Top CIA lawyer considered for Pentagon

The fading divide between military and intelligence operations soon may get another swipe by President Obama’s eraser. The CIA’s top lawyer, Stephen W. Preston, is a leading candidate to replace Jeh Johnson as the next general counsel of the Defense Department, an administration official tells the E-Ring. Preston himself is a hybrid of Langley and ...

Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images
Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images
Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

The fading divide between military and intelligence operations soon may get another swipe by President Obama’s eraser. The CIA’s top lawyer, Stephen W. Preston, is a leading candidate to replace Jeh Johnson as the next general counsel of the Defense Department, an administration official tells the E-Ring.

Preston himself is a hybrid of Langley and the Pentagon. In the Clinton administration he served as acting general counsel at DOD and was principal deputy general counsel from 1993 to 1995. Previously, he was general counsel of the Navy. Preston later was deputy assistant attorney general under Clinton.

Prior to joining CIA, Preston was a partner at the power firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, where he worked on defense contracts.

The fading divide between military and intelligence operations soon may get another swipe by President Obama’s eraser. The CIA’s top lawyer, Stephen W. Preston, is a leading candidate to replace Jeh Johnson as the next general counsel of the Defense Department, an administration official tells the E-Ring.

Preston himself is a hybrid of Langley and the Pentagon. In the Clinton administration he served as acting general counsel at DOD and was principal deputy general counsel from 1993 to 1995. Previously, he was general counsel of the Navy. Preston later was deputy assistant attorney general under Clinton.

Prior to joining CIA, Preston was a partner at the power firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, where he worked on defense contracts.

In April, Preston gave a speech at Harvard Law School, where he earned his law degree in 1983, on CIA and the rule of law, arguing that intelligence operations permeate most national security crises.

“It may be that intelligence has never been more important than it is today. At the very least, the intel business is booming,” he said.

Preston’s speech was a list of assurances that everything the agency does strictly adheres to U.S. law, as well as other internal and external checks.

“Just as ours is a nation of laws, the CIA is an institution of laws and the rule of law is integral to Agency operations.”

Preston, a Yale graduate, also gave an interview to Yale Undergraduate Law Review, in which he said he was struck by the greater coordination between intelligence and military operations when he joined CIA in 2009 than when he previously served at DOD in the 1990s.

Asked where he may end up after CIA, Preston said, “Actually, someone in my position would typically be gone by the end of the first term. As for where I will go … I do not know exactly, and that does not bother me.”

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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