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2/9/2012
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Steve Jobs: The FBI File

Jobs had Department of Defense Top Secret clearance, though it's not clear why.

10 Key Steve Jobs Moments and Innovations
10 Key Steve Jobs Moments and Innovations
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has released its file on Apple co-founder Steven Paul Jobs, who died last October.

The file was made public as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by journalist Michael Morisy through Muckrock, a FOIA request service, on the day after Jobs' death.

Jobs was considered for an appointed position on the U.S. President's Export Council in 1991. To clear him for the position, the FBI conducted a Level III background investigation to assess whether Jobs could be trusted for a government position. There are three basic security clearance levels, as defined by the Department of Defense: Level I, Confidential; Level II, Secret; and Level III, Top Secret.

Jobs, however, had previously been granted Top Secret clearance on November 3, 1988, following an August 30, 1988 investigation by the Defense Investigative Service. That clearance, apparently related to his ownership of digital animation company Pixar, was terminated on July 31, 1990. The file offers no details about whether Jobs' Top Secret clearance had anything to do with Pixar technology, which could conceivably have applications related to military imaging.

The file details lawsuits in which Jobs was, or had been, involved, including a 1984 securities litigation case against Apple Computer. It notes that five of the 10 volumes of records about the case, including the original complaint, could not be located at the district court in San Jose, Calif., where they were supposed to be stored.

[ Apple's security approach may not make us any safer--but it does restrict us. Read Apple's Walled Garden: Sledgehammer Needed. ]

It also cites an interview with a person whose name has been redacted. The interviewee told the FBI that Jobs was sued by Apple Computer when he left because "he took proprietary information and key technological personnel with him." That case was subsequently resolved.

The poaching of key talent remains a perennial concern among tech companies. In 2010, the Department of Justice settled a lawsuit against Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, and Pixar over agreements the companies had made not to recruit employees from each other. Evidence from that case indicates that Jobs, as Apple's CEO, emailed Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO at the time, asking Google not to recruit Apple employees.

The FBI's investigation contains observations about Jobs by both supporters and detractors. The general consensus of those interviewed was that Jobs was suitable for a position of trust and responsibility; some however cast him in a less flattering light.

One individual, whose identity has been redacted, "characterized Mr. Jobs as a deceptive individual who is not completely forthright and honest."

Two former Apple employees, according to the file, offered generally positive observations with a caveat. "They stated that [Jobs] is strong-willed, stubborn, hardworking, and driven, which they believe is why he is so successful. They further stated, however, that Mr. Jobs possess integrity as long as he gets his way; however, they did not elaborate on this."

The report attributes another negative assessment to an unidentified individual who stated "that Mr. Jobs will twist the truth and distort reality in order to achieve his goals." Jobs has long been credited with the ability to create "a reality distortion field," a rather mystical way of saying he was persuasive.

The file confirms what's widely known about Jobs, that he used marijuana and LSD in his youth, that he fathered a daughter out of wedlock, and that he initially did not support his daughter.

In the end, however, the FBI's work merely amplifies the public perception of Jobs: that he was admired by many and disliked by a few, that he was a visionary, and that he had flaws, too.

How 10 federal agencies are tapping the power of cloud computing--without compromising security. Also in the new, all-digital InformationWeek Government supplement: To judge the success of the OMB's IT reform efforts, we need concrete numbers on cost savings and returns. Download our Cloud In Action issue of InformationWeek Government now. (Free registration required.)

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