Pieczenik was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State under Henry Kissinger, Cyrus Vance and James Baker. His expertise includes foreign policy, international crisis management and psychological warfare. He served the presidential administrations of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush in the capacity of deputy assistant secretary.
At the Department of State, he served as a “specialist on hostage taking”. He has been credited with devising successful negotiating strategies and tactics used in several high-profile hostage situations, including the 1976 TWA Flight 355hostage situation and the 1977 kidnapping of the son of Cyprus’ president. He was involved in negotiations for the release of Aldo Moro after Moro was kidnapped. As a renowned psychiatrist, he was utilized as a press source for early information on the mental state of the hostages involved in the Iran hostage crisis after they were freed. In 1977, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Mary McGrory described Stephen Pieczenik as “one of the most ‘brilliantly competent’ men in the field of terrorism”. He worked “side by side” with Police Chief Maurice J. Cullinane in the Washington, D.C. command center of Mayor Walter Washington during the 1977 Hanafi Siege. In 1978, Pieczenik was known as “a psychiatrist and political scientist in the U.S. Department of State whose credentials and experiences are probably unique among officials handling terrorist situations”.
On September 17, 1978 the Camp David Accords were signed. Pieczenik was at the secret Camp David negotiations leading up to the signing of the Accords. He worked out strategy and tactics based on psychopolitical dynamics. He correctly predicted that given their common backgrounds, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin would get along.
In 1979, he resigned as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State over the handling of the Iranian hostage crisis.
In the early 1980s, Pieczenik wrote an article for The Washington Post in which he claimed to have heard a senior U.S. official in the Department of State Operations Center give permission for the attack that led to the death of U.S. Ambassador Adolph Dubs in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1979.
In 2001, Pieczenik operated as chief executive officer of Strategic Intelligence Associates, a consulting firm.
As recently as October 6, 2012, Pieczenik was listed as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). According to Internet Archive, his name was removed from the CFR roster sometime between October 6 and November 18, 2012.Publicly, Pieczenik no longer appears as a member of the CFR.