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Nixon Tape To Reveal Secrets at Last? 413

jonerik writes: "As part of its inevitable 30th-anniversary-of-Watergate coverage, ABC News has this article on the National Archives' search for someone who can recover part or all of the missing 18 ½ minutes of President Nixon's Oval Office tapes, whose existence had been unknown until the Watergate hearings. The famous tape - recorded on June 20th, 1972, three days after the Watergate break-in - was last examined in 1974, but Nixon tape archivist Karl Weissenbach is hoping that nearly thirty years of technological progress can make the difference this time, saying 'We have decided that the time is right and appropriate to determine whether that conversation can be retrieved or recovered.' Stephen St. Croix, one of several forensic audio experts who is interested in taking on the job, says 'You never completely erase a tape. You think you do, but you really don't.'" There's another article in Wired on this quest as well.
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Nixon Tape To Reveal Secrets at Last?

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  • lengths to write over the tapes 20-30 times to try and ensure that data is NOT recoverable. It costs a bundle and is suppose to be totally gone from the 38k c-tape.
    • by captain_craptacular ( 580116 ) on Tuesday June 18, 2002 @05:12PM (#3724654)
      A cheaper alternative is a match and some lighter fluid. I challenge anyone to recove a tape "erased" in that manner ;)
      • Any company using that as its documents destruction policy will be sued out of existence faster than you can say, "Jack Flash".

        At least in America, where environmental laws apply.

        • Any company using that as its documents destruction policy will be sued out of existence faster than you can say, "Jack Flash".

          Maybe for environmental reasons, sure.

          But, AFAICT, many companies are eager to have a documents policy that specifically spells out how they erase old emails after 2 years, or whatever, etc. Stuff is expected, almost mandated, to be destroyed in an orderly and timely fashion.

          It's funny.

          I think there's more fear of legal liability after things like Monica Lewinsky's emails and Bill Gates emails to other MS executives, than there is thought to be gained by holding on to past information.

          Personally, I've thought the more the better as far as archives are concerned - it's possible to search them for problems that previously came up and got resolved, etc. Probably my job function is so unimportant and requires so little duplicity that I don't appreciate the value of covering my tracks.

    • Why don't you degauss them?
  • Subject goes here (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sheepab ( 461960 ) on Tuesday June 18, 2002 @05:11PM (#3724640) Homepage
    I read an article a few days ago about this somewhere, I dont remember where though. Anyway, appearently Nixon was going to erase ALL the tapes, but he realized there were so many of them it would take his lifetime to erase. So he chose to just erase a tiny bit of one tape. The tape was recorded over "between 7 and 11 times". The company that decodes that tape, while getting no compensation from the government, will be rich in publicity alone.
  • by itwerx ( 165526 ) <> on Tuesday June 18, 2002 @05:11PM (#3724641) Homepage
    but wouldn't it be funny if the missing minutes were just Nixon concealing from his wife the fact that he'd been yuk-yukking it up with his beer buddies about his latest sexual conquests...?
  • "To decipher that data, forensic experts would use "bandpass filters" and other high-tech devices that look for frequencies that they do not need within a sound."

    Wow, "bandpass filters"; that _is_ high-tech! Wonder when they'll be available to consumers.
  • Ooh, I want to be the first to release the deleted parts as lowercase []? Do I have to pay royalties to the Nixon estate?

    Would they have to make clear what the sounds constituted, then, to prove they deserved royalties?
  • by carlos_benj ( 140796 ) on Tuesday June 18, 2002 @05:12PM (#3724652) Journal
    ...isn't that the long version of Inna Gadda Davida?
  • by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Tuesday June 18, 2002 @05:12PM (#3724653)
    "Fr15+ P05+!!!1!"

    Personally, I'm fairly interested in all this, especially seeing who it's going to hurt today. Remember that 30 years ago is not ancient history. Many people who are still high-ranking members of government now were members of government then.

    In the recent hooplah surrounding the new book, Pat Buchannan was named as a possible 'Deep Throat', something I seriously doubt. Still, it raises questions. Suppose that someone we respect *cough* *cough* is in actuality a criminal?
  • Audio Archaeology (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hatter ( 3985 ) on Tuesday June 18, 2002 @05:17PM (#3724695)
    Here [] is a previous story on this topic. St. Croix sounds like a pretty paranoid guy, tinfoil hat. A quote from the article I linked above:

    St.Croix agreed to let me visit him, but because of security concerns, I was told to come to his house, not the office.... He gave me precise instructions for the cabby. I was told to get out at the end of a certain cul-de-sac. "Then wait for the cab to leave," he said. "I'm serious. And after you're sure the cab's gone, walk down the driveway to the left. Don't come to the front door. Just keep walking. You'll set off the lasers in my woods. I'll know you're coming and come out to meet you."

    Interesting guy. Here's a link [] to his company's webpage.

  • by Thornae ( 53316 ) on Tuesday June 18, 2002 @05:18PM (#3724701)
    Okay, so it wasn't the greatest film []. But I thought their explanation for the missing eighteen minutes and the whole Deep Throat thing was pretty damned amusing. The dream sequence between Michelle Williams and Dan Hedaya was hilarilous. Incidentally, Hedaya is one of the better Nixons I've seen.

    And wouldn't it be a crack up if the missing minutes really were the confessions of a lovesick teenager?
    • Dick was an awesome movie. One of the best takes on historical fiction I've ever seen. It's comedy was great, the use of actual history was great and the comedic acting was great. I thought the movie was a slam dunk. Highly recommended. It also explains why Woodward and Bernstein will never reveal their source!!!
  • Watergate still?? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by EastCoastSurfer ( 310758 ) on Tuesday June 18, 2002 @05:19PM (#3724707)
    I realize the technical merits of the article, but why is the general media still harping on something that happened 30 years ago? Why doesn't the media do aniversaries for things like travelgate, filegate, Vince Foster, etc...? These things are much more current and still have real implications to people in power (not to mention someone is dead).
    • because most of these turned out to be duds. Because if the media covers the fact that all the investigations returned nothing, they will look really damn stupid, for covering fake scandals for 8 years.

    • by Lysander Luddite ( 64349 ) on Tuesday June 18, 2002 @05:36PM (#3724836)
      Maybe because it is attributed to a President resigning his office?
    • by arfy ( 236686 )
      >>Why doesn't the media do aniversaries for things like travelgate, filegate, Vince Foster, etc...?

      Probably because those things got investigated up and down seven ways from Sunday by a bunch of guys who really wanted to nail Clinton and they couldn't find enough to convince the country to toss him out, while Nixon had to run out of office fast enough to keep his pension?

      And if the media thought they could rally enough support for anniversary specials on those things, trust me, we'd have 'em out the wazoo. Even Robert Ray doesn't care about those things anymore...
    • by Chasuk ( 62477 ) <> on Tuesday June 18, 2002 @05:49PM (#3724914)
      Watergate overshadows all of the other manufactured "scandals" that you mention above. It was easily the biggest scandal of the last 50 years, and will be discussed by historians centuries hence, long after the name "Vince Foster" had faded from memory.
    • by startled ( 144833 ) on Tuesday June 18, 2002 @06:01PM (#3724994)
      Why doesn't the media cover anything of consequence any more? At least in the American media, it appears the assumption is that we don't care about international events, and we're too stupid to understand anything of consequence domestically.

      Travelgate? Filegate? Vince Foster? WTF? Those are barrel-scraping attempts to dumb something down for general consumption. How about no TV coverage of genocide in Yugoslavia for almost two years after they knew it was going on? Hell, domestic current events haven't been covered substantively on TV for a good decade or so, and not in newspapers aside from the NYTimes and Washington Post.

      No, the general media nowadays has no respectability. They cover nothing of substance. When's the last time I saw a mention in the paper about a bill going through my state's legislature? I'm lucky to see a mention of a federal bill outside of the budget, Medicare, or "terrorism". Meanwhile, there are giant cover stories on last year's dog mauling.

      The media is covering Watergate for two reasons. One, of course, is they think it'll sell. This is a big thing that a lot of their audience lived through.

      The other, more interesting, reason is that they're covering a time when they had respectability and impact. When investigative journalist meant something other than Geraldo Rivera. When journalistic careers were made by covering big events in a dangerous foreign country, or uncovering something big in political dealings at home. Now, foreign reporters get 5 minutes a day on CNN. Domestic reporters follow the police scanner to the site of the latest rich white babynapping or Chandra Levy's remains.

      Nostalgia, then. Followups on a time when they had a function other than exposing sex scandals. Why would they follow up on something current, if no one cared about it in the first place? Yes, there are still respectable reporters doing significant work. But they're quite fringe, and mostly read by academics, politicians, "experts", and the tiny portion of the population that actually cares enough to read intelligent coverage on what's going on in the world. It's enough to support two newspapers and a handful of magazines.
    • The Foster suicide has been investigated numerous times by numerous agencies and even news organizations. In each and every case, the conclusion was the same... he committed suicide.

      You might be interested to read David Brock's new book "Blinded by the right", where he goes through a lot of these stories and shows how the right-wing media worked to fabricate them, and how uncredible most of the "witnesses" really were.
  • by tuxlove ( 316502 ) on Tuesday June 18, 2002 @05:19PM (#3724709)
    You never completely erase a tape. You think you do, but you really don't.

    I have a blowtorch that says magnetic tape can be erased.
  • EXCERPT (Score:4, Funny)

    by richlb ( 168636 ) on Tuesday June 18, 2002 @05:23PM (#3724738)
    (unknown sound)

    Nixon: It's a good thing these Japs make these things with erase buttons. Now, we've talked about this over and over.....

    Deep Throat: I know, I know. Don't mention any of this to anyone.

    Nixon: That's right. God knows that this is all the Catholics need to get another goddamn Kennedy in this seat. Well Ted can rot in hell.

    Deep Throat: Don't worry. My friend Mary Joe is taking care of that.

    Nixon: Good. Now, about that Laugh In appearance. Make sure the networks are taking care of erasing that, too.

    Deep Throat: Yes. Yes. Goldie told me herself that they destroyed all master tapes.

    Nixon: Damn hippies! What was I thinking. Pat's idea all the way. Oh, and don't forget about giving [Vice President] Gerald [Ford] that money back that I owe him. It may come in handy one day when I need a favor from him.

    Deep Throat: Also taken care of.

    Nixon: Well, again, thanks Gordon. Or is it "G". Or just Liddy.

    Deep Throat: Don't worry. No one knows about this. Remember, that erase button!

    Nixon: Oh yeah!

    (unknown sound)

    Nixon: There. I think. Damn Japs!
    • Deep Throat probably wasn't one of the guys who went to prison. Woodward and Bernstein won't fess up until the guy dies or authorizes it, but...

      So many of the possible "Deep Throats" have died, its now down to four or five guys. Among the possiblilities that still live are: Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, chief of staff Alexander Haig, acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray or CIA chief Richard Helms.

      You could go to [] and pay $8 for this same info, plus a bunch of background that is already public knowledge.

  • Here it is (Score:5, Funny)

    by r_j_prahad ( 309298 ) <> on Tuesday June 18, 2002 @05:24PM (#3724747)
    "Hello, tech support? Yeah, Tricky Dick here again. I can't get this tape recorder thingamajig under my desk turned on again. Yeah, I can hold."

    ...eighteen minutes of Muzak passes....

    "Yeah, I'm still here. What? Yes, the red light is flashing, but it was flashing the other day and nothing got recorded then. Oh? No shit? Yes, this time there's a tape in it, I can see it moving. Great. Thanks again, bud. G'bye"
  • Nice Coincidence (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 0WaitState ( 231806 ) on Tuesday June 18, 2002 @05:24PM (#3724749)
    Just when the Shrub and his owners are creating the instruments of a new police state, we arrive on the 30-year anniversary of "smoking gun" exposure of what a genuine crook in the White House says and does.

    Remember folks, this wasn't about a blow-job, or even selling missiles to Iranian hostage-takers to finance the overthrow of a Banana Republic--this was a sitting president using the instruments of executive goverment to commit crimes to try to win further elections for his party. Just in case any of you young-uns aren't cynics yet, or think "But those wise, honorable office-holders would never do that...".
    • According to Daniel Shorr of NPR, who was there when it happened, Nixon for months after he resigned kept saying that anything a President does is legal. The guy had very, very large balls.
  • When Gerald Ford tried to erase *his* tapes, the pencil eraser kept getting caught on the sticky side.
  • These tapes could have won Al Gore the Presidency. I heard these 18 1/2 minutes were Sen. Albert Gore Sr., introducing his son and Al Jr. discussing plans for the Internet
  • I did not have a sexual relationship with that woman...
  • Here are some links [] on this bit of US history. Good old Tricky Dicky made Bill Clinton look like a choir boy. At least Clinton never tried to circumvent democracy covertly or, for that matter, overtly (that we know).
  • by wrinkledshirt ( 228541 ) on Tuesday June 18, 2002 @05:42PM (#3724873) Homepage
    I think the most troubling thing about Watergate is that since then the amount of credible investigative journalism has dwindled to the point of non-existence. What is news is now determined by the corporate or political interests -- guys like the head of Fox saying that reporting about civilian casualties in Afghanistan doesn't do anyone any good, or John Ashcroft saying that criticizing the Bush administration is on par with helping the terrorists directly.

    It's not just an American phenomenon. Up here in Canada two editors have been fired in last couple of years for writing editorials criticizing the Liberal government, because the two editors were working for a newspaper chain owned by Izzy Asper, a buddy of the PM. And as CNN goes international, you see them representing the conservative American viewpoint abroad, to the point of feeding a smear campaign against leaders like Pres. Chavez in Venezuela in their home country.

    It's gotten so bad that the only people who openly criticize the powers that be have been largely marginalized (and then dismissed) as radical leftists -- Chomsky, Fisk, Moore, etc. These are brilliant guys with important questions, but the moment you mention their names the ad hominems commence as the argument degenerates into how big of a kook they are.

    I guess the big question I have is, if a scandal like Watergate were to hit the ground, in the bustling forest of today's largely goose-stepping society, would it make a sound? I'm worried it wouldn't.
    • Themost worryingthing isthat the same bob woodward is now busy writing puff pieces for the president.

      There were plenty of potential scandals today much bigger than watergate that have not been investigated.
    • "And as CNN goes international, you see them representing the conservative American viewpoint"

      CNN represents the conservative american viewpoint...ha! thats a laugh


    • Where are today's Woodward and Bernstein?
      That easy, he's right here: []
    • the amount of credible investigative journalism has dwindled to the point of non-existence.

      In all seriousness, what Woodward and Bernstein did was not good journalism. In the end, they got it right, but it could have just as easily gone the other way.

      W&B got lucky. Their All The President's Men is as often fiction as fact. If you read through their articles as they were printed (as I have as part of a number of journalism classes), you will come to understand that history has been very kind to them. They made a number of critical mistakes in their reporting.

      They are cultural icons, changed the political landscape and are the answer to more than one trivia question so we must give them their due but their due isn't that of great journalists.


    • From the right, there seems to be plenty, as the muckraking over the last presidency seemed to reveal. From the left, not a lot.

      There's an active campaign [] to change that, but it's arguable all it will do is, together with the long time attacks by freepers on percieved left wing bias, simply batter journalists into a sort of don't-offend-anyone submission. Still, arguably, that's what we have right now: Especially if the right is right and most journalists position themselves left of center, they're definitely not writing as if they're left of center.

      Not that I believe they are, or at least, not to the same extent as conservatives believe they are. FAIR did a survey [] in which they polled journalist's positions on various issues and compared them to the national average. They found that while journalists leant to the left/center in terms of the causes they supported - Medicare, Social Security, Taxes, etc, they were generally to the right of what studies generally showed were the American public's positions on the same issues. This probably goes some way towards explaining why even some of the more intelligent right wingers are convinced of a left wing bias to the press - it's to the left of them.

      Why is this relevent? Well, right now criticising government means, by definition, being critical of and willing to question right wing Republican policies. And, except for a burst for the last month or so, there's been very, very, little criticism of the government. Even before 9/11, CNN was devoting something in the order of 50% of its TV coverage (evidence from memory) of a scandal involving a Democratic congressman where he lied to police during a murder investigation, and there simply was no news on that score - he lied, that was it. Nothing came in, but the same story was repeated and excuses were found to repeat it, over and over again. And Condit (for it is he) isn't exactly an important figure.

      The press, at the moment, is in the hands of people who do not want powerful forces challenged. Right now, those powerful forces are those in government. Until and unless there's a change of hands, and journalists feel they can breath and be more free, there will not be another Woodward and Bernstein.

  • Theory + practice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ocie ( 6659 ) on Tuesday June 18, 2002 @05:56PM (#3724954) Homepage
    You never completely erase a tape. You think you do, but you really don't.

    Bull puckey. If you record over a tape enough times you will erase the original information. Otherwise, a length of tape could hole an infinite amount of information.

    OTOH, just because you 'can' erase a tape, doesn't mean that it was done in this case.
    • In practice people don't erase/record over a tape enough to erase the original information. The effort and time involved in doing so is non-negligable so in practice people don't do it.

      If the data on the tape were that important, if you had the opportunity and if you knew that recording over the top would not work unless you did it a lot and with the right sort of sounds you'd simply destroy the tape, ie by converting it to a pile of ash and smoke, dissolving it in acid or otherwise rendering it chemically different from it's original state.

      It may be possible to record over a tape to the degree that the original data becomes unrecoverable with any degree of certainty, but it remains impractical to do so.
  • Admission that the break-in occured? Commands to cover the op up? Or evidence that Nixon was simply a pawn and had no control over his "aides" who actually ran the Shadow Government?

    Other theories, anyone?

  • Agency of Fear (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nesthigh ( 447909 ) on Tuesday June 18, 2002 @06:09PM (#3725059)
    Here [] is a great online book with the history of Nixon's rise, abuse, and fall, for those of you who aren't familiar with all the details.It's 35 chapters long and covers the whole "drug war" and the incidents leading to Watergate very well.


  • The movie Dick [] exposed this years ago.
  • There as a show on the Discovery Channel last night (17Jun02) that was talking about efforts to recover the contents of the erased tape. It was quite interesting. Not quite sure what the show was called, because I missed the first 10 minutes of it.

    There was a very informative interview with somebody from one of the companies competing for the project. They used some pretty sophisticated computer processing and filtering algorithms on other tapes and actually could recover intelligible conversations.

    The companies competing for the project are going to have to prove they are capable of recovering an erased tape by using a demo tape that was erased with the same tape recorder used by Nixon.

    The guy they interviewed was talking about building a specialized unit with a bunch of read heads that would be used to digitize audio from the erased tape (reading the tape in DLT fashion it seemed).
  • Where can one find more information on how to execute the type of recoveries that the guy was talking about? band pass filters, etc. I'm interested in specific techniques, not generalities. Also interested in specific techniques on how to clean up bad audio (I know some but it can't hurt to know more, can it?)

The relative importance of files depends on their cost in terms of the human effort needed to regenerate them. -- T.A. Dolotta