A visit to this museum takes on a whole new meaning following the recent disclosures of the National Security Agency’s far-flung phone and internet surveillance practices. One can more easily believe the claim made in the museum’s 5-minute introductory briefing film that Washington, D.C. has more spies than any other city in the world. Yikes.
Well, if you can’t flee them, join them. The International Spy Museum gives you the chance to do just that, learning about the best in the trade and tricks of the trade in interactive exhibits that allow you to test your powers of observation and pretend to be a spy. (Is that a gun in your pocketbook or a lipstick tube?) The history section reveals that the most unlikely of people have acted as spies in their time. Would you believe Moses? George Washington? Julia Child?
The International Spy Museum’s inventory of international espionage artifacts numbers about 2,400, one-third of which are on display at any one time, in exhibits that cover history, as noted, as well as training, equipment, the “spies among us,” legendary spymasters, spying during the Civil War, and 21st-century cyber-spying. The most popular exhibit is the one that was added in late 2012, “Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains.” Originally conceived as a temporary show, Bond will definitely be on exhibit through the end of 2015 and possibly longer. The attraction here is, basically, you get to be Agent 007. Interactive props allow you to use surveillance cameras, design a villain’s hideout, and match your skills against the real James Bond. On display throughout the show are 110 artifacts from James Bond movies. For example, in the section on “Weapons of Mass Disruption,” look for cyber-villain Raoul Silva’s laptop, from the 2012 movie Skyfall.
The Spy Museum is a three-floor affair, its main exhibit occupying the top level, and the James Bond exhibit consuming most of the first floor. Your general admission ticket grants you access to both of these areas. The second floor is devoted to providing the Operation Spy experience, which requires a separate ticket and admission fee. Here, participants immerse themselves in spy activities, like decrypting audio conversations and searching for evidence, as they work as part of a team to accomplish a mission.
Note: Operation Spy participants must be 12 or older. In fact, although the museum doesn’t specify an age requirement for touring its main exhibits, I think children 10 and older have the most fun here.
You exit the museum directly to its gift shop, which leads to the Spy City Cafe.
For an extra $2 convenience fee, you can order advance tickets online and print your tickets at home or pick them up at the box office. You can also purchase advance tickets, including for same-day tours, at the box office.
- Elise Hartman Ford