New D.C. Spy Museum Exposes World of Espionage

Fulvio Cativo
Dallas Morning News
August 13, 2002

When the FBI captured and arrested former agent Robert Hanssen on espionage charges, he famously asked, "What took you so long?"

The movie-like tale of his 20 years as a spy for Russia has found a stage at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., which opened to the public in July.

"We call it the secret history of history," said the museum's founder and curator, Milton Maltz, addressing the significance of espionage.

He does not consider the museum a "shrine" to espionage, however. "This museum is not a celebration of international espionage," he said. "It's an awakening." Visitors to the museum can witness the worldwide effects of the deceit, disguise, and danger that espionage has entailed through the years in efforts to collect secret information.

"This is the only museum where you can find a display case of assassination weapons and a working Aston Martin—except for the ejection seat," said Peter Earnest, the museum's executive director.

The British Aston Martin DB5 automobile, used by fictional spy James Bond in the 1964 motion picture Goldfinger, is among the many objects on display in the 20,000-square-foot museum.

Trying on the "Cloak"

The museum's planners sought to appeal to all visitors of all ages. The exhibits include many interactive and multimedia stations, extensive collections, and vivid accounts of significant events in espionage's history. The exhibits contain spy-training games, stations for listening in on tapped conversations going on elsewhere in the museum, and about 600 artifacts. Visitors also can watch several short films about specific eras and espionage methods.

Items on display range from the toppled statue of former Russian spy Feliks Dzerzhinsky to a letter that George Washington sent to create an intelligence-gathering network for the Continental Armies fighting the British in February 1777.

Most of the objects came from private collections. Among the spy gadgets are:
• A 4.5-mm, single-shot gun disguised as a lipstick tube, which officials of the Soviet intelligence agency KGB called the "kiss of death."
• A large lump of coal that concealed explosives to sabotage locomotives and factory boilers.
• A Steineck wristwatch that allowed spies to take covert photos while appearing to be checking the time.

The museum opened after seven years of consultation with former international espionage agents and experts.

Continued on Next Page >>




NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.