Enter the Secret World of Espionage

  • Parade
  • -
  • Sunday, July 7, 2002

by Karen Feld

The International Spy Museum, opening in two weeks in Washington, D.C., offers a declassified look at intelligence-gathering, where you can test your own spy potential.

International Spy Museum

At a time when questions are being raised about the effectiveness of U.S intelligence, the new International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., opening July 19, provides visitors with an oppportunity to reflect on the world of espionage, past and present.

The wristwatch camera, kept track of time — as well as faces and places: Inside is a miniature camera that holds a circular piece of film with six exposures. German spies would click the button while pretending to check the time. It dates back to the 1950s.

This deadly yet oh-so-handy lipstick pistol cleverly concealed a 4.5mm, single-shot weapon. It was discovered on a KGB operative in West Berlin during the mid-’60s.
“The museum gives visitors a glimpse into the world where spies operate,” says Peter Earnest, 68, its executive director. “It exposes visitors to a variety of spy devices and uses interactive technology to test their powers of observation.”

The emphasis is on the human factor in intelligence. “The exhibits are about real people telling real stories — they show what spying devices have meant in the hands of the individuals who used them,” explains Milton Maltz, 72, chairman of the Maltrite Company, which funded the $38 million museum. And there is a touch of irony in the participation as a museum advisor of Maj. Gen. Oleg Kalugin, 68, former chief of KGB Foreign Counterintelligence, America’s enemy during the Cold War. “Intelligence,” says Kalugin, “provides the hidden part of history, the back side of communication, the machinations behind historic decisions.”

More than 200 spy devices are on display. “But the most powerful tool is the human brain,” says Peter Earnest, the museum’s executive director.
An exhibit called “Spy School” gives visitors a crash course in which they develop a cover identity and learn the importance of careful observation. Photographs of seemingly normal streetscapes and other scenes challenge you to analyze potential threats. You can scrutinize satellite photos — an Iranian port or al-Qaeda training camps. In films, retired intelligence operatives share their experiences; touch-screens and videos teach you about disguises and bugging devices. in addition, more than 200 real-life spy gadgets, each with its unique story, are on display.

A heel transmitter, placed in a shoe by a KGB agent posing as a maid or butler, relayed secret talks to a listening post. Pulling out a pin began the monitoring, a common practice of the Cold War.
“But the most powerful tool is the human brain,” says Earnest, a former CIA operative who feels the public must understand the role of intelligence in shaping history and current events. History exhibits include the “Sisterhood of Spies,” in which a mirror in a boudoir displays phantom images of female spies, such as Mata Hari, who tell their stories and fade away.

Both intelligence failures and successes are presented, such as Pearl Harbor and the inflatable tanks and other deceptions that misled the Nazis about the Normandy invasion. The “War of the Spies” chronicles the selling of secrets by spies who “turned,” such as the CIA officer Aldrich Ames, who sold secrets to the Soviets. A film titled Ground Truth gives an assessment of intelligence today, from the war on terrorism to corporate espionage. Before exiting the museum, you can visit the “Ops Center,” where a former intelligence officer will personally answer your questions.

“We don’t know what’s next,” says Kathleen Coakley, vice-president of exhibition development, “but I hope we awaken the visitor to the question: ‘Could I ever do this if need be?'”

To learn more, visit www.spymuseum.org

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