FBI Bows to Modern Realities, Eases Rules on Past Drug Use

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The buttoned-down FBI is loosening up: Under a little-noticed new hiring policy introduced this year, job applicants with a history of drug use will no longer be disqualified from employment throughout the bureau.

Old guidelines barred FBI employment to anyone who had used marijuana more than 15 times in their lives or who had tried other illegal narcotics more than five times.

But those strict numbers no longer apply. Applicants for jobs such as analysts, programmers or special agents must still swear that they have not used any illegal substances recently -- three years for marijuana and 10 years for other drugs -- but they are no longer ruled out of consideration because of more frequent drug use in the past.

Such tolerance of admitted lawbreaking might seem odd for the FBI, whose longtime director J. Edgar Hoover once railed against young thugs filled with "false courage from a Marijuana cigarette."

But FBI officials say the move is simply an acknowledgment of reality in a country where, according to some estimates, up to a third of the population has tried marijuana at some point.

The loosened standards also come as the FBI struggles to fill the jobs it has -- particularly in the areas of counterterrorism and intelligence, which draw from a more varied pool of applicants than traditional agent positions.

"One of the things we came to realize was that our drug policy was largely out of step with the rest of the intelligence community and much of the law enforcement community," said Jeffrey J. Berkin, deputy assistant director of the FBI's security division, which implemented the new guidelines. "We're going to focus less on a hard number and more on a whole-person approach. . . . The new policy just allows us a little more flexibility than the old policy."

Even with the new, looser standards, the FBI's drug-use policy is still among the toughest in federal government and stricter than those of most private companies, Berkin and outside experts note.

The CIA, for example, requires only that applicants have not used illegal drugs within the past 12 months, although "illegal drug use prior to 12 months ago is carefully evaluated during the medical and security processing," according to an agency advisory.

Even the Drug Enforcement Administration leaves open the possibility of hiring employees who admit to "youthful and experimental use of marijuana."

"Such applicants may be considered for employment if there is no evidence of regular, confirmed usage and the full-field background investigation and result of the other steps in the process are otherwise favorable," according to the DEA's Web site.

At the FBI, the new rules allow the bureau to consider "all relevant facts, including the frequency of use," in deciding whether someone's drug history should bar a candidate from becoming an FBI employee.

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