back to article FBI, NSA to hackers: Let us be blunt. Weed need your help. We'll hire you even if you've smoked a little pot in the past

America's crime-fighters, desperate to recruit white-hat hackers to collar spies and cyber-crooks, are quietly and slightly relaxing the ban on hiring anyone who has used illegal drugs. Generally speaking, dabbling in any kind of substance abuse will rule you out of the running for a job at the NSA, Homeland Security, the FBI …

  1. Conundrum1885 Bronze badge

    Depends on your clearance level

    In my experience, just taking off the shelf painkillers without *WRITTEN* permission from your CO can get you in serious trouble

    even if you have a valid reason for taking them.

    I have heard of cases where TS clearance has been revoked because someone failed to disclose a visit out of state, to a

    consultant and a 2 week course of strong opiates for a minor back problem which never returned.

    It only came up because someone went digging and found the original script for said opiates.

    I think they did eventually get the clearance back though but it took years.

    1. simonb_london

      Re: Depends on your clearance level

      Is there any sane reason for that level of strictness or is it just an excuse for persecution?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Depends on your clearance level

        Because drugs are only used by commie hippies, so if you use drugs you are a commie hippie and probably a member of ISIS.

        The 'official' reason is that you might be blackmailed to keep the information that you had used legal weed secret, but that is only an issue if you get fired for using legal weed.

        It's like not hiring gays because they are a blackmail risk if anyone threatened to reveal that they were gay.

      2. BillG
        Holmes

        Re: Depends on your clearance level

        Is there any sane reason for that level of strictness or is it just an excuse for persecution?

        What they are looking for is patterns of behavior. Let that phrase be your guide. Actions do not exist in isolation. If you failed to disclose one misbehavior, then it's assumed you are failing to disclose other misbehaviors as well. Think of "honey, I only cheated on you once, I'll never do it again".

        People have patterns of behavior. Actions do not exist in isolation. I know I'm repeating myself but that's because this is important, not just in getting a clearance but also in all areas of life.

        An alternate way of looking at it is carelessness. If you work for a TLA you are expected to have a good memory and attention to detail. If you simply forgot to disclose, then you might do it again on the job - another pattern of behavior. It's not about persecution, it's about responsibility.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Depends on your clearance level

          So the people that are now at the top, when they were hired 40years ago they were presumably asked if they listened to any of that sinful rock and roll music

          1. Erik4872

            Re: Depends on your clearance level

            I work with tons of ex-military, many of which were working on nuclear propulsion and other state-secret level stuff. Here's what I've been told...The clearance requirements seem like nanny-state stuff and morality hangups, but they're basically there to reduce risk. They're looking to avoid putting people in positions of trust who can be easily compromised. It's not just drugs...they're looking for people who can't manage their finances, for compulsive gamblers, and people who are concealing even small stuff. Examples would be Robert Hanssen (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Hanssen) who was basically doing it for the money, not because he was a die-hard communist or anything like that. What if you had an "expensive" wife/glrlfriend who you can't keep happy on a government salary? Or if you had a compulsion to bet large sums on sporting events and you sometimes frequent "non-sanctioned" gambling environments? It would be much easier for people to apply pressure to you. Someone I worked with in the past was a nuclear officer on a sub, and he told me that the whole reason the clearance was required in the first place was because all someone needed to do would be to take some pictures and funnel some documents to the appropriate sources, and that simple act might get a lot of people killed or expose a critical secret that opened up a vulnerability.

            I think they're relaxing the requirements because the attitude towards recreational pot use has changed. Not everyone agrees but it's no longer a given that anyone who does drugs is a dangerous hippie. And when the FBI/NSA is going after white-hat folks, I think they realize that not everyone applying or who might potentially apply is a traditional conformist 50s crew-cut type.

            1. disgruntled yank Silver badge

              Re: Depends on your clearance level

              My impression is that Robert Hanssen was doing it for the thrills. Aldrich Ames, now...

            2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Depends on your clearance level

              > not everyone applying or who might potentially apply is a traditional conformist 50s crew-cut type.

              But that is the point of the vetting.

              They aren't allowed to ask, do you believe in total obedience to the glorious leader and the superiority of our pure race?

              So instead they ask, have you ever visited the wrong foreign country had a tattoo, smoked weed etc?

              You don't want to hire the sort of person that might object to your spying on the wrong sort of American citizens

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Depends on your clearance level

              FTR what's a "dangerous hippie"?

              1. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

                Re: Depends on your clearance level

                @AC: "FTR what's a "dangerous hippie"?"

                I have long hair, am a member of shooting club, and have studied several martial arts. I don't identify as a hippie, but I occasionally get called, one : -)

            4. localzuk

              Re: Depends on your clearance level

              "It would be much easier for people to apply pressure to you."

              Except, that isn't really true. We are ALL able to be pressured. We all have things we love. Families, friends etc... Why go to all the trouble of pressuring someone with photos of them smoking a joint at an underground poker game surrounded by communists, when you can just get a nutter to buy a gun at Walmart and threaten their family?

      3. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Depends on your clearance level

        "Is there any sane reason for that level of strictness or is it just an excuse for persecution?"

        The biggest worry is people that routinely like to unhook their brains may also be persuaded to talk about what they do at work while they are communing with the unicorns. A new stoner friend might be a spy that will use the advantage of you being stoned with them.

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Depends on your clearance level

      Or to look at it another way: if you're not smart enough to hide your teenaged misdeeds, then you're not smart enough to work for the FBI!

    3. J. R. Hartley Silver badge

      Re: Depends on your clearance level

      That's how they roll.

      1. quxinot Silver badge

        Re: Depends on your clearance level

        Well that's remarkably blunt.

  2. Khaptain Silver badge

    New Acronym

    Fédéral Bureau of Intoxication

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: New Acronym

      Nah... well at least for any potential politician...

      "But I did not Inhale"

      1. Kabukiwookie Silver badge

        Re: New Acronym

        Or admitting you used to smoke weed in college then proceed prosecuting an putting 1600 other people in jail for doing the exact same thing

        1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

          Re: New Acronym

          Or be observed and photographed sniffin' cocaine and do the same thing (Hello British Government)

          1. macjules Silver badge

            Re: New Acronym

            Or being “Minister for the Family” and then being caught sniffing cocaine off your rentboy’s backside .. as happened to a Labour MP.

            1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

              Re: New Acronym

              I think that was a suspicion - I don't believe I ever saw an observation being reported. Mendacious sod though the politician is.

      2. jgarbo

        Re: New Acronym

        I usually hear, "But I did not ejaculate". Is that permissible, too?

  3. DougS Silver badge

    They don't rely on drug tests for past use

    They rely on interviews with friends and family to tell them about your use. They only do those interviews for Top Secret level, and even there they apparently weren't that extensive (based on what those who were interviewed about me said they were asked)

    I assume the really in depth interviews are for the SCI codeword programs beyond Top Secret, about which I have no knowledge/experience. The information I was exposed to marked Top Secret was pretty mundane, so I think you need to go beyond that to get the good stuff. And knowing the government, the REALLY good stuff may well be at some even higher levels about which the acronym itself is classified...

    1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: They don't rely on drug tests for past use

      Well of course the really good stuff is a higher level.. Oh... You meant state secrets... Nevermind, as you were.

      1. AceRimmer1980
        IT Angle

        Re: Hey dudes, the recruitment ad said something about 'super grass'

        Many breads/bagels etc contain poppy seeds, which is probably not recommended for your packed lunch.

    2. macjules Silver badge

      Re: They don't rely on drug tests for past use

      DV clearance in the UK tends to be far more encompassing than just ‘Top Secret’. If you are likely to come into contact with any form of sensitive data or be working within a ‘knife-throw’ of any MP then you can often expect to be subject to microscopic checks. Unfortunately it can take many months to complete, which used to mean for me that a contractor had been vetted and completed the contract months before security rejected him/her as ‘failed’.

    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: They don't rely on drug tests for past use

      Indeed, and for Top Secret and Cryptoclearnce, they go back a long way. I think it's normally about 10 years for anything "Secret", but I remember getting my clearance they went back something like 20 years but I was 21 at the time.

      Disclaimer: That was about 50 years ago and I only had the clearance for 3 years. Even so, they probably still have that file on me.

      1. NonyaDB

        Re: They don't rely on drug tests for past use

        *Nothing* on the SECRET level or above is ever deleted.

        Back when I was a GS overseas working on things *nothing* was ever deleted.

        Accounts and mailboxes would be disabled but never deleted.

        They were just moved into an inactive bin/database/sub-OU.

        Depending on the work you were doing, sometimes the entire laptop or desktop drive was imaged and stored as well as a "just in case" measure, but I only ever saw that happen with retirees because once you get to that level of fun you're pretty much a lifer.

        I got out of the military, they inactivated my accounts and clearance.

        I went back in as a GS 6 months later and they re-activated it all and it was all still there.

        Got out of the GS job and went back in couple of years later as a contractor and when they re-activated my clearance and re-issued me my accounts all my old email and files were still there.

        *EVERYTHING* you do on a secure PC or other device is never deleted.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: They don't rely on drug tests for past use

      The really high level stuff doesn't really require bureaucratic screening. That's a matter of networking, power and who you know. Take, for example, Jared Kushner. That's why we don't know the formal secret designations. There are none.

      As far as initial hiring goes, the obvious thing to do is just lie - just like the anonymous NSA source implies that he obviously did to get hired. If they are looking for spy qualifications, a qualified applicant will have the brains to apply discretion about when to deceive whom about what.

    5. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

      Re: They don't rely on drug tests for past use

      @DougS

      I was previously cleared for Full SC / UK Eyes only, and there was no drugs test. One of my referees held far higher clearance and they didn't even call him. And the information I got access to, was beyond mundane,.. it was blander than a pale shade of bland.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Since when have obeying rules

    ever been a concern of a State Security organisation ?

    1. Robert Heffernan
      Facepalm

      Re: Since when have obeying rules

      And if you're out in the field doing some black-ops undercover infiltration work how's it going to look if you turn down a hit from the pipe if it's being passed around.

      "Sorry chaps, i'm afraid I am going to have to decline your kind offer for a hit from the pipe. Security clearance might become a bit of a problem you see."

      "Parece que tenemos un maldito policía aquí chicos. Alguien agarra un poco de cinta adhesiva y una alfombra."

      "Spendid! I knew you would understand!"

      1. jmch Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Since when have obeying rules

        "cinta adhesiva y una alfombra"

        Since when do mexican drug cartels use BOFH problem-disposal methods?

        1. Chris G Silver badge

          Re: Since when have obeying rules

          Rugs are a handy easy to acquire, form of packaging, with the added advantage of being somewhat absorbent.

          Any good 'cleaning agency' should have a supply of lightweight, 2 metre rugs to hand.

          1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

            Re: Since when have obeying rules

            There is a supplier near the BOFHs 'place of 'work' that makes a good living supplying them.

            1. AceRimmer1980
              Holmes

              Re: Pretty please with sugar on top

              W. Wolfe Esq, cleaning services to the discerning client.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Since when have obeying rules

        In fact, the hypothetical operator ought to be able to take a few hits without lapsing into giggles or becoming stone-faced tranced in such scenarios. Experience with the chemical ought to be a prerequisite for such work.

  5. Conundrum1885 Bronze badge

    Paranoia

    Interesting concept: could the "Cigarette Smoking Man" of X Files fame actually have been smoking the devil's lettuce?

    Could explain a few things.

    MKUltra was actually heavily involved with mind control and some of the research had uhm, "unforeseen" side effects.

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Trollface

    I can understand why the NSA is hard on drug use

    It has enough trouble with consultants hoarding secret information, using unregistered copies of MS Office and not paying attention to Internet-facing servers with tons of juicy exploits on them, not to mention so-called "security personnel" who apparently let people leave with reams of top secret documents without batting an eye.

    With all that, it does not need potheads who could be bribed or coerced into revealing yet more information to The Wrong People (TM).

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: I can understand why the NSA is hard on drug use

      Or, having no password on the administrator account, and port 3389 wide open to the world.

  7. Chris G Silver badge

    Recidivism

    Security bosses would do well to make a note of keen workers who tend to stay late at the office and order in pizza after midnight.

    Analysis of the ventilation filters may be in order.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Now if only MI5 would chill out too

    Because I'd be judo-chopping terrorists right now.

  9. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921 Bronze badge

    Sometimes speed is the only way to crack a tough nut:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Erd%C5%91s

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      And now as link: Paul Erdős.

      Something you could have done without any problem with your gold shield.

      1. AIBailey Silver badge
        FAIL

        *cough*Bronze*cough*

  10. WmK

    Are they going to try and maintain this when weed is eventually legal everywhere? Surely on some level some of the senior folks there must realise how pointless this is.

  11. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

    I'm surprised

    Bureaucracy and creativity are not usual bedfellows.

    People who are creative often experiment with drugs in their early years, and a good hacker needs some creativity (hence why they've had a hard time separating the two camps - a venn diagram would show a fairly large overlap I suspect).

    This new direction just tells us how desperate they are for creative minds to pull in *their* direction. They are recruiting more potential Snowden's, however.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Someone misunderstood the guidance that security should be baked in

  13. IT Hack
    FAIL

    Waiver

    Only if you're white. Natch.

  14. tiggity Silver badge

    From outside the US

    It seems bizarre that if weed is legal in a state that someone can still be fired for using it.

    It's essentially limiting someones ability to have a social life (even if FBI employee does not actively smoke, if they hang out with heavy weed smokers, then just on "passive smoking" they will end up with non zero THC levels in their blood and so could be at the mercy of how lenient the "zero tolerance" drugs tests are..

    Theres many a time I have walked along the streets (in UK) and inhaled air heavily laced with joint smoke from some other passer by (in many UK cities seems to be a few areas where people can fairly openly smoke joints & law seems to turn a blind eye as not being worth the hassle) - so I would imagine if I was drug tested, I would have low, but non zero, THC levels just due to passive intake.

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: From outside the US

      It does seem very bizarre - and I doubt if that sort of ban would be permitted in most of the EU (can't work for doing something legal)

      What other legal things trigger a job ban / should they ban? Going to fundamentalist church? Owning 173 assault rifles? Voting Republican?

    2. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: From outside the US

      *sigh* here we go again:

      NSA, FBI, SS, DHS all *federal* agencies.

      Weed is legal in *some* states.

      Weed is NOT legal at the *federal* level.

      Hence no tolerance. I have no problem with this. Weed is not legal in NY but arrests are not made any more. NY now reeks of cheap weed, which is to say like a mixture of burnt cabbage and stale beer. A joy to be on my morning commute and have someone sit next to me after their morning toke. You think cigarette smoke is bad on people's clothes? Weed stank is immeasurably worse.

    3. Erik4872

      Re: From outside the US

      Just because some states have legalized pot, (a) it's not legal at the federal level, hence the issues they have with it and (b) it's not a protection against hiring discrimination.

      The state I'm in decriminalized it, as in the laws are still on the books but personal possession is no longer a life-altering criminal conviction...it's similar to a traffic ticket and doesn't follow you the way a criminal conviction does. (In the US, if you're convicted of anything, the chances of working in the legal economy ever again are slim in the age of cheap background checks, which is another whole problem.) But, I used to work for an airline. They had a zero-tolerance policy even if you didn't work in safety-sensitive positions, and randomly tested people. In the 5 years I was there, I got picked twice and of course had to pass a test when being hired. Lots of employers are like that, especially if you're in a position where you're exposed to large sums of money or dangerous machinery.

      Just because it's legal in your state doesn't mean private (or public federal) employers can't use it as a way to winnow down the applicant pool. I've wanted to experiment in the past but never did, mainly because I've worked in environments like this.

    4. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: From outside the US

      It seems bizarre that if weed is legal in a state that someone can still be fired for using it.

      Alcohol is legal also but there is a line one shouldn't cross. Ok.. manglement excluded but some workplaces (machiniery, chemical) have zero tolerance if a pee test during working hour shows drugs/alcohol in your blood. Those usually are for jobs where alertness, etc. are required like pilots, machinists, and others.

    5. Marketing Hack Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: From outside the US

      U.S. law allows employers to insist that you be drug-free, even if the state or federal law allows you to use the drug recreationally. So it can be up to your employer's policies.

      1. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: From outside the US

        >U.S. law allows employers to insist that you be drug-free

        Its a bit more subtle that this. If a corporation gets federal funding in any way -- in other words, does business with the Federal government -- then it has to have a drug-free workplace policy. This includes drug screening of new hires. Needless to say this has spun off a whole new industry.

        Its a Regan era "War on Drugs" thing. I personally only know one person who's been caught by it -- a colleague was laid off and then re-hired as a contractor from Intel. He failed the drug screen -- marijuana, of course -- and despite the best efforts of the managers involved had to be terminated.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: From outside the US

          >He failed the drug screen -- had to be terminated.

          Really ?

          I thought the x86 instruction set proved there was no in-house drug testing at Intel

  15. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    The acceptance of drug use at the FBI and NSA...

    Would go a long way to explaining their stance on end-to-end encryption :)

  16. martinusher Silver badge

    Its a body count thing....

    There's been a chronic shortage of skilled people in the UK for some time now -- there's tons of people who can Powerpoint up a storm and the like but comparatively few that can do complex engineering tasks. We've covered the shortage for many years by immigration but this still leaves government agencies and contractors at a disadvantage because they have to hire citizens (although that's been relaxed to permanent residents in some cases). Adding further barriers to entry like the Reagan era War on Drugs "ban all pot smokers" further shrinks the pool until you're left with very slim pickings to work with. Relaxing the rules somewhat is just a nod to reality.

    I personally have never willingly hired on to a company that drug tests. I've had to do it once and it was a pretty gross experience (I don't produce urine on demand....). Its also a gesture of submission to the whole Nixon/Regan "War on Drugs" which really was a war on people, especially minorities. I've had to live a pure and blameless life in the US but that's because as an immigrant I can end up in a world of hurt with a drug conviction -- the INS (as it then was) regards drug offenses as 'crimes of moral turpitude' (their wording, not mine). Now I'm a citizen I don't have to worry about the Migra and as I live in California the stuff's to be had over the counter (with a senior discount, of course). Its all very ordinary, in fact you tend to wonder what all the fuss was about...it certainly wasn't about 'drugs'.

    1. disgruntled yank Silver badge

      Re: On demand

      https://www.duffelblog.com/2019/05/sailor-cant-pee-unless-someone-is-watching/

    2. Erik4872

      Re: Its a body count thing....

      "There's been a chronic shortage of skilled people in the UK for some time now "

      Is that really true though? Here in the US, companies love to use that line (and a lot of money) to get favorable visa policy purchased/passed. I'm no MAGA guy, but I do think we could solve whatever shortage there is by investing in training and education of existing resources.

      There's a difference between "skilled and trainable" vs. "drop-in replacement who has some esoteric combination of impossible-to-find skills."

      1. Rande Knight

        Re: Its a body count thing....

        This.

        The thing about a lot of IT experts in the past, is that it's their hobby as well, and have spent a lot of time outside work doing stuff that give them skills.

        But there's only so many people who have an obsession with tech and will 'train' on their own time.

        Everyone else will need time and money being trained, even if they have the required aptitude. And that costs a lot of money that businesses and governments aren't used to paying.

  17. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    The good old days

    Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was quoted as regretting the days when FBI agents were mostly Irish: they were drunks, but you could trust them.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, if you haven't done anything bonkers...

    Does wasping count?

    And no, I don't mean (OWASP), I mean:

    'Her body started to contort. It almost looked like if you spray a wasp, how they can kind of shrivel up and their body kind of cinches up,'

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7254943/West-Virginians-inhaling-injecting-WASP-SPRAY-cheap-alternative-meth.html

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ridiculous charade

    “Basically, if you haven’t smoked marijuana in the past three years then it won’t be an issue,” an FBI agent told The Register. “Any use of certain other hard drugs will bar you from joining; the three-year rule does apply to marijuana.”

    It will be an issue if you can't handle your chemicals. One ought to be able to clean up for the drug test, fill out the application forms with correct (not truthful) answers, and smooth talk the interviewers. Always worked this way, always will.

    Recruiting and interviewing is a two-way street. The officially announced requirement is being relaxed not to *qualify* a larger pool, but to *appeal* to more potential applicants. The agencies are not worried about employee backgrounds in these instances so much as they are adjusting their own image to change the props and set the scene differently for the hiring process.

    Almost everyone has skeletons in the closet. They want smart, capable and loyal employees. That is easy to say or write, but it really defies simple categorization. There is probably significant overlap between the pool of people they need to recruit from and the pool of people that would not stand working for them. They need to change this math, thus this silly concession about pot smoking. It's really kind of pathetic. They would move up a notch in my estimation if they simply remove all stated categorical requirements and honestly state that they'll hire whomever they need in a pinch because that is the real truth. They're fucking spies, after all. But this is for low level grunt hires so they can still afford to play the charade.

  20. rtb61

    Creative types or Drones

    To go back in time, test someone's hair tiny little deposits as it grows and hence they can go back as far as your hair is long. So go private no drug test, get paid more and don't have to work with the professionally paranoid and anally retentive, or get paid less, work with the anally retentive and professionally paranoid and be subject to immediate dismissal in your friends smoke in the same room as you or you walk into a very, very happy coffee bar. Hmm, decisions, decisions.

    They can't even contract because of course they will test the contractors.

    Something tells me they wont improve their recruitment chances any time soon with that attitude. You either want creative minded people and all the behaviour associated with it or you do not and the anal retentive types and totally uncreative drones.

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