The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., is entirely devoted to espionage and the influence it has had on shaping history and the events of the world we live in today. Artifacts at the museum demonstrate techniques used in espionage and explore the lives of the world’s most famous spies. The mission of the museum is to showcase espionage and its intelligence-collecting role, which has had significant impact on global history. Permanent exhibitions are interactive and incorporate games and activities, which are both entertaining and educational.

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In the Covers and Legends exhibit, visitors choose their own identity as a spy, learn about the importance of keeping one’s cover, and explore the motives one might have for becoming a spy. The School for Spies exhibit includes interactive stations in which visitors can test their own spying skills. Artifacts on display in this exhibit include spy gadgets, such as secret listening devices, weapons, vehicles, and hidden cameras. In the Secret History of History exhibit, visitors learn about men and women from history who excelled as spies because they were considered to be above suspicion. In Spies Among Us, guests learn about codes and how to break them and can test their own code-breaking skills through interactive displays.

The permanent collection at the museum includes both original spy artifacts and replications of famous tools used for spying. Spy objects range from those used in real-life espionage to made-up famous pop-culture gadgets from movies and television programs. Everything from lipstick pistols and disguised radio transmitters to receivers and hidden miniature cameras are on display. The uses of each spy gadget are demonstrated through the stories of individuals. In addition to the artifacts, the museum tells stories through historical photographs, films, and audio recordings.

History: The international spy museum opened in 2002 after 7 years of planning and research. The board of advisors includes former directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the British MI5 Spy Agency, the KGB, and the former Chief of Disguise at the Central Intelligence Agency. The museum aims to educate visitors about the role of intelligence gathering and its influence on both historic and current events.

Ongoing Programs and Education: The museum offers several ongoing educational programs. School groups who visit will be guided through workshops on site, or the Spy Museum can bring workshops to you through a local visit or a virtual fieldtrip. Family programming at the museum includes a Spy Fiction Writer’s Workshop, Spooky Spy Night, and The Magic of Spying: Tradecraft Trickery. Week-long day camps for children aged 10-13 offer in-depth programming that allows participants to become spies and to plan and execute their own secret missions. The museum hosts overnight stays for scout groups and others. Programming for adults includes lectures, author talks, and educator tours.

Past & Future Exhibits: Special exhibits include Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the James Bond films, explores in detail the Bond villains, including their lairs, their weapons, and the tools they used for espionage. Through interactive displays and movie props and artifacts, professionals from the world of espionage make connections between the Bond movies, the public’s perception of spying, and real-world similarities and differences. For example, galleries in the exhibit explore the early Bond films and the World War II espionage that inspired their creation, the portrayal of the Cold War in the films and its historical context, and how the drug trade and the war on drugs was absorbed into the characterizations of Bond villains.

Many of the museum’s temporary exhibits may also be accessed online. Mini exhibits currently include Agent Storm, a look at the book and life of ex-gang member, ex-radical jihadist, and ex-undercover CIA agent Morten Storm. The Americans: Fact and Fancy explores the popular FX television program, The Americans, and its relationship to real-life KGB operatives who were working in America during the Cold War era of the 1980s. Artifacts from this exhibit include crossword puzzle ciphers and hidden recording devices.

The museum offers a traveling exhibit, Spies Traitors Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America, which has been touring nationwide since it closed in 2005. This exhibit reviews nine specific historical events in America in which the United States was threatened by enemies within its borders. The display explores the importance of intelligence gathering and the delicate balance between a nation’s desire for security and personal freedom and privacy.

Back to: Washington, D.C.

800 F Street, NW Washington, DC 20004, website, Phone: 202-EYE-SPYU

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