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Bilderberg 2012: Global Leaders Gather For Shadowy Conference At Virginia Hotel (UPDATED)

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U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is on the guest list for this year's annual Bilderberg conference being held near Dulles International Airport.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is on the guest list for this year's annual Bilderberg conference being held near Dulles International Airport.

WASHINGTON -- Conspiracy theorists, world leaders, protesters and lots of law enforcement officers are turning out for the annual invitation-only gathering of business and government elites being held at a Virginia hotel near Dulles International Airport outside the nation's capital.

The annual Bilderberg meeting, which started Thursday and wraps up this weekend is being held this year at the Westfields Marriott about 25 miles from the White House.

The meeting brings together "broad cross-section of leading citizens" for "nearly three days of informal and off-the-record discussion about topics of current concern especially in the fields of foreign affairs and the international economy" according to the Bilderberg website. The first meeting was held in 1954, at the Hotel de Bilderberg in the Netherlands.

Who the leading citizens are and the issues discussed has been a matter of much speculation, helping contribute to Bilderberg's shadowy reputation. One theory is that the Bilderberg participants are responsible for choosing the United States' next president -- or, at the very least, are choosing Mitt Romney's vice presidential runningmate.

British actor Charlie Skelton, who has reported on Bilderberg for the Guardian for a few years, suggests another big topic likely to come up:

Aside from the US presidency, the big debate of Bilderberg 2012 is likely to be: what in Hades do we do about Greece? The Eurozone is Bilderberg's biggest project, but it's been looking distinctly shaky of late. What's to be done?

As befits a somewhat secretive meeting of the world's rich and powerful, Bilderberg draws protesters. The Washington Times reports that because an especially large number of protesters expected this year, security at the hotel has been beefed up to what some are saying is an "unprecedented" level:

A perimeter of about a half-mile has been set up around the Northern Virginia hotel, and all non-Bilderberg guests reportedly were kicked out of their rooms. A photographer for The Washington Times was told by law enforcement Wednesday that any attempt to get close to the building would result in arrest.

The Times was leaked a list of attendees to the 2011 meeting and uses this list to speculate about this year's attendees (see update below for the 2012 participants):

Frequent attendees, including Henry A. Kissinger and David Rockefeller, are expected again. A copy of last year’s guest list, leaked to a journalist covering the conference, offers a window into just how much influence Bilderberg guests wield.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Greek Minister of Finance George Papaconstantinou were reportedly among those in attendance at the 2011 meeting in Switzerland.

Global business titans, government officials and political figures rounded out the guest list of more than 100, though skeptics suspect dozens of names, especially of high-profile individuals, are kept off of it.

Canadian politician Alison Redford is also confirmed to be attending this year's conference.

Meeting organizers maintain a publicly available list of Bilderberg Steering Committee members -- included among them are a Belgian viscount and politician, the chairman of Goldman Sachs, the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and some conservative think tank fellows. David Rockefeller is listed as the only member of the Member Advisory Group.

UPDATED, 11:24 a.m.: The meeting's gotten less secretive. The Bilderberg website now lists the 2012 Bilderberg Meeting participants. Among them are Keith B. Alexander from the National Security Agency, H.R.H. Prince Philippe of Belgium, Harvard professor Niall Ferguson, China's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Ying Fu, Russian chess grandmaster and activist Garry Kasparov, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, President of the Environmental Defense Fund Fred Krupp and entrepreneur Peter Thiel. See the whole list here.