Truth to Power

Are Nixon’s secrets about to be revealed?

CSI: Watergate

Has an amateur historian found the key to the lost 18 ½ minutes?

ON JUNE 20, 1972, President Richard Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, met in Nixon’s hideaway office at the Old Executive Office Building. Three days earlier, White House-connected dirty tricksters had been nabbed breaking into the Democratic National Committee’s Watergate offices, and the 79-minute-long conversation–with Nixon’s secret taping system running and Haldeman taking his typically meticulous notes on a tablet of yellow lined paper with a ballpoint pen–at one point turned toward the break-in and how to craft a counterattack. What exactly the two men said to one another would become one of the great political mysteries of the 20th century: Sometime during the Watergate scandal, 18 ½ minutes were suspiciously erased from the tape recording of this meeting.

Many have since tried to figure out what transpired during that gap. But now, Phil Mellinger, a one-time systems analyst at the National Security Agency (NSA) who went on to a career in high-tech corporate security, thinks he has discovered a way to determine what was wiped off the tape. And the National Archives believes he’s on to something. In response to a request from Mellinger, the Archives unit in charge of the Watergate files has proposed conducting a scientific test that could yield information on what was said during the missing minutes. This procedure would not, as has been tried unsuccessfully in the past, seek to recover the obliterated audio. Mellinger’s approach takes a simpler route: resurrecting Haldeman’s notes via a CSI-ish technology that can extract information from the imprints made by a ballpoint pen.

As for the big picture, Mellinger theorized that what had propelled the Watergate burglary was Nixon’s fear that the Democrats possessed evidence that he had covertly sabotaged Vietnam peace negotiations to boost his election chances in 1968. (Tapes of President Lyndon Johnson’s telephone conversations released last year show that Johnson suspected as much.)</em>

Fascinating stuff. Too bad when revealed no one will pay too much notice- 1972 is ancient history to the 24/7 cycle of babble. Who cares if Nixon was a tyrant that subverted democracy in his unending quest for power, and who spawned the loathsome likes of Dick Cheney, and began our economic decline when he dropped the gold standard. Or let a better scribe than I say it:

Nixon will be remembered as a classic case of a smart man shitting in his own nest. But he also shit in our nests, and that was the crime that history will burn on his memory like a brand. By disgracing and degrading the Presidency of the United States, by fleeing the White House like a diseased cur, Richard Nixon broke the heart of the American Dream. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.

Hunter Thompson


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