Tuesday, July 28, 2009

New Hope for Filling the "Watergate Gap"

David Corn reports in Mother Jones on a fascinating new project that might - just might - shed some light on the infamous 18 1/2-minute gap in the Watergate tapes. Corporate security analyst Phil Mellinger thinks that a CSI-like technique - electrostatic detection analysis - might be able to reconstruct notes taken by Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman during the 20 June 1972 meeting.

Two pages of Haldeman's notes from the 79-minute meeting are in the National Archives, and Mellinger thinks that a middle page may have been removed (corresponding with the gap in the tapes, interestingly enough). Mellinger proposed that the archives give electrostatic detection analysis a try, and NARA Watergate records archivist David Paynter says he's currently awaiting permission from his superiors to do just that. He told Corn "Here's another avenue to shed light on an important episode in history. It's very exciting."

As Corn notes, even if this procedure works, it might tell us nothing. "It's possible Haldeman didn't take any more notes corresponding to the gap. The impressions on the second page, Paynter points out, could have come from the writing on the first page. There's also no telling if any recovered notes would alter the basic tale of Watergate—or further incriminate Nixon." But there's a chance it could greatly enhance our understanding of those minutes. Cool!

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