The stereotype of the chief of any intelligence service has long been an aristocratic, gray flannel-clad, secretive man known by an initial rather than a name. Yet, despite too many Ian Fleming books skewing the collective consciousness, Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) nominee George Tenet is an exception from any rule of spy agency leadership.
Tenet is the son of Greek immigrants, and growing up in Queens, N.Y., he and his twin brother, William, worked in the family-owned diner. He was described by one family friend as a child who was always talking and could never keep a secret. He went on to attend Georgetown University's School of Foreign Affairs, and later received a Master's in international affairs from Columbia University.
Following his education, Tenet climbed the Washington ladder, working in both the congressional and executive branches -- for both Democrats and Republicans -- gaining proficiency in intelligence issues. Carrying surprisingly little political baggage, Tenet has been acting CIA director since December, and previously served as the deputy director while John Deutch was DCI.
The second youngest (by only a week) nominee in the 50-year history of the CIA, Tenet was tapped for the job after Anthony Lake withdrew in the face of opposition from the Senate Intelligence Committee. Tenet described his nomination as director of Central Intelligence as "a bittersweet moment... I had hoped to serve with my good friend, Tony Lake, as his deputy."
Tenet is an unusual choice for DCI as he is not a career CIA official nor is he a prominent business, military or political leader like most former directors. He does, however, have one advantage over many other candidates: most believe he will be easily confirmed. Tenet said, "If confirmed, I will do my level best to provide leadership, stability, and strength of purpose to the fine men and women who serve our nation with such devotion."
The man who will oversee Tenet's confirmation hearing, Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), has called Tenet a "man of integrity and professionalism" possessing "a distinguished record of service in the intelligence community."
Often chomping an unlit cigar (he does not smoke them due to heart problems), Tenet is a longtime basketball fan, usually cheering for his alma mater, Georgetown.
If poised for easy confirmation, Tenet will face many problems at the CIA, an agency that has gone through three leadership changes in six years. The CIA has struggled to define its post-Cold War role and has suffered dismal morale and the discoveries of two Russian moles. Other challenges facing Tenet are improving relations with Congress, controlling arms proliferation, terrorism and narcotics, and refining the CIA's mission for the 21st Century.
Four priorities Tenet has previously outlined include developing "actionable intelligence" unobtainable elsewhere; "re-engineering" the 80,000-member, $30 billion-a-year intelligence community spread over a dozen agencies; improving counter-intelligence; and revitalizing the Directorate of Operations, which has been devastated by spy scandals.
Tenet has the respect of lawmakers in both parties as well as a reputation for honesty and directness. Having pushed increased congressional oversight of the CIA as a Senate staffer, Tenet believes that the CIA "must always be straight and tell you the facts as we know them."
(Updated March 28, 1997)
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