FOIA, Snowden and FBI Hacker Recruitment Difficulties
WASHINGTON — A recently released audit of the FBI’s Next Generation Cyber Initiative by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found the Bureau has been better when pursuing cyber threats but stringent guidelines, competition with the private sector as well as the Snowden leaks has greatly affected their ability to do so.
In October of 2012 the FBI launched it’s Next Gen Cyber Initiative in response to an OIG report in 2011 which showed faults in the Bureau’s investigative practices when it came to cyber security.
In 2014 the budget for the new initiative was $314 million including 1,333 full time positions.
The Department of Justice requested an additional $86.6 million in order to help support the initiative in 2014 as well.
The new initiative also implements a new stance on cyber-crime by the FBI. Before, the FBI’s focus was to only react to cyber intrusions and threats. The Bureau’s new stance is in prevention and prediction of cyber-attacks.
The OIG found the FBI was handling it’s investigations into cyber-crime properly and efficiently but issues with hiring are creating a potential roadblock for the Bureau in the future.
One employee described hiring new workers for the cyber initiative as a “funneling process.” Often only two people will be hired out of a pool of 5,000, according to the report.
This is due in part to the FBI’s stringent hiring guidelines which often rule out many candidates due to past indiscretions and more often than not, marijuana use. Any candidate who applies for a job at the FBI cannot have used marijuana in the last 3 years or any other illicit drug in the past 10 years, according to the report.
Many candidates also fail polygraph tests, a mandatory part of the process which, according to the American Psychological Association, cannot properly detect lies.
The biggest problem facing the FBI in hiring new cyber experts is their competition with the private sector which has much less strict guidelines and higher pay.
The OIG found that many highly skilled candidates chose to work in the private sector due to higher pay and incentives such as having their education paid for, an incentive program the FBI is currently trying to implement.
The private sector has also posed another roadblock when it comes to the FBI’s cyber initiative. Many private sector groups are leery of divulging information to the FBI in the post-Snowden world.
Many fear how the Bureau plans to use the information or fear information about them becoming public knowledge due to FOIA requests. Sharing information between the FBI and private sector has also posed a challenge.
Some in the private sector have referred to the FBI as a “black hole” when it comes to sharing information. A private sector group may share information with the Bureau only to find they receive nothing in return and that their requests for information are met with resistance.
The OIG stated this as one of their main concerns stating that communication between the private sector and the FBI to be an integral part of fighting cyber-crime.
Reorganizing of the initiative may be part of the problem. In the 15 months the OIG was preforming their audit, the initiative reorganized it’s staff and inner workings three times.
The FBI states this is because of the fluid nature of the issue they are tackling but one could speculate that a lack of resources due to strict hiring practices may be adding to the frequent changes.
All eight recommendations by the OIG to fix these issues have been deemed “resolved” by the OIG. However, there was no statement if the FBI plans on making it’s hiring policies less stringent or not but mainly focused on “new hiring strategies,” such as new incentive programs and recruiting at high schools.