CIA's No. 2 nominated as spy chief Clinton acts quickly to quell the furor surrounding Lake

Calls Tenet 'best-qualified'

New appointee likely to receive bipartisan support in Congress

March 20, 1997|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton appointed the CIA's No. 2 official, George J. Tenet, to run the nation's spy agencies yesterday, moving speedily to quell the furor surrounding the nomination of Anthony Lake, who withdrew this week in the face of sharp opposition.

"I think George Tenet is clearly the best-qualified person to move quickly into the leadership," Clinton said after announcing his choice at the White House.

The president offered the job to Tenet just 48 hours after Lake had approached the president in the White House residence and said he wished to end his fight to win Senate confirmation as director of central intelligence.

The Republican-led resistance to Lake stemmed from a range of issues, in particular the Democratic fund-raising affair. Lake has said he knew nothing about questionable political contacts involving the National Security Council, which he headed. His admission, critics said, showed that Lake was an inattentive administrator.

Tenet's selection was generally welcomed on Capitol Hill. Sen. Richard C. Shelby, the Republican chairman of the intelligence committee who was Lake's most implacable foe, noted that Tenet "has a distinguished record of service in the intelligence community," although he declined to give Tenet an outright endorsement.

Tenet, 44, has been the acting head of the $30 billion-a-year U.S. intelligence apparatus since the departure in December of John M. Deutch, who brought in Tenet as deputy director in 1995. Before that, Tenet worked under Lake as the senior official responsible for intelligence on the National Security Council staff.

Prime qualification

But for a White House that had just suffered the Lake setback, a prime qualification was Tenet's decade of service on Capitol Hill. Tenet served on the staff of a Republican senator, the late John Heinz of Pennsylvania, and for four years was staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, having been brought in by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat. Such experience suggested that his nomination would be widely acceptable to both parties in Congress.

"He has the confidence of many, many in the Congress in both parties," said Clinton, adding: "I didn't see any point in waiting around. We need to get this done and go on."

If he is confirmed by the full Senate, Tenet will face the daunting task of restoring integrity and morale to an intelligence community weakened by spy scandals, turmoil at the top and difficulty in finding new priorities after the end of the Cold War.

At his announcement ceremony yesterday, Tenet pointedly told Clinton: "There is no room for partisanship in the conduct of our intelligence community."

Lake was subjected to a grueling confirmation process that included two delays in the start of hearings and a demand by Shelby, the committee chairman, for the full FBI background file on the nominee.

Even after that, Lake complained in a letter to the president, the Senate seemed prepared to drag the process out endlessly, through a process that Lake called "nasty and brutish without being short."

A key staff member on the Senate intelligence committee said yesterday that he knew of no committee member opposed to Tenet, who passed through the confirmation process as deputy director in 1995.

Shelby, however, was unwilling to declare Tenet a shoo-in.

'A man of integrity'

"I have known George Tenet for several years and believe him to be a man of integrity and professionalism," the Alabama Republican said in a statement. "I look forward to reviewing Mr. Tenet's record, questioning him on his vision for the Central Intelligence Agency and evaluating his ability to provide much-needed leadership to an agency that has been under attack, internally and externally, in recent years."

Shelby said Tenet would receive "a fair and thorough examination."

The Democratic vice chairman of the committee, Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, said he expected the next agency director to be an "agent of change."

Kerrey, who became increasingly doubtful of Lake's qualifications to head the CIA, said he would "use the nomination hearings to determine whether Mr. Tenet" will be suitable.

At the White House yesterday, the nominee pledged to provide "leadership, stability and strength of purpose" to employees of the intelligence community, whom he described as "wonderful people."

Tenet, who was raised in New York City and attended public schools, noted proudly yesterday that his father had arrived in this country 50 years ago from Greece. "On behalf of him and my family," he told Clinton, "I'd like to thank you for the honor that you've bestowed upon me."

Since joining the Senate intelligence committee staff in 1985, Tenet has had an inside look at some of the most turbulent episodes in the recent history of the intelligence community.

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