World War II. (Thousands march in Rome against Bush, Iraq war; D-Day: Return to Normandy)

Tenet had faced sharp criticism over the September 11, 2001, attacks and the war in Iraq, where pre-invasion U.S. estimates that Iraq was amassing stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction now appear to have been incorrect.

A White House official said Bush would have liked Tenet to stay on, denying that his departure was "worked out beforehand" or "engineered."

"While Washington and the media will put many different faces on the decision, it was a personal decision and had only one basis -- in fact, the well-being of my wonderful family -- nothing more and nothing less," Tenet said in a speech Thursday to employees at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. (Transcript; Tenet has enjoyed lifetime of public work)

But former CIA Director Stansfield Turner said the timing of Tenet's resignation -- five months before the presidential election -- cast doubt on the explanation that it was a personal decision.

"I think he's being pushed out or made a scapegoat," said Turner, who led the CIA during the Carter administration.

"That is that the president feels he's got to have somebody to blame, and he's doing it indirectly by asking Tenet to leave. ... I don't think he would pull the plug on President Bush in the middle of an election cycle without having been asked by the president to do that."

Tenet said his resignation will be effective July 11 -- the seventh anniversary of his 1997 appointment by President Clinton. (Tenet's resignation letter)

Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin will become the agency's acting chief once Tenet steps down. (Interactive: John McLaughlin background)

Calls for sweeping changes

Sworn in: CIA director, July 11, 1997

Previously: Special assistant to the president and senior director for intelligence programs, National Security Council; President Clinton's national security transition team

Education: Bachelor's degree, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service; master's degree, Columbia University School of International Affairs

Personal: New York native, married to A. Stephanie Glakas-Tenet. One son: John Michael.

Source: CIA
Do you think CIA Director George Tenet should have resigned?

Several key lawmakers -- including U.S. Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee -- have called for Tenet's resignation, and coming reports are expected to call for sweeping changes in the intelligence community.

Kerry issued a statement Thursday saying he wished Tenet "the very best" but adding that the Bush administration has to take responsibility for "significant intelligence failures."

"Sometimes with change comes opportunity," Kerry said. "This is an opportunity for the president to lead. As I've said for some time, we must reshape our intelligence community for the 21st century and create a new position of director of national intelligence with real control of all intelligence personnel and budgets."

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, a former Intelligence Committee chairman, said Tenet's decision to step down was "long overdue."

"There were more failures of intelligence on his watch as director of the CIA than any other [director of central intelligence] in our history," the Alabama Republican said in a statement.

"I have long felt that, while an honorable man, he lacked the critical leadership necessary for our intelligence community to effectively operate, particularly in the post-9/11 world."

But the current chairman and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a joint statement praising Tenet, saying he "provided much-needed stability and leadership to an agency that was largely adrift."

CIA Director George Tenet speaks Thursday to staff members at agency headquarters about his resignation.

"While he steps down during a period of controversy over events leading up to the attacks of 9/11 and the quality of intelligence prior to the Iraq war, we should not lose sight of a simple truth: George Tenet has served his country with distinction and honor during difficult and demanding times," said Sens. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, and Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Tenet "always did his best to defend this nation against terrorists and those states that support them."

"Mr. Tenet had a monumental task to rebuild human intelligence-gathering capabilities devastated by eight years of liberal Clinton administration policies," said Hastert, R-Illinois.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said her confidence in Tenet's judgment had never wavered, even though the CIA chief was in a "very difficult situation."

"I think there are many more people who are responsible for the mess that the Bush administration has gotten us into," said Pelosi, D-California.

"But if Mr. Tenet thinks there should be a change of leadership at the Central Intelligence Agency -- for whatever reason, including taking one for the administration -- then so be it."

CNN's Ted Barrett, David Ensor, Suzanne Malveaux and Henry Schuster contributed to this report.

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