NEW YORK — Richard F. 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, died on June 9 in Williamsburg, Va. He was 86.
The cause was complications from a fall at his home in Williamsburg, said his daughter, Sarah Sullivan.
The Iran-contra scandal, exposed in 1986, involved the sale of weapons to Iran by the US 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 J. Casey, who was director of central intelligence during the scandal, died as congressional hearings into the matter began. President Ronald Reagan had replaced Casey with William H. Webster, the former director of the FBI.
Webster persuaded Mr. Stolz, an Amherst classmate who had retired in 1981 after 30 years at the CIA, to come back and replace Clair E. George, who had been forced to resign as head of covert operations. Mr. 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 D. Murray, a former CIA officer. ‘‘He had a very high reputation, and a high regard for probity.’’
Mr. Stolz was aware that he had been chosen to help repair the agency’s image because, having been away from the CIA for so long, he was not tainted by Iran-contra, Murray said.
Thomas Twetten, who served as Mr. 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 defense and intelligence spending, Mr. Stolz helped plan for the agency’s future. He broadened the focus of the directorate of operations to include counterterrorism and the international drug trade. He also set up a system to reevaluate 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.