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'Holy cow!' - CSI: Watergate - Has an amateur historian found the key to the lost 18 minutes? [View All]

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kpete Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jul-28-09 11:39 PM
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Edited on Tue Jul-28-09 11:41 PM by kpete
CSI: Watergate
Has an amateur historian found the key to the lost 18 minutes?
By David Corn


"I went, 'Holy cow!'" Mellinger recalls. There were only two possibilities: Either Haldeman had sat through a long stretch of discussion with Nixon and had written nothing down until the last minute or so, or he had taken notes for the rest of the time, and they had somehow gone missing. (Stanley Kutler, a prominent Watergate historian, says that a conversation of this length would normally have caused Haldeman to produce several pages of notes.) Mellinger took a close look at the two pages. There were four sets of staple marks at one corneras if the pages had been taken apart and put back together several times.

A gap in the notes matching the gap in the tape? Had no researcher, historian, or archivist noticed this before? (Apparently not.)
And if there were missing pages, was there a way to find out what had once been on them? Mellinger had an idea: electrostatic detection analysis. That's a proven forensic technique used to capture indentations and impressions on a piece of papersuch as the marks made on a page in a pad by a pen writing on the pages above it. As the book Forensics Demystified describes the procedure, a sheet of paper is subjected to an electrostatic field: "Charged electrons from this static field are attracted to the damaged or impressed fibers in the paper where the indentations have been made." Then toner can be placed on the paperor on a thin cellophane sheetand it will adhere to areas that have indentations: "The writing becomes pronounced." Voil, notes can return from the shredder. The original is not harmed.

Days after his eureka moment, Mellinger emailed David Paynter, the archivist in charge of the Watergate records, requesting that the Archives submit the two pages of Haldeman notes to this procedure. Attached was a nine-page analysis laying out his case. "I believe we now may have an approach to resolving the infamous 18 minute gap," Mellinger wrote.


Now the Archives, thanks to Mellinger, is once again hopeful. After he filed his request, a document forensics expert at the Archives examined the Haldeman notes, found indented writing on the second page, and concluded that electrostatic detection analysis could work on this document, according to Paynter. So Paynter recommended to higher-ups at the Archives that the Haldeman notes be tested. At press time, Paynter was awaiting the green light from his superiors. "The reason we're going forward with this," Paynter says, "is that we've already tried with the tape itself. Here's another avenue to shed light on an important episode in history. It's very exciting."

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