The world's most powerful secret society
Few have heard of the Bilderberg Council. But its 120 members are some of the most powerful people on the global stage. It meets amid unparalleled secrecy to discuss the future of the world.
The occupants of Scotland's golfing Mecca, the Turnberry Hotel, normally have little to fear during their stay apart from an errant drive from the first tee or a tendency to overdo things in the 19th hole. For the party that checked in on May 14, however, things were obviously different. A formidable detachment of armed police was called in to turn one of the country's most prestigious hotels into a five-star fortress. Sniffer dogs prowled the dense woodland sur-rounding the hotel, while bomb-disposal experts stripped down delivery vans for traces of hidden explosive. Not even bags of frozen peas were safe in the face of this obsessive hunt for hidden Semtex, with packets picked at random being ripped open unceremoniously.

One bewildered golfer on the famous links opposite - used for three British Open championships - insisted to his playing partner that he had even seen marksmen stalking the roof of the hotel as he stood to tee off. "What the hell's going on here?" he asked. Few back in the clubhouse had any idea.

Indeed, few people in the country at large would have had much idea as to why most of the Strathclyde constabulary appeared to be earning an enviable amount of overtime guarding a large hotel on Scotland's west coast for four days. For few have heard of the Bilderberg Council.

Depending on your predisposition, the Bilderberg Council is either a jolly for self-important businessmen and up-and-coming or past-it politicians, or a gathering of 120 of the most powerful people in the world who are bent on moulding global policy to their own ends. What we do know is that this meeting of some of the wealthiest and most influential figures in the Western world is conducted in conditions of obsessive secrecy and security.

While Bill Clinton and Tony Blair attended the G8 summit of the world's foremost democratically elected leaders 250 miles to the south in Birmingham, they were accompanied by the massed ranks of the world media. In stark contrast, the comings and goings in Turnberry took place under cover of a virtual publicity black-out.

And yet the guests certainly deserved a place on the A-list of global powerbroking. These are not the sort of people one would expect to gather for the benefits of the balmy Gulf Stream climate alone. This year's attendees included Leon Brittan, vice-president of the European Commission; Conrad Black, chairman of The Telegraph plc; John Browne, group chief executive of British Petroleum; John Deutch, for-mer director-general of the CIA; Christopher Hogg, chairman of Reuters; Javier Solana Madariaga, Nato secretary-general; Peter Sutherland, chairman of Goldman Sachs and British Petroleum; and Martin Taylor group chief executive of Barclays Bank.

The first VIP spotted sweeping up the heavily guarded driveway to the hotel's conference halls, under the watchful gaze of large men in dark suits wearing secret service earphones, was the chairman of the Bilderberg Council for the past eight years, our very own former foreign secretary Lord Carrington. As he was shown into his ?600-a-night ocean-view suite facing the Mull of Kintyre, the private jets carrying the other Bilderbergers were already circling Prestwick airport 15 miles away. Soon Carrington was joined by the billionaire American banker David Rockefeller and the former US secretary of state, Henry Kissinger. Tory leader William Hague was there, as was Defence Secretary George Robertson and the former chancellor of the exchequer Kenneth Clarke.

Quite an important get-together then, or so you would be entitled to think. And yet the reception staff at the 132-bedroom Ayrshire hotel would only say it was "closed for a private function" - It was just the sort of cloak-and-dagger affair that breeds conspiracy theories of world domination by a shadowy cabal.

When asked to explain what some of the richest and most influential figures in the Western world were doing in Scotland, an organiser of the conference said dutifully: "Bilderberg is just a flexible and informal international leadership forum in which different viewpoints can be expressed and mutual understanding enhanced."

That brought a belly laugh from the veteran Washington reporter Jim Tucker. He has doorstepped Bilderberg meetings across Europe and the US for the past 15 years - getting his 16-stone frame ejected from their chosen hotels on a regular basis. "That's just horseshit," he said. "I've been chasing these guys for all that time. They want you to believe they are simply improving international relations. But they are controlling the world and making decisions that influence all of us with absolutely no democratic control on what they do.

"They meet in a different country in secret every spring. They are making decisions that affect millions of people on this earth and they do it all in the utmost privacy. Yet some of these people are our elected representatives and we have a right to know what is going on."

Tucker a reporter for the right-wing Washington-based weekly newspaper The Spotlight, said the decision to hold the Turnberry conference at the same time as the G8 talks was no coincidence. "They make their decisions here in Scotland and travel down and tell the guys at G8 what they have to agree.

"The Bilderbergers hate me because I won't leave them to rule the world in peace. I don't give a rat's arse. The public has a right to know if they have nothing to hide, they should come out of the closet instead of hiding behind armed police while they discuss all our futures. Turnberry is just like all the other meetings they have. We are kept in the dark and fed bullshit."

While the clandestine events at the Turnberry Hotel sent the conspiracy theorists into warp drive, the only community in Britain aware of the meeting appeared less impressed by the arrival of such a distin-guished group of major players on their patch. The 6,000 inhabitants of Girvan, five miles along the coast from the isolated hotel, watched the massive build-up of police and security men with typical stoicism and barely concealed apathy. Police outriders escorting heavy black VIP cars through the drab streets of the fishing village caused considerably less interest than the announcement of Scotland's World Cup squad. One uninterested drinker in the less-than-impressive Ailsa Craig hotel said: "We know they're having a conference at the hotel and the place has been crawling with coppers for days. We haven't got a clue what it's about." Tales of the intensity of the security net thrown around Turnberry were greeted with mirth. Every vehicle dropping off supplies was meticulously combed by police in combat blacks, resulting in a two-hour turn-around for a simple drop of fruit and vegeta-bles. Two local pipers asked to provide the illustrious guests with traditional entertainment had threatened to boycott the hotel after their instruments were dismantled and searched for explosives every time they turned up to play. Each carton of milk was split open and inspected as it arrived. A vintage van carrying freshly laundered shirts was also searched thoroughly by the police.

Staff at the hotel were photographed and put through special clearance as part of the security clampdown, rather timidly code-named Operation Orchid. From porters to senior managers, the employees were warned about the consequences of revealing any details of the guests to the press. An assistant in the luxury gym at the hotel complained that he even had to request permission from security staff patrolling the hotel to go to the loo.

Not that the Bilderbergers themselves had too many complaints. Their rooms, normally hired to golfers with few financial handicaps, ranged from a modest ?385 to ?686 for a suite with a whirlpool bath. In between formulating global policy the powerbrokers enjoyed hydrotherapy, aromatherapy, saunas and steam rooms. The three restaurants run by a member of the Academie Culinaire de France served up Ayrshire beef, fish from nearby Girvan harbour and smoked salmon. A good vintage port, Dow's 1963, was recommended, at a touch under ?100 a bottle.

Officially the meeting is private to "encourage frank and open discussion". An informal "steering committee" is supposed to pick the120 or so attendees who, again according to the official line, are said to be invited solely for their knowledge, experience and standing and "with reference to the topics on the agenda".

While the presence of powerful bankers has preoccupied Bilderberg-watchers, it is worth remembering that many of those invited are from oil and mining companies. Roughly two-thirds come from finance, industry, labour, education and the media, and only one-third from politics, perhaps indicating that real power lies where the money is.

Nevertheless, the conference is credited with selecting and nurturing up-and-coming political talent. Tony Blair first attended when he was a junior opposition spokesman and Bill Clinton attended the 1991 meeting in Baden-Baden, Germany before he announced that he was running for president. Some argue that the conference creates these people. Others say that the "steering committee" -which includes the likes of Henry Kissinger; the former US secretary of state, is simply able to spot the potential high-flyers.

Despite the big names, the conferences attract surprisingly little press. Some journalists who have been foolhardy enough to write about them have found their careers suddenly on the wane soon afterwards. In 1974 a Financial Times columnist, Gordon Tether; took a keen interest in the group's activities. He wrote: "if the Bilderberg group is not a conspiracy of some sort, it is conducted in such away as to give a remarkably good impression of one." Tether found himself sidelined and eventually lost his FT column.

So what were the favoured conspiracy theories doing the rounds with the unsuspecting golfers in picturesque Turnberry last week-end? The Bilderbergers apparently decide when wars should start, how long they should last, when they should end and who should participate. Changes in boundaries as a result of war are agreed and who will lend the money to support war efforts and rebuild the countries involved afterwards.

The Bilderbergers "own" the central banks, such as the Federal Reserve in the US, and are therefore in a position to determine discount rates, money-supply levels, the price of gold and which countries should receive loans. They decide who should be allowed to run for the offices of president, prime minister, chancellor and other leading positions in governments around the world.

The Bilderbergers, with their ownership of the major banks, know exactly what interest rates will be - and run these up and down to create billions of pounds for themselves. The Bilderbergers also directly or indirectly own all the major news media and can tell the public what they want it to hear. As the owners of major businesses and industries they can also suppress wages and salaries.

The official line is rather different. The conferences focus on world-wide concerns but primarily from the perspective of North America and Western Europe. In that sense they have parallels with Nato, set up just a few years before the first Bilderberg conference. Just as Nato has bound Europe and North America together militarily so the Bilderbergers appear to have bound together American and European strategic and economic interests.

The Question is: whose interests? And for what purpose? And how much power do the Bilderbergers really have? It is difficult to see how such a meeting of top people could fail to have some influence on the economic foundations of our world.

Former Bilderberger Jack Sheinkman, chairman of the Amalgamated Bank in the US, has admitted: "Yes, in some cases discussions do have an impact of world affairs, such as when the group discussed a single European currency before it was policy"

In one of the few references to the Bilderbergers in a British newspaper The Observers editor Will Hutton, who attended last year's conference, wrote earlier this year: "The Bilderberg conference is one of the key meetings of the year. The consensus established there is the backdrop against which policy is made world-wide."

Indeed, it is credited with prompting the establishment of the European Community. In 1955 the group recorded in its minutes that it was the group's "common responsibility" to arrive in the shortest possible time at a closely knit European common market. Eighteen months later, the Treaty of Rome established the Common Market.

Not surprisingly in the circumstances, it is an organisation of which the Eurosceptics in the House of Commons are highly suspicious. Tory MP Christopher Gill has taken a keen interest in the Bilderbergers after some of his contacts made an association between what was happening in Europe and what was known to have been discussed at the meetings.

In March he asked the Prime Minister which members of the government had attended meetings of the Bilderberg group. Blair was able to answer quite truthfully "none" because when he and Gordon Brown attended the conference, Labour was in oppo-sition. Because of the Bilderberg conference's pro-Europe stance, Gill advised William Hague not to attend. But Hague's speech in Fontainebleau the week after this year's conference on "the potential for Europe and the limits to Union" no doubt reflected to some extent the inside knowledge he had gleaned from the conference.

Parliamentarians have also failed to declare their attendance on occasion. Under House of Commons rules, MPs must declare all free travel and accommodation they receive. Paddy Ashdown failed to declare his 1989 attendance. Both Tony Blair and Kenneth Clarke failed to declare their attendances in 1993. When the matter was taken up by Lord Nolan's Committee on Standards and Privileges, Clarke told Nolan that he and Blair considered that they had "attended the conference as rep-resentatives of the government and opposition respectively". If that is true, then one might think the electorate would be entitled to know what was discussed and agreed in private and on its behalf.

As Jim Tucker packed for his flight home, he reflected: "Why do I follow these guys around? Apart from the public's right to know what they are doing, it's my idea of fun. These people think they are unanswerable to anyone and they are up to no good. The sinister nature of their meetings must be clear from the armed guard and the absolute secrecy they employ. Does this look like a harmless get-together?

"I want people to realise this is not an ordinary private meeting of some benevolent think-tank. These Bilderbergers control the whole works - and you'd do yourselves a big favour if you believed me."

First published in Punch magazine, May 1998.

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"They are making decisions that affect millions of people and yet they do it all in private and with no democratic control"

The man usually credited with creating the Bilderberg conferences is Dr Josef Retinger, who is shrouded in mystery. A Polish ?migr?, he is said to have been, at various times, an agent for the Freemasons, the Vatican, the Mexican government and British intelligence. He was certainly well connected: legend has it he could make an appointment to see the US president just by picking up the phone.

During the Second World War, Retinger worked for Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE), which ran networks of informers and conducted sabotage operations. After the war he helped organise the Hague Congress of Europe, and in 1948 set up an organisation called the American Committee on a United Europe (Acue). Its chairman was William Donovan, a former director of the Office of Strategic Studies, the American equivalent of the SOE, and the forerunner of the CIA. Acue's vice-chairman was Allen Dulles, who was to become director of the CIA, and said to be responsible for running terrorist "destabilisation" programmes throughout Western Europe. Acue sent money to the European Movement, the body which campaigns for closer European integration, and of which Retinger was chairman.

In 1948 Retinger was introduced to Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. The official story is that he told the Prince about the rising tide of anti-Americanism in Europe and asked whether he wanted to do something about it. Prince Bernhard said: "Of course".

The first meeting of the group (Bilderberg) was held in a small Paris apartment in September 1952. Sitting around a ping-pong table, the various European grandees agreed that it was essential that their American counterparts be involved. The first formal conference, chaired by Prince Bernhard, was held in 1954 at the Bilderberg Hotel, Oosterbeek, Holland. The Dutch government and the CIA paid the bill. There has been a Bilderberg conference nearly every year since, except in 1976, when the meeting was cancelled after the Prince became caught up in a bribery scandal and was forced to give up his business and military links. The former British Prime Minister, Lord Home, took over the chairmanship in 1977. The current chairman is Lord Carrington, the former foreign secretary and former secretary-general of Nato.

"The consensus established by Bilderberg is the backdrop for policy world-wide"
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