Current hiring rules at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) prevent the agency from offering a job to anyone who has used marijuana within the past three years. And that has an impact on the federal government’s ability to recruit talented hackers to wage the increasingly prominent fight against cybercrime by virtue of the fact that many coders are also cannabis enthusiasts.
But there are signs that the FBI may be coming to terms with the fact that the current policy stands in the way of hiring the best of the best.
The agency recently launched a pilot program in its Pittsburgh office to train high school students in computer security. The hope is to reach would-be cybercrime fighters before they have a chance to experiment with marijuana, which would make them fail background checks.
“We know the talent we need and we need to go earlier and get to people when they’re making career and life decisions,” Christopher Geary, a supervisory special agent in the cyber division at FBI’s Pittsburgh office, told The Financial Times.
Scott Smith, the special agent in charge of FBI’s Pittsburgh office, went on CNBC on Tuesday to discuss the new program, and he was asked about the agency’s marijuana policy. “The FBI is always evolving,” he said in response.
Smith went on to say that he didn’t think the hiring ban would be completely done away with anytime soon. “I don’t think that you need to change the entire policy to fit something that is a decision that may not be what we’re looking for,” he said.
But there are other indicators that the marijuana issue is on the bureau’s radar as a problem that needs to be addressed.
“We found that the recruitment and retention of cyber personnel is an ongoing challenge for the FBI,” a July report from Department of Justice’s inspector general said. An FBI official interviewed by investigators “told us that the FBI loses a significant number of people who may be interested because of the FBI’s extensive background check process and other requirements, such as all employees must be United States citizens and must not have used marijuana in the past 3 years, and cannot have used any other illegal drug in the past 10 years.”
And last May, FBI Director James Comey made headlines by insinuating that his agency’s anti-marijuana policies meant he couldn’t hire otherwise qualified hackers to defend the nation’s electronic assets. “I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” he said.
Comey later walked the comments back in response to questions from members of Congress, saying that he didn’t have plans to change the drug policy.
But as more states legalize marijuana and American attitudes continue to shift away from supporting prohibition, the FBI will likely feel increasing pressure to revise the policy if it wants to continue prioritizing the fight against cybercrime.