Though sections have been redacted and more than two dozen interviews are narrated in dry officialese, the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 191-page file on Steve Jobs, released Thursday, reveals numerous lively details about the Apple co-founder's personal life and professional past, as recounted to FBI agents by his colleagues, neighbors and friends.
The document confirms much of what is already known about Jobs, including his drug use, spartan lifestyle and the intense managerial style that created friction between him and some of his colleagues. Yet it also sheds light on Jobs' relationship with the government, revealing that he was given top secret clearance between 1988 and 1990 and was being considered by President George H. W. Bush's administration for a position on the president's Export Council. Much of the file consists of the 1991 background check the FBI performed in light of this prospective appointment.
Several pages of memos and handwritten notes also provide a glimpse into a $1 million bomb threat that was made against Apple on Feb. 7, 1985, several months before Apple fired Jobs.
"An unidentified male caller made a series of telephone calls to [redacted] of Apple computer Inc. [...] and advised that 'devices' had been placed in homes of captioned individuals [redacted] and one million dollars must be paid," the FBI wrote in a memo about the threat. The FBI noted that its probe of the areas targeted by the individual who made the bomb threat turned up no unusual activity.
At least 29 people were interviewed for the FBI's background check, and although their names have been redacted, there are several clues hinting at their identities. For example, the FBI notes that it interviewed a "roommate" and attempted to contact a woman who "had a baby born out of wedlock," presumably Chris-Ann Brennan, Jobs' ex-girlfriend and the mother of his daughter Lisa.
Most of the friends and colleagues interviewed by the FBI had high praise for Jobs and recommended him for a position in the government. Jobs associates with an "eclectic group of people, most of whom are famous," noted one interviewee, while another endorsed Jobs as someone who "will make a positive contribution on the National scene." Another person said he lives a "spartanlike and at times even monastic existence," and one pointed out that he "liked brainstorming and was good at mediating."
Some acknowledged his drug use, and others offered details on his personal beliefs. According to the FBI's notes from one interview, an acquaintance of Jobs' said he "had undergone a change in philosophy by participating in Eastern and/or Indian mysticism and religion. This change apparently influenced the appointee's personal life for the better." Jobs lived within his means, noted one person, and "his chief concern was how that wealth would be used after he was gone."
But several individuals, including one man who said he felt "bitter" toward Jobs because the CEO's actions had prevented him from getting stock, criticized Jobs' demeanor and questioned his technical skills.
The FBI writes that one interviewee "added that although the Appointee [Jobs] is basically an honest and trustworthy person, he is a very complex individual and his moral character is suspect." Another characterized Jobs as "not totally forthright and honest," and as someone who "has a tendency to distort reality in order to achieve his goals."
According to the FBI's notes, another individual "believed the appointee has what it takes to assume a high level political position within the government, which in his opinion, honesty and integrity are not prerequisites to assume such a position."
Several individuals cast doubt on Jobs' technical qualifications. One described Jobs as "technically oriented but [...] in the opinion of many, not an engineer," and another commented he was not "a deeply technical individual."
Jobs had a 2.65 high school GPA, according to the documents.
As of March 1991, Jobs owned three properties: a house in Woodside, Calif.; an apartment in New York City; and a house in Palo, Alto, Calif. He also said at the time that he had not taken any illegal drugs in the preceding five years, but admitted to "experimenting" with marijuana, hashish and LSD.
Jake Bialer and Courteney Palis contributed reporting.