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Canada’s Spy Agency Wants to Hire Shrinks to Study Terrorists

Canada has found itself faced with a foreign fighter problem, as dozens of Canadians have left to fight alongside the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and other radical groups.

by Justin Ling
Feb 15 2016, 5:15pm

Photo by Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Faced with a foreign fighter problem that has seen dozens of Canadians leave to fight alongside the Islamic State, Canada's main intelligence service is putting together a team of shrinks to help them get to the root causes of radicalization and extremism.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is looking to staff up their new "applied psychology section," to help them understand why anyone would join groups like the Islamic State.

The job postings are for research and development psychologists, meaning they'll be asked to "conduct applied research on trends, behaviors and other relevant aspects of ideological extremism.

"Among other things, the members of this small unit are tasked to assist the Service in better understanding radicalization and terrorism," the posting says.

The shrinks will be joining a team of other R&D psychologists who have been hired in recent months for similar work, according to other job postings that had been uploaded to a career section of the CSIS website.

The jobs require a master's degree in psychology, and the listed salaries range from roughly $75,000 CAD to $100,000 CAD. It's unclear how many psychologists CSIS is planning on hiring.

Previous postings indicated that "the successful candidate will be involved in the planning and execution of small-group studies."

VICE News reached out to the security service to ask for specifics about the studies.

Related: Canada's Spy Agency Disputes Idea That Personality and Terrorism Aren't Linked

"Psychologists at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) conduct research on trends, behaviors and other relevant aspects of ideological extremism," a spokesperson for the agency said in an email, but offered no firm detail on the studies.

Dozens of Canadians have left to fight alongside the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and other radical groups in recent years — one estimate puts that number at 130. Several of the defectors have already come back to Canada, and are being watched by police.

The agency, of course, is an intensely secret organization. The psychology jobs require top secret security clearance — which means the applicants will need to go through a thorough security screening, background and financial checks, and a polygraph test.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, then leader of the third-place party, was relentlessly mocked by the then-governing Conservatives for insisting that Canada ought to analyze the "root causes" of terrorism.

But the new CSIS headshrinkers appear to be tasked with doing exactly that.

"CSIS psychologists are members of multidisciplinary teams and play a key role in identifying emerging trends and, in some cases, linking those trends or actors to recent events in Canada or abroad," the CSIS spokesperson said in an email.

Follow Justin Ling on Twitter: @justin_ling