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EDITORIAL: Intelligence chief's job might be mission impossible

The president's pick for the nation's top intelligence post was grilled by key senators Tuesday for the job that may be an impossible mission in its current guise.

Almost a decade after intelligence failures, in the run-up to 9/11, prompted Congress to create the job of director of national intelligence, there has been extensive bureaucratic shape-shifting and an explosion of spending to improve the situation. Still, recent plots by the underwear bomber and the Times Square bomber failed only because those plotters were inept. And a recent Washington Post investigation found that the intelligence community has grown so large, secretive and unwieldy that nobody knows what it costs, how many people it employs or how many programs it operates.

Taming that tangle is the job retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper Jr. interviewed for. After 46 years in the intelligence business, he has the resume for it. And tough talk about not being just "a hood ornament" signals he understands the challenge. But the job has chewed up three previous directors.

Clapper may be able to do, by force of will, what others couldn't. But Congress should consider arming him with additional weapons, like veto power over key hires and control of intelligence budgets to meet shifting threats. And if he's going to win the fierce, inevitable turf fights, the president has to make it clear that the DNI is the intelligence boss. With those weapons the job will be tough. Without them, it may be undoable. hN


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