Maybe it was the shock of 9/11 or the reality of Canadians dying in the ‘war on terror.’ Whatever the motivation, more and more Canadians are lining up to become spies, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service says.
TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO
CSIS director Jim Judd outside the Ottawa headquarters in 2005.
OTTAWA–Maybe it was the shock of 9/11. Maybe it is the reality of Canadians dying in the "war on terror" or charges against so-called "home-grown" terrorists.
Or maybe it’s stronger recruiting efforts by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), including outreach in ethnic communities.
Whatever the motivation, more and more Canadians are lining up to become spies, the agency says.
Last year, more than 14,500 people submitted applications for jobs in CSIS.
Of that number, CSIS hired 100 as "intelligence officers" – or spies.
"Is 100 all you needed or all you were able to find?" Senator Tommy Banks recently asked CSIS director Jim Judd.
"It was actually more than we needed," Judd told the standing committee on national defence and security.
CSIS is on a hiring blitz. The agency’s staffing levels dropped because of federal budget cuts in the mid-’90s, but it has received millions of dollars in funding for new recruits since 9/11.
"We are building a bit of flexibility into our capacity," said Judd. "I expect we will hire another 100 this year, and I expect the level of applications will be that high as well."
He conceded the level of interest "is surprising."
Equally surprising is the calibre of applicants. Judd said two-thirds of the hires have two or more university degrees, and half have languages other than English and French.
But don’t ask which languages. That’s top secret, although a spokesperson for CSIS allowed that they include "Spanish, Arabic and Chinese, etc."
Spokesperson Barbara Campion used the oft-cited statistic that among 2,600 CSIS employees, 85 languages are spoken.
Senator Mobina Jaffer said CSIS’ relations with the Muslim and Arab-speaking communities in Canada are better than in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks when many, including her, accused the spy agency of racially profiling terror suspects.
Judd said CSIS has invested "an enormous amount of time and effort" with various ethnic communities in Canada.
Not only has it allayed some of the community leaders’ concerns, but Judd says those same leaders actively helped CSIS hire people, "which we have been doing at a much greater rate over the last number of years."
Now, 45 per cent of "intelligence officers" at CSIS are women, and over the past two fiscal years, 55 per cent of new hires for that stream of work have been female, Campion said.
Judd said many of the new recruits have work experience, "including overseas or military. … The issue for us now is training and development and getting them to an operational level."
After six months of basic training, Judd said new recruits are generally on probation for about five years – the time it takes for an intelligence officer to reach the point of being "deployable."
But with the influx of strong candidates, CSIS is considering deploying people sooner.
"Some of my colleagues would say that the recruits that have come into the organization over the last five or six years are smarter than ever before," said Judd, who became director in November 2004.
"Some of them have more experience, life experience, if you will, other than academic credentials that may make them more readily deployable than was perhaps the case in the past."
CSIS, created nearly 23 years ago to take over national security intelligence-gathering duties from the RCMP, first drew heavily on the ranks of the RCMP’s national security service. Two decades on, less than 10 per cent of its workforce is former RCMP members.
Overall, its attrition rate is lower than the federal public service at large, but it has recently seen several retirements in its top ranks, including its deputy director of operations, assistant director of operations, the assistant director of corporate and the assistant director of finance.
Most have been replaced by people coming up within the service, but CSIS has also gone outside to augment its senior ranks, Judd said.
A request to interview Judd about the new faces at CSIS was refused.
But Campion said the changing face of the service helps CSIS three ways: It makes it easier to get "assistance from the Canadian population," helps the organization "avoid group-think" and sends a message "of inclusiveness to all current employees."