JOURNAL: Current | Archives | Previous | Next

But Seriously

One Joseph Ross, of Sonoma, California, is upset that indiscretions in his past now disqualify him for certain employment (although he doesn't quite phrase it that way):

Editor -- Al Qaeda has the upper hand in the war against terror because the security agencies responsible for protecting us act like a bunch of sissies.

Case in point: I was recently hired for an FBI counter-terrorism position based on my ability to speak several foreign languages, my thorough knowledge of Middle Eastern culture and my extensive travel abroad. Each FBI employee who interviewed me told me, "We're desperately in need of language skills."

I'm a blue-blooded American, 44 years old, who has taught college several years for the Department of Defense, and I was excited my skills would be helpful in the war against terror. Then came the FBI's lie detector test.

I admitted I'd smoked marijuana about 20 times when I was 18. I've never used drugs since. But within five minutes I was put out on the street.

I told the FBI agent who kicked me out that "I doubt very seriously that Bin Laden screened any of the hijackers for drug experimentation when they were kids." The FBI agent confided, "You wouldn't believe the number of super- qualified individuals we've turned away. Just last week we let go a highly qualified psychologist for the same reason. It's very frustrating."

Moral of the story: Don't hold your breath for the FBI to save you.

And one Glenn Reynolds is very upset:

Homeland security remains a joke, and the people in charge remain unserious.
I'm surprised this isn't yet more evidence that President Bush is going to be a one-termer, which usually accompanies these sorts of outbursts.

In any case, the FBI and CIA have long engaged in extensive background checks of potential employees, and part of those background checks is an inquiry into a person's "character." This isn't something that's new, and this isn't something that is particularly controversial to most Americans. Apparently Professor Reynolds objects -- and vehemently at that -- to past drug use being a factor in such evaluations.

So, here's a question for Reynolds, and those who agree: with what would you replace the current evaluation mechanism, since it is, in your view(s), so deficient?

We don't need to consult Max Weber to know that bureaucracies require rules, and that the hiring of people to staff those bureaucracies also requires rules. FBI and CIA (and, presumably, Homeland Security, not to mention DoD and State) analysts handle all sorts of sensitive information that could be used by enemies against the United States, not to mention by unscrupulous members of our own government. There must be some criteria to determine who can be trusted with that information -- or, I suppose, we could just give maximum discretion to those who screen applicants, which could lead to different sorts of abuses (not to mention setting those screeners up as targets). So what is the serious alternative, if the current mechanism is as unserious as charged?

And going back to the original letter for a moment -- was this gentleman actually hired and THEN fired, or did he fail to get through the screening process that would have led to his hire? It sounds like the former to me, although he phrases it differently. And is it possible, just perhaps, that even though the gentleman claimed not to have done drugs since he was 18, the polygraph suggested something different -- calling into question his character, and therefore disqualifying him? And if so, is that really so unserious? Or might reasonable people disagree?

[Posted at 22:02 CST on 07/24/02] [Link]

Movable Type

If you can read this, your browser does not fully comply with standards. You can still view the site via the navigation bar below.

Reductio (old) | Journal | Glossary | Search | Bio | Photos | Disclaimer