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Recalled chief cleaned up CIA ops after Iran-Contra scandal




27-11-1925 9-6-2012

RICHARD Stolz, a career intelligence officer who was called out of retirement in 1987 to run the CIA's spying operations and cleanse its image after the Iran-Contra scandal, has died following a fall at his home in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was 86.

The Iran-Contra scandal, exposed in 1986, involved the sale of weapons to Iran by the United States government in exchange for US hostages, and the use of the proceeds to help the right-wing Contras who were fighting the socialist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

The whole operation, which involved the CIA, was illegal: there was an arms embargo against Iran, and Congress had banned aid to the Contras.

William Casey, the director of central intelligence during the scandal, died as congressional hearings into the matter began, and president Ronald Reagan replaced Casey with William Webster, the former director of the FBI.

Webster persuaded Stolz, an Amherst College classmate who had retired in 1981 after 30 years at the CIA, to come back and replace Clair George, who had been forced to resign as head of covert operations. Stolz had left the agency after serving in Italy, West Germany, Turkey, Bulgaria and Moscow. In 1965, he was expelled from the Soviet Union on espionage charges.

"He was a guy you went to, to bring the temperature down and get things back on a normal footing," said William Murray, a former CIA officer. "He had a very high reputation, and a high regard for probity."

With Congress on the warpath because of the scandal, Murray said, "Stolz did a good job of coming in and restoring more normal relations with Congress".

Thomas Twetten, who served as Stolz's deputy and later replaced him when he retired for the second time in 1990, said that Webster had been wise to select an old agency hand to assist him.

"He had been head of the white hats, the good guys," Twetten said of Webster's tenure at the FBI, "and all of a sudden the White House assigns him to be in charge of the black hats, the dirty rotten spies."

The fallout from the Iran-Contra affair was not the only delicate matter facing the agency. "This is 1988, 1989, and Dick has been called back from retirement just in time to see the Berlin Wall go down and all of that wonderful turmoil in eastern Europe," Twetten said. "We're sort of shaking our heads and saying, 'Can you imagine? The Cold War is over'."

Suspecting that Congress would want to cut defence and intelligence spending, Stolz helped plan for the agency's future. He broadened the focus of the directorate of operations, as his section was known, to include counterterrorism and the international drug trade. He also set up a system to re-evaluate the many foreign agents working for the CIA.

The purpose of the system, Twetten said, was to ask: "Is it possible this agent is bad? Is he being directed by somebody else? Is he giving us good quality stuff? Is he just doing it for the money, even if he isn't being directed? Is he making it up?"

Some of the foreign agents were let go, he said.

Stolz was born in Dayton, Ohio, and grew up in Summit, New Jersey. He fought in the US Army in France during World War II and graduated from Amherst as a member of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa honour society.

Stolz had quit the agency after Casey gave the job of deputy director for operations to Max Hugel, a Reagan campaign fund-raiser. Hugel lasted only a few months in the job.

In 1991, president George Bush presented Stolz with the National Security Medal for distinguished achievement in the field of intelligence. He was known for treating intelligence officers with compassion for practical reasons, Twetten said. "Any officer who was taking risks, and they were the right risks, and something happened and went bad, he was always very understanding," he said.

"What happens when you do that is the word spreads within the officer cadres 'Hey, it's OK to take risks. The boss will support you as long as the potential gain is much greater than the risk of getting caught'."

Stolz is survived by his wife, Betty, a daughter, two sons, and seven grandchildren.

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