Sometimes the work of connecting the dots explodes into a big, shiny revelation moment, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes the picture fades slowly into view, and you don't even know how close you're getting until you see it fully revealed.
Today's Washington Post brings a report by Walter Pincus that falls squarely in the latter category. Pincus writes about the outing of Valerie Plame, and the story he tells so subtly suggests what it suggests that it seems, on first read, to be nothing more than a recap of what we already know.
The story's ostensible purpose is to set forth the facts about who sent Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium -- Plame, as administration officials claimed in leaking her identity to the press, or other CIA officials, as Wilson has said. But as close readers are pointing out, what the story really does is suggest -- "establish" is probably too strong a word -- that the information administration officials leaked about Plame came from a State Department memo that was floating around Air Force One as a presidential delegation flew to Africa on July 7, 2003.
Pincus lays it out slowly, but here's the fast version. Wilson says that Plame wasn't responsible for sending him to Niger. He says she was asked, after CIA officials had already chosen him for the Niger trip, to write a memo setting forth his qualifications. Intelligence officials tell Pincus that Plame's other role was to tell Wilson that he had gotten the assignment and to introduce him at a meeting at the CIA. But between July 8 and July 12, 2003, administration officials told three different reporters what Pincus calls "a different story" about how Wilson got the Niger assignment: His wife gave it to him. The stories administration officials told Bob Novak, Time's Matthew Cooper and Pincus himself were almost identical, and they all sounded an awful lot like the version set out in only two other places: in the State Department memo that made its way onto Air Force One and in a separate statement of "additional views" three Republican senators filed in connection with the Senate's investigation into prewar intelligence on Iraq. That separate statement was not written until 2004, so it could not have been a source of the information administration officials leaked about Plame. That leaves the State Department as the likely source for the leakers.
And why does it matter? Two reasons. First, if the information came from the State Department report, that means it didn't come -- at least not initially -- from some vaguely remembered journalist, as Karl Rove has suggested. Second, if the information came from the report, whoever was leaking it ought to have known that it shouldn't be leaked. As Pincus and his colleague Jim VandeHei have written previously, the section of the report dealing with Plame's identity was marked with an "(S)" for secret, "a clear indication that any Bush administration official who read it should have been aware the information was classified."