CIA loses another man as criticism looms

George Tenet may have resigned, but the CIA still faces a very rough summer indeed. It is expecting a barrage of criticism from three official reports into the September 11 attacks and the debacle over Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

At the same time the agency faces further high-level personnel changes with the resignation, long scheduled for yesterday, of James Pavitt, the deputy director for operations and head of the clandestine foreign intelligence gathering. He is set to be replaced by Stephen Kappes, a 23-year veteran at the CIA.

More than 24 hours after Mr Tenet's departure, speculation was still rife over why he left. But the general belief is that after a near record seven-year stint at one of the most gruelling posts in government, Mr Tenet had simply had enough of the bureaucratic in-fighting.

The last straw may well have been the impending reports dealing with the two massive intelligence failures over which Mr Tenet presided; the 2001 terrorist strikes in New York and Washington, and the totally inaccurate pre-war intelligence on the banned weapons supposedly held by Saddam Hussein.

The most damning of them ­ and targeting the CIA directly ­ is likely to be the one drawn up by the Senate Intelligence Committee on the WMD fiasco.

The Senate broadside will be followed by another from the bipartisan commission investigating the September 11 attacks. This too is likely to contain strong criticism of the CIA, above all its enduring cold war mindset, and its failure to work properly with the FBI.

Also landing on the CIA director's desk will be the latest update from Charles Duelfer, head of the current US investigation into Saddam's missing WMD. This is likely to underline just how far the CIA's assessments were off the mark, and raise fresh questions about whether the agency tailored its findings to tell its political masters what they wanted to hear.

It will be a baptism of fire for John McLaughlin, the current deputy CIA chief and 31-year agency veteran who replaces Mr Tenet in the short term. He also inherits the agency's running quarrels with the Pentagon ­ ranging from Iraq's missing WMDs to the controversial exiled leader Ahmed Chalabi.

The Chalabi debacle pits the CIA, which has long regarded him as a fraud, against the neo-conservatives in the top civilian leadership at the Pentagon. Though Mr Chalabi is now in disgrace, suspected of peddling dud information about Iraqi weapons and of betraying US secrets to Iran, some of his supporters continue to fight a rearguard action on his behalf.

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