Marijuana and the FBI have never gone hand in hand. But the nation’s top law enforcement agency may have to change that fact if it wants to defeat cybercriminals.

FBI Director James B. Comey said the Bureau needs to attract the brightest minds to win the war on cybercrime. But many of them like to smoke pot, and the FBI may have to loosen its zero-tolerance policy on the drug, he said.

FBI Director James B. Comey
FBI Director James B. Comey

“I have to hire a great workforce to compete with those cybercriminals, and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” Comey said May 19.

The FBI, he said, is “grappling with question right now” of whether and how to change the agency’s pot policies. Under those rules, no one who has smoked weed within the last three years is eligible to work for the Bureau.

Congress has approved 2,000 new personnel at the FBI this year, many working on cybercrimes. And many of the country’s best programmers and hackers like to toke, as Comey acknowledged to the White Collar Crime Institute, a yearly legal conference held in New York.

One attendee asked Comey about a friend who had decided not to apply for an FBI position because of the marijuana rule. “He should go ahead and apply anyway,” Comey replied.

Cybercrime has become a major focus for the FBI in recent years. On May 19, the agency launched a massive international cyber-raid, busting the creators of software that allowed hackers to hijack hundreds of thousands of computers around the world.

On the same day, the Justice Department filed charges against five Chinese military officers, accusing them of hacking U.S. companies in search of trade secrets.

In recent years the FBI has turned increasingly to the programming community for help in combatting cybercriminals and cyber-terror. But hackers and law enforcement don’t mix well, especially when it comes to marijuana law.

The FBI’s hiring process is stringent and is the same regardless of an applicant’s field of expertise. Applicants must have clean criminal records and must take lie detector tests with questions about their recent drug use. Failure to pass the polygraph leads to permanent disqualification.

The Bureau last eased its marijuana policies in 2007. Old rules barred anyone who had tried weed more than 15 times in his or her life from becoming an analyst, a programmer, or a special agent. That limit was removed, as long as applicants haven’t toked within the last three years.

The FBI, Comey said, has “changed both our mindset and the way we do business.” The agency operated less “in-box” than it had before, he said.


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