Dick Stolz, CIA’s top spymaster, dies at 86

Dick Stolz, a veteran intelligence officer whose poise and integrity as the CIA’s top spymaster brought stability to the agency’s clandestine service in the aftermath of the Iran-contra affair, died June 9 at a hospital in Williamsburg. He was 86.

He had complications from a fall, said his son Richard Stolz III.

Mr. Stolz joined the CIA in 1950 and became one of the agency’s most respected covert officers, serving in Cold War hot spots around Eastern Europe before he became the chief of Soviet operations in the mid-1970s.

“There is nothing ‘cowboy’ about Dick,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), a former member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a tribute to Mr. Stolz in 1991. “He epitomizes the careful, calm intelligence operator.”

Mr. Stolz was serving as chief of station in London in 1981 when President Ronald Reagan appointed William Casey to be director of the CIA

Not long after, Casey approached Mr. Stolz and offered him a new position. Casey had tapped his campaign aide, Max Hugel, to be his deputy responsible for covert action. Asked by Casey to assist Hugel, who had no experience in intelligence, Mr. Stolz promptly refused and retired from the CIA.

Within months, Hugel resigned from the agency amid accusations of financial wrongdoing by former business associates. A respected CIA veteran, Clair E. George, eventually took Hugel’s place as deputy director for operations.

During the mid-1980s, George became ensnared in an operation to sell weapons to Iran and divert the profits to right-wing Nicaraguan rebels known as the contras. The White House-led mission was supported by the CIA and violated a congressional mandate restricting open U.S. support to the contras.

George was forced to resign in 1987 for his role in Iran-contra. Casey died the same year. Reagan appointed former FBI director and federal judge William H. Webster to take over the deeply shaken agency.

Seeking a steady hand to lead the directorate of operations, Webster coaxed his old Amherst College friend, Mr. Stolz, out of retirement.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday, Webster said he had “total respect” for Mr. Stolz. “He was the kind of person that would help me restore confidence and credibility in the agency. I felt that Dick’s background in intelligence had been superb, and his personal character and the respect he had within the agency were A number one.”

As deputy director of operations from 1988 to his retirement in 1990, Mr. Stolz led the agency’s spy network around the globe and guided the clandestine branch through a period of transition.

His former deputy, Thomas Twetten, said in an interview Tuesday that Mr. Stolz was one of the first at the CIA to recognize that the agency needed to focus more on counter­terrorism and counter-narcotics operations.

Twetten said Mr. Stolz helped reshape the agency’s mission, “heading the strategic change that prepared us for doing business with new priorities at the end of the Cold War.”

Webster said he admired Mr. Stolz’s “quiet intelligent approach to gathering information.”

But he said that did not mean Mr. Stolz softened the role of U.S. covert action abroad.

“I wanted risk-takers but not risk-seekers,” Webster said. “We did a lot of dangerous things and took a lot of risks. But we did it within the framework of our authority.”

Richard Fallis Stolz Jr. was born Nov. 27, 1925, in Dayton, Ohio, and grew up in Summit, N.J. He served in the Army during World War II and saw combat in France. In 1949, he graduated from Amherst College in Massachusetts and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.

He received the CIA’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal and was awarded the National Security Medal by President George H.W. Bush.

Survivors include his wife of 62 years, Betty Elder Stolz of Williamsburg; three children, Sarah Sullivan of Alexandria, Richard Stolz III of Rockville and Robert Stolz of McLean; and seven grandchildren.

As a young CIA officer, Mr. Stolz specialized in Soviet operations and served postings overseas in Italy, West Germany, Turkey and Bulgaria.

He was serving as chief of station in Moscow under State Department cover in 1965 when he was declared “persona non grata” by Russian authorities. He was accused of espionage and kicked out of the country during a series of tit-for-tat spy expulsions between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

His dismissal made front-page news of The Post and the New York Times. It also gained notice at the CIA. To be “PNGed,” as it is known in spy parlance, is a badge of distinction inside the halls of Langley.

“You can’t do any better than that,” Twetten said in an interview. “It means he was doing his job.”

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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