Obama Can Boost Intel Boss's Job. Does He Want To?

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There's a difference of opinion within the intelligence community about whether its structure is inherently flawed or whether a dominant personality can make it work.

Kenneth Wainstein, who served as homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush, said it's not necessarily about personalities. In an emergency, Wainstein said, the president is likely to look to his CIA and FBI directors because they have operational control.

"The agency heads end up being on point during crises, and those are the moments when you establish yourself with the White House," Wainstein said.

The DNI briefs the president each day on the most serious threats, but the directors still control the spies on the ground and can scramble a team of FBI agents. Bush's second DNI, Mike McConnell, cited that lack of operational control in 2008 when he told Congress that his office was essentially an intelligence "community leader."

That's not what Congress intended when it overhauled the intelligence structure after 9/11.

"These were difficult times and we moved quickly," said Philip Mudd, a former senior CIA terrorism analyst and FBI national security specialist. "I think many people would look back and say, 'If we had extended the debate, would we have gone a different direction?'"

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