- By Shane Harris
Shane Harris is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy, covering intelligence and cyber security. He is the author of The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State, which chronicles the creation of a vast national security apparatus and the rise of surveillance in America. The Watchers won the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the Economist named it one of the best books of 2010. Shane is the winner of the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. He has four times been named a finalist for the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists, which honor the best journalists in America under the age of 35. Prior to joining Foreign Policy, he was the senior writer for The Washingtonian and a staff correspondent at National Journal.
FBI Director James Comey was on Capitol Hill Wednesday to talk about the threat of Chinese cyber hackers and the spawn of Al Qaeda plotting attacks inside the United States. But Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions had a matter of even greater domestic urgency to discuss with America’s top cop: Why are you encouraging kids to smoke weed?
Sessions told Comey he was "very disappointed" by a recent Wall Street Journal article in which Comey seemed to make light of the FBI’s prohibition on hiring people who’ve smoked marijuana within the past three years.
"I have to hire a great workforce to compete with those cyber criminals, and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview," Comey said at a conference in New York earlier this week, according to the newspaper.
Sessions wasn’t amused. He asked Comey, "Do you understand that that could be interpreted as one more example of leadership in America dismissing the seriousness of marijuana use, and that could undermine our ability to convince young people not to go down a dangerous path?"
"Very much, Senator," Comey assured the senator, and quickly added: "I am determined not to lose my sense of humor. But unfortunately there I was trying to be both serious and funny."
Comey explained that his remarks were prompted by a conference goer, who said he knew of a great candidate for the FBI, but that he’d smoked pot within the past five years. Comey told him to go ahead and apply, and told the audience that the bureau was "grappling" with how to hire future agents from a pool of young applicants whose attitudes about marijuana use are more permissive than the FBI’s.
Comey didn’t quite tell Sessions to loosen up and smoke a bowl, saying he was "absolutely" against smoking marijuana and that he didn’t want young people to smoke it. But, he told the senator, "Look, one of our challenges we face is getting a good work force at the same time when young people’s attitudes about marijuana and our states’ attitudes about marijuana are leading more and more of them to try it."
More than half of all states and the District of Columbia either have laws on the books allowing marijuana use for medical or recreational purposes or have decriminalized smoking pot. Comey cited a study from the American Medical Association that found that young smokers experience increased rates of anxiety and mental disorders.
Sessions seemed satisfied with his public scolding. "I think you should understand your words can have ramifications out there," he told Comey.
Watch the full exchange here.