Ask Molly: Illegal Drug Use and Employment at CIA

April 23, 2020

Dear Molly,

I would love to join CIA, but I’ve done illegal drugs in the past. Is there any path forward for me at CIA?

~ Eager to Serve

* * * * *

Dear Eager to Serve,

Let me be clear on this from the get-go: having previously used illegal drugs does not immediately disqualify you from working at CIA. If working for CIA is your life’s goal – and we certainly hope it is – there could be a path for you here. With that said, there are certain restrictions that you should be aware of, especially if you’ve used illegal drugs within the past year. Generally speaking, to be eligible for CIA employment, applicants must not have used illegal drugs within the past 12 months. This is, as with most things, a general rule by which to gauge your hire-ability as, not only an applicant, but as the potential holder of a security clearance.

It might seem a bit archaic, but consider the access to information we’re giving CIA employees, and consequences of granting access to the wrong person. Officers regularly handle classified information, which, if leaked, could spell disaster for national security and endanger the life of CIA officers, assets, and their families. 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. It should be noted that drug use and abuse is one of the most common reasons applicants are denied a security clearance.

Now you may be wondering; that’s all fine Molly, but I live in a state where marijuana use was legalized under state law, so would any of this really apply in my case? The short answer is yes. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law in every state. 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. For more information regarding the federal government’s security clearance guidelines regarding drug use and other considerations, you can check out the SEAD 4 National Security Adjudicative Guidelines.

No matter your history with drug use, the key is to exercise candor throughout the application process and through your employment, for that matter. Sincerity and honesty are two traits that CIA values above all else, and for good reason. We have a very specialized mission with very serious stakes and life-threatening consequences. CIA needs to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that it can trust the members of its workforce. 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.

Keep the 12 month guidance in mind as you consider submitting an application, and remember to be truthful and forthcoming throughout the application process. The rest will fall into place.

~ Molly

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