On March 12, America’s spy chiefs gave Congress their annual intelligence threat assessment of dangers facing the nation, but few Americans noticed. A whopping 9,000 people watched the hearings on C-SPAN. Neither the report nor the hearings made the front pages of the biggest U.S. newspapers.

Indeed, each spring for the past 30 years, spy agencies have come out of the shadows to publish an unclassified assessment of the biggest global threats facing the U.S. — giving Americans a rare glimpse into who they are, what they do and how they think. And for 30 years, almost nobody has paid attention. Most Americans think about their intelligence agencies only when they mess up or get embroiled in controversy. It’s like trying to understand football by watching only the fumbles, incomplete passes and penalties.

This selective attention makes informed judgments of intelligence failures both more important and more challenging. They are more important because failures are rare moments when focused public attention can drive meaningful reforms, such as when al-Qaida’s 9/11 attacks led to the creation of the director of national intelligence and other improvements to counterterrorism efforts.