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Hearing-Impaired Activist and Spy Rocky Stone Dies

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 24, 2004; Page B06

Howard "Rocky" Stone, 79, an advocate of the hard of hearing and a retired Central Intelligence Agency officer who, early in his career, helped foment the 1953 coup that restored the shah of Iran to his throne, died Aug. 13 at Washington Hospital Center. He had adult respiratory distress syndrome.

Mr. Stone suffered profound hearing loss during Army basic training in 1944. More than five decades later, he founded Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (SHHH), which grew to international stature.

CIA Director William E. Colby presents Howard "Rocky" Stone with the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the CIA's highest honor, on Oct. 30, 1975. (Family Photo)

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During his CIA career, he communicated with people by intensely concentrating on facial expressions and body language and using a modicum of lip reading. He said his intense stare sometimes intimidated people into telling the truth.

"He even looks a little like a bulldog," former CIA director Richard Helms said in a published interview. Helms said he considered Mr. Stone one of his best intelligence operatives.

Despite his diminished hearing, Mr. Stone always seemed to be where the action was during his 25-year career as a spy. In addition to his posting in Iran, he was in Pakistan, Vietnam and Nepal, often during times of tension and invariably of intrigue. Based at CIA headquarters, he was chief of operations of the Soviet bloc division from 1968 to 1971.

Mr. Stone was born in Cincinnati and grew up during the Depression. He earned his nickname from his father, an amateur boxer called "The Rock," and from his own scrappy nature.

"Our father left when I was seven years old," he told The Washington Post in 1989, "and we had no income except what we were able to develop ourselves."

To help support his mother and two sisters, he ran a corner newsstand as a boy and, at 14, was managing the busiest dairy bar in Cincinnati.

During World War II, his military service ended prematurely when he lost much of his hearing from being around explosions in training exercises.

He didn't realize the severity of his hearing loss until he enrolled as a business student at the University of Southern California in 1945. He found that he was missing much of the class lectures and discussions. He heard enough, however, to know he hated studying business.

He switched to international affairs, graduating with honors in 1949 and winning a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He was recruited to the fledgling CIA in 1950.

For his first foreign assignment, Mr. Stone helped orchestrate the coup that restored Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to the Iranian throne. In a 1979 Wall Street Journal profile, he recalled buttoning the uniform of Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi, the CIA's man in the Iranian military and the shah's newly designated prime minister. The general was too nervous to dress himself.

Mr. Stone also recalled his own young wife: at their home in Iran, sitting in a rocking chair, a pistol hidden under her knitting as she guarded Ardeshir Zahedi, the general's 25-year-old son and a friend of the CIA. The younger Zahedi, in later years, would serve as the shah's ambassador to the United States.

He also recounted a victory party at the CIA station the night the coup succeeded. According to the Journal, Gen. Zahedi and his son came up to Mr. Stone and exulted: "We're in. . . . We're in. . . . What do we do now?"

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