Congressman calls secret House session a "trojan horse"

PETER'S NEW YORK, March 14, 2008--A Democratic congressman warned the House of Representatives yesterday that a secret session of the body, scheduled for yesterday evening, could be a "trojan horse" to achieve political objectives. Such sessions have only been convened a handful of times in the history of the republic.

"You are asking us to undermine the very hallmark and foundation of our free and open republic," Rep. David Scott (D-Georgia) told lawmakers in a discussion on the House floor. "Is this not a political ploy?, Is this not a Trojan Horse?" Scott asked his colleagues before the secret session was to be convened.

The session was called by Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), who insisted that his purpose was to raise some issues that "should not be discussed in a general session." Blunt indicated that the material he intended to share with the Congress was not top secret, but that he wanted the closed session because it "does relate to some of the most sensitive procedures and techniques in this country."

But Scott warned that the secrecy of the session had the effect of undermining the "hallowed" institution of the Congress, noting that people "have spilled their blood" for the principles of openness that are the foundation of American democracy. Previous use of secret sessions, he said, did not reach the bar in which the information revealed was shown to be vital to the Congressional discussions at the time. He warned that use of such sessions could "undermine the very fabric of our country."

Although both Blunt and Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) tried to assuage his doubts, Scott remained skeptical. "Foremost in all of our minds is the security of the United States of America and foremost in our minds is that we do that in the context of the foundations of our country, which is freedom and openness," Scott concluded. "We walk a very delicate balance," he said "Let us hope we walk it right."

The House is debating a bill that would increase the ability of intelligence services to conduct surveillance on so-called "terrorist" suspects. A version of the bill already passed by the Senate would remove some of the safeguards of judicial oversight contained in the original Foreign Intelligence Service Act (F.I.S.A.) dating from the 1970s, and would grant immunity from prosecution for telecommunications companies that had already cooperated with the Bush Administration's illegal surveillance. The House is on its way to passing a bill that would allow suits against companies that participated in the surveillance, which had not been approved by a F.I.S.A court judge as required by law.

Earlier in the day, President Bush gave a short address on the topic, insisting that the House pass the Senate version of the bill. Bush said that allowing the suits against the telecommunications companies would "undermine the private sector's willingness to cooperate with the intelligence community." He also claimed that it could result in the disclosure of state secrets and reveal highly classified information"that our enemies could use against us." He did not, however, interject the possibility that if granted protection against lawsuits, telecommunications companies could be emboldened to assist in illegal surveillance against Americans.