Those of us who remember the Presidency of Richard Nixon still wonder what was on that 18 ? minute gap that got erased in one of his White House recordings. As Senator Howard Baker demanded during the investigation of the Watergate break-in, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”
Thirty years later, the mystery may finally be solved. “We have decided that the time is right and appropriate to determine whether that conversation can be retrieved or recovered,” says Karl Weissenbach, a Nixon tape archivist at the National Archives. The tapes were last examined in 1974. Since then, technology used to decipher recordings has improved dramatically.
The 18? minutes are part of the tape recorded by Nixon himself on June 20, 1972, three days after the Watergate break-in. On it, Nixon discusses the incident with his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman. People have long argued about whether the tape was deliberately or accidentally erased. Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, said she erased the tape while reaching to answer the phone.
It was assumed the 18? minutes were gone forever, but that?s no longer the case. “You never completely erase a tape,” says Stephen St. Croix, a forensic audio expert for Intelligent Devices, in Washington, D.C. “You think you do, but you really don’t.”
St. Croix is a former musician who works for law enforcement agencies. He uses computers to decipher old tapes, old recordings, or intercepted communications and has developed technologies that can retrieve sound that has been erased.
There are always scraps of sound left on the tape and these can be turned into audible voices. Hiss and background noise can also be removed to make the speech clearer. “It would take a human hours to find them,” St. Croix says of the sound scraps. “But a computer can find them in seconds.”
The National Archives wants to fill in the gap before the Nixon tapes disintegrate. Along with the identity of Deep Throat, The gap has always been one of biggest mysteries of the Nixon administration. “There’s always a holy grail,” St. Croix says. “So in forensic audio historical recovery, this is it.”
Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein fought hard to release the information about Watergate, when other papers wouldn?t touch it. What is Big Business and Big Government keeping out of the news today? Journalist Kristina Borjesson tells all in ?Into the Buzzsaw,? now back in stock, click here.
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