Canada’s signal intelligence agency using an escape room to bolster recruitment

During the dire days of the Second World War, British officials recruited code breakers for Bletchley Park by putting difficult crossword puzzles in the newspaper and granting those who could crack the cryptic puzzles an interview.

Decades later, Canada’s foreign signal intelligence agency is putting a spin on that. 

The Communications Security Establishment has taken the unusual step of reaching out to an Ottawa-based escape room company to help bolster its recruitment levels and raise its profile.

Starting in September, wannabe code breakers (and average revellers looking for a night out) can take a crack at solving cyberattack scenarios at the Escape Manor in the city’s Hintonburg neighbourhood. 

The goal, said CSE spokesperson Ryan Foreman, is to attract new recruits to help the agency collect foreign intelligence and thwart cyberattacks.

“The idea behind our partnership is to bolster our recruiting efforts and build awareness of who we are and what we do,” he said in an email to CBC News.

“This is an ideal venue for us to reach people with these interests who may not be aware of CSE or have ever considered career opportunities in Canada’s security and intelligence community.”

The Recruit will be a narrative game involving a cyberattack by the fictional adversary known as The Syndicate.

Intelligence agencies struggling with recruitment

Foreman said several CSE code makers and breakers helped design the puzzles.

“CSE’s workforce is made up of problem solvers and critical thinkers in many different fields who tackle some of the toughest technical problems for the government of Canada, and we know that the kinds of puzzles and problem-solving skills needed to be successful in an escape room challenge are common interests among many of our staff,” he said.

The room will formally open in September and run for at least six months.

The news comes as another intelligence agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, struggles with hiring and keeping spies.

Recruitment and retention were named as “key issues of concerns,” in a recent briefing document obtained by access to information.

CSE said it’s also faces a recruitment issue, but has made strides, largely thanks to its university co-op program.