In and around Washington, D.C., museums attract wannabe spies. TV viewers’ love affair with espionage hasn’t waned since the early days of James Bond in the golden year of 1962. The popularity of The Americans and Homeland is evidence of a continuing obsession with disguise and deception. See the gadgets, hear from the experts, and remember: Anyone could be listening. The International Spy Museum (SPY) in D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood has the largest public collection of espionage artifacts. Plus, it’s the real deal: The executive director spent 36 years in the CIA, including 20 in the agency’s mysterious Clandestine Service.
The “School for Spies” exhibit displays tools with a serious cool factor, like a lipstick pistol, concealment ring, and coat with a button-hole camera. Other exhibits range from “Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains” to “Covers and Legends,” where visitors learn the importance of having a false identity.
The museum’s “Operation Sly Fox” will get you in spy mode. In this outdoor, GPS-guided game, players need to observe, evade, and crack codes to prevent an American double agent from selling secrets.
About 11 miles from SPY is George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. The museum shows artifacts of espionage from the American Revolution. Those interested in SPY and Mount Vernon can see the second museum at a 50-percent discount, available during certain times of the year.
At the National Cryptologic Museum, items include cryptologic machines, the letters of John Nash (A Beautiful Mind), and the American Revolution’s invisible ink. The library, open to the public, catalogues declassified and unclassified documents. The museum, run by the National Security Agency, is in Fort Meade, Maryland.
Try this at home: Without top security clearance, the 14,000-square-foot CIA Museum is off limits. So the only way to see the hundreds of unique items is on your computer via a virtual museum, which includes photos, stories, video, and timelines.