Jeremy J. Stone, director of the Federation of American Scientists, is addicted to ideas. New or old, strange or simple, he relishes kneading them like dough between the fingers.
He calls the federation his "idea factory." His version of lobbying is not to walk the halls of Congress or to send young people out to knock on doors. Instead, he and his staff turn out academic, fact-filled papers. Occasionally he finds a clever way to get the idea across to the right people in Washington.
"Someone said we are kind of an academic halfway house," Stone said. Halfway between science and politics. "What we want to be is a group that produces catalytic ideas. By definition a chemical catalyst triggers a change but is not itself changed."
The federation was founded in 1945 by a group of scientists who helped build the atomic bomb and after the war felt a personal responsibility to curb its use. One of the group's first successful efforts was to press for the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission in an effort to keep control of the bomb in civilian hands.
Stone has cleverly made use of his constituency -- scientists -- to give his organization clout.
In 1970, Stone had one Nobel laureate as a sponsor. By 1974, he had 30 Nobel laureates on the federation letterhead. Now, the number is 45 -- half of all the living laureates in the United States and one-quarter of all those in the world, Stone said. That single stroke did much to put the struggling federation back on the Washington map.
Stone is 50 now, with some graying in his black wavy hair. Conservative suits hang on his lean frame.
His talents emerged early. He comes from a cerebral clan -- his father is the eminent journalist I.F. Stone, his sister, Celia, is a recognized poet, and his brother, Christopher, is a professor of law at the University of Southern California.
Stone is also intensely competitive. He eagerly awaited his 45th birthday so that he might compete in 45-and-over tennis tournaments.
He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in two years. Then he became "assistant professor of 3-D chess" at the New School for Social Research in New York. He actually taught the subject -- chess played on several translucent boards simultaneously, with pieces that can move up and down from board to board as well as square to square on any one board.
He earned a degree, with high honors, in mathematics from Swarthmore College, where he married classmate and mathematician B.J. Yannet. The two went to Stanford to graduate school.
A few summers of work at places such as the Rand Corp., while he was earning his PhD, convinced him that being among researchers pitching ideas was more exciting than exponential polynomials.
Soon he went to work for someone whose ideas he abhorred -- the Hudson Institute under Herman Kahn -- with the promise that he would be able to pursue his own thoughts. He quickly found himself in combat. He would put together a paper contradicting some of Kahn's ideas, "Then Kahn would get up, tell a few stories, a few jokes, and whack, bam, I'd hit the floor," he said. "I'd come back a couple months later and try it again."
In 1970 Stone became director and sole staff member of the Federation of American Scientists. From the beginning, he put a strong stamp on the organization.
In the first 10 years he wrote the monthly federation newsletter himself. That meant long, substantial reports on aspects of arms control -- the chief subject at the federation since its formation.
These reports, now produced by staff as well as Stone, have remained the core of the organization's influence. John Pike, the federation's respected researcher on the "Star Wars" missile defense program, said that "to the extent anyone listens to us, it's because of what we have to say, rather than because we represent a quarter million or some other large number of people."
One of the issues Stone is given credit for influencing is the antiballistic missile treaty in 1972. He made numerous trips to the Soviet Union to lecture and cajole and explain. His wife B.J. learned Russian to act as interpreter, and later Chinese for ventures to China.
But in the end, he said, one person alone can take ideas only so far. He pitched the Soviets hard, but found that when they agreed on the need for a treaty, they recast the notion in their way.
Something similar happens in moving ideas around Washington, Stone said. "You can't make policy, get ideas going, from the outside. On any issue that you have an idea, you can find someone better positioned to carry it . . . .
"You may generate a very good idea, but you will find people in Washington are intensely interested in how it can be modified to make it their own, or to make it not like that of a previous administration. You have to craft ideas simply, and if you put them out, do it quietly at first so someone else can adopt the idea."
Over the years, the federation took on more arms control issues. The group helped push forward the ban on atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons and the antiballistic missile treaty. Stone did not directly oppose the SALT II strategic arms treaty, but unlike some arms control groups, he criticized it for not requiring an arms reduction.
More recently, the federation has done influential work against President Reagan's Star Wars concept and on nuclear freeze proposals. It has sparked a debate over whether it would be illegal for the president to make a first-strike nuclear attack without consulting Congress.
Stone said he is considered a moderate in Europe -- which has a great diversity of political parties -- but a leftist here. It is important to understand the tilt of things and to take account of that in trying to persuade or to plant ideas, he said.
"The Teflon quality of the Reagan presidency is a corollary to this," he said. "It comes from a structural fact. People are more tolerant of things coming from the right . . . . People lobbying from the left are much more the petitioners, with less standing than those from the right."
Stone's critics say the backside of his parade of ideas and academic studies is that he -- and now the group -- work alone on his agenda, rather than with other groups on mutual goals and with mutually agreed tactics. He simply shuts off such participation, critics say.
Thomas A. Halsted, a longtime arms control specialist in and out of government, now a private consultant in Massachusetts, said that whatever the criticisms, "Certainly Jeremy has been around a long time in the same role. That is very unusual in Washington. He has been steadfastly in there for 15 years or more. There is a lot of confidence in him and the quality of his work."
Stone gets unqualified credit for spreading the roots of the federation. When he took over the organization it had 1,000 members, no sponsors and a budget of about $7,000. The group is now a "hard core" of 5,000, who pay dues from $25 for a year to $1,000 for a life membership. Sponsors include the 45 Nobel Laureates, and the annual budget is $500,000.
One of Stone's better maneuvers was to solicit gifts to buy town houses on Capitol Hill. The federation now has five. The properties become the endowment, the rents become salaries for researchers, and the investments grow.
"I'd like to leave America this federation," Stone said. "I got it from some atomic scientists, and I will leave it with some kind of endowment. I want to beef up the federation so that it will be here even if the arms race is not."
On his trips abroad Stone leaves an envelope behind to be opened in the event of his death. In it is a note: "Don't sell the buildings.