Buzzkill: FBI director says he was joking about hiring weed-smoking hackers

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Privacy, Security threats

marijuana-170Sorry marijuana fans, the FBI won't be recruiting cyber-sleuthing stoners any time soon.

FBI Director James Comey says he was being "funny" when he made a comment that the FBI should consider loosening drug policies for applicants to its cyber crime division.

What Comey was really trying to say, he clarified yesterday, is that a generation of potential cyber crime fighters is increasingly made up of dope-smoking hackers, which makes recruitment pretty challenging if you weed out all those recruits (sorry, pun intended).

Comey said at a white collar crime conference this week in New York that a lot of hackers who could potentially work for the FBI are pot smoking kids who "want to smoke weed on the way to the interview."

After the comment was published in the Wall Street Journal on 20 May, Comey's remark went viral - could it be an opening for pot legalization? America's top cop says pot is OK? Really?

Well, US Senator Jeff Sessions put the lid on that idea right away.

Sessions, an Alabama Republican, was not amused by Comey's remarks, telling Comey the comment would "undermine" efforts to combat drug use among young people.

"I was very disappointed," Sessions told Comey, adding that the comment appeared to "make light" of marijuana use.

Sessions said it would undermine the efforts of law makers to discourage marijuana use:

Do you understand that that could be interpreted as one more example of leadership in America dismissing the seriousness of marijuana use? And that could undermine our ability to convince young people not to go down a dangerous path?

In his defense, Comey said he was trying to be "funny and serious" at the same time.

"I am determined not to lose my sense of humor," Comey said in response. "But unfortunately there I was trying to be both funny and serious."

He is still "dead set" against marijuana use, he said.

I waxed philosophic and funny to say, look, one of our challenges that we face is getting a good workforce at the same time when young people's attitudes about marijuana and our states' attitudes about marijuana are leading more and more of them to try it.

I am absolutely dead set against using marijuana. I don't want young people to use marijuana. It's against the law. We have a three-year ban on marijuana. I did not say that I'm going to change that ban. I said I have to grapple with the change in my workforce.

US law enforcement's official position is still "no smoking."

As it is today, the FBI bans applicants from having used marijuana for the past three years (so smoking weed in the past is not a complete disqualifier).

But, maybe, if the FBI continues to have a hard time recruiting suitable applicants, the topic will come up again.

What do you think? Is it a good idea or bad idea for the FBI to hire hackers who have smoked pot?

Let us know in the comments.

Image of marijuana leaf courtesy of Shutterstock.

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14 Responses to Buzzkill: FBI director says he was joking about hiring weed-smoking hackers

  1. Tom · 498 days ago

    Wouldn't make a difference if the worker smokes pot or not. What makes the difference is spending a tremendous amount of money on neverending war against drugs which is completely useless.

    • JohnJones · 498 days ago

      What do I think?

      Well I do security research and I already know I won't choose government work for... reasons. Based on the context of the article, can you guess which?

      This ban on marijuana is pathetic and outdated. I'm glad the FBI is having problems recruiting. You know how many friends of mine in this field smoked weed in college? Like 80% of them.

      And they're not some stupid pot heads. We are smart people. We get approached by agencies asking them to work for us, and I tell them "Sorry, no, I smoke weed." I have literally flat out told one agency that.

      Others are willing to stop and most of my friends quit before college ended to avoid the ban. I would quit too, but the 3 year ban is so nuts that there's no point, and I can get work at companies that don't care that, frankly, will pay me more anyways.

      This will only get worse. Pot is becoming more prevalent, not less. Especially among hackers.

  2. Drug use doesn't inherently make someone unsuitable for the work.

    It could, however, contribute or be a factor in them not being suitable for the work.

    If someone can smoke a joint on the way to the interview/work and still adequately perform their duties, then fine. Drugs affect different people in different ways.

    Obviously "adequately perform their duties" is totally at the discretion of the employer.

  3. Anonymous · 498 days ago

    Other than the fact that it's against the law right now, I don't think it should make much of a difference. If someone chooses to drink alcohol recreationally that's allowed, but if their performance starts to decline due to it or get drunk on the job, that's a different story. It should be the same with weed. Lots of talent out there are lost due to culturally different views.

  4. Anon · 498 days ago

    Wouldn't you want your cyber soldiers to be a bit paranoid?

  5. Peter · 498 days ago

    it doesnt matter if smokes pot or come late or whatever.. the only thing that really matters is if he does a good job(for coming late and so on he need to do a better job then most others..)

    • Paul Ducklin · 498 days ago

      I'm not sure that "it doesn't matter whatever," especially in law enforcement.

  6. This isn't a venue for 'war on drugs', but it does indicate that there is a problem with recruitment. What most don't seem to understand is that most pot smokers are everyday people that most would never figured they had anything to do with drugs. Like people who drink, don't get in the morning and drink, if they do, they have a problem know as an 'alcoholic'. Just as people that are stoned all the time are in the same boat or 'potolics' or something.

    The public view is changing as most of us are 60's kids and know that it's totally misrepresented by the (at least the US) government. As a stepping stone drug, where could you step as it's listed in the top worst drugs.

    Probably one of the worst problems is correcting something that has gone on way to long, like the drug war. But if government wants people they will have to change some standards if that gets in the way of hiring.

    Stupid policy, anyway.


  7. Juan · 498 days ago

    Huh? You mean the whole federal apparatus of state isn't already on drugs? They sure act like they are.

  8. Anonymous · 498 days ago

    So hiring drunks is OK?

  9. Anonymous · 498 days ago

    smoking weed on the way to the interview is one thing but having it in your life is another. If they sift out applicants that smoke weed, they are going to lose some really valuable hackers with unmatched skillz.

  10. Neil Caffrey · 498 days ago

    The main issue is that pot smokers are generally dealing with the criminal world. And as such, their integrity could be compromised.

    What we need to do is legalize marijuana so that if you choose to enjoy it you aren't committing a crime. Then it's not a big deal.

  11. Richard P · 493 days ago

    It is worrying that even the FBI would rather hire a stoner than a 55-year-old.

  12. I know it's been mentioned, surely, but here's my 8 cents;
    It's legal in a couple states.
    Alcoholism runs rampant in our country, and alcohol use is a social norm. If you don't drink, you're basically a pariah.

    I, personally, don't do drugs, and very rarely drink. I don't like what it does to me, and I don't like feeling like my brain sucks. However, I am not everyone else; therefore, I cannot decide things for other people. I don't think anyone should until they are doing something that puts others at harm. I don't think marijuana falls into that category, and furthermore, living in wisconsin and alcohol existing and such, I kind of feel like the whole argument is ridiculous; how many feds have drunk driving arrests on their docket and are considered for employment (didn't we have a president who drove drunk? Like a lot? Like, recently?) whereas marijuana is apparently a total disqualifier; even if you do it in your own home, without driving at all?

    Screw that. Seriously. I don't like pot, and I don't much like folks who smoke pot, but that doesn't change the fact that all the logic behind it is completely backwards and insane.

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About the author

John Zorabedian is a blogger, copywriter and editor at Sophos. He has a background in journalism, writing about technology, business, politics and culture. He lives and works in the Boston area.