Steve Jobs FBI file: four humanizing revelations

Steve Jobs' FBI file shows a man motivated by power and the desire to achieve great things. The Steve Jobs FBI file also produced surprising details that humanize a great visionary.

Susan Ragan/AP
Then acting chief executive of Apple Steve Jobs contemplates an idea during his keynote speech at the opening of MacWorld Expo in San Francisco in 1997. Mr. Jobs told the audience that year, 'I can tell you I think for sure Apple is coming back.'

Steve Jobsjust-released FBI file depicts a computer executive motivated by power and the desire to achieve great things. It also reveals him to be a demanding boss who sometimes slashed at underlings’ egos and was, in the view of some people, willing to engage in dishonesty and deceit to reach his goals.

One critic interviewed by the FBI went so far as to say that he thought Mr. Jobs would make a fine politician. He did not mean this as a compliment.

“He concluded by saying that although he does not consider [Jobs] to be a personal friend, he believed [Jobs] has what it takes to assume a high political position within the government, which in his opinion, honesty and integrity are not prerequisites to assume such a position,” reported the FBI agent who conducted the interview.

At the time, in early 1991, the FBI was conducting a background search of Jobs because he was being considered for a position on the George H.W. Bush administration’s President’s Export Council. According to the Associated Press, he did eventually serve in that capacity.

As such, the background check was aimed at producing a general picture of Jobs and any possible personal problems that would embarrass the White House or render him unfit to serve the country.

The person who emerges from the 191 pages of the file is not dissimilar to the Jobs already depicted by the media after his death in October. But the FBI still managed to produce some surprising details that today humanize someone who was both a great visionary and an occasional nightmare to subordinates and competitors.

For instance, as we’ve already noted, his neighbors loved him. One gushed that just the previous day Jobs had paid a visit to make sure that his landscape work wasn’t intrusive. He came to neighbors’ dinners, jogged around a lot, and in general seemed like the sort of person who’d help you jump-start your car in the morning.

In addition:

He Did Not Get Great Grades.

The FBI contacted Homestead High School in Cupertino, Calif., which Jobs attended from September 1968 until June 1972. Guess what? He was a mediocre student. His overall GPA was 2.65.

Today’s mediocre students should not all take comfort from this, however. At the same time, Jobs was already fooling around with computers and computer-oriented friends in a manner that in retrospect showed great promise. (Yes, Bill Gates dropped out of college, too. But it was already clear he was a genius of some sort.)

He Was Not a Joiner. 

In his personal interview with the FBI, Jobs told the bureau that he was a member of no organization save the New York Athletic Club. But he added that he knew nothing about that club, or its membership policies, because he had never actually been there.

Maybe he just didn’t like New York. The FBI's New York bureau interviewed a representative of the famous San Remo apartment building on Central Park West, where Jobs owned a domicile. This person informed the bureau that as far as he knew Jobs had never actually been inside his San Remo apartment and that therefore none of his New York neighbors would know anything about him.

“He stated that he did not know the candidate personally but the fact that the candidate was allowed to buy an apartment in the San Remo is an indication that he is of good character,” reported the FBI.

Those coop boards – they’re killers.

He Understood Asia

Jobs’ interest in Eastern religions and culture is well known. One interviewee spun this interest of his into a virtue that would well serve the US government in its export efforts.

“[Jobs] liked brainstorming and was good at meditating,” the FBI reported in its summary of this particular interview. "[Jobs] understood the Japanese culture and had a great deal of contact in dealing with companies in the Orient.”

Then this interviewer added that in case the FBI didn’t know, Jobs was rich.

“The Appointee was well off and had more money than he could spend in a lifetime and his chief concern was how that wealth would be used after he was gone,” the FBI recounted.

This was before his triumphant reinvention of Apple as the purveyor of iPods and iPhones to the world, remember. At the time, his bank accounts were just getting started.

He Got Bomb Threats. 

Or rather, Jobs received at least one bomb threat. On the morning of Feb. 7, 1985, an unidentified male made a series of calls to Apple staff members claiming that “devices” had been placed at the homes of Jobs and two other company executives. A fourth bomb had been placed in an unidentified location as a hedge against law-enforcement intervention, according to the caller. He demanded $1 million.

The caller instructed Jobs to go to the San Francisco Hilton and look under a table next to a candy machine for further instructions.

The FBI traced the call to a garage near the airport. Agents swept the homes in question but found no bombs. There were no instructions next to the candy machine. No suspect was ever identified.

“Telephone trap placed by telephone company on victim’s office telephone in the event further calls received, however, no further calls made to date,” concluded an FBI memo dated Feb. 8, 1985.

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