Steve Jobs was a pretty private guy, for a mogul. The Mac inventor and Apple co-founder worked hard to control his image while he was alive, and when he lay dying of cancer last October, he cooperated with biographer Walter Isaacson to, as best he could, control his legend.
But the dead have no privacy, at least not where U.S. disclosure law is concerned. The Privacy Act of 1974 prevents the government from publicly releasing confidential information gathered by federal agencies about living American citizens. Such files are prominently labeled with warnings that their contents are not to be “discussed or shared” except with officials who have “need-to-know.”
Once someone is deceased, however, privacy protection also ceases.
This week, in compliance, with open government laws, the Department of Defense released 54 pages related to Jobs’s 1980s Top Secret security clearance conducted when he was chairman of NeXT, a company he founded between his stints running Apple. While at NeXT, Jobs acquired Pixar, which had developed an image computer that the military wanted to use for rendering information from reconnaissance flights and satellites.
A detailed questionnaire (pages 24-27), a two-hour interview with Jobs (pages 12-13), a three-page personal statement (pages 14-16) and summaries of interviews with a handful of colleagues reveal a little more of the man the world came to know as detail-driven, quirky and mercurial.
But for readers of Isaacson’s bestseller, and others who have followed Jobs’s skyrocketing career, what may have been startling revelations in the ’80s come as no surprise now.
The file delves into the tech titan’s youthful phone-hacking, family drama (“Subject stated he has a daughter born out of wedlock”), two years of frequent (“10 to fifteen times”) LSD experimentation (“I would ingest the LSD on a sugar cube or a hard form of gelatin”), and frequent use of marijuana and hashish (“The best way I would describe the effect of the marijuana and the hashish is that it would make me relaxed and creative”).
As distasteful as these revelations might have seemed for the straight-and-narrow military investigative service conducting the query, the background check determined that the subject was “loyal to the United States” and had “no involvement with advocacy of force to overthrow the U.S. Government” (page 13).