VI. The Trilateralists' Road To Power

America's Unknown Enemy: Beyond Conspiracy

Editorial Staff of the
American Institute for Economic Research


The conspiratorial link between the archaic conspiracy of Cecil Rhodes and the alleged present plot to dominate the world has centered in most of the related literature on the activities of the Council on Foreign Relations.[1] Founded in 1919 as the American branch of the "Roundtable Group" (the successor to the Rhodes Secret society), this organization gained increasing influence in U.S. power circles from 1920 to 1960. Much evidence supports Gary Allen's assertion in None Dare Call It Conspiracy that by the 1950's, the CFR had become "the most influential group in America" in regard to the development of American foreign policy, even though it hardly proves a conspiracy. Views circulated by the CFR often became the policy of the State Department. Every U.S. Secretary of State since 1949 has been a member of the CFR.

Proponents of conspiracy theory have compiled dozens of lists of thousands of CFR members (past and present) in positions of authority in the Executive branch, in Congress, in the U.S. military, in international banking, in multinational corporations, in academic professions, and in the media industries. Indeed, with past and present membership numbering in the thousands, it is a simple matter to find CFR members in virtually all spheres of public life. By the early 1970's nearly everybody who was deemed "anybody" in Washington was invited to join the CER. Active membership in the organization increased from 1,200 to 1,800 in 1970 alone.

It seems doubtful that membership in the CFR today is restricted to those who subscribe to a rigid set of narrowly similar views. Rather, the recent history of the CFR provides a textbook illustration of what happens when an elite organization exceeds "manageable" size. That is, the greater the membership, the greater the chance that the views of the members will diverge. For example, it is likely that William F. Buckley, Jr. and John Kenneth Galbraith -- both past CER members -- disagree at least as much as they agree on foreign policy and economic issues. Equally important, the value that members attach to their association with an organization (and hence, their willingness to do its bidding) decreases as membership in the organization grows and becomes less "exclusive." (Nobody wants to join a club that lets anyone in.) Over a period of time, the organization ceases to inspire either "consensus" or "concerted action." Although the CFR may still exert considerable influence in government, business, and intellectual circles, its power has apparently declined.

The once-powerful international "Bilderberger" organization apparently has also suffered a loss of influence in international political and economic affairs. Often mentioned in works on the conspiracy as a group of "super-secret internationalists," the Bilderbergers -- whose member-ship included leading international bankers such as David Rockefeller and Baron Edmond de Rothschild, and political figures such as Sir Alec Douglas-Hume and Helmut Schmidt -- became the focus of media attention in 1976. At that time Bilderberg Chairman Prince Bernhard of The Netherlands was publicly disgraced by the disclosure that he had accepted a $1.1 million bribe from the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation while serving as purchasing agent for the Dutch government.

For exclusivity and probably influence, both the Bilderbergers and the Council on Foreign Relations apparently were eclipsed in the 1970's by the "Trilateral Commission." With "commission" in its name, some may infer the Trilateral commission has some official status, but it does not. It was first organized at a meeting held at Pocantico Hills, New York (the location of the Rockefeller retreat), on July 23-24, 1972. At this organizational meeting, David Rockefeller and Zbigniew Brzezinski outlined a plan for a "high-level consultative council for global cooperation" such as had been described by Brzezinski in his 1970 work entitled Between Two Ages -- America's Role in the Technetronic Era. According to this plan, "a private organization whose primary objective ... would be to bring the best brains in the world to bear on the problems of the future" could manage international affairs more effectively than could sovereign nations.[2] The resulting Trilateral Commission, which first convened formally in July 1973, has a membership of some 200 individuals from the three "Trilateral regions": North American (United States and Canada), Europe, and Japan. From this group, an Executive Committee of 36 (11 from the United States, 2 from Canada, 9 from Japan, and 14 from the European community) plans the Commission's agenda. The full commission meets once every 9 months in one of the regions to consider reports from its "task forces."

However, the ascendancy of the Trilateral Commission has not left the Council on Foreign Relations without function. U.S. members for the more selective Trilateral commission are largely drawn from the Council on Foreign Relations. Expanded membership in the CFR has enlarged the "talent pool" from which Trilateralist leadership can choose new members.

Until a few years ago, the CFR was the Trilateral Commission's exclusively "American" mouthpiece. Although the CFR claims not to "represent any consensus of beliefs" and professes "a broad hospitality to divergent ideas," the published "disputes" are confined within a narrow range. (The questions debated were not whether "managed" wealth transfers advance genuine and lasting progress, but how much, how soon, and in what form such transfers ought to be made; or not whether increased trade with the Communist bloc was advised, but how much and when.) Through articles in the CFR publication Foreign Affairs, Trilateral views (some of which may conflict with the interests of the United States) can be packaged especially for the American audience and provide the seemingly objective intellectual support for the planned changes.

It seems futile to try to ascertain whether or not the Trilateralists have a "secret Agenda" for promoting world government with its leadership at the head. Regardless of what secret plans the Trilateralists may or may not have, enough of their practices and objectives are known to assess the probable effects of Trilateral plans. Membership in the Trilateral Commission is not kept secret, and the Commission's proposals are widely distributed in written reports (formerly called Triangle Papers). Anyone can purchase these reports by writing to their publisher: New York University Press, Washington Square, New York, NY 10003. The Trilateral Commission until recently published occasional numbers of the journal, Trialogue. We emphatically do not subscribe to the views proffered in these publications, but print their addresses simply to dispel the idea that the Commission's declared work is not accessible to the public. More recently the Institute for International Economics has served as a vehicle for disseminating Trilateralist views. Headed by Trilateralists C. Fred Bergsten and Peter G. Peterson, since 1983 this organization's publications have to some degree eclipsed the Trilateral Commission's publications. As with Trilateral Commission publications, IIE publications are available to the public. The Institute's address is 11 Dupont Circle, N.W., Washington, DC 20036.

The published objectives of the Trilateral Commission are in themselves vitally important. Policies implemented or proposed by Trilateral countries and international organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank often were presented and argued earlier in Trilateral Commission publications. In general, these reports advocate more central planning and control of economic activities as a way to achieve more stability, equity, and employment.

Who "Commissioned" the Trilateralists?

As mentioned above, the Trilateral Commission has no official standing, in spite of the appearance of "commission" in its name. To the contrary, Trilateral Commission membership may breach U.S. law for some of its members. This is not because, as some assert, the Trilateral Commission is an "illegal super-secret political party." But neither is it, as David Rockefeller claimed, merely a group of "private citizens of Western Europe, Japan, and North America to foster closer cooperation among these three regions on common problems."

The Trilateral Commission is not super-secret; its publications are publicly available and its membership records are available also. It is not a "political party" in the conventional sense of that name; no candidates for office are fielded under the Trilateral banner. Nevertheless, for some such as Henry Kissinger, Paul Volcker, and Caspar Weinberger, Trilateral connections unquestionably were a conduit to official positions, even though many of its members expressed strong contempt for elective "politics." It professes to be nonpartisan, with seeming justification Former Presidents George Bush, a Republican, and Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, have both served as "Commissioners."

But it is not just agroup of "private citizens" either. After the inauguration of Jimmy Carter as President of the United States, numerous articles appeared in newspapers and magazines citing the new President's former membership in the Trilateral Commission. In addition to Mr. Carter, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Chairman of the National Security Council, the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Chief Arms Negotiator, and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations had all been Trilateral Commission members.

When President Reagan assumed office, Trilateral Commission "representation" in the Executive branch diminished, but it did not disappear. Vice (now President) President Bush was a member, as was Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. William E. Brock, III, the U.S. Trade Representative was, and so was Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker. The Trilateral Commission's "parent," the Council on Foreign Relations, was more widely represented. CFR members in the Reagan Administration included the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Commerce, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Trade Representative, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and the Secretary of the Navy. Of 1984 Democratic Presidential contenders, Mondale, Glenn, and Cranston were Trilateralists. Members of the Bush Administration who were members of the Trilateral Commission or the Council on Foreign Relations included: President Bush, Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney, Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas F. Brady, and Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. Many recent appointees to the Clinton State Department, including Secretary of State Warren Christopher, have been members of the Trilateral Commission or the Council on Foreign Relations.

The statutory legality in the United States of membership in the Trilateral Commission is a more serious matter for some members. Rockefeller's assertion that members of the Trilateral Commission are all "private Citizens" is false. U.S. Executive appointees have resigned from the Commission when they entered public office, but other public officials have retained their membership. Senators William S. Cohen, William V. Roth, Alan Cranston, John Glenn, and John C. Culver; Representatives John Brademas, Barber B. Conable, Jr., and Thomas S. Foley; and Governor James R. Thompson all retained their Commission memberships while in office.

Crucial to the question of American legality is the membership of many officials of foreign governments in Europe and Japan. More than 20 European government officials (among them Edward Heath, member of Parliament and former Prime Minister of Britain, and Gerhard Schroder, member of the Bundestag and former Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany) and several Japanese government officials (Kiichi Miyazawa, member of the Diet; Euchi Nagasue, member of the Diet; and Nobuhiko Ushiba, Advisor to the Minister for Foreign Affairs) were on the Trilateral Commission while they held office. The Logan Act explicitly prohibits U.S. citizens not in appropriate government positions from attempting to deal with foreign government officials on aspects of foreign relations. Yet, this is precisely what the Trilateral Commission focuses on. Although the private U.S. citizens on the Trilateral Commission have not been challenged in court, their activities would appear to be a violation of the basic principle of the Logan Act (so long as foreign government officials remain on the Commission).

An Elitist Bureaucracy

An analysis of North American membership in the Trilateral Commission confirms that three distinct professional elites dominate its membership: the international banking establishment, the think-tank intelligentsia, and the multinational corporate leadership. The membership of the Commission is constantly changing as its members move in and out of government and business positions, but a pattern of representation seems fairly constant. Excluding active political officeholders, representation on the Commission is divided roughly this way:

Think-tank academics 40%
Bankers and related legal executives 25%
Multinational corporate executives 25%
Labor union representatives 5%
Mass media representatives5%

The higher percentage of "intellectuals" (think-tank members) on the Commission may or may not reflect their relative influence on its positions and recommendations. Just as easily, they could unwittingly be the pawns of the moneyed interests on the Commission, doing most of the Commission's intellectual "work." It is the think-tank members who actually do the "research" and write the drafts of the Commission's various reports. In these tasks they are "guided" in varying degrees by other members as to what avenues of approach seem most fruitful. The studies' "conclusions" can thereby be molded in advance. The full Commission then purportedly reviews all work. The Commission itself describes this as the "Trilateral Process," and for each policy report there is a specific "Schedule of Task Force Activities."

The "Schedule of Task Force Activities" for a representative Triangle Paper (see the box on page 46) suggests the extent to which the Trilateralists pay tribute to the appearance of objective inquiry and scholarship. It also reveals a bureaucratic mentality of grandiose scale. Participants fly at Commission expense to New York, then to Paris, and then to Tokyo an itinerary that must surely reinforce their own self-esteem. But it is bureaucracy nonetheless -- a global bureaucratic elite carefully selected from other sub-elites (such as the CFR) by like-minded bureaucrats.

The Trilateral Commission's selection criteria for banking and multinational executives are fairly obvious. Generally, these people are at the very "top" of their professions (or are selected for their potential to reach the top) and have an obvious interest in promoting international stability and market expansion. The chairmen of Lehman Bros.; Brown Bros., Harriman; Chase Manhattan; Coca-Cola; John Deere; Hewlett-Packard; and Texas Instruments have been or are Trilateral Commission members. If the thinking of high-ranking businessmen such as these can be shaped along certain lines, it is but a short step to influencing much of U.S. international business practice and -- insofar as such persons also have political clout -- to influencing Government policy toward U.S. international business.

The process of Trilateral selection from the academic professions is less clear. "Ascent" to Trilateral Commission membership does not seem to depend on membership in any secret order, such as "Skull and Bones" at Yale, as some writers assert. Rather, it seems an offshoot of the academic mentor system, through which promising students receive special attention and professional sponsorship under the tutelage of one or more established academic patrons -- who themselves advance their reputations and spread their viewpoints by manipulating (guiding) the careers of their proteges. This system, which often does involve some unannounced quid pro quo, has functioned in one form or another since the Middle Ages. It is commonly referred to as the "old boy network," and it is the way power often has been pursued in many walks of life.

The careers of two of the leading Trilateralists are illustrative. Phyllis Schlafly and Chester Ward's Kissinger on the Couch chronicles Henry Kissinger's rise to power through the ranks of academia. In 1942, Henry Kissinger was a private in the U.S. Army. His initial introduction to the academic old boy network came when he caught the attention of Col. Fritz Kraemer, twice a Ph.D., who became his first mentor. Kraemer interested Kissinger in philosophy, political theory, and international relations and helped arrange a scholarship at Harvard for his protege after the war. His second mentor was William Yandell Elliot, who sponsored his graduate career and an instructorship at Harvard. In this position Kissinger came to the attention of Hamilton Fish Armstrong, editor of The Council on Foreign Relations' publication Foreign Affairs. Armstrong agreed to publish several of the young Kissinger's articles.

This ought not to seem too surprising, since the senior faculty members at schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are generally the "best connected," most faculty members having made the rounds of many other institutions before receiving "the call" to one of the Ivies. Senior faculty often promote the careers of their junior colleagues by introducing them to likely publishers. But as Schlafly and Ward observe: "A simple article in Foreign Affairs will not make a career -- but three or four will launch one off to a good start."

From Harvard, the next step was an invitation to join the CER as "Director of Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy Studies." Here, Kissinger met the Rockefellers, Nelson and David. They appointed him director of the "Special Studies Project" for the Rockefeller fund in 1956, from which position he could direct the flow of financial support to those who -- like himself -- showed intellectual promise and espoused a viewpoint consistent with his own and that of leading CFR thinkers. From there, Kissinger had but a short step to "public service."

This pattern: university faculty member, to think-tank fellow (any one of dozens), to CFR-Trilateral membership -- then in and out of government or quasi-government positions and private positions with multinational corporations, commercial banks, or investment banks (Kissinger served on the board of Shearson/American Express) -- is typical of the careers of Trilateral intellectuals.

Zbigniew Brzezinski's career somewhat paralleled Kissinger's. Brzezinski received first-class honors at McGill University, went on to the graduate school at Harvard (Ph.D., 1955), joined the Harvard faculty (Assistant Professor of Government, 1956-60), became Director of the Research Institute on International Change (1962-77), joined the Trilateral Commission as its first Director (1973-76), and then entered government as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (1977-81).

For those who want to exercise authority over their fellow men (many academics seem less interested in accumulating wealth than in leading others) there is an established path to power. The degree to which secrecy -- or conspiracy -- plays a part in it cannot be reliably ascertained. But there is much about it that ought to invite closer scrutiny. As events have turned, the Trilateral Commission-CFR alliance between the money brokers and the intellectuals has been and is a potent persuasive force for global mischief making.


  1. See Glossary of Organizations for brief descriptions of a number of organizations frequently associated with conspiracy theories and global "management" policies.
  2. From information in "The Trilateral Commission," The Freeman Digest, Vol. VI, No.7, January 15, 1978, published by the Freeman Institute.