Of all the challenges that face Tenet’s successor, John E. McLaughlin, when he steps into the job July 11, preserving the CIA’s status at the White House and among world leaders will be among the toughest.
McLaughlin’s tricky political task will be “to hold on” to the agency’s voice at the White House during a tenure expected to last at least through the fall election, said one senior U.S. intelligence official.
“George Tenet was one of those very few individuals in Washington who could sit at a table with Condi Rice and Colin Powell and Don Rumsfeld and be viewed as a peer,” a former senior administration official said. “No disrespect to Mr. McLaughlin, but that’s a very small list of people who can do that, and he’s not on it.”
Complicating McLaughlin’s prospects as the new acting director of central intelligence is another factor:
Although he keeps a low profile, McLaughlin was more substantively involved than Tenet in the problems that led to the writing of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq — the official prewar assessment of the Iraq threat — that was based on faulty, outdated and poorly sourced intelligence.
One former official said that McLaughlin is blamed in the West Wing for having signed off on the allegation in Bush’s State of the Union address that Iraq had sought to acquire “yellowcake” uranium from Africa. Tenet said he had not approved the passage, but White House officials said McLaughlin did.
“That is going to color the relationship, not with the president, but with Condi and [Rice’s deputy, Stephen J.] Hadley and Andy Card and the vice president’s office,” said the former official who, like several other current and former officials, would share candid views of McLaughlin’s prospects only anonymously.
I will acknowledge the fact that had McLaughlin not signed off on the “yellowcake” story, the Bush Administration would have found someone at the CIA who would have, even if it was just Ed the night janitor…