Uncovering a secret plot can quickly become a dead-end trip, guided by the researcher's paranoid half-fantasies and the eerie vibration that everything is under hidden control. Yet you don't have to be paranoid to realize that history isn't only what scholars write, and that newspapers often edit -- and sometimes even alter -- the facts that they report.
Secret societies do exist, conspiracies both above and below ground; so do groups with manipulative and often deadly game plans. But not all of them are bent on control: some are aimed at altruistic goals, and others are just plain stupid. No one group as yet has humanity under its thumb. On the other hand, conspiracies are quite real and not to be underestimated.
I. THE BILDERBERGERS
A top secret group with the name Bilderberg is hard enough to swallow. But if you add that it used to meet annually, with no press coverage, and make major international policy decisions, the usual reaction is an arched eyebrow. "Poor guy," friends will likely say. "He's finally gone off the deep end. Bilderbergers? Pretty weird."
The name actually came from the hotel in Oosterbeek, Holland used for the first session in 1954. After that, meetings were held around the globe, including a 1971 gathering in Woodstock, Vermont. "The purpose of the conference," said Prince Bernhard, the Dutch aristocrat who promoted the group and chaired meetings for more than 30 years, "is that eminent persons in every field get the opportunity to speak freely without being hindered by the knowledge that their words and ideas will be analyzed, commented upon and eventually criticized in the press." At the time, Bernhard, who had married Holland's Princess Juliana, was a spokesman for NATO as well as Dutch interests in South America.
Nevertheless, U.S. Senator James Buckley wrote in 1974 that, "I don't subscribe to the theory that there exists an organization of international bankers called the Bilderbergers." A strange reaction since his brother, William F. Buckley, was on the guest list that year.
Or consider this oddity. In response to an inquiry in 1975 a U.S. Justice Department official said the White House knew nothing about the Bilderbergers. Yet President Ford attended meetings of the group throughout the 1960s, and Donald Rumsfeld, then the president's assistant, knew the group as "an open forum for the exchange of ideas."
After the Woodstock, Vermont session, one hotel employee put it succinctly: "They get together once a year to talk about what is going to happen in the world."
Officially, the meeting in Woodstock, convening April 23, 1971, was billed as "an international peace conference." U.S. State Department officials had conferred about security arrangements with Vermont State Police. The state supplied 30 men in plain clothes to support a private, armed security force, the FBI and Secret Service, even though Vermont officials said they knew nothing about the event. One-hundred-fifty guards and officers blanketed the sleepy town of 1,600, sealing off Laurence Rockefeller's hotel and estate. Everything was set for the arrival of 85 leaders from around the world. Limousines brought them from Lebanon, New Hampshire, where an air shuttle from Boston had been arranged.
Although Bernhard issued a terse press statement when his plane touched ground at Boston's Logan Airport, one participant, Francois Duchene of the London Institute of Strategic Studies, who attended with then British Defense Minister Denis Healey, later explained that, "America must face a Western Europe and Japan that are more independent." That fit, since one scheduled topic was, "A change in the U.S. role in the world."
To Major Glenn Davis of the Vermont State Police it was "a hairy scene. No one seemed to know just who was in charge of what." But in the conference room, once all employees had been cleared from the building, order reigned. Seating was arranged alphabetically with Bernhard at the head of the table. Remarks were normally limited to five minutes, with two "working papers" as discussion foci.
Henry Kissinger, then Nixon's National Security Advisor, missed the first session, but became the main event when he delivered a briefing on U.S. plans. Months later, he was charged by conservatives with "leaking" plans for Nixon's China trip and a devaluation of the dollar. After the 1971 Bilderberg conference banks and major corporations shifted capital out of the U.S., mainly to West Germany. Nixon's China initiative eventually became public information. And in December, the dollar was devalued, resulting in gains for people who had already converted to European currency. A "change in the U.S. role" was under way, and the Bilderbergers may have helped make it happen.
Private groups like the Bilderbergers, which have helped to build our current system of de facto global management, don't actually discuss peace. Rather, their concern is managing the world economy. Originally, Bilderberg meetings served to strengthen the Atlantic alliance, and gradually became an "open conspiracy" to develop consensus among political and business leaders beyond the power of nation-states. In the early 1950s, Prince Bernhard brought the idea to the CIA, and with its assistance nabbed support from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations. The money flowed through the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, whose director, Joseph Johnson, coordinated U.S. Bilderberg activities.
Over the years the group became a model for transnational diplomacy, lending support to European integration and oil company policies. Its steering committee was virtually a who's who of international finance; David Rockefeller, Gabriel Hauge (Manufacturer's Hanover Trust), Emilio Collado (Standard Oil, later Exxon) international lawyers such as Arthur Dean and George Ball. All U.S. steering committee members were also members of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which dominated US foreign policy planning after World War II.
Take George Ball, for example. A long-time CFR member, director of the Trilateral Commission, Undersecretary of State, and lawyer with Lehman Brothers. Or Arthur Dean. CFR member, partner in Sullivan and Cromwell law firm, whose partners included John Foster and Allen Dulles. Before World War II Sullivan and Cromwell worked with German chemical and steel monopolies. By the time the Bilderbergers began to meet, attorney Allen Dulles had become CIA director. Small world.
II. WAR AND PEACE WITH THE CIA
Evidence of conspiracy can begin with questions like this: What group has financial ties to the megabuck empires of Rockefeller, Rothschild and Morgan, philosophical roots in Fabian Socialism, and was instrumental in creating the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund? If you haven't guessed, it also publishes a monthly journal called Foreign Affairs. Its resident members and "international citizens" form an aristocracy of financiers, academics, lawyers, journalists and public officials that has planned US foreign policy since the 1940s.
Columnist Joseph Kraft, a member at the time, once called this semi- secret elite a "school for statesmen." If you haven't figured it out yet, the answer is the Council on Foreign Relations, or CFR. And its objective for half a century has been nothing less than to "create a new international order." To most leftists that reads like US imperialism; to right-wingers it translates roughly as world government. You know, the invisible government. The establishment. The people who brought us the Vietnam War and offspring like the Trilateral Commission, all in the name of "peace."
The CFR began rolling at the Majestic Hotel in Paris, May 19, 1919, just as the World War I peace talks were winding down. The meeting to create an international planning group was called by "Colonel" Edward Mandell House, Texas oil man, power broker and presidential advisor, whom Wilson called his "alter ego." The Colonel's Paris conference was geared to generate support from finance czars (the gold-dollars alliance of Rothschild and Rockefeller) and liberal internationalists. And so it did.
By 1950 the CFR controlled most American cabinet posts, and its members were a new nobility: Nelson Rockefeller, Averill Harriman, Dean Rusk, Walter Lippman, and Allen Dulles, to name but a few.
The Hitler Connection
When Allen Dulles died in 1969, President Nixon said, "In the nature of his task, his achievements were known to only a few." Dulles' task from the 1940s on was intelligence gathering, disinformation and covert operations. Dulles viewed it as a craft, and managed to elevate espionage to "professional" status. As much the architect as the prosecutor of the Cold War in the 1950s, he handled the CFR's "dirty tricks."
Back in 1919 Dulles had attended the Paris talks with Colonel House, then joined the U.S. State Department. By the late 1920s he had become a partner in the Wall Street law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell, which worked with Adolph Hitler's financial agent to acquire the largest German monopolies, steel and chemicals, as clients. Dulles joined the board of the Henry Schroeder Trust banking group in the 1930s, while Schroeder bankrolled the Nazis.
But allegiances changed when the war began. Dulles left the firm and began spying at a high level in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a new U.S. intelligence and subversion network. In 1944 the spymaster got to work on two covert missions: liquidating the Fuhrer and working out peace terms with other Nazis without letting Russia find out.
A Network of Agents
Espionage is the business of secrecy, manipulation and deception. It breeds conspiracies, including hidden networks of mercenaries that transcend national interests. In the summer of 1944 such a network blanketed Europe as the Allies broke into German territory.
One spy on the job was George deMohrenschildt, a career agent who knew German intelligence well from work with the Abwehr 2 (Nazi spies within the U.S.) before the war. In the 1940s he shot film in Poland, built ties with French and German agents, and scouted for oil interests.
Allen Dulles was running OSS operations in Switzerland, while another agent, Joseph Retinger, promoted Polish liberation from Germany. Like deMohrenschildt, Retinger also had oil contacts; his were Mexican, dating back to the 1920s. He had worked in London with the exiled Polish government. In August 1944, at age 58, he parachuted into Nazi territory near Warsaw just before liberation, bringing cash to Polish nationalists.
Meanwhile, Allen Dulles, who had urged U.S. entry into the war on grounds of "enlightened selfishness," was handling other parts of the plan. With German Abwehr and diplomats he tried to assassinate Hitler, and although the plots fizzled, Hitler soon died -- presumably a suicide. A year later, following Retinger's lead, Dulles sparked the Cold War by scheming to cut Russia out of the surrender negotiations.
What's the point of recounting all this cloak-and-dagger stuff? Simply that the old networks never die, and this one led to President Kennedy's death and beyond.
The daring Joseph Retinger went on to become the philosophical father of a united Europe, as well as the man who urged Prince Bernhard to launch the Bilderberg conferences. Allen Dulles, of course, went well beyond the OSS, which amassed a $75 million budget and developed a worldwide network by the time Truman disbanded it.
Dulles attended Bilderberg sessions, drafted the master plan for the CIA, and ran the agency for nine years, beating back legislative drives to crack the web of secrecy. His friends said he had a "zest for conspiracy." Be that as it may, he believed that, "We cannot safely limit our response to the Communist strategy of take-over solely to those cases where we are invited in by a government still in power."
He felt so strongly about taking the initiative that the CIA overthrew a leftist regime in Guatemala in 1954. But five years later the CIA saw new trouble: Fidel Castro.
And that's where deMohrenschildt fits in. After the war, he resettled in Dallas, renewing his ties with other anti-Communist Russians. He worked on contract with both the CIA and oil companies, his cover occupation "petroleum geologist." His walking tour from Dallas to Panama in 1961 landed him in Guatemala City, where he made contact with anti-Castro Cubans and mercenaries revving up for an invasion called the Bay of Pigs.
Two years later, working with money from right-wing Dallas oil baron H.L. Hunt, a core of CIA agents unhappy with Kennedy's crackdown on "the company," and some bitter Bay of Pigs survivors, deMohrenschildt had found a new mission: helping to arrange the assassination of a president. Coordinating things for him locally was an FBI informer -- Jack Ruby.
III. CONSPIRACIES ILLUMINATED
When John Kennedy visited Dallas in November, 1963 the American dream was shattered and Camelot died. Ever since then we've been looking for the how and why of his assassination. Was it Oswald alone, or a conspiracy? Was Cuba involved, and what role did Jack Ruby and others play?
Ex-agent Robert Morrow told his version to the House Assassination Committee in 1976. The assassination team, he claimed, combined CIA agents and anti-Castro Cubans with whom he had worked on schemes to run guns and pump bogus money into Cuba. On November 22, 1963, according to Morrow, it went this way:
Three teams were in place by 12:30, linked via walkie-talkie to Guy Bannister, a former Chicago FBI chief who subsequently handled anti-Castro operations in New Orleans. Two men were stationed behind a stockade fence near the grassy knoll, with another two inside the county court building overlooking Dealey Plaza -- one of them Jack Ruby.
Ruby had also worked in Chicago in the 1950s, a mafia "soldier" accused at the time of murdering the treasurer of the Waste Handlers Union. In Dallas Ruby built ties with police while running a bar, and ran guns to Cuban exiles under orders from CIA agent Clay Shaw. Ruby also worked with George deMohrenschildt, the veteran spy with ties to H.L. Hunt.
Lee Oswald, the apparent fall guy, was in the Texas Book Depository that day, according to Morrow, but probably on the second floor -- while a "second Oswald" fired from the sixth-floor window.
Ruby's police contacts came in handy after the job. In The Assassination Tapes, researcher George O'Toole reveals that Ruby knew Sgt. Gerry Hill, who not only found the rifle shells but had arrived early at the shooting of Officer Tippit and helped to arrest Oswald. He may have arranged evidence to implicate Oswald before the investigation began.
The coverup was almost instinctive. Hoover and the FBI were embarrassed at having used Oswald as an informer. The CIA was directly implicated, since several conspirators had worked on covert Cuban projects -- even after the Bay of Pigs. False trails threw investigators off the scent, the most insidious of these promoted by a newsman, Lonnie Hudkins, shortly after Kennedy's death. Hudkins said that the President was killed in retaliation by Cuban agents, including Oswald, when they learned about US plots to assassinate Castro. But Hudkins was a friend of Jack Ruby's, working with him in gun smuggling days. He was also a former employee of both the CIA and H.L. Hunt.
Morrow claims that it wasn't Cubans, but rather a group within the CIA that wanted to stop Kennedy's drive to subordinate "the company" to the Defense Intelligence Agency. They and Cuban exiles also had a specific grudge -- namely, that Kennedy had held back on naval support during the Bay of Pigs invasion. Oil interests and organized crime also had something to gain: a "liberated" Cuba open to investments and an independent CIA.
Since the 1960s many conspiracy "theories" have been advanced. One that received especially favorable press coverage was the work of Edward Jay Epstein, He nabbed $500,000 from Reader's Digest for his tale of Oswald the Marxist, who gave U-2 spy plane secrets to Russia and then worked through the FBI, yet killed Kennedy on his own. It was Lonnie Hudkins' story all over again. (Epstein was back at it in 2016 with a similar take on Edward Snowden, straining credulity to make the case that Snowden isn't merely a traitor but also a spy.)
In the 1960s, when New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison was starting to break open the Kennedy conspiracy, Epstein attacked Garrison in print. That drew praise from CIA honcho Richard Helms, a friend of Clay Shaw's, who circulated the writing as a model debunking of the conspiracy theory. While Epstein prepared his book, Legend, in the late 1970s, several important sources died suddenly, either shortly before or after meeting him. In March 1977, deMohrenschildt talked with Epstein, and within minutes was found dead of gunshot wounds. The old spy had just agreed to testify on his part in Kennedy's death.
Kerry Thornley, who was in the Marines with Oswald and later founded the "Discordian" religion, developed another theory. He believed the culprits were the Bavarian Illuminati, a 200-year-old secret society. Oddly enough, Jim Garrison thought for a while that Thornley was the "second Oswald." In time, Thornley came to think that Garrison, and even his own friends, were Illuminati agents.
"All conspiracy buffs are persecuted eventually," wrote Robert Anton Wilson, author of the epic conspiracy trilogy, Illuminatus. Wilson actually knew Thornley and watched his obsession consume him. But Wilson managed to transcend paranoia, transforming the strange, divergent theories surrounding Kennedy's death -- and other conspiracies -- into satire.
In Illuminatus the death of Kennedy is part of a fact-and-speculation history which begins in Atlantis and extends into politics, mythology, and the realm of the occult. The central mystery is the true identity of the Illuminati: Are they defunct, as the Encyclopedia Brittanica claimed, a secret society founded in 1776 and suppressed by the Bavarian government within 10 years? Was the eye-in-the-Pyramid an Illuminati symbol given to Thomas Jefferson by a stranger in a black cloak?
Is the Council on Foreign Relations the latest manifestation of the original Illuminati? Are they controlled by bankers or anarchists, Jesuits or Satanists? Were they revived by the nazis, or are they, instead, extraterrestrial visitors who want to help humanity evolve?
Wilson argued that the world has room for many competing conspiracies, the sacred and profane. And he had the good sense to consider and question all of them.
Pursuit of hidden knowledge leads naturally to one conspiracy or another. Personally, my theory is that global chaos, being generated by some "conspirators" in their quest for political and economic power, is a prologue to man's next evolutionary step. This doesn't lessen the pain or oppressive power of elites. But it can help to point the way. If humans are ever to reach higher intelligence, the power of conspiracy must be broken at its roots -- the ethic of secrecy and deception. This calls for something difficult: eyes-open trust and positive energy to combat the negativity inherent in the lust for power.
"Positive energy is as real as gravity," argued Wilson. If so, the antidote to negativity -- and conspiracy -- is to "come back with all the positive energy you have." He called that the final secret of the Illuminati.
This essay was originally published in February 1998 in Upstart Magazine and Toward Freedom.