Archivist Accepts Watergate Tape Panel Recommendations
Press Release · Thursday, May 8, 2003

Washington, DC

Archivist of the United States John W. Carlin announced today that he has accepted the recommendations in the final report of the National Archives Technical Evaluation Panel. The panel was created in 2001 to determine whether current advancements in the field of forensic audio technology could recapture sound from the famous "18 ½ minute gap" (Tape 342) in the Nixon White House tape recordings. Based on the results of two tests that were conducted by participants in an open-invitation proof-of-concept exercise, Mr. Carlin decided not to proceed with further testing.

The two-phase testing procedure sought qualified participants to attempt to recover intelligible audio from erased 1/4-inch analog open reel test tapes developed by the National Archives. The purpose of these tests was to determine if technology exists to recover intelligible audio from erased 1/4-inch magnetic tape with out damaging the tape. Five individuals or companies participated in the tests which consisted of two test tapes recorded on an original Nixon White House Sony 800B tape recorder, then erased on Rosemary Woods' UHER 5000. The UHER 5000 was determined by the Advisory Panel to Judge John Sirica in 1974 to be the machine that actually erased the 18 ½-minute portion of Tape 342.

The first test tape which was distributed to participants on February 19, 2002, consisted of erased test tones and spoken word recorded as close to broadcast quality as was possible. Results included partial identification of test tones. There was no recovery of spoken word.

On August 28, 2002, the second test tape was sent to participants. This test tape was recorded using blank .5-millimeter tape confiscated from the Nixon White House. It was recorded and erased at 15/16 inches per second (IPS) and contained speech similar in quality to the speech before and after the 18 ½-minute gap on Tape 342. None of the participants recovered any intelligible audio from the second test tape.

In accepting the recommendations of the panel, Mr. Carlin said, " I am fully satisfied that we have explored all of the avenues to attempt to recover the sound on this tape. The candidates were highly qualified and used the latest technology in their pursuit. We will continue to preserve the tape in the hopes that later generations can try again to recover the this vital piece of our history."

This page was last reviewed on February 20, 2019.
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