I missed my calling. It turns out that my lifelong dream of being a spy wasn’t out of reach.
It’s now evident that it doesn’t matter to the spying profession if you’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
I don’t know if it’s spying itself that’s become more lax, or just the spy lifestyle. Once upon a time, to be a spy, you had to be able to read a map, operate a telescope, and get Russian diplomats drunk and chatty. My own dim geographical skills, wonky vision and low tolerance for vodka took me out of the running back in 1965, during the Cold War. I was in grade two at the time. “The world of internathional ethpionage ith not for me,” I lisped sadly into my giant tape recorder.
Likely you experienced the same disillusionment. In the 1960s and ’70s, spies were gloomy skulkers like Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, tough, sexy customers like Diana Rigg in The Avengers, or suave action men, like “Bond, James Bond.” But all this was before the establishment of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), which we now know to be the last bastion of buffoonery.
Past news stories have informed us of one CSIS agent losing crucial documents by leaving them in her car during a hockey game. In 2006, the Ottawa Citizen reported that some 119 current and former spies were battling CSIS for $3 million in back pay, bonuses and pensions. Now we hear that a CSIS agent who was fired four years ago for alleged incompetence has won his wrongful dismissal suit and will soon be back in the saddle. Way to keep it under your fedoras, fellas.
This Montreal intelligence officer, Marc-Andre Bergeron, was supposedly so sloppy that he compromised security and jeopardized credibility “just by showing up for work,” wrote the Globe and Mail’s Colin Freeze. As Inspector Gadget probably did before him, this character won his case, apparently because his employer couldn’t, or wouldn’t, reveal what evidence it had to prove his unsuitability for the job.
Bergeron had apparently suffered a few bad performance reviews over the course of his four-year period of employment. One of his bosses finally wrote him a note (I guess Bergeron could, at least, read) to let him know that “You do not have the skills and abilities needed to be an intelligence officer at CSIS” – which, if you think about it, has to be the ultimate insult.
People are rarely fired from the agency, according to Freeze’s story. That’s partly because these ex-employees could take intelligence with them and share it with parties even more dangerous than the Public Service Labour Relations Board (PSLRB), which backed the terminated officer. Bergeron, however, was not suspected of having intelligence of any sort.
And yet CSIS is being forced to re-hire him, because of the technicality that, says the PSLRB, “he did not receive a confirmation of his shortcomings before being terminated.” CSIS will once again employ a spy whom it claims to believe is sloppy, unskilled and unfit, and who must also now be disgruntled. Presumably, this George Costanza-like figure will be “tasked” with helping to protect the safety of Canadians.
Hallelujah! That means the door must be open to the rest of us to work at CSIS. I, too, have no skills or abilities to be an intelligence officer. Never mind that I am averse to buttering up Russians – or anybody else, for that matter -- I do enjoy hovering, eavesdropping, and sizing up whether people are telling lies. If I were assigned to somewhere with great food, like China, I could probably lurk, loaf and listen for years. True, I understand no Chinese, but that’s where that “aptitude and talent are expendable” philosophy works in my favour.
I tell you, I’m psyched. To be considered for employment, I discovered online, I simply have to be a Canadian citizen, be eligible for Top Security clearance, have no criminal record, and must not have consumed illegal drugs in the past 12 months. A driver’s license is considered an asset for “certain positions.” Bicycling to assignments is probably okay for others, though, especially if I were assigned to a flat place, like Holland. I would also be amenable to learning to skateboard.
The position of Intelligence Officer (IO) is that rare job where a Bachelor of Arts in English won’t get you laughed out of the room. You don’t need to be a brainiac -- any Bachelor’s degree from a recognized Canadian university is potentially acceptable.
“The exact nature of the work performed by individual IOs can vary greatly,” the website advises. In other words, you never know when your ability to decode The Canterbury Tales might come in handy, it’ll be at least four years before they figure out you’re faking it, and being publicly denounced as incompetent won’t affect your pension.
Intelligence Officer at CSIS – my perfect job.