Science in Defense - Canadian Careers in National Security Research


Since 9/11, career opportunities in national security-related research and development have definitely been on the rise, not just south of the border but here in Canada as well. Through its various departments, the Canadian government is addressing present and future threats to a wide range of sectors including transportation, public health, and key information systems. Here's a quick rundown of the various federal agencies tasked with gathering intelligence and developing countermeasures that ensure the safety of our borders.

Communications Security Establishment (CSE)

The CSE is Canada's cryptologic code-breaking agency. The organization's origins can be traced to the Second World War, when key communications from Japan and Nazi Germany were intercepted, decrypted, translated, and analyzed. Working under the Minister of National Defence, CSE provides foreign-signals intelligence and ensures the protection of electronic information and communications going in and out of the federal government.

As a result of the events of 9/11, CSE has garnered more interest from the government than ever before--and more funding. According to Adrian Simpson, Senior Communications Advisor for the CSE, that means more job opportunities. "The mandate of CSE has been reinforced and tasking has increased ... to enhance and expand security-related capabilities in counter-terrorism and to increase our capability to identify vulnerabilities and threats to government networks," says Simpson.

Precise job specifications and job numbers cannot be revealed for national security reasons, but CSE is always on the lookout for scientists and engineers. Particularly hot fields these days at the agency are language translation and information-technology security. Mathematicians are needed for cryptology, while physicists are being sought to do research and development on radar technologies and digital-signal acquisitions and analysis. Simpson says the focus of recent hiring has been on young university graduates and reveals that CSE is now recruiting, and will continue to over the next 3 years, with representatives visiting university campuses across Canada. Check out the CSE's web site.

Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS)

Much of the intelligence gathered by CSE is investigated by CSIS. According to the CSIS Web site, CSIS is "an organization with secrets to protect, not a secret organization." A branch of the government's Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, CSIS has a mandate to "investigate threats to the security of Canada and [advise] the government on those threats." CSIS--a civilian agency--collects and analyzes threat-related information and intelligence and puts together reports for government clients.

If you wish to be considered for employment at CSIS, be prepared for an extensive and highly competitive selection process that includes a series of in-depth interview sessions, background checks, and even polygraph tests. Intelligence Officers (IO) positions are the core professional group at CSIS and are hired from a variety of academic fields. Scientists with chemistry and physics backgrounds are particularly of interest. According to Barbara Campion, CSIS spokesperson, prior experience in a forensics environment is an asset. Scientists may be required to travel and apply their skills in an operational environment that does not lend itself to the use of standard laboratory tools. They must therefore be innovative and creative and have good communication skills.

Scientists must possess a high degree of proficiency in research, analysis, and problem. Most applicants will do a 4-year internship prior to assuming the full range of responsibilities. CSIS regularly recruits on university campuses, but welcomes applications from early-career and established scientists in all fields of science. Applications for employment can be filed directly online.

Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA)

Detecting and analyzing radioactive materials and sniffing out chemical and biological agents are all in the days work for scientists and engineers working at this agency's Laboratory and Scientific Services Directorate (LSSD). The Ottawa-based scientific branch of CBSA has gained an international reputation for its scientific expertise in a variety of fields including the forensic examination of documents and the detection of contraband substances.

Some of the more intensive research focuses on biometrics, including iris and facial recognition, and on technologies that can detect radiation. LSSD Director General Andre Lawrence says that his lab needs radiation physicists and engineers, as well as forensic chemists. Lawrence also believes that there are tremendous opportunities for leveraging the research being done at LSSD in other fields. Already, LSSD technology used to analyze fraudulent travel documents has been applied to other types of documents, such as those involved in tax evasion. "Work done in computer search and evidence recovery for counter-terrorism purposes can also be transferred to the detection of pornography," he explains.

As many as 10 early-career scientists with Masters and PhDs have been hired in the last few years, and while there are no formal recruiting drives, they are on the lookout for new potential hires. "We are continually scanning the market for good skills to complement or replace our existing capabilities," adds Lawrence.

Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC)

Operating six research centers across Canada and offering collaborative opportunities with other government agencies, academia, and industry, the Department of Defence's DRDC provides Canadian Forces with leading edge defense science and technology.

As part of a $7.7 billion security package announced in the 2001 federal budget, the Department of Defence set up a 5-year $ 170 million interdepartmental fund to address chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) threats, as well as responses to and preparedness for terrorist attacks. Working in multidisciplinary teams in a network of laboratories from Halifax to Medicine Hat, the CBRN Research and Technology Initiative (CRTI) has already invested more than $95 million in 65 projects and has produced several counter-terrorism technologies, including mobile labs capable of responding to radiological incidents within 24 hours anywhere in Canada.

Defence R&D Canada currently employs about 670 scientists, of which 158 are early in their careers. The agency has the capacity to hire an additional 60 to 95 in the future, if new funding comes their way. Defence R&D Canada is hiring scientists in biochemistry, bacteriology, experimental psychology, and physics engineering, among others. For a closer look at career opportunities in the Department of Defence visit its Web site.

National Research Council (NRC)

In the aftermath of the PanAm flight 103 crash that killed 270 people in 1988, airport security checkpoints rushed to install explosives detectors. The need to detect explosives has driven research around the world. For decades, NRC scientists have been developing technologies that allow rapid detection of faint hints of vapours from explosives. Lorne Elias, a retired 30-year veteran scientist at the NRC and an expert in countermeasure technologies for explosives, developed the current standard technology used in airports everywhere. The next generation of bomb-sniffing devices is under development, according to Elias; these will have the capability to rapidly detect even hidden plastic explosives anywhere on the body.

But times are changing, and Elias has noticed that his niche has narrowed a bit and opportunities at the NRC in explosives research may be a bit harder to come by. Currently hot topics include the development of sensing devices for the detection of harmful chemical agents, biological pathogens, and radiological devices. Recent funding from the CRTI program has NRC researchers developing chemical-imprinting technology that could prove useful against possible terrorist attacks.

On the whole it seems there is a bright future for anyone contemplating a career in national security research in Canada. According to Elias, even private industries are getting in on the act by collaborating with government agencies engaged in this type of research. Striving to stay one or two steps ahead is the name of the game of national security research. "We try to put in place as many safeguards as possible, but it's a battle that is sure to continue."

"The more countermeasures we put in, the more the bad guys try to outsmart us," says Elias. "But right now, we are caught up as we can ever be."

For more information on careers at the NRC visit them online.

Andrew Fazekas is Canadian Editor at Next Wave and may be reached at

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