It was about 6:20 p.m. on a cold, dank day in Brussels, Belgium. The husky, gray-haired man had just stepped out of the elevator, walked a few paces down the hallway, and was unlocking his sixth floor apartment door when someone stepped behind him and fired three rounds from a silenced automatic into his back. The man crumpled to the concrete floor. Nobody heard the low pop of the fired bullets. But the shooter was not finished. Leaning down he fired two more rounds into the back of the man’s head. When the Brussels police arrived 20 minutes later, they found the man’s lifeless body lying in a widening pool of blood. The unopened door to the man’s apartment still had the key in its lock. The man’s briefcase appeared untouched. Police found papers, financial documents and nearly $20,000 in cash inside the case.
Astute television viewers may have noticed that many of the stock films being shown by the networks to depict Iraq’s military capabilities feature images from that nation’s exploits with the infamous Project Babylon. Also called Doomsday Gun, Project Babylon was the brainchild of a brilliant astrophysicist named Gerald Victor Bull. The story of Bull’s life leading to his unsolved assassination in Brussels on March 22, 1990, is riddled with intrigue, the tangled story of a well-intentioned, obsessed man hopelessly caught within that all-consuming whirling vortex called intelligence and national security. In many ways, Bull’s story reads like a Tom Clancy novel gone amok. It is replete with enough codenames, secret and double agents, arms dealers, exotic weapons and strange deaths to split the seams of any conspiracy pinata.
Gerald Bull, an Ontario-born United States citizen, was first contacted by the Iraqi government in 1981. Officials there told Bull that they needed his expertise to build a supergun that could be used against Iran. The Iraqis told Bull he had been highly recommended by the governments of South Africa and Austria. They also said that they were prepared to compensate him very well for his services.
Bull soon flew to Iraq and, according to several published accounts, personally met with Saddam Hussein. David Silverberg, managing editor of The Hill, says that Hussein was so taken with Bull’s sales pitch that he “downed a bottle of Johnny Walker Red and called up his cronies in the middle of the night, insisting that they rush right over to hear Bull.”
Others say that reports of meetings between Bull and Saddam Hussein are not true and that Bull didn’t travel to Iraq until several years later. James Adams of London’s Sunday Times says that Bull was approached in 1981 by notorious Florida-based arms dealer Sarkis Soghanalian, “who suggested a trip to Baghdad.” Adams says that Soghanalian told Bull that “the Iraqis were interested in buying some of Bull’s artillery” and that Bull “traveled with Soghanalian to Baghdad where the two men met with the Iraqi defense minister.”
Soghanalian is said to have first entered the arms business full-time after he made millions providing the Christian militias in Lebanon with weapons at the request of the CIA. In late 1998, Soghanalian brokered a CIA-sanctioned arms sale to the Peruvian military that resulted in 50,000 surplus AK-47s being diverted to narco-guerrillas in Columbia.
How Bull knew Soghanalian to begin with is not clear. Former State Department officials say that he didn’t and that Soghanalian made a “cold approach” to Bull at the request of the Iraqis. Adams writes that “Bull was nervous about getting involved with Soghanalian, whom he considered to be a shady character” and that Bull soon “decided to sever all connections with him.” Former intelligence officials confidentially report that Bull “was pretty nervous about Sarkis” but that “his (Bull’s) contacts within the U.S. government assured him that Soghanalian was OK.”
Despite Soghanalian’s seeming largess, it appears he wasn’t doing Gerald Bull any favors. Soghanalian is an ostensible fringe player in Bull’s story that deserves more attention. During the 1980s, according to intelligence sources, Soghanalian routinely flew American businessmen and scientists to Iraq. Joseph J. Trento, author of “The Secret History of the CIA,” says that Soghanalian also “flew Iraqi officials, including two intelligence agents, to the United States” during the 1980s.
“I flew people in and out at the CIA’s request,” Soghanalian told Trento. “I did it as a favor to the government. I did not ask questions.” Trento reports that the Iraqi visitors traveled under phony passports. Regardless of disagreement over details of Bull’s meetings in Iraq, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein’s defense ministry contracted with Bull’s company, Space Research Corp., to build at least three superguns and that Saddam Hussein told Bull that it was imperative that he produce the weapons as quickly as possible. Iraq desperately needed the superguns in its sagging war with Iran.
Just days after Bull’s murder, Saddam Hussein made a speech in which he said, “A Canadian citizen with U.S. nationality came to Iraq. … He might have benefited Iraq, I don’t know. They say the Iraq intelligence service is spread over Europe. But nobody spoke of human rights of the Canadian citizen of U.S. nationality. After he came to Iraq, they killed him.”
According to people who knew Bull well, his passion for designing superguns began as a young boy when he became enthralled with the mammoth cannon the Germans used during World War I to bombard Paris. Variously called the Paris Gun and Lange Max, the weapon was employed for “strategic as opposed to tactical purposes,” in that it was meant to strike terror into the hearts and minds of French citizens. The Paris Gun could fire a shell nearly 70 miles in 170 seconds reaching an altitude of over 20 miles. The French first became aware of the German supergun early on the morning of March 23, 1918, when, over a period of 24 hours, two dozen huge shells were fired into Paris, killing 15 people and wounding 40 others.
In 1991, a former British intelligence official reported that Bull’s long-time fascination with the Paris Gun actually led to his securing the long-hidden designs for the German supergun. Bull also obtained top-secret designs on two Nazi superguns captured during World War II. One of these guns was reported to be the prototype V-3, which was destroyed by British bombers before it was fired.
Weapons experts with the Federation of American Scientists report that Bull, under the auspices of Project Babylon, “designed two advanced self-propelled artillery systems for the Iraqis.” These were the 210-millimeter Al-Fao and the 155-millimeter Majnoon. The Al-Fao supergun weighed 48 tons and could fire four 109-kilogram rounds a minute for 35 miles from its 11-meter barrel at a speed of about 80 kilometers an hour. Federation of American Scientists experts also report that Bull helped Iraq increase the range of its Scud missiles.
Other reports reveal that in 1988 and 1989, Iraq, with Bull’s assistance, also built a supergun called Baby Babylon, which had “an expected range of 465 miles.” Baby Babylon, according to Iraqi defectors, was to be used for “long-range attacks, possibly using chemical and biological warheads.” Defectors also reported that there was talk of the possibility of arming Baby Babylon shells with nuclear warheads and also using them as anti-satellite weapons. Bull was paid nearly $25 million alone for work on Baby Babylon.
Blueprints of Bull’s Project Babylon publicly revealed for the first time in 1994 that one of its 350-millimeter superguns fired a 12-foot-long projectile dubbed the Babylon II, which had a 48-pound payload. Babylon II projectiles had muzzle speeds of 4,270 feet per second. Military officials in the Middle East estimate that nearly 250,000 Iranians, most of them males in either their early teens or over the age of 60, died from fierce artillery shelling during Iraq’s eight-year war with Iran.
The road to Baghdad for Gerald Bull was far from being an easy one. After graduating with a PhD in aerodynamics from the University of Toronto in 1951, Bull quickly made his mark in armament history by designing a 120-foot-long supergun for the U.S. Army. Remarkably, the gun fired a projectile over 100 miles into space, but the army was under intensive financial pressures at the time due to the Vietnam War and was unable to pursue development of Bull’s super-weapon.
By the 1970s, Bull was designing and marketing prototype artillery through his own company, Space Research Corp., established on 8,000 acres in rural North Troy and Jay, Vt., just inches away from the Canadian border. Townspeople in the quiet little Vermont hamlets were astounded to see representatives from South Africa, China and Iraq visiting their area for meetings at the SRC compound, which featured a large test-firing range.
Many of Bull’s foreign visitors were referred to SRC by Pentagon and CIA officials stationed abroad and in Washington, D.C. According to the Washington Post, in the mid-1970s, South African government representatives were sent to SRC by U.S. Marine Major John J. Clancey III, who was part of the CIA’s covert operations team in Angola. South Africa, at the time, was engaged in a war in Angola that involved Cuban forces amply armed with Soviet-made heavy artillery.
Bull’s dealings with South Africa eventually landed him in jail. Under U.S. laws in the mid-1970s, American companies were forbidden to export arms to South Africa. For a brief time, Bull was able to sidestep these anti-apartheid statutes by assisting South African armament companies to develop their own weapons. His dealings with South African company ARMSCOR resulted in his arrest and guilty plea to one count of smuggling 30,000 artillery shells to South Africa through the West Indies. Despite his U.S. Army ties, combined with intense lobbying on his behalf by the CIA and the recommendation of federal prosecutors that he serve no time, Bull was sentenced to six months in jail.
Former U.S. intelligence operatives confidentially say that Bull was “double-crossed” by other international arms dealers who may have had better connections with the Army and CIA than he did. “This is a game that sometimes involves millions of dollars for simply arranging the proper shipping manifests,” said one intelligence official. “When the stakes are that high you sleep with one eye open, if you sleep at all.”
Bull’s close CIA connections, scoffed at by some, appear quite real and convoluted. When reports of his South Africa dealings first became public, Bull quickly hired Richard Bissell as a consultant. Bissell was the CIA’s former deputy director of plans. He is the man most often credited with coining the term “executive action” as a euphemism for assassination. Former CIA officials, including Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, have said that Bissell took “an abstract, detached approach to murder in the name of national security.” Newsweek bureau chief Evan Thomas wrote that Gottlieb told him that Bissell had a “proclivity for technical solutions” when it came to assassinations. Bissell, as has been widely reported, was deeply involved in at least eight assassination attempts against Fidel Castro and other foreign nationals. According to former SRC associates, Bull viewed Bissell as “someone who could open difficult doors and help him keep the wolves at bay.”
Besides working with Bissell, there have been reports over the past decade that Bull also had contacts with former CIA directors William E. Colby and Stansfield Turner. Turner’s involvement with Bull took place in the late 1960s before he became head of the CIA. Reports have been published that Turner, then a Navy admiral, was a strong proponent for the Navy’s hiring of Bull to revamp its artillery system. Colby, at the time of his alleged dealings with Bull, had left the CIA and was a lawyer and consultant aligned with several firms, including Rogovin, Stern & Huge. Like Bull, Colby died under mysterious circumstances in 1996 while on a solo canoe outing in Maryland.
Gerald Bull was not the only person connected to Iraq’s weapons programs to die under mysterious circumstances. In 1980, Yahia El Meshad, the Egyptian-born head of Iraq’s Atomic Energy Agency, was beaten to death in a Paris hotel room. Meshad’s wallet, which contained a sizable amount of cash and numerous credit cards, was not taken from the murder scene. Whoever killed Meshad placed a “Do Not Disturb” card on his door before departing. According to the London Daily Telegraph, Meshad was murdered “one year after an Israeli sabotage team broke into a warehouse in Toulon, France, where the ‘beehive’ cores of two nuclear reactors destined for Iraq were stored.” In 1990, the Washington Times reported, “French police kept the murder secret for four days while the Foreign Ministry reassured the Iraqis that French Intelligence was not involved.”
Then in 1990, only a week before Bull was assassinated, on March 15, Iraq executed an Iranian-born British investigative journalist named Farzad Bazoft. Bazoft was hung in the Abu Ghreib prison after he and British citizen Daphne Parrish were arrested by Iraqi secret police near one of Bull’s supergun sites. Bazoft was said to be in Iraq researching a story, but before his execution he allegedly wrote a confession that stated in shaky handwriting that he had been employed to go to Iraq to gather information on Gerald Bull and a chemical expert named Steve Adams. Bazoft identified his employer as “a British oil company executive with security service links,” according to reports published in London newspapers shortly after his execution.
Bazoft’s statement in part reads: “I was told there were two American scientists working at [a suspected chemical weapons] installation and I was asked to investigate them. The scientists were called Gerald Bull and Steven Adams, the first being a specialist in rocket science, the second a specialist in chemical weaponry. I was eager to catch Dr. Bull at the plant. I was told the installation was designed by Dr. Bull to launch missiles at Iran and Israel with chemicals created by Mr. Adams.”
Bazoft’s employer, the Observer, a British newspaper, said that he was not doing anything in Iraq other than working on a story. According to British and Saudi intelligence sources, Steven Adams was in Brussels on March 21, 1990, and is said to have been the person to first discover Bull’s body. Immediately after that, according to the Washington Times, Adams vanished, possibly because “Iraq’s defense ministry [was] concerned he might also be a target.” Sources told the Times that the defense ministry “diverted an Iraqi Air jet on a direct flight from Baghdad to Manchester to get [Adams] out of Belgium.”
Nearly 12 years past his assassination, nobody has been arrested for Gerald Bull’s murder. Speculation looms large that the act was committed by the CIA or the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service. There have also been theories advanced that the Iranian government sent a hit team to Belgium to kill Bull. Certainly the deaths of nearly a quarter-million Iranians due to his superguns seems motive enough, but no other proof of Iranian responsibility has been offered. Speculation about the CIA centers on the theory that, after having given Bull the tacit go-ahead to work in Iraq, the agency, because of shifting geopolitical factors, performed a flip-flop suddenly making Bull and his Iraq endeavors a huge liability.
Bull’s son, Michael, who helped run SRC, initially thought the Israelis killed his father. But, according to Canadian journalist Dale Grant, Michael has “broached the idea that the CIA did it, because his father was applying for a U.S. pardon on his arms-smuggling conviction.” In 1992, Christopher Cowley, a 56-year-old British engineer who worked briefly for SRC, testified before a House of Commons committee in London that he and Bull had kept U.S. and British intelligence officials informed about their work in Iraq. Cowley also told the committee that he believed that the Mossad was responsible for Bull’s assassination. According to a 1992 Washington Post foreign service dispatch, Cowley “speculated that the CIA must have been tipped off by the Mossad and thus had acquiesced in the assassination.”
Another theory is that the British government, headed by Margaret Thatcher, ordered former SAS intelligence agents to kill Bull because he was taking lucrative Iraq contracts away from arms companies controlled by influential British businessmen. In 1998, journalist Walter De Bock wrote in a Flemish daily newspaper, De Morgen, that Bull’s death and dealings in Iraq had connections to the assassination of a British journalist. On March 31, 1990, a little over a week after Bull’s murder, Jonathan Moyle was found hanging with a pillow case over his head in a hotel room in Santiago, Chile. Moyle, 28, had traveled to Chile to investigate a story on secret British involvement in weapons traffic to Iraq. Moyle’s death was initially ruled a suicide by Chilean police, and the British foreign office promoted vicious rumors that he had died in a bizarre sex ritual. Later, Moyle’s death was ruled a murder by a panel of Chilean judges. A British coroner agreed with the judges’ finding. The re-investigations discovered a needle mark on Moyle’s leg and drugs in his stomach. Murder disguised as suicide has long been a lethal tactic favored by intelligence agencies.
Despite Gerald Bull’s death and the destruction of his superguns by U.N. inspectors after the 1991 Gulf War, his legacy in the Middle East continues. Earlier this month, the London Daily Telegraph and Washington Times reported that Iraq is attempting to revitalize Project Babylon and is building a new 33-foot-long supergun “capable of firing biological and chemical shells” with equipment illegally obtained from German companies. German law-enforcement officials have arrested at least two men who obtained equipment for the Iraq superguns and arranged for it to be exported in 1999 to Jordan, from where it was shipped to Iraq.
H.P. Albarelli Jr. is an investigative reporter and writer who lives in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. Albarelli’s forthcoming book on Frank Olson’s mysterious death (see related stories above) will be available on ShopNetDaily early next year.