Stephen W. Preston


Chair, Defense, National Security and Government Contracts Practice


Stephen Preston counsels clients on their most complex and sensitive issues involving defense, intelligence and national security. A former General Counsel of the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), he has a wealth of experience in investigations, litigation, federal procurement, False Claims Act, CFIUS, cybersecurity, strategic counseling, and crisis management. Before returning to WilmerHale in 2015, Mr. Preston was the senior-most, longest-serving national security counsel appointed in the Obama Administration, and the only person ever to have served as the chief legal officer of both DoD and CIA.

Mr. Preston was appointed General Counsel of DoD by President Obama in October 2013, after serving as General Counsel of CIA since 2009. During his six years in the Administration, he played a leading role in ensuring that the United States' military operations and intelligence activities fully complied with domestic and international law. His responsibilities included a wide range of issues affecting companies dealing with the government, including competition and M&A review, foreign ownership and control restrictions, cyber intrusions, criminal and civil enforcement, and congressional investigations. Mr. Preston was a key legal adviser on many of the country's most challenging and consequential national security endeavors, including the run-up to the operation against Osama bin Laden in 2011, the ongoing US mission in Afghanistan post-2014, the emerging mission to counter ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and the use of remotely piloted aircraft in counterterrorism operations abroad, among other high-level and confidential legal matters. 

Mr. Preston first joined WilmerHale in 1986 and became a partner in 1991. He left the firm in 1993 to become Principal Deputy General Counsel of DoD during the Clinton Administration. In 1995, he moved to the US Department of Justice as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Division, and he served as General Counsel of the Department of the Navy from 1998 to 2000. He returned to the firm in 2001, where he was a partner until 2009.

For his contributions to the nation's security while in office, Mr. Preston has received the highest awards presented to civilians by DoD and CIA, as well as the Department of State, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of the Navy. In 2016, Mr. Preston was appointed to the President's Intelligence Advisory Board, an independent source of advice regarding national intelligence issues composed of distinguished citizens selected from the national security, political, academic and private sectors. 

Honors & Awards

  • National Security Agency Intelligence Under Law Award (2016)
  • Department of State Distinguished Honor Award (2015)
  • Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal (1995, 2000, 2015)
  • National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal (2012, 2013)
  • Central Intelligence Agency Distinguished Intelligence Medal (2012)
  • Department of the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award (2000)

Publications & News


January 31, 2017

False Claims Act: 2016 Year-in-Review

In 2016, the Department of Justice continued to give high priority to False Claims Act investigations and prosecutions. This WilmerHale Client Alert was republished by Pratt's Government Contracting Law Report.

November 1, 2016

Department of Defense Issues Final Version of Key Cybersecurity Rule

On October 21, 2016, the Department of Defense (DoD) issued its final rule on Network Penetration Reporting and Contracting for Cloud Services, amending an interim version issued on August 26, 2015, and revised on December 30, 2015. This WilmerHale Client Alert was also published by Bloomberg BNA's Privacy and Security Law Report on December 19, 2016.

September 16, 2016

WilmerHale Named Industry's Most Impressive Investigations Practice by GIR

WilmerHale has been named the Most Impressive Investigations Practice of the Year by Global Investigations Review for its cross-border work in both high-profile internal and government-led investigations.

June 8, 2016

Stephen Preston Receives National Security Agency Intelligence Under Law Award

The Intelligence Under Law Award is presented annually in recognition of an individual's “commitment to the conduct of intelligence activities under the rule of law.”

June 3, 2016

CFIUS Actions Highlight Focus on Critical Technologies and Infrastructure

In its latest report to Congress, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the US government's interagency body that vets foreign investment with national security implications, reported that it reviewed a record 147 notices in 2014, a 52% increase from 2013. This WilmerHale Client Alert was republished by Wolters Kluwer.

May 17, 2016

Final Government Contractor Basic Data Security Rule Issued

On May 16, the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) Council published the final FAR rule on Basic Safeguarding of Contractor Information Systems. The rule is intended to prescribe “the most basic level” of safeguards, “reflective of actions a prudent business person would employ.”

April 8, 2016

Stephen Preston Appointed to President's Intelligence Advisory Board

On April 8, the White House announced the appointment of Partner Stephen Preston to the President's Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB).

January 12, 2016

False Claims Act: 2015 Year-in-Review

In 2015, the Justice Department continued to give high priority to False Claims Act investigations, bringing in nearly $3.6 billion in settlements and judgments.

December 9, 2015

Former Top Defense Department Lawyer Stephen Preston Rejoins WilmerHale

WilmerHale is pleased to announce that former Department of Defense General Counsel Stephen W. Preston has rejoined the firm.

June 10, 2009

WilmerHale Attorneys Transition to High-Ranking Government Positions

Professional Activities

Mr. Preston has written and spoken widely on a variety of topics relating to law and national security, and he has testified before Congress on several occasions. He is a fellow of the American Bar Foundation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and he has been active with the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security and the American Society of International Law. In 2015, he received an adjunct faculty appointment to teach at Yale Law School as the Oscar M. Ruebhausen Distinguished Visiting Lecturer in International Conflict and Security Law.


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JD, magna cum laude, Harvard Law School, 1983, Editor, Harvard Law Review

BA, summa cum laude, Yale University, 1979, Phi Beta Kappa

Bar Admissions

District of Columbia


The Hon. Phyllis A. Kravitch, US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, 1983 - 1984

Government Experience

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