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For Your Eyes Only: House holds a rare secret session

March 13, 2008 | 10:56 pm

There's a reason you couldn't watch the House of Representatives' meeting on C-SPAN this evening. If we tell you, we'll have to kill you. But here goes: They had a secret session, which turns out to be a relatively rare thing. And that's not a secret.

The House was completely emptied earlier for a "sweep'' by Capitol Police to ensure that no listening devices were present for the closed session -- for a debate about the secret surveillance of suspected terrorists, at the request of Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the House Republican whip.

So we looked back in history at previous such sessions. The last....

secret session was called in 1983, concerning support for the Contras in Nicaragua.

Before that, came one that you and Blunt might not remember. It was on December 27, 1825, to receive a confidential message from the president regarding relations with Indian tribes.

Then, five years after that on May 27, 1830, came another secret session to receive a confidential message from the president on a bill regulating trade between the U.S. and Great Britain.

Apparently, there weren't a whole lot of secrets to keep for about 149 years until June 20, 1979, for a closed session on the Panama Canal Act of 1979 and its implementing legislation.

The next year on Feb. 25, 1980, they secretly discussed the involvement of Cuba and other Communist-bloc countries in Nicaragua, followed by that most recent session on U.S. support for the Contras, July 19, 1983.

The Congressional Research Service provided this history as the Capitol Police escorted members from the House floor tonight to "secure the chamber, and sweep the premises for listening devices and other possible breaches of security,'' as Blunt's office put it.

"Once the House is fully cleared, members who have signed the oath of confidentiality -- (all but a handful have) -- will be recalled to the chamber, select staff with appropriate clearances will be administered an oath of secrecy, and an hour of debate will ensue,'' Blunt's office announced. "At the conclusion of that hour, the Secret Session will dissolve.'' Two minutes later the leaks to reporters will commence.

We hid this report online so only solid Americans with proper security clearances could read it.

--Mark Silva

Mark Silva writes for the Swamp of the Chicago Tribune's Washington Bureau.