Director of National Intelligence
The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) heads the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and oversees intelligence gathering and analysis from the 16 intelligence and counter-intelligence agencies spread throughout the federal Executive Branch. The 16 agencies are informally referred to as the Intelligence Community (IC). As such, the DNI holds cabinet rank and is the IC's chief spokesperson and direct link with the White House and the President.
The position was created amidst a host of reforms and reshuffling among federal departments and agencies, including the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, after the 9/11 attacks. Previously in theory, the DCI, or Director of Central Intelligence who also heads the CIA, served as the link between the IC and the President. The DCI was downgraded to that of merely an agency head, no longer with direct access to the President, and reports through the DNI.
The competition, and often confusion, between the various members of the IC exists on two levels. First the traditional and institutional difference between proactive covert intelligence operations, and reactive defensive counter-intelligence measures. Both are independently specialized fields and are often unaware of each other's activities. A central clearinghouse is needed to coordinate the two fields, exchange information, produce consensus analyized data, and avoid conflict.
Secondly, inter-agency tasking, analysis, and redundancy needs oversight and coordination. Agencies are often reluctant to share sources for fear of leaks and compromising efforts They can often be critical of each other's work. The DNI's job is to smooth over squabbling and keep people focused on a specific task. And finally, to produce a consensus analysis of data for recommendations to policymakers in both the Executive and Legislative branches.
The Central Intelligence Agency as its name implies, was originally intended to serve as a central collection point from the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency and Office of Naval Intelligence; the Department of Justice's FBI involved in counter-intelligence; the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research; the independent outside agencies of the NSA, the National Reconnaissance Office, and a few others in the Treasury Department and elsewhere. CIA now is simply the largest of all member agencies of the IC, and their tasks are not supposed to spread above or into the activities of the other members.