09.08.2016
culture

The FBI Won’t Let Its Tech Nerds Use Pot, Pays the Price

Bureau is competing with the DEA to be the 'cool' feds.

Way back in 2014, Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, addressing the White Collar Crime Institute on the topic of creeps who use computers and the Internet to break the law, complained: “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.”

Beyond that concern, there is a sense that many highly skilled and motivated tech professionals, once they’ve been interviewed and hired, want to smoke weed on the job. Comey confided that the Bureau was “grappling with the question” of how to reconcile the law-enforcement organization’s ongoing hacker recruitment drive with the FBI requirement that new hires have not used cannabis for three years prior to enlistment.

The culture clash between a federal law-enforcement work environment and the digital outlaw personae that many budding tech prodigies pattern themselves after goes beyond the no-weed rule.

From the Washington Post:

Despite outreach at high profile hacker conferences like Black Hat and DefCon, recruitment of tech whiz kids by law enforcement and intelligence agencies has been hampered in recent years. One issue is that they have to compete with private sector gigs that can offer better salaries and benefits.
But fallout over surveillance programs revealed in Snowden documents and the FBI's legal battle to get Apple to help it break into a locked iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino, Calif., attacks has also made government work a hard sell to some.

Maybe salary discrepancies are an issue in hiring tech talent, but that’s easily overcome. Look at your paycheck and glance at the federal withholding bite. The government is sufficiently funded to close any wage gap with the private sector.

As for tech savants shying away from exercising their skills at massive, intrusive, self-perpetuating bureaucratic organizations that routinely disregard ethical imperatives in pursuit of world domination, these issues have not impacted hiring at Google, Facebook, and Apple.

Marijuana use is the one actual, intractable barrier between the FBI and a killer roster of cutting-edge tech talent. Intelligent, clear-thinking, reliable, self-starting adults have a real problem being told they cannot smoke weed. Filtering these skilled, imaginative, highly functioning workers from its potential brain pool can only be to the FBI’s detriment. Anything it does to try to seem cool in the eyes of discerning applicants—bean bag chairs, white boards, open floor plans, exposed beams, granola snacks—will come off as a joke.

The situation is not hopeless. If the Bureau gets lucky, legal weed on a national level will come sooner than later, and the hiring problem will present a way to solve itself.

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