Going Under the Cover of the International Spy Museum

Written by Andrea
August 26, 2009

Photos courtesy of the International Spy Museum

A Spy in Her Hood: Going Under the Cover of the International Spy Museum If you are like this GLDC Culture Editor, a long-time devotee of all things Smithsonian, then you have probably been wondering what attracts our state (ahem, district) birds to 9th and F. What about the International Spy Museum has tourists flocking year-round and always leaving with a smile? Just a few blocks from some of our recently rejuvenated downtown residential neighborhoods and open until 7pm, the Spy Museum is arguably one of the most accessible local museums to working locals as well. A GLDC Editor takes some time to get to know the place: Espionage 101 The Museum's permanent collection has the feel of a biit of Disneyland in DC, with sets, installations, dioramas, and interactive quizzes. In fact, the museum consults with both intelligence professionals and, for several of their evening features, some of the same designers who assist in the development of amusement parks to provide the most true-to-life experience for visitors. The exhibit includes "School for Spies", where visitors learn about life under cover, including false documents and disguises as well as basic tradecraft. In the "Secret History of History," museum-goers can review the art and science of espionage from the Elizabethan England to 20th century, and everything in-between. It is a history of US security interests, diplomacy, and defense technology that will delight the history buff, service member, security professional, gadget guru, child, and child at heart. In "The Spies Among Us," we marvel over star spies, female spies and the portrayal of spies in the mass media. "War of Spies" treats the use of love in espionage, highlighting some famous agents and double agents throughout the Cold War period. Finally, "The 21st Century" grapples with the modern-day threats facing contemporary intelligence professionals and the technologies they employ. Getting Your Spy On After Five The Museum's signature ongoing evening program, Spy at Night, is equal parts amusement park ride, group project, and field trip. Setting off about every 15 minutes in groups of no more than 15, participants of Op Spy roleplay as operations officers to confront a reality-based security challenge. During the extended 7-10pm museum evening hours for this event, the cafe remains open and staffed with a Zola bartender where Op Spy participants redeem the drink included in their $20 Spy at Night ticket. Though recent months have experienced slightly lighter traffic, the winter Spy at Night cafe can be a packed house, and is certainly a more local crowd than daytime at the museum. While sipping their "White Knights," visitors play Spy Trivia and spin the Cipher Wheel and are treated to one of the alternating features, such as handwriting analysis or polygraphy. Sex, Lies and National Security The Spy Museum is host to an engaging evening lecture series, the most popular of which have, according to museum officials, included "History of the Martini" with tastings and "Sex[pionage]." On a recent summer evening, I took a seat at a sequel event by the same book author, More SEx[pionage]: Continued Tales of Spies, Lies and Naked Thighs to assess suitability for the GLDC audience. International Spy Museum Board of Directors member Keith Melton, an author, historian, and technical advisor to U.S. intelligence services, gave a smart, sexy, and surprisingly tasteful presentation which was, as he pointed out in his introduction, "not about sex," but more about "human vulnerabilities." The 18+ only audience nevertheless got its fill of lies, betrayal, deceit, seduction, and compromising videos. The presentation covered a number of the individuals featured in the Permanent Exhibit, including well-known, though short-lived, spy Mata Hari, the lesser-known but, as explains Melton, far more successful Elizabeth Thorpe, and "Man Without A Face" Markus Wolff, who pioneered the use of Romeos in Cold War Germany. The audience was made privy to the truth behind purported KGB sex schools and to perhaps more than it wished to learn about the unique sexual preferences of John Profumo, all as it learned about sex as a tool for the recruitment of spies. A Peak Ahead to the Fall Taking a sneak peak to the cooler fall temps, GLDC readers will want to mark their calendars for more International Spy Museum fun: A Little 007 on 7th The November 7th Parade of Trabants will bring 20 vintage German cars, rare in the US, to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, festive German music, and experts to answer questions. Attendees can register to win a ride in a Trabant at this free parade. Never Say Die...or at Least Not Without a Cocktail in Hand For another evening of intrigue explained and a chance to meet big names in the intelligence world, GLDC readers should reserve early for the November 18 Russia Rules, which will examine the suspicious circumstances surrounding the 2006 death of Alexander Litvinenko in Great Britain. Attendees will hear two former KGB officers who have first-hand experience in the system and will have the opportunity to attend a VIP reception, sharing Russian hors d'oeuvres and cocktails with the speakers.
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