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When It Comes to National Intelligence, One Head Is Better than Two

The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House is having a tough time finding anyone willing to take on the thankless job of director of National Intelligence after firing retired Admiral Dennis Blair. If the newspaper’s reporting is to be believed, the post has already been turned down by CIA director Leon Panetta and former senator Chuck Hagel. That leaves Gen. James Clapper, the top intelligence official at the Department of Defense, as the front-runner, but his appointment is unpopular on Capitol Hill.

What to do? Here’s a thought from out of left field: why not appoint Panetta to the job while letting him keep his current appointment as CIA director? In fact, why not make it a tradition to have the same person serve as both DNI and DCI? That would actually be in line with the historic expectation that the head of the CIA would also be the head of the entire intelligence community. That promise was never realized, so in 2005 Congress created a separate DNI post. But each DNI has struggled to exercise any real power over individual intelligence agencies, and in particular over the CIA; Blair lost bruising turf battles to Panetta. By putting the same person in charge of both National Intelligence and CIA, you eliminate at least one turf battle. That may very well be the best solution for the short term, and possibly even the long term, unless Congress invests the DNI with vast new powers over budgeting and personnel, which it so far hasn’t been willing to do.