OTTAWA — Canadian spies are being warned not to wear their loyalty on their sleeve — or their wrist or lapel.
The hush-hush reminder to employees of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service advises keeping polo shirts, watches and pins emblazoned with the distinctive CSIS crest away from curious eyes.
The items are sold in a secret shop tucked away on the lower level of CSIS headquarters in Ottawa, and made available to employees posted elsewhere through the agency’s online memorabilia catalogue.
The souvenirs — which also include hoodies, key chains, mugs, pens and plaques — offer members of the intelligence service “a tangible sense of belonging to the organization,” says an internal CSIS article obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
But in keeping with CSIS policy, it seems the stylish spy must be careful to keep the merchandise undercover.
“Although the clothing does not display the Service’s acronym, it does feature the emblem,” says the October 2010 publication, parts of which remain classified.
“Some may argue that the majority of Canadian citizens do not recognize our crest, but given the Internet and the Service’s increasing media presence, the public is gaining awareness of its symbolism,” the article notes.
“The policy essentially states that employees should exercise discretion in disclosing employment outside the work environment. Furthermore, employees working in (deleted from document) must be particularly vigilant in concealing their employer or any association with CSIS.”
Agency spokeswoman Isabelle Scott bought a fleece sweater with the CSIS crest, which features a blue palisade — or defensive wall — edged with gold, a red maple leaf and royal crown.
“It is true that for security reasons, CSIS employees are taught to be discreet about their place of employment — so that means we need to exercise judgment about how we use the memorabilia items,” she said.
“I wear my CSIS fleece under my winter jacket.” The spy service could flash its wares with more abandon in the days when a cartoon beaver — wearing trench coat, dark glasses and fedora — was the furry face of CSIS souvenirs.
The iconically Canadian critter was the unofficial mascot of a trainee’s graduating intelligence officer class. The buck-toothed spy began showing up on CSIS security awareness posters, the article says.
“It was that same notion of discretion that led the beaver to become the unofficial emblem of CSIS memorabilia items” — as only those in the know would associate the logo with the intelligence service.
In 2004, then-CSIS director Ward Elcock “phased out the beaver as the unofficial emblem,” the article adds. At Elcock’s farewell celebration, a stuffed toy beaver that resided at CSIS headquarters was given a ceremonial burial.
Today the spy agency’s volunteer memorabilia team occasionally gets recommendations for new items, including teddy bears, ties and pyjama pants.
The clandestine nightwear doesn’t yet exist, said Scott.
But James Bond would undoubtedly be pleased to place his vodka martini (shaken, not stirred) on an elegant silver-rimmed CSIS coaster — the newest addition to the shop.
When visitors are escorted down to the store they’re like “kids in a candy shop” because the CSIS souvenirs are something special they can’t find anywhere else, the article says.
The hottest seller is a pin featuring the CSIS crest, with more than 100 snapped up monthly.
“The primary purpose of the memorabilia is to serve as gifts for our partner agencies in the intelligence and law enforcement community,” Scott said.