Making History with Hyperspectral Imaging
HSI Pivotal Examination Method in Watergate Scandal Documents
By Sara Nedley and Cara Plese
|The Watergate Complex, Washington, D.C.
For decades, historians have questioned the contents of 18.5 minutes of conversation that were erased on an audio tape prior to seizure by prosecutors in the Watergate scandal(1). Previously, it was believed that this tape was the only way to determine what President Nixon knew about the break-in at the Democratic Party Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, and when he knew it.
Nearly 40 years later, this mystery may soon be solved by a team of scientists from the Library of Congress, the U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Inspector General, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives—all who believe that hyperspectral imaging (HSI) may shed some light on the day’s meeting between President Nixon and H.R. Haldeman, his chief of staff.
HSI, along with video spectral analysis and electrostatic detection, is being used to study the ink on two pages of Haldeman’s handwritten notes and may possibly reveal latent or indented images that give further details on what Nixon knew. Haldeman took notes that day on a yellow legal pad, leading scientists and scholars to believe that indentations from lost pages may exist on the remaining ones. The hope is that he took notes pertaining to the missing segment of audio, and that the evidence may still be present on the pages that are currently being analyzed. If these indentations are present and visualization is possible, the mystery of the missing 18.5 minutes of audio may finally be solved.
ChemImage HSI Applications
Although considered to be a relatively new technology in the forensics community, HSI applications like questioned document examination, bloodstain visualization and latent fingerprint enhancement have seen their fair share of research. This research points to HSI as showing real promise in forensic sample analysis, some of which even hold great historical interest like the Watergate investigation.
In recent efforts to develop user-friendly HSI platforms, ChemImage scientists have reported that HSI provides several key benefits to the forensic document examiner, including nondestructive examination of documents and high-resolution image results at multiple detection wavelengths. In addition, data collected via HSI can be processed using various multivariate techniques which help to enhance visual and spectral characteristics, improving overall accuracy and reliability. By combining HSI data acquisition with powerful software tools, the examiner can witness many additional features of the examined substrate that may not be visible to the naked eye or by using classic examination methods.
From the investigation of historical documents to visualization of latent fingerprints, bloodstain patterns and ink characteristics, the future certainly looks bright for HSI’s role in forensic science.
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 Woodward C. Archives Probing Watergate Notes for Hidden Clues. 11/19/2009.