CSIS - Canada's Spy Agency
Canada's Spy Agency
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, also known as CSIS, is Canada's spy agency. The job of CSIS is to prevent terrorists and other spies from getting into the country, as well as preventing unsafe people from getting into or working for the government, among others.
If you're a Canadian and interested in working for CSIS, or just curious what this little-known agency does, read on!
CSIS's recruitment process is long, but on-par with other Agencies. It starts with an application made on the CSIS website at www.csis-scrs.gc.ca. Then there's an information session, background check, psychological assessment, foreign language testing, several interviews, a reference check, a polygraph, and some interviews.
- After you've applied you might hear back through a letter asking for an interview. Then you get called in for an information session, and the start of your background check.
The background check explores every bit of your personality and lifestyle, as well as your living and working arrangements for the last 10 to 15 years, so it requires a ton of information.
- If the basic background check information looks, then you're subjected to an assessment by a panel of Psychologists.
This is to make sure you have no mental illnesses that would pose a problem to your work, and to find out your true motivations for working in the Service (women? money? Somebody let it slip James Bond was a Canadian?)
- If you know any foreign languages (French included) then you get tested to see your skill level.
This is because French is required for all Intelligence Officers, so they want to know how much foreign-language training you have (if any) beforehand, so they know how much training you'll need before you start work.
- Then you have to do one of several panel-interviews. These are 3-on-1 grill sessions with working Intelligence Officers, to make sure you understand what you're agreeing too.
- After the grill-session a polygraph is conducted, and your fingerprints are taken. All this is to allow you to get a Top Secret security clearance, which is required to work at CSIS.
A Credit Check is common as well, to ensure you're not suffering from money problems that might encourage you to sell information to a foreign country.
- Once all of these tests and have been completed (which can take a year or longer), an offer of employment is made. Once you've accepted it, you begin CSIS's training program.
While details on the training program are sketchy, it runs in conjunction with a 5-year probationary period (you train while you're performing your job.) Once the 5-years are up, you're eligible to compete for positions in Ottawa and around the world as an Intelligence Officer.
Recruiting can take over a year and explores every part of your life for the past 10-15 years.
CSIS National Headquarters
History of CSIS
CSIS actually started as a branch of the RCMP, the RCMP Security Service. They were concerned with things like Quebec nationalism, domestic terrorism, Neo-Naziism, and so on.
Unfortunately, as the RCMP found out, having an Intelligence Agency in a Police Agency doesn't make for a healthy combination. The Police agree to some very hard and fast rules, like "Don't break the law", while Intelligence Agencies are often expected to use illegal tactics to complete the mission.
Because of these conflicts (which led to ethical problems for Police Officers) and several scandals (the RCMP illegally planted evidence, broke into houses without warrants, and kidnapped people), the Security Service was spun off to form the CSIS of today, which has no police power.
The RCMP still works with Intelligence though. They have a Criminal Intelligence Division and they also perform Counter-terrorism (which itself has led to scandal with undercover RCMP agents being accused of entrapment, see below.)
Canada's CIA Equivalent
CSIS started as the RCMP Security Service before becoming it's own organization in 1984.
Spy Ring Discovered in Canada
It's the job of CSIS to practice Counterintelligence, finding foreign spies and getting them out of the country (and preventing them from getting into the country.)
CSIS Intelligence Officer
Most Intelligence Officers in CSIS will work either in Ottawa at the National Headquarters (shown above), or at Canadian embassies and consulates around the world.
A lot of the job is research and analysis. While the CIA has a Clandestine division, where spies infiltrate foreign governments and Intelligence Services, CSIS mostly focuses on domestic protection of Canadians.
While CSIS Officers do go overseas quite frequently, their job still mainly concentrates on domestics. For instance, an Officer may be posted to a major city (such as Toronto), and perform background checks on people entering Canada.
If a suspected terrorist or other undesirable person attempts to enter, CSIS alerts the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) that they're dangerous, and the CBSA works with Airport Security and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to make sure they don't enter.
CSIS is also interested in preventing hate groups and other "subversive" activities. For instance, in the early 90s, CSIS infiltrated the biggest neo-Nazi organization in Canada (Heritage Front), and was instrumental in breaking the group up.
The Officer involved eventually had to go into Witness Protection when his identity was revealed (after his involvement had ended but before the group had ended) by a national newspaper.
Life as an Officer
Intelligence Officers work in a variety of places and jobs including Embassies, Consulates, and in Ottawa.
CSIS hires for all sorts of jobs, from the jack-of-all-trades Intelligence Officer (requiring a University degree), and regular support positions like any Government Agency hires for.
The clandestine positions include things such as Surveillant, whose job it is to watch people (such as suspected terrorists and members of subversive organizations) while standard support positions include Human Resources personnel, Financial Analysts, and Psychologists are also up for hire.
Jobs with CSIS
CSIS hires both for Intelligence positions as well as regular corporation support jobs.
Cooperation or Attack?
Who is more qualified to fight terrorists?
RCMP and other Police Services
CSIS Security Clearance
You may hear the words OPSEC, PERSEC, and INFOSEC (pronounced opp-seck, purr-seck, and info-seck) used when people are talking about Intelligence, spies, spy agencies, and so on. But did you know what they mean?
OPSEC stands for Operational Security, PERSEC stands for Personal Security, and INFOSEC stands for Informational Security. Together these three pillars of security help keep information about Canadians and Intelligence Officers (as well as members of the Police and Military) safe.
Getting a security clearance is a long and daunting process, but those with the clearances are tasked for practicing OPSEC, PERSEC, and INFOSEC.
National Security of Canada
Not maintaining good OPSEC, PERSEC, and INFOSEC can damage National Security and put lives in danger.
Canadians Infilitrate Computer Spy Network
Computer warfare is more common than ever before. While the job of computer warfare normally falls to the Canadian Forces, CSIS does practice collection and analysis of data.
Operational Security (OPSEC)
Everyone is listening
The basic idea behind OPSEC is to not disclose information to people who shouldn't have it. If you're talking in public places, or with people who might not be who they say they are, don't give them confidential information.
This is most important for people who are thinking about applying to a spy agency. If you tell everyone you know you're applying to CSIS for instance, and that information gets into the wrong hands, you could have a big issue on your hands later, if you make it into the Service.
Personal Security (PERSEC)
PERSEC involves tactics to protect physical objects and information. The same common sense that prevents people from getting robbed also need to be practiced by Intelligence Officers.
Things like not keeping confidential information in places where it can be stolen, not leaving doors and windows unlocked (goes back to the last point), and always being aware of your surroundings.
An example of when PERSEC goes wrong is in 2000, when a CSIS Officer watching a hockey game at Toronto's Air Canada Center had his car broken into, and a briefcase stolen.
The briefcase contained an outline of CSIS Intelligence operations for the next year. He was fired a month after that happened.
It turned out drug addicts had broken into it to get money, and later threw out the briefcase (without realizing it's value), but it still demonstrates a catastrophic lapse in PERSEC.
Informational Security (INFOSEC)
INFOSEC revolves around the protection of digital data, most of which is stored on computers. Hackers are a significant problem for security agencies, with people scanning for vulnerability on computer systems daily.
While hacking from external sources is prevalent and dangerous, there are other problems that can plague Intelligence agencies involving computers. One of the most common is P2P (Peer to Peer programs), which allow people to share music, videos, and other files.
These P2P programs have been used to spread viruses and worms however, and when they've been installed on work computers have inadvertently shared sensitive files.
Chinese Defectors Expose Spies in Canada
This sort of thing still happens today. It's the job of CSIS to evaluate information from defectors and ensure that they're both accurate and that Canada's interests are protected.
When Police Practice Counterterrorism
Gun Carrying Spies
CSIS agents have been carrying firearms into hostile areas. Do you think this is right?
CSIS and Firearms
Recently, it was revealed that CSIS agents have been carrying firearms in the field. They claim this is because like Soldiers and others in the field (e.g. Afghanistan), they need personal protection. However critics say that CSIS is going beyond their mandate and endangering lives, because the Officers get only "weeks of training".
Should CSIS Officers carry firearms?
This is RCMP footage from a joint CSIS-RCMP investigation that led to 18 arrests in a counter-terrorism arrest.
In addition to the standard Intelligence Officer position with CSIS, there are also a variety of other positions that CSIS must hire for. Of course there's the standard administrative ones of other government agencies (e.g. Human Resources), but CSIS also has several unique positions among its ranks.
Some of the more interesting positions include Surveillant, whose job it is to, obviously, perform surveillance on people in their communities. Translators provide, again, translation in and out of various languages, while Multimedia Technicians are responsible for advising CSIS on a variety of multimedia technology used by the Service.
Offset Pressman are used to create documents, and possibly CSIS identifications, and Emergency Management Analysts work to monitor threats around the world to direct intelligence collection.
These are only a sample of the many careers available at CSIS. Check out their website for more!
CSIS Employment Opportunities
CSIS hires for a variety of positions outside of Intelligence Officer
Work Outside Canada
In recent years, CSIS has been doing work outside Canada, in addition to their mandate to (like the CIA) to perform intelligence collection in support of Canada's interests domestically. Their primary action has been in Afghanistan, however it's unknown if they're working in other areas.
CSIS' actions in regards to Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was captured by US forces in Afghanistan after allegedly throwing a grenade at a US Soldier. The ensuing investigation and the several years Khadr spent at Guantanamo Bay while the Canadian Government refused to seek repatriation brought them under fire.
In addition CSIS and DFAIT (Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade) Officers visited him and may have concealed evidence of Khadr's torture.
Spies in the Field
While the CSIS mandate says they can only work domestically, they have been going abroad lately.
Critical CSIS Footage
Not everyone believes CSIS does good work. This video from CTV is critical of the security detail at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Books about CSIS - Little Known Domestically, Invisible Abroad
The following books feature information on CSIS. While there aren't many books written on the subject, the ones that are written do a fine job.
The CSIS Act is a 1984 document that officially created CSIS and spinned it off of the RCMP's Security Service. While the Act sets out the CSIS Charter and only allows them to operate domestically, CSIS has been found to operate outside their mandate and go overseas. This is one of the many contentious parts of CSIS' operations in and outside Canada.
The CSIS Act also sets out the 4 main things CSIS is charged with preventing: terrorism, espionage, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and security screening for immigration purposes. In recent years, IT has also become a major focus of CSIS, as protecting Canada's technical infrastructure has become crucial.
Have any questions about CSIS, or just want to leave a comment? Be my guest :)