The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said on Thursday that it doesn’t necessarily believe using illegal drugs makes you a bad person.
The new comments came in response to question submitted as part of its ongoing “Ask Molly” series.
“I would love to join CIA, but I’ve done illegal drugs in the past,” the person, writing under the name “Eager to Serve,” said. They asked whether there’s “any path forward for me at CIA.”
The agency’s reply emphasized that those applying to work there could still get a job if they admit to such activity, as long as they haven’t consumed any illicit substances within the past year.
Given the traditionally harsh position the federal government has taken on illegal drugs and people who consume them, the agency’s response—which pointed out that past substance use “does not immediately disqualify you from working at CIA”—was somewhat surprisingly friendly and open-minded.
CIA acknowledged that the broad anti-drug policy may seem “archaic” at a time when more states are legalizing marijuana, but said it was necessary for national security purposes. Even so, the agency made a point of explaining that it does not consider prior drug use to be a moral failing.
“I’m not asserting that those who have experimented with drugs are in some way bad or unworthy, but a willingness to break federal law to engage in illicit drug use can be used as a measure of someone’s fitness to hold a security clearance,” the post states. “It should be noted that drug use and abuse is one of the most common reasons applicants are denied a security clearance.”
That’s a far cry from the position of President Trump’s former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who as a senator said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
Speaking of cannabis, the CIA post proactively answered a follow-up question that people might have about whether marijuana is treated the same as other controlled substances if it’s consumed in compliance with state law.
“Marijuana remains illegal under federal law in every state,” the agency said. “CIA is bound by federal law, which prohibits CIA from granting security clearances to unlawful users of controlled substances, including marijuana. State laws do not supersede those of the federal government.”
Are you interested in a career at CIA but concerned about previous recreational use of illegal drugs?
— CIA (@CIA) April 23, 2020
The agency said it was primarily interested in an applicant’s “candor,” and so the most important thing is that they not lie about previous drug consumption.
“Sincerity and honesty are two traits that CIA values above all else, and for good reason,” CIA said, without a trace of irony. “If an applicant were to be dishonest about their drug use in the application process, even out of fear of rejection, it would be a sign to CIA that the applicant doesn’t exhibit candor. And with the stakes so high, CIA can’t afford to take that chance.”
Of course, some might raise eyebrows at the suggestion that CIA holds such high standards of honesty in relation to drugs considering certain operations it’s been behind—including MK-Ultra, which involved covertly administering LSD in human subjects as part of an effort to develop mind control capabilities.
There have also been allegations that the agency was involved in drug trafficking during the Reagan Administration to fund rebels in the the Iran–Contra affair, as well as on other occasions.
In any case, the new CIA post seemed to suggest that people who have used drugs recently should simply wait a few months before applying.
“Keep the 12 month guidance in mind as you consider submitting an application, and remember to be truthful and forthcoming throughout the application process,” it concluded. “The rest will fall into place.”
FBI also has an anti-drug employment policy—something that a former top official said creates hiring problems that prevent the agency from accepting potentially talented candidates. In 2014, then-Director James Comey suggested that he wanted to loosen FBI employment policies on marijuana, as potential skilled workers were being passed over due to the requirement.
But so far, the policy remains in place. In fact, FBI recently said that agents can’t even used hemp-derived CBD, despite it having been legalized as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. The agency did say the CBD ban is currently under review, however.