Members of the Bilderberg Group - the wealthiest, most powerful, most influential people in the world - wrapped up their infamous annual secret conference in St. Moritz, Switzerland today. So, what exactly, are the global elite up to?
Bilderberg is an especially secretive group that employs very intensive security, so who knows? But here's a look at some of this year's reports. Click through to each for a lot more information (and pictures).
[I]n Switzerland, Henry Kissinger and his brave band of corporate CEOs, high-wealth individuals and heavyweight thinktankers will lock arms with Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and David Rockefeller, and stand their ground against the economic contagion.
The last thing a bunch of bank bosses and multinational executives wants is for the nation-states of Europe to collapse, allowing their assets to be bought up on the cheap. Right?
Besides, if anyone can lay claim to fathering the EU, it's Bilderberg. Sixty years ago, Europe was a mere Bilderbaby, conceived in a solemn ceremony on Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands' mattress. It grew into a fine young Bilderboy, but the years have caught up with it, and now it seems its knees are creaking and its heart is weak.
Anna Caprez, a journalist from Radio Rumantch, the Swiss radio station. She's putting together a series of reports about the conference. "It's a big story", she says. "But only in March or April did we realize what Bilderberg is, or even that there is a Bilderberg conference."
She says it's unusual to have the press descend on St Moritz like this. "We're used to letting people do what they want here in the valley, in the Engadine. St Moritz is a special place. VIPs can be incognito, we're used to famous people – who cares? – they can act and react without the press crawling over them. But this is different. This is important. And the media in Switzerland has finally woken up to it. The Swiss TV are coming, Swiss Radio, the Italian media. And it is thanks to him."
Anna nods towards a man smoking a cheroot, enjoying a rare glimpse of alpine sun.
"We put pressure on the media, we ask: "Why aren't you reporting this?" – and now at last they have started. Of course, some of what they write is the usual, you know: just a meeting of some old guys sitting round, having a cup of tea." He snorts his derision: "Come on! A four-day cup of tea, with heads of global companies, heads of state, EU commissioners, leaders of Nato, bank CEOs, people with a full schedule. They are not here for a cup of tea!"
"We asked and asked again: who is paying for all this? If we are to have a huge police force protecting a private meeting, as usual, then who is paying? The taxpayer? We made it a political problem."
And the pressure seems to have paid off.
And it's true – at first glance, this year's conference could hardly be more different from Spain 2010 or Greece 2009. We're standing, unharrassed, on a pavement not 50 metres from the hotel. Last year, in Sitges, the press was kept a kilometre away, at the business end of a machine gun. In Vouliagmeni the cordon was even wider, maybe a kilometre and a half, with (literally) hundreds of pumped-up policemen strip searching and camera snatching. St Moritz may be further from the beach, but apart from that it's a gigantic improvement. "This is Switzerland!" explains Manfred. "That sort of thing cannot happen here. This is a democracy."
More and more people are starting to realize that the Bilderberg Group is not only real, but something that needs to be taken very seriously.
Now of course, members of the Bilderberg Group aren't puppet-masters, wielding magical powers with which they can control the world. But they are indeed extremely influential people, who swing big sticks and affect government policy directly.
[David Aaronovitch] is cheerleader-in-chief of the cup of tea brigade: "To have a strong belief in the Bilderberg Group means believing in a fantasy," he says. "It replaces the intolerable thought that there's nothing at work at all, that the world is chaotic. It may be a form of therapy but it has people believing in an anti-scientific message."
Blimey. What I find most extraordinary about those remarks is not so much their appalling ignorance, it's more that Aaronovitch appears to be making a quasi-religious statement. It's an expression of faith: faith in there being "nothing at work at all" in the world – faith that the world is "chaotic" through-and-through.
A fairly extreme position, one could almost call it fundamentalist. What then is history? Stones being shaken in bucket? Has ever a human influenced the course of events? Are the attendees of Bilderberg in any sense influential? And if not, what on earth have they been doing all their lives? They might as well have sat jibbering on a rock rather than becoming secretaries of state and finance ministers, for all the good it'll do them.
We can expect more of this fantasy/"old farts playing golf" spin over the next several days. (I can't wait for David Frum's annual scoff piece). But it sounds more and more detached from reality with every passing year.
Let me put it this way ... The entire Tea Party movement doesn't exert as much influence on the United States government as do the small handful of global elitists that make up the Bilderberg cabal. Nevertheless, we're supposed to just close our eyes and pretend they are angels meeting (behind walls of secrecy and heavily-armed guards) for our global "common good."
The shadowy organization — made up of about 120 central bankers, top CEOs, academics, European royalty, big bankers, high-ranking politicians and even representatives of the establishment media — has been getting together once a year since the mid-1950s. The group of "leading citizens," as attendees are described on the group's purported official website, gets its name from the Bilderberg Hotel in Holland where the first meeting was held in 1954.
Until recently, almost the entire international media establishment maintained an apparent information blackout of the yearly gatherings. Despite the fact that representatives of some of the world's largest news outlets are always present at the conference, the vast majority of event coverage has generally come from the alternative press.
The rise of the Internet and widespread media choice, however, appear to have had a major effect. This year, the Bilderberg conference is attracting far more scrutiny than past gatherings — in line with a steady trend over the last few years of increasing awareness surrounding the affair.
While very little information is ever publicly released following the conferences, general topics on the agenda have been compiled on an official website cited by numerous media outlets. In 2007, for example, the first item on the list was "The New World Order." And with some of the most powerful people on earth attending the meeting, most objective analysts realize that the group wields enormous collective influence.
Though Bilderberg touts itself as a sort of forum where attendees can discuss ideas freely without the spotlight of the press, anecdotal evidence suggests that there is much more going on. Consider: Then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton attended the 1991 Bilderberg conference. He was virtually unknown at that time. The following year, Clinton was elected President.
Numerous other relatively obscure figures who have attended the meetings have ended up meteorically rising to power in a spectacular fashion. Tony Blair is another good example. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were reported to have attended the 2008 Bilderberg meeting in Chantilly, Virginia. Current Treasury Secretary Timothy "TurboTax" Geithner and Federal Reserve boss Ben Bernanke were there that year, too.
The attendee lists for the meetings consist of the veritable “who’s who” of the global elite from across the political spectrum. Bilderberg luminary David Rockefeller, for example, who admitted in his autobiography of conspiring to erect a global economic and political system, is intimately involved with the formal organizational structure. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who constantly and openly advocates what he calls a "New World Order," is almost always there too.
But this year, Kissinger and other members of the world elite are attracting some unwanted attention for the conference. A senior center-right Swiss lawmaker from the nation's largest political party sent a letter to prosecutors asking them to consider arresting Kissinger — and George W. Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, if they attend — for war crimes. The legislator also requested that prosecutors consider applying the charge of treason for Swiss attendees.
Other critics of the cabal have also argued that Americans who attend should be arrested by U.S. authorities. Citing the Logan Act, which makes it a felony for Americans to formulate government policy with foreign officials, Bilderberg opponents have called for the prosecution of Texas Gov. Rick Perry — who will reportedly also attend the 2011 meeting — and many other American officials.
Now of course, when I describe what's gone up as a "security fence", what I actually mean is "privacy fence". It's a shower curtain, not a ring of steel. And of course, by "privacy" what I actually mean is "shame". It's a shame fence. A massive white fence of embarrassment. Privacy is what the delegates get when they close the door of their conference hall. Privacy is a Chatham House agreement not to discuss in public what was discussed at the various presentations and seminars of Bilderberg.
But this isn't privacy. It's hiding. It's a child hiding behind the curtains in case the monsters see it, and I find it weirdly infantile. Oddly unconfident. Grown-ups, happy in what they're doing, don't slide down in their car seats and slip in through side doors. You've got the world's most powerful people sneaking around like naughty kiddies. Naughty kiddies with secret service spotters on their hotel roof, and armed men on motorbikes flanking their limousines.
This is the bit about Bilderberg that I really don't get. It's an old chestnut, but let's just take another bite at it. Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that Bilderberg benefits us all. The citizens of the world are made safer, or happier, or healthier, or better off as a result of this meeting. Let's just say that the head of Deutsche Bank spends four days with the head of BP in order to improve our lives.
Let's suppose, shall we, that the amiable hosts – David Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger, and the Queen of the Netherlands – have the interests of the general public written in big red letters at the top of their conference agenda.
Suppose all that. Then why the fence? Why do delegates fling themselves across the back seats of their limousines rather than be seen attending this helpful gathering? Why the blacked-out windows and the newspapers held in front of their faces? And why the big white fence? I don't get it.
Why isn't Josef Ackermann, the CEO of Deutsche Bank, waving benignly to the crowds? Why aren't the excited participants pausing at the hotel gates to speak to the invited press? "Yes, thank you, we're hoping to solve Europe's financial crisis this year – so finger's crossed!" Why are German plane clothes policemen following members of the public around Swiss streets...? Sorry – different question. Important, but different.
Bilderberg's favourite power couple were spotted: Henry Kravis, head of private equity giant KKR (assets $60 billion) and his wife, Marie-Josée (Hudson Institute; International Advisory Board of the Federal Reserve). Then in swept Washington's hawkish 'Prince of Darkness', Richard Perle (Hudson Institute; PNAC; Hollinger; former Gaddafi adviser – etc. etc. etc.).
Around teatime, a massive helicopter flew up the valley, and landed at the tiny local airport. It was one of the few arrivals there today, due to bad weather. A couple of private jets did make it in; their passengers were whisked off the tarmac, straight out of the gates. Not a passport shown, a bag searched, or a body scanned. "All arranged in advance," we were told. I must remember to arrange that in advance the next time I go on holiday. Such a timesaver.
Best moment of the day was the arrival of everyone's favourite Bilderberger, Papa Bear himself – the undisputed King of the Club – David Rockefeller.
Of course, as David himself has said: "We cannot be idealistic. Capital must be invested in countries which have the political stability to guarantee a fair deal for the businessman." And with his ping-pong partner, Henry Kissinger, the master of realpolitik (and the topspin backhand) at his side on Bilderberg's top table, it is hard to imagine much 'idealism' pervading the group. Beyond the heartwarming goal of guaranteeing a fair deal for the businessman.
Which would be all be fine and dandy if the Bilderberg attendees didn't include quite so many elected officials. Our own chancellor, George Osborne, was a serial attendee (2006-2009); our own prime minister, David Cameron, sat through the seminars in 2008 before taking office. And don't forget Tony Blair attended. Not that he likes to admit it (he preferred lying to parliament about not going).
Politicians from the host country are usually pretty thick on the ground, so it was no surprise to see the stately arrival of Barbara Janom Steiner, head of the justice department of the local Swiss canton.
The politicians get to rub shoulders and polish policies with Bilderberg businessmen like W Edmund Clarke, President & CEO of Canada's second largest bank, Toronto-Dominion (total assets in 2010: 619.5 billion Canadian Dollars), and member of the conference Steering Committee.
On the 2011 delegate list, Osborne appears thus:
Osborne, George, Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I've just spent the entire day trying and failing and failing and trying again to get an official confirmation that Osborne is attending the St Moritz conference, and if so, in exactly what capacity he's here.
At long last the Treasury Press Office gave me a straight answer, but it wasn't the answer I was expecting: "George Osborne is attending the Bilderberg conference in his official capacity as Chancellor of the Exchequer" – and he's coming along "with a number of other international finance ministers." Any Treasury staff? "Probably not more than one."
So – ok – you mean we're paying for Osborne to be here? You mean he's on Treasury business? You mean this is an official summit? You mean he's talking economic policy with the Chairman of Royal Dutch Shell, the CEO of Airbus, and Russian oligarch Alexey Mordashov, the billionaire CEO of Severstal? And Henry Kissinger? In secret? Behind a police cordon?
Official business? And all this time I thought just mentioning the word Bilderberg was enough to have one certified crazy. Go figure.
Move along. Nothing to see here. Leave our benevolent angels alone. Hey, look! Over there! It's Anthony's Weiner!
The size and seriousness of the 'outside' is finally starting to befit the size and seriousness of the conference itself. The image and understanding of Bilderberg is changing, and people are changing around it. Every year it gets better.
Two years ago, in Greece, it was a shambles. A few determined bloggers getting strip-searched. A few scraped-together reports in the alternative media. And the Greek police were an absolute disgrace. I, for one, was harassed, arrested, followed, bullied, arrested again, rearrested, followed to Athens, wrestled with, lied to and scared out my tiny mind.
With scrutiny comes responsibility, and questions require answers. This will mean the conference changing the way it relates to the world, certainly – they might find it awkward, at first, to exchange CIA snipers for press officers – but I feel, in a sense, relieved for Bilderberg: because once the organization accepts its new status as a serious political meeting – one of the most important summits in the western political calendar – it can start relating to the world in a serious political fashion. It can relax. Normalize. And finally, look us in the eye.
There was a time, not so many years ago, when it was a sign of full-blown crackpottedness even to suggest that such a thing as "Bilderberg" existed. To insist that it was an important international summit, not the figment of a lizard's imagination, was lunacy. It was a meeting, scoffed the scoffers, held by the Loch Ness Monster in Narnia's most luxurious conference centre.
It's easy to dismiss something you don't know about; one can rest contentedly in the solipsism of ignorance: "I don't know about x, therefore x doesn't exist".
But as ever more information about Bilderberg edged its way into das Gehirn der Welt – sorry, slipped into German there for a moment – so yes, the more the world found out about Bilderberg, the harder it became to deny not just its existence, but its importance. Until we're where we are today: with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and a team from the Treasury attending a 4-day summit of international finance ministers and businessmen, including the assorted chairmen of Fiat, Nestlé, Goldmann Sachs International, and Coca-Cola, the Group Chairman of HSBC Holdings plc, the Executive Chairman of Google, the President of the European Council, and the co-founder of Facebook.
And it's just been leaked that Angela Merkel has arrived. And the Secretary-General of Nato, Anders Rasmussen. And Zapatero, the Spanish PM.
Bilderberg has had some bad ideas in its time (a European superstate, anyone?) but Lord Mandelson's nature walk has to be the worst. What were they hoping for? Had they not seen the 200 activists camped opposite the hotel gates?
Out of the bus stepped Erich Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, and Franco Bernabè, the CEO of Telecom Italia, followed by China's vice-minister of foreign affairs, Ying Fu, with her amazing hair.
Then came the Swedish billionaire banker and industrialist Jacob Wallenberg, and the dapper CEO of Airbus, Thomas Enders. More of him later.
Mandelson led the way, locked in conversation with Sir Richard Lambert, a global non-executive director for Ernst & Young and the former editor of the FT. The Tory MP Rory Stewart trotted behind.
The lady in white led her band of Bilderberg bigwigs and billionaires along the charming Swiss byways, across bridges over gentle streams ... and straight into a pack of 50 baffled activists, who were milling around outside a community hall during a break in a symposium.
One activist, Ali Aslan, walked alongside Enders, the Airbus boss, and asked him what was being discussed at this year's conference. "Nothing bad," said Enders. "We are just making our agendas." (This was the German word used: agenda – the same as in English).
"I don't understand," said Alsan. "There are politicians inside. Why are we not allowed to know what you're talking about?"
Enders smiled and said: "I don't have to tell you, and you don't need to know." And with that, he and his fellow delegates ducked beneath the security cordon, into the blessed safety of Bilderberg.
So, what were the Bilderbergers plotting this year? We'll take some educated guesses tomorrow.