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Tom Hanson

It's like Woodstock for conspiracy theorists.

A serene suburban setting has been transformed into a four-day festival of black suits, black limousines, burly security guards - and suspicions of world domination.

On the outskirts of the nation's capital, a tony high-rise hotel beside a golf course is hosting the annual meeting for one of the world's most secretive and powerful societies.

It's not the Freemasons.

Forget those fabled U.S. military men who tucked away UFOs in the Arizona desert.

These guys, you've probably never even heard of, and if you believe the camera-toting followers who attend all their meetings, they control the world.

They're called the Bilderberg group.

They include European royalty, national leaders, political power-brokers, and heads of the world's biggest companies.

Those who follow the Bilderberg group say it got Europe to adopt a common currency, got Bill Clinton elected after he agreed to support NAFTA, and is spending this week deciding what to do about high oil prices and that pesky fundamentalist president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"Some people say that I advocate a conspiracy theory. That's not true. I recognize a conspiracy fact," said James P. Tucker.

The 74-year-old American journalist has been following the Bilderberg group for decades, has written extensively about it, and recently published his Bilderberg Diary. He follows the group to its annual meetings and stands outside describing to other journalists details of his privileged access to their inner workings.

He is not alone.

Daniel Estulin snapped photographs of every vehicle that approached the concrete-and-glass complex Thursday. He says Mossad - Israel's spy agency - is paying attention.

Away from the golf course, there are no grassy knolls in the industrial zone outside Ottawa's Brookstreet hotel, the site of this week's meeting, but the scene does nothing to dissuade conspiracists.

Ottawa police officers are standing guard outside a dozen metal gates that serve as security checkpoints a half-kilometre from the hotel.

But Ottawa's finest are clearly not in charge here.

To approach the hotel property, even these uniformed police officers are required to show their credentials to the half-dozen black-suited men working for Globe Risk, a private security firm.

"This is pretty unusual," one Ottawa cop said.

Another said they were hired to be there in their off-duty hours and weren't told much by their superiors: "They just told us, 'These are important people. It's a private meeting.' "

A small crowd of curious onlookers snapped photos of black-windowed sedans stopping at the checkpoints. It was impossible to see who was sitting inside.

But it's fun to imagine.

The Bilderberg group is a half-century-old organization comprising about 130 of the world's wealthiest and most powerful people. The group is named after the Dutch hotel where it held its first meeting in 1954.

But don't expect to find that information on the group's website. They don't have a website.

Nor was there any Bilderberg logo anywhere to be seen Thursday, except for those nondescript white placards stamped with the letter 'B' and tucked under the windshield of all those tinted sedans.

A journalist calling the Brookstreet hotel asked to leave a message for the Bilderbergers.

"Sure," a hotel employee said. "Your name and number?"

The journalist then asked whether the employee could confirm whether the Bilderberg Group was actually meeting there.

"I don't know," she replied.

Even members of the hotel gym were barred from the premises. A sign was slapped on the gym door earlier this week informing them the facilities would be closed for four days. All other hotel guests were asked to check out by Thursday morning. Any vehicles remaining in the parking lot would be towed.

Bilderberg says the privacy of its meetings helps encourage freewheeling discussion.

An unsigned press release, sent by fax, confirmed this year's meeting would deal with energy issues, Iran, the Middle East, terrorism, immigration, Russia, European-American relations and Asia.

"The meeting is private to encourage frank and open discussion," said the release.

"There will be no press conference."

The release included a list of participants at this year's event.

The 2006 group includes David Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger, Queen Beatrix of Holland, New York Gov. George Pataki, the heads of Coca-Cola, Credit Suisse, the Royal Bank of Canada, cabinet ministers from Spain, Greece and a number of media moguls, including Globe and Mail newspaper publisher Philip Crawley. However, Bilderberg followers say that media moguls whose outlets report leaked details from the meetings will see themselves banned in the future.,

The group also includes a pair of prominent figures involved in planning the U.S. invasion of Iraq - Richard Perle and Ahmad Chalabi. Fellow White House power-players Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, now head of the World Bank, have spoken to the group in the past.

But Bilderberg is not exclusively a right-wing body, by any means. Bill Clinton's right-hand-man Vernon Jordan, was also in attendance Thursday, as was his Mideast negotiator Dennis Ross.

The prime ministers of Britain and Canada - Tony Blair and Stephen Harper - have addressed the group before, as have former Liberal prime ministers Pierre Trudeau, Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien.

Mr. Harper spoke to Bilderberg in Versailles, France, in 2003 but his office said he would not attend this year's conference.

Canada remains well represented, however.

The Canadian contingent at this year's event also includes Power Corp. boss Paul Desmarais, Indigo books CEO Heather Reisman, and former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna.

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