The Real Reason The FBI Struggles To Hire Hackers

Hackers are often associated with computer-related crimes such as stealing information or shutting down systems, but there's nothing inherently criminal in the act of computer hacking. Per Webroot, a hacker is simply "a person who uses computer programming or technical skills to overcome a challenge or problem." Some hackers specifically refer to themselves as "white hat hackers" who find cybersecurity flaws in order to fix them, rather than exploit them. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) needs these sorts of experts on their payroll in order to properly investigate and put a stop to cyber criminal activities. Protecting the United States from "cyber operations" and "combat[ting] significant cyber criminal activity" are listed second and third on the agency's list of priorities on its official web site. According to the New York Daily News, however, the FBI has a rule that's made it harder for them to hire hackers: Anyone who wants to work for the FBI has to have completely abstained from marijuana for the previous three years. For hard drugs like cocaine and Ecstasy, the waiting period is even longer: 10 years. 

As the New York Daily News points out, this rule actually hurts the FBI more than it hurts job-seeking hackers. Lots of well-paying organizations are to overlook a little weed if an applicant has useful skills. Because the FBI's hiring rules are much stricter, a good number of possible job candidates are excluded, leaving the United States more vulnerable to cyber attacks.

The FBI can't get high

There has been some discussion regarding the harshness of the no-pot rule. In 2014, reports The Atlantic, then-FBI Director James Comey spoke at the White Collar Crime Institute's annual conference. When asked about a theoretical job applicant who decided not to apply to work at the FBI because of the anti-marijuana policy, Comey answered, "he should go ahead and apply," admitting, "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." 

In 2014, Comey was working under the administration of President Barack Obama. In 2017 Comey was fired by President Donald Trump. As of 2020, however, marijuana is fully legal in 15 states, plus Washington D.C. and Guam, and is only fully illegal in six states, per DISA, a company specializing in workplace safety and compliance. According to a 2019 article from The Register, drug tests can only tell if a person has used marijuana over the past three months; it's really up to the job applicant to disclose that they've used within the past three years. These rules may be loosening slightly; a representative from the Department of Homeland Security shared that "I got an email about this, and it's down to one year since you smoked." Random drug tests mean that it's not possible to keep using marijuana while working for the Federal government, but apparently the past is the past.