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Feds Look Again at Nixon Tapes

August 8, 2001

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ The National Archives moved another step forward Wednesday toward finding out what was said during the infamous 18 1/2-minute gap on one of President Nixon’s tapes recorded three days after the Watergate break-in.

Before they get a chance to decipher the series of clicks, hisses and buzzes heard on the gap, audio experts interested in the challenge will have to pass tests to prove they can really retrieve voices from the tape. And, according to ground rules the archives announced on Wednesday, they have to prove they won’t mangle the fragile original tape in the process.

``The tests will determine whether they have the technology of retrieving voices _ or whatever was on the original tape _ and that the tape will come back to us in its original condition,″ said Susan Cooper, a spokeswoman for the archives.

The gap is part of a recording made June 20, 1972, in the old Executive Office Building as Nixon chatted with his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman. Public disclosure of the erasure, late the following year, eroded Nixon’s credibility at a time when his presidency was unraveling over the June 17, 1972, break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate.

This isn’t the first time experts have tried to figure out what was on the tape.

A panel of experts set up in the 1970s by federal judge John Sirica, who presided over the Watergate criminal trials, concluded that the erasures were done in at least five _ and perhaps as many as nine _ separate and contiguous segments. The panel never figured out what was erased.

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