London, July 30 (ANI): Thanks to a keen-eyed amateur sleuth and modern crime-fighting technology, the political mystery of the missing 18 minutes of President Nixon's conversations on the Watergate tapes, could soon be solved.
The missing section of a 79-minute conversation between Nixon and his Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman, was erased deliberately.
It recorded a meeting on June 20, 1972, three days after operatives connected to the White House broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate complex - a burglary that caused the scandal that destroyed Nixon's presidency.
The discovery of the gap was an explosive development during the Watergate investigations, convincing many that Nixon or his aides had erased that portion of the tape because it incriminated the President in a cover-up.
Once it became known that Nixon had recorded meetings secretly in the White House, the President faced congressional and court subpoenas to hand the tapes over.
These eventually sealed Nixon's fate, but the unexplained 18 minutes of silence has troubled historians ever since.
The US National Archives, which holds the Watergate files, has tried to fill in the blanks.
In 2001, it set up a panel to see if new technology could bring back what was said on the tape, but nobody could.
According to The Times, an amateur Watergate sleuth, however, has convinced the archives that there could well be another way to solve the puzzle: using notes taken by Haldeman at the meeting.
Haldeman was a meticulous note taker who wrote in longhand on yellow legal notepads.
Phil Mellinger, a former analyst at the National Security Agency who has delved into the notes, reports, testimony and evidence relating to Watergate, said he had a "eureka" moment in October last year when he visited the National Archives and asked to see Haldeman's notes from the June 20 meeting.
An assistant brought them out but there were only two pages.
They had four sets of holes in the top left-hand corner, suggesting that staples had been taken out and new ones inserted later.
"Wow - I suddenly realised that at the top of page two, the discussion of Watergate was ending," Mellinger told The Times.
"The first page of notes went right up to the time they started discussing Watergate. I believe page two was about the last minute of the 18-minute discussion," he added.
Mellinger has convinced the archives to subject the existing notes to electrostatic detection analysis, which can capture indentations on paper.
The hope is that what was written on the allegedly missing pages can be recreated. (ANI)