Moral Character

Steve Jobs’s FBI File Calls Him Smart, Tough, and Not Very Honest

A 1991 FBI file compiled the opinions of co-workers and acquaintances. The verdict: not a nice guy but a good hire.

Apple cofounder Steve Jobs used hard drugs and was such an unethical sleazebag that some people around him claimed he could not be trusted.

That’s the takeaway from a report prepared by the FBI in 1991 when Jobs was being considered for an appointment to the President’s Export Council during the first Bush administration.

Jobs didn’t get the position, but the report, which the FBI has posted on its website, dredges up some juicy details that reveal what people around Jobs thought of him.

In a nutshell: not much.

To be sure, some people seem to have had only good things to say. They described Jobs as extremely intelligent, and a great leader. But others just tore into Jobs and were extremely critical of his moral character. The names of the people interviewed have all been redacted.

The funny thing is that even people who didn’t like Jobs did recommend him for the position. One person, after saying nasty things about Jobs, goes on to say that he still thought Jobs would be a good candidate for a government position since, in his opinion, “honesty and integrity are not required qualities to hold such a position.”

Here are some highlights:

  • A friend from college says Jobs used marijuana and LSD. In his own interview with the FBI, Jobs said that from 1970 to 1974 he had experimented with marijuana, hashish, and LSD, but that he had not used drugs in the past five years. No surprise here. Every biography of Jobs talks about his use of psychedelic drugs, and supposedly Jobs thought LSD had helped him and had been a positive thing in his life.
  • Jobs got his girlfriend pregnant and refused to support their daughter, at first denying that the child was his. Later, he changed his mind and acknowledged his daughter and supported her. Again, no surprise. Every biography tells the story of Chris-Ann Brennan, Jobs’s girlfriend, and their daughter, Lisa Brennan Jobs.
  • The report says, “Several sources questioned Mr. Jobs’s honesty stating that Mr. Jobs will twist the truth and distort reality in order to achieve his goals.”
  • One person interviewed “characterized Mr. Jobs as a deceptive individual who is not completely forthright and honest.”
  • One a former Apple employee “characterized Mr. Jobs as an honest and trustworthy individual; however his moral character is questionable.” The person “feels bitter towards and alienated by Mr. Jobs.” This person complained that he did not receive any stock when Apple went public and that if he had received stock he would be wealthy now. He said Jobs “is basically an honest and trustworthy person,” but “he is a complex person and his moral character is suspect.” Also, he said, “Mr. Jobs alienated a lot of people at ACI [Apple Computer Inc.] as a result of his ambition.” This person said he no longer considered Jobs to be his friend.
  • Two former Apple employees said “Jobs possesses integrity as long as he gets his way.”
  • A woman contacted by the FBI “stated she was somewhat reluctant to discuss the Appointee since she has questions concerning his ethics and his morality.” She also said that a 1983 Time magazine article about Jobs had been accurate in describing him as “a visionary and charismatic individual who was at the same time shallow and callous to the people in his personal relationships. She described his personal life as being lacking due to his narcissism and shallowness.”

There isn’t really anything new here, but it’s still a bit shocking to see stuff like this in print. In the end, of course, Jobs triumphed. Apple today is the most valuable company in the world. Sales of iPhones and iPads are booming. Over time, the negative stuff about Jobs will probably fade away and he’ll be remembered most for what he accomplished.