FBI might relax drug rules in hiring
The agency says rules about prior use of marijuana and other substances are drastically cutting its pool of hirable workers.
Published October 10, 2005
WASHINGTON - The FBI, famous for its straight-laced crime-fighting image, is considering whether to relax its hiring rules over how often applicants could have used marijuana or other illegal drugs earlier in life.
Some senior FBI managers have been deeply frustrated that they could not hire applicants who acknowledged occasional marijuana use in college, but in some cases already perform top-secret work at other government agencies, such as the CIA or State Department.
FBI Director Robert Mueller will make the final decision. "We can't say when or if this is going to happen, but we are exploring the possibility," spokesman Stephen Kodak said.
The change would ease limits about how often - and how many years ago - applicants for jobs such as intelligence analysts, linguists, computer specialists, accountants and others had used illegal drugs.
The rules, however, would not be relaxed for FBI special agents, the fabled "G-men" who conduct most criminal and terrorism investigations. Also, the new plan would continue to ban current drug use.
The nation's former antidrug czar said he understands the FBI's dilemma.
"The integrity of the FBI is a known national treasure that must be protected," said retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who used to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "But there should be no hard and fast rule that suggests you can't ever have used drugs. As long as it's clear that's behind you and you're overwhelmingly likely to remain drug free, you should be eligible."
Current rules prohibit the FBI from hiring anyone who used marijuana within the past three years or more than 15 times total. They also ban anyone who used other illegal drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, within the past 10 years or more than five times.
The new FBI proposal would judge applicants based on their "whole person" rather than limiting drug-related experiences to an arbitrary number. It would consider the circumstances of a person's previous drug use, such as their age and the likelihood of future usage. The relaxed standard already is in use at most other U.S. intelligence agencies.
The FBI proposal contrasts with the agency's starched image and its drug-fighting history. A generation of video game players can remember seeing the FBI seal and slogan, "Winners don't use drugs," attributed to former FBI Director William Sessions, on popular arcade games from the late 1980s.
The proposed FBI change also reflects cultural and generational shifts in attitudes toward marijuana and other drugs, even as the Bush administration has sought to establish links between terrorists and narcotics.
"I don't think you could find anybody who hasn't tried marijuana, and I take a lot of credit for that," said Tommy Chong, the comedian whose films with Cheech Marin provided over-the-top portrayals of marijuana culture in the 1980s. "They're going to have to change their policy."
While marijuana use is hardly universal, it remains the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States, with about half of teenagers trying the drug before they graduate high school.
"What people did when they were 18 or 21, I think that is pretty irrelevant," said Richard Clarke, a former top White House counterterrorism adviser. "We have to recognize there are a couple of generations now who regarded marijuana use, while it's technically illegal, as nothing more serious than jaywalking."
[Last modified October 10, 2005, 04:49:09]
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