February 4, 2007

Canada boosts intelligence


As universities struggle to meet the growing post-9-11 demand for courses in security and intelligence, Canada's spy agency has revved up recruiting efforts to fill positions soon to be vacated by retiring baby boomers.

"We're looking for about 70% more intelligence officers," said Canadian Security Intelligence Service spokeswoman Barbara Campion, adding the agency currently employs about 2,400 people across Canada and around the world.

"It's a pretty significant increase and it's due mostly to the upcoming retirement of baby boomers."


Campion said CSIS stepped up recruitment efforts in the spring with an aggressive advertising campaign, but noted the service has been boosting its ranks since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when it received additional funding from the federal government.

While the agency often looks to fill positions from within, it's "trying to increase personnel, not just move them around," Campion said.

According to the CSIS website, there are currently more than 20 positions up for grabs.

"We do get thousands of applications every year, but we really needed to increase the interest because that increases our potential pool of hires," she said.

Each individual hiring process can take up to a year since applicants must go through an extensive background check that includes a polygraph test and examination of financial records and personal acquaintances, Campion said.

While she wouldn't discuss numbers, Campion said there has been a significant increase in applications since the recruitment drive began, particularly after the arrests last June of 17 terrorism suspects in Ontario.

"Events like that tend to trigger increased interest in these types of jobs," she said. "Like after 9-11, apparently we were flooded with resumes."

Any Canadian citizen who has lived in the country for at least 10 years, has a university degree, has the potential to become bilingual (if not already), and can pass the background check required for "top secret" security clearance is eligible to become a CSIS intelligence officer.

If enrolment in security and intelligence university courses is any indication, CSIS should have no trouble finding qualified candidates.


University professors across the country say demand for such courses over the last few years has outstripped the ability of post-secondary institutions to provide them.

Gavin Cameron, a University of Calgary professor who specializes in international relations, terrorism and counterterrorism, said undergraduate courses fill up quickly, and there are usually requests to overload the courses.

The situation, he said, gets worse at the graduate level, with many students having difficulty finding faculty members who can supervise their studies.

"I think every year I probably had three times as many students inquire with overt security-related topics than I could supervise," he said.

Martin Rudner, founding director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Carleton University, said the school last month approved a new master's program in intelligence and national security.

However, the problem is finding enough people to teach the course, since two professors, including Rudner, are retiring, and there is only enough money to hire one replacement.

"The province of Ontario has not only underfunded its universities, it has made it impossible for the universities to even replace retiring faculty," Rudner said.

"The problem is, in Canadian higher education there's no national strategy - nobody in Ottawa telling the provinces what to prioritize."

Because the provinces haven't made security and intelligence research and education a priority, Canada is losing its best and brightest to places like Britain and the United States, Rudner said.