The new and improved International Spy Museum, which opened May 12 in Washington, D.C., claims to house “the world’s largest public display of authentic spy tools and gadgets.”
Among the clever gizmos lining the walls: a shoe with a hidden microphone, a silver dollar concealing a tiny suicide syringe, a KGB lipstick pistol, and a bunch of other contraptions worthy of James Bond or at least Maxwell Smart.
Much larger than its previous incarnation, established in 2002 at a different location, the International Spy Museum version 2.0 goes beyond espionage to explore the technology and science of data collection, the comprehensive slog of analysis, and also the ethics of intelligence work. Just before you enter the exhibit area, a sign asks, “Are you prepared to enter the shadow world?”
(Exhibit at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.; photo by Candyce Stapen)
Engaging exhibits illuminate this often misunderstood realm. The museum places spy tools in a historical context, uses first-person videos of real agents and analysts, and tests your own cloak-and-dagger skills at interactive stations.
That’s how the museum answers what must be every visitor’s unspoken question: Could I be a spy? To help you find the answer, the museum gives you an RFID (radio-frequency identification) card, a code name, and a mission.
After learning about enigma machines and ciphers, for example, you can activate a briefing station—an interactive computer screen that tracks your performance—to crack a code.
Find out about the grit required of agents, then see if you can concentrate on an assignment amid distractions and sit in an interrogation room to spot the body language of liars.
More solemn tests involve examining data to find Osama bin Laden’s hiding place and then using risk analysis to decide whether to send in special forces to raid the compound—the same decision faced by President Barack Obama in 2011.
At the final debriefing, you find out how you did. Want to compare your skills with others? Just enter your email and receive a detailed report.
How's that for sneaky information gathering?
The International Spy Museum's new location is at L'Enfant Plaza, across from the United States Postal Service Headquarters in Southwest Washington. Tickets are $24.95 for adults, $14.95 for kids ages 7–12, and free for kids ages 6 and younger.