What actually struck me, however, were the following paragraphs which lay at the heart of the piece:
"One person who described the panel's deliberations and conclusions characterized American intelligence on Iran as ‘scandalous,' given the importance and relative openness of the country, compared with such an extreme case as North Korea.
"That person and others who have been briefed on the panel's work would not be more specific in describing the inadequacies. But former government officials who are experts on Iran say that while American intelligence agencies have devoted enormous resources to Iran since the Islamic revolution of 1979, they have had little success in the kinds of human spying necessary to understand Iranian decision-making.
"Among the major setbacks, former intelligence officials have said, was the successful penetration in the late 1980's by Iranian authorities of the principal American spy network inside the country, which was being run from a C.I.A. station in Frankfurt. The arrests of reported American spies was known at the time, but the impact on American intelligence reverberated as late as the mid-1990's."
Now, for anyone, there are moments when the norm falls away and the previously normal suddenly seems slightly absurd. Sitting over the breakfast table, pondering these paragraphs, I found myself trying to imagine what this piece would look like from an Iranian point of view; or rather, I tried to imagine the unimaginable -- an Iranian equivalent:
On the front page of the English-language Tehran Times or a major Iranian paper, two journalists report on a special commission established by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to reassess Iranian intelligence. They describe the news leaked to them: Iranian intelligence on the United States is now a hopeless scandal, the commission report will say, even though the U.S. is a reasonably "open" country. Thanks to a major setback two decades ago, the roll-up by the FBI of an Iranian spy network centered in Washington DC (but operating out of Halifax, Canada), Iranian intelligence has next to no boots on the ground at a moment when nothing is more important than grasping the contours of the U.S. nuclear program. (This is crucial, though the piece doesn't quite say so, because the government is considering an air attack on key American nuclear sites in the near future.) "It is scandalous," the Iranian reporters quote their "well briefed" sources as saying, "a genuine failure of Iranian intelligence," and given the importance of the issue, the implications are clear: It must be rectified.
Of course, were the Iranian press to publish such a piece (inconceivable for so many reasons), can you imagine the reaction here? An open discussion -- call it, from the American perspective, an admission -- on the front-page of a major paper in a hostile nation of their previous failure to sustain massive spy operations inside our country and of the obvious need to rectify that failure? Just think what Rush Limbaugh or the pundits at Fox news, no less the major TV networks, would do with that one. My guess is that it would be taken as little short of a cause for war.