Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero recently accepted the final report of the National Archives Forensic Document Examination Team which tested two pages of handwritten notes of H. R. “Bob” Haldeman, a chief of staff to President Richard M. Nixon, 1969-1973. The report is online at www.archives.gov/research/investigations/watergate/haldeman-notes.html
Watch this 4:28 min video short titled “The 18½ Minute Gap and Haldeman’s Notes” at the National Archives to see highlights of behind-the-scenes of the investigation and to hear interview with some of the experts.
The two pages under investigation, which are among the permanent records of the National Archives, were created during Mr. Haldeman’s 11:30 A.M. meeting with President Nixon on June 20, 1972. The meeting was held in the Executive Office Building three days after the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters on June 17, 1972. This is the same meeting in which 18½ minutes of tape-recorded conversation between President Nixon and Mr. Haldeman were erased, prior to the White House tape-recorded conversations being turned over to U.S. District Judge John J. Sirica in response to a subpoena from the Watergate Special Prosecution Force.
In 2009, independent researcher Philip Mellinger suggested to the National Archives that forensic analysis of the notes could reveal hitherto unknown details of the June 20th meeting. Historians and scholars have long speculated on the subject of that meeting and whether there is evidence that Mr. Haldeman took additional notes that are no longer part of the original file. Mr. Mellinger suggested that examination of the existing notes could reveal handwriting indentations from possible additional pages. The National Archives assembled a forensic document examination team in response to Mr. Mellinger’s query.
The forensic team, under the direction of the National Archives, included the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Forensic Science Laboratory; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Forensic Science Laboratory; and the Library of Congress Preservation Research and Testing Division.
In addition to the two pages of handwritten notes, the team evaluated seven pages of handwritten notes from June 19, 1972; five pages of handwritten notes from June 21, 1972; and ten pages of handwritten notes from June 22, 1972; all from the Personal Files (1969-1973) of H. R. Haldeman now among the White House Staff Member and Office Files held by the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library of the National Archives.
Testing performed on the documents included:
- Hyperspectral imaging undertaken at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, to study the ink and to possibly reveal latent or indented images on the paper;
- Electrostatic detection analysis to possibly reveal indented images that could correspond to original handwriting on these or other pages – present or no longer present performed at the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Forensic Science Laboratory in Beltsville, MD;
- Video spectral comparison examinations of the documents to study the ink entries and paper substrates performed at the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Forensic Science Laboratory in Beltsville, MD.
- High resolution scans of the original documents and of the ESDA results were prepared at the National Archives Special Media Preservation Reformatting Division Digital Imaging Laboratory in College Park, MD.
The results of these efforts did not reveal or recover additional content regarding H.
R. Haldeman’s 11:30 A.M. meeting with President Nixon in the Executive Office Building on June 20, 1972. Conclusions included:
- Handwriting inter-comparison undertaken
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by the forensic document examiners indicated a common authorship among the handwritten notes examined.
- Hyperspectral imaging and video spectral comparison examinations revealed differences in the black ballpoint inks used to prepare the date and page number, versus main text entries, of the June 20, 1972, notes, as well as differences in the blue non-ballpoint [porous-tip pen] inks used to prepare the date, versus main text entries, of notes from June 21 and June 22, 1972.
- Hyperspectral imaging of the June 20, 1972, notes revealed the set-off or contact transfer of red non-ballpoint [porous-tip pen] ink transcription notations from the front of Page 2 to the back of Page 1, but it was not possible to determine whether this transfer or migration occurred at the time of preparation or over long-term contact in storage.
- Electrostatic detection analysis of the June 20, 1972, notes revealed the presence of angled, extraneous indented writing, suggestive of a possible signature but otherwise illegible, on Page 2 of the document.