No really, I'd make a great FBI agent
January 6, 2009 7:31 PM   Subscribe

I am considering applying to be a FBI agent, but would probably get rejected for a specific reason, should I apply anyway?

I was listening to NPR today and heard that the FBI is encouraging qualified individuals to apply. I have considered becoming a Special Agent in the past and thought about it seriously again today. I am qualified - I have a past in computers and computer security, a law degree, a few years experience practicing law, am in generally good physical shape, etc.

But as part of the background check, you have to answer questions re: drug use. FBI policy bans hiring anyone who has used any illegal drugs other than marijuana in the past 10 years. My last use was approximately 8 years ago.

So my question is, should I apply anyway? Or just wait it out for 2 more years (don't worry, I will not be age-barred by then)?

If I get rejected now, would it hurt my chances to re-apply in 2 years once the magic 10 years have passed? If I get rejected now, would I be rejected forever? Or might applying now as an otherwise good candidate make them look forward to seeing me again in the future? Is it likely the policy would soon change or an exception be made?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't worry about drug use. I have many, many friends in government service. All of them have gone through background checks. The FBI rarely cares at all about drug use 8 years ago unless it was tied to a crime of some sort.
posted by parmanparman at 7:39 PM on January 6, 2009

Just wait. As I understand it, trying to see if they'll make an exception for you is just a waste of your time and their time. If you're a great applicant they may ask you to mutually "pretend" that you never told them that you had smoked weed in 2001 or whatever and ask you to shread/tear up your application materials. Then on the anniversary of your last smoke up, you might get a call. YMMV.
posted by k8t at 7:41 PM on January 6, 2009

Don't worry about drug use.

So does that mean the OP shouldn't mention it at all? Are you recommending that he/she lie about it? Or are you just saying they are unlikely to ask about it at all? I was under the impression that it was a question on the application form or something.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:41 PM on January 6, 2009

Don't worry about drug use. I have many, many friends in government service. All of them have gone through background checks.

This is not the "government service" that your other friends are in, this is becoming a Special Agent in the FBI. The standards for a background check are going to be a little bit higher.

I would just wait two years.
posted by grouse at 7:48 PM on January 6, 2009

I would wait. But in no case should you lie. That will be a greater reason to be rejected than drug use. If you are not sure that the question is on the application then you should request an application. Then decide how to go from there.
posted by JayRwv at 8:11 PM on January 6, 2009

So my question is, should I apply anyway?

Traditionally, the law enforcement aversion to hiring ex-drug users stems not from their perceived lack of moral fortitude, but is instead to protect the agency/department from third parties using the information to blackmail or otherwise gain an advantage over your employees.

If you're honest about it and have nothing to hide, you're probably OK. If you don't come straight out with it, perhaps that's because you're embarrassed about it. Maybe you wouldn't want other people knowing you've done drugs. Like your parents. Or your grandparents... (you can see how this can get pretty nasty fairly quickly). That's the kind of thing they want to avoid.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:11 PM on January 6, 2009

If you insist on going forward with it, say "it's been a long time". Also, MeMail me if you'd like me to check in with my friend who was just accepted in that position. She might be able to give a bit more insight into what the stakes are.
posted by Picklegnome at 8:16 PM on January 6, 2009

Civil_Disobedient is right on target. If you do choose to apply, omit nothing, go for full disclosure, and be sure your character references are sterling.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 8:19 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've had a LOT of background checks done. A LOT.

Through the experiences of my own checks and those of others I've worked with in various fields over the years... sometimes the answer to one of those types of questions isn't correct or incorrect, but whether it's the truth or a lie.
posted by matty at 8:52 PM on January 6, 2009

How on earth would the FBI find out you did drugs 8 years ago?
posted by fshgrl at 9:34 PM on January 6, 2009

How on earth would the FBI find out you did drugs 8 years ago?

Ummm, they're the FBI????
posted by Roach at 9:40 PM on January 6, 2009 [6 favorites]

Spend the two years learning to speak arabic, you could probably admit to having run a child prostitution ring and still get hired if you can read it fluently.
posted by atrazine at 10:03 PM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

I still don't see how they'd know you were a drug user unless you had an arrest, a failed test or some other kind of major red flag like living with people with records or something And that, along with the kind and intensity of drug use, makes a big difference in the lie/ don't lie/ apply/ don't apply equation.
posted by fshgrl at 10:04 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Nthing waiting. I know someone who applied for a similar position, and the screening was, to say the least, comprehensive. It is in your best interest to be 150% candid and forthcoming with all relevant information.
posted by teamparka at 10:27 PM on January 6, 2009

You might want to know that the DOJ spends a large amount of money on background checks, hiring actual FBI agents to interview past associates of potential hires.

That's why:

"The FBI and CIA, drawn by a seemingly incorruptible rectitude, have instituted Mormon-recruiting plans." -- Time, August 4, 1997
posted by Kirklander at 10:34 PM on January 6, 2009

should have said "assigning" instead of "hiring"
posted by Kirklander at 10:36 PM on January 6, 2009


Most positions in the FBI and those in other agencies w/ clearance issues require two things:

1- a background check of varying degrees ( anywhere from a simple checking of the facts you submit to actually sending people to interview everyone you name ( and oh do they make you name a lot ) and then they ask those people if they know anyone else who knew you in the time frame they're investigating that they should speak with. Much like your facebook "people you may also know" they build a big web, again depending on what level clearance you're going for.

2- a "lifestyle" polygraph which you must submit to. This goes back to CivilDisobedient's remark in that they are looking to catch you lying. If you're lying, it stands to reason that you can be blackmailed about whatever it is you are lying about. It's all about the prevention of someone gaining undue influence over you in order to take advantage of your access to sensitive info.

Again, depending on what kind of information your position requires access to you can be required to submit to anything from filling out a form ( of which lying on is against the law ) to being poly'd.

Honesty is key.
posted by zap rowsdower at 10:57 PM on January 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

Ummm, they're the FBI????

So what, they have magic powers? How would they possibly know? These are the same geniuses that only caught the '93 WTC bombers when one of them stupidly tried to get a refund on the rental truck, and have failed to make any significant impact on organized crime for their entire history despite trying extremely hard to do so. I didn't even know the real names of the people I used to buy drugs from, they had nicknames like "Lil' Mike" or (ironically) "G-Man". And they certainly didn't know anything but my first name, and almost certainly wouldn't remember me. Now, I've probably been more open than I should be about my drug use over the years, so they could maybe find an old friend or something that would tell them, but how would they find out about someone who's been secretive about infrequent pot smoking and hasn't smoked it in 8 years? Seriously, how, I'm curious.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:49 AM on January 7, 2009

You can try now, and be nervous about what might happen if and when, etc, or you can wait 24 months (using that time to make yourself an even better candidate) and not have to worry about it.

My choice would be the latter.

Whatever you choose, absolutely do not lie in your background investigation. Background investigators make pitbulls look unmotivated in terms of digging things up: if you lie, they'll find it, and that'll be the end of it. Much better to be honest and let the chips fall where they may.
posted by scrump at 1:56 AM on January 7, 2009

Having been through a perhaps even more intensive background check with a similar agency, I say go ahead and apply now. They need you now more than they care about your drug use eight years ago. If you are a great candidate that will not keep you from getting the job.

Obviously don't lie. Be upfront when they ask. I remember them asking during the polygraph portion of the process. I disclosed, and it was no big deal.

But the polygraph is extremely intimidating. The operator will try to get in your head and scare you in all kinds of ways. Although I had nothing to hide, the polygraph was one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life.

They went to enormous lengths to interview exes, friends, and colleagues in several countries, as well as on US soil. You give them references, keep in mind the references might recommend other names to the interviewer.

In sum: if you tend to befriend, date heavy drug users, or have close relatives who are habitual drug users even if you are not using, or if you were deeply involved in drug culture until eight years ago, your chances of getting clearance aren't very good, and two years isn't going to change that.

And if your references have no knowledge of the drug phase of your life, all the better.

So apply, be honest and prepared for an intimidating day or days strapped into the polygraph chair. Finally, suggest references who know little about that the former drug using you.
posted by vincele at 3:37 AM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would say, if you know anybody in the FBI, find out from them what skills are in short supply. Spend your two years working on building one of those skills. If you don't know anybody, get to know somebody with your two years. In addition, ask candidly about that part of the screener.

Don't you dare lie. It was 8 years ago and forgivable, but the lie would be now and would likely permanently disbar you.
posted by saysthis at 3:54 AM on January 7, 2009

I had a VERY similar question to this back when I was applying to the FBI myself a few years back. MeFi mail me if you'd like to hear what I found out.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:42 AM on January 7, 2009

or my gmail, in profile
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:43 AM on January 7, 2009

Nthing "apply now and disclose".

Vincele and zap rowsdower both know what they're on about.

Eight years ago doesn't mean jack, really. It's about your overall integrity. How good is your judgement? Why do you want to be an FBI agent at all? How would you handle that responsibility? That kind of thing. I've been interviewed three times, so far - for an old roommate, for my brother and for my best friend. They cross referenced my interviews, several years apart. No shit. Whatever you do, don't lie to these people. They will find out, and when they do, it's game over. Tell them the truth, and they'll verify and move on.

It isn't about the drugs themselves. Most people have something in their pasts they wouldn't like to see on a job application. If you were Mr. High Times Casual Dealer, though, I would prepare myself for a lot of questions about why you're interested in the FBI in the first place.
posted by Grrlscout at 5:52 AM on January 7, 2009

Am dying to know - good or bad news, allkindsoftime?
posted by Grrlscout at 5:57 AM on January 7, 2009

If this anything like getting a security clearance honesty is absolutely key. From what I've read unless you manufactured, distributed, sold, etc. or are currently an addict drug use is not really a big deal to them. I don't know if they use the Adjudicative Desk Reference life the DoD does but for every negative strike against you there are "mitigating factors." So you did drugs = bad. It was 8 years ago and you are honest about it from day one = good to the point that the bad doesnt matter. The person who ultimately decides to issue or not issue a clearance balances all of these things. While this is specific to DoD security clearances my assumption is that the process is very similar if not the same.

The main take away though you should have from the above and my post is be completely and totally honest to the best of your knowledge. As others said they want to catch you in a lie if they can. They don't want someone in a sensitive position to be compromisable and if you hide things that could embarrass you or cause you to be willing to do untoward things to keep them from becoming not secret they want to know before they choose to hire you.
posted by zennoshinjou at 6:06 AM on January 7, 2009

For those asking how the FBI finds out these things in a background check, I have been interviewed a few times by FBI agents doing background checks on people I know. Usually this is because they put me down as a reference, but also because they use the references you specify to get the names of other people who know the subject and interview them, as well as family members and old neighbors, sometimes even old teachers/professors and the like. The interview can be quite in depth as well; I remember one agent interviewing me for nearly an hour about an old friend, asking the same questions in different form over and over to look for any inconsistencies. So they can find things out, and for this reason it is important if you do apply to make sure your references are honest as well; the advice to choose your references carefully is good. Just be aware that they will also be talking to people in addition to the names you give them.
posted by TedW at 6:27 AM on January 7, 2009

Nthing the honest route. I had a friend who was clean as a whistle - really, I'd be shocked to find out she'd ever smoked a joint - who didn't get a job with the FBI because she failed the polygraph. And she really had nothing to hide! So imagine how badly you could blow it if you actually were lying.
posted by lunasol at 7:20 AM on January 7, 2009

Coming in late (stupid chest cold) but I wanted to comment on this:
agents to interview past associates of potential hires.

I was interviewed when a friend applied for (and got) an FBI job. It was a nice chat, and the agent asked me at least 3 times, both directly and obliquely, a few questions about things including past drug use.

(yes, I told the truth; fwiw, she has never used drugs to my knowledge)
posted by pointystick at 8:13 AM on January 7, 2009

Anon, I'd be happy to tell you more about the process, which I passed, even though I turned the position down. Memail me if you want to hear more about what to expect.

If you go for it, and I think you should, read all you can about the polygraph. Essentially it's theatrical bullshit.
posted by vincele at 9:03 AM on January 7, 2009

they use the references you specify to get the names of other people who know the subject and interview them, as well as family members and old neighbors, sometimes even old teachers/professors and the like.

Not only that, I had the experience of working in a restaurant where a friend of mine had previously worked, and they just walked in the place and went up to people and said "do you know Mr. Applicant? And this was just to be a contractor working in the Pentagon. Before 9/11.
posted by Pax at 9:45 AM on January 7, 2009

My point being that they can ask people who you might have done drugs with, who don't like you, etc--they aren't excluded just because you didn't list them as references.
posted by Pax at 9:46 AM on January 7, 2009

I'm not advocating lying to the FBI, just curious as to how one incident of drug use would show up from eight years ago, especially considering that most people who could talk about it would likely also be incriminating themselves (not literally but still it's human nature not to casually chat to the FBI about getting high with your buddies back in the day). Unless you were using enough that lots of regular people in your life knew about it or something.
posted by fshgrl at 9:55 AM on January 7, 2009

Just for a data point, a friend of mine applied online for a low-level administrative position at the FBI in, oh, June, 2002. The application included a short questionnaire to gather some preliminary information. When asked whether she'd smoked pot more than X times (6?), my friend answered truthfully in the affirmative.

The questionnaire was the type of thing where you answer a question, then hit next, and navigate to a new page with the next question. The questionnaire abruptly ended once she submitted her answer, displaying a vague "thanks for your interest" page. This was, of course, after my friend had already entered all of her personal information, including her SSN. My friend still feels rather silly and a leeetle paranoid.

Just be prepared to answer this question early in the hiring process, is all I'm saying
posted by juliplease at 4:17 PM on January 7, 2009

« Older Strike the floor jogging   |   How should I go about using an external hard drive... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.