Thursday, March 24, 2005


A week or two ago I was flipping through an old copy of Reader's Digest I had brought back from Canada last September, and I noticed an article I hadn't read before, about a Canadian aid group that was investigating prostitution here in Phnom Penh and its surrounding areas, and it only took me a few seconds of reading to realize that the main dude in the profile, the Canadian do-gooder at the centre of it all, was the same guy who tried to recruit me into a branch of the Canadian C.I.A. two summers ago.

Let me back up.

In the late summer of 2003 I was chilling on the waterfront in Cambodia, sitting at one of the numerous drinking joints that line the river, throwing back a Coke with a Canadian friend. She introduced me to her friend, another Canadian, who was heavily involved with a (you guessed it) Canadian aid group here. Nice guy -- very polite, well-spoken, good humored. He was a campaign consultant for Preston Manning and Mike Harris and the Tories back home -- kind of like the Canadian version of the Republicans.

He asked me what I did, where I'd been, yada yada yada. After learning that I'd spent four years in Japan, he started asking about my Japanese level, how fluent I was, bla bla bla. Then he said something to the effect of:

"Well, you know, I'm involved with a lot of different groups, one of which is ________, which basically monitors various kinds of transmissions that are emanating from different foreign elements, and they ensure that proper communication systems are within place between neighbouring nation-states, and they're always open to engaging people with various different language capabilities."

I had no idea what he had said.

But I got his email, remembered the name of the organization, looked it up on the web.

It was basically an offshoot of CSIS, the Canadian CIA -- a communications agency that 'monitors', which means 'spies', on other countries. They need people with language capabilities from all over the world, because, I guess, even Canada, yes Canada, is continuously spying on everybody all over the world.

Just for the hell of it, I emailed this organization, told them a variation of this story, asked how to apply. Somebody got back to me right away, in a very cordial, professional email, detailing to whom I should contact, with this caveat: "Oh, and if you do manage to get an interview, please don't tell them you contacted me, or know who I am. Cheers!"

(Full disclosure: I'm not sure I used the word 'caveat' correctly, but I thought I'd give it a shot.)


The thing is, I've always been interested in intelligence gathering organizations. I think the C.I.A. is up to more nefarious stuff around the globe than we can even begin to contemplate; I think its reach is wide and sharp and octopular in its range. (That's not a word, 'octopular', but I decided to throw caution to the wind there.) Seeing Oliver Stone's J.F.K. and reading Norman Mailer's massive novel Harlot's Ghost whetted my appetite at a young age for the illicit political machinations that governments perform in the name of national security. I like reading about it, thinking about it, and trying to figure it all out -- in the movies, in books, and in real life.

And this time, real life caught up to me.

But it made me wonder:

Was this young Canadian's entire aid group here in Cambodia nothing more than a front group for the Canadian C.I.A.? Is this how young recruits are, well, recruited? Over late-night Cokes in Phnom Penh? Does the fact that he positioned himself as a consultant to Canada's conservative parties mean anything at all?

Who knows?

Kind of fun, though.

I'm from St.Catharines, Ontario, see. To even contemplate the fact that I may have been a possible candidate for recruitment into the Canadian C.I.A., and that this whole endeavor went down in Cambodia, of all places, is proof that Life with a capital 'l' will gladly, even eagerly, throw its own warped and tantalizing surprise parties every now and then.

(Oh, and if you managed to read all of this post all the way to the end, please don't tell anybody that I contacted you, or that you know who I am. Cheers!)

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