Secrets, lies and fake identities are part of daily life for spies. We’re not talking about James Bond and the rest of his cinema colleagues. These spies are real and could be your next-door neighbor.
The details of their profession are revealed in the International Spy Museum, which opened in July 2002 in Washington, D.C. The Travel Channel’s “Secrets of the International Spy Museum” provides a private tour of the hottest tourist attraction to hit the nation’s capitol. Just blocks from the Federal Bureau of Investigations headquarters, the Spy Museum caused quite a stir when it opened its doors. Many were afraid that the museum would reveal too much about techniques and gadgets.
The museum’s creators, who also constructed the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, know how to mix Hollywood’s best offerings with reality. While Maxwell Smart on “Get Smart” may have had his shoe phone, Soviet agents often placed microphones in shoes. James Bond may have the most impressive cars, but even he would be jealous of the miniature cameras and guns that are still used today. Despite the Hollywood offerings, the museum is clear that espionage is a serious business.
“Espionage is not a game,” says David Major, former FBI field agent. “It is deadly business.”
The one-hour tour invites former agents of the CIA, FBI and KGB to talk about the most famous cases and the tools of the trade, which are called “tradecraft.” These men and women provide some fascinating insights into a life that few can imagine.
“People love secrets,” says Peter Earnest, executive director of the museum. “It is about a secret world. It is seeing things you’ve never seen before. It is hearing stories that perhaps you didn’t hear the way you’re hearing them in the museum.”
All museum visitors begin the tour in the Briefing Room. Like all good agents, they are given a five-minute video briefing about the profession’s history and necessity. From there they venture into the realm of spy toys.
The huge room contains seemingly innocent items, such as watches, pens and flashlights. It is only upon close inspection, and well-written cards, that visitors will see that the items are actually phones, microphones and guns. Not everything in the room uses advance technology. One of the most popular devices is a small metal rod that was used by the British during Word War II to slip letters out of unopened envelopes.
Actress Penny Johnson Jerald (“24”) guides viewers through the dark hallways and re-created street scenes. One of the more popular rooms is a quarter-mile replica of an East Berlin street.
“No where was the Cold War colder or the spy game hotter,” explains Jerald.
Jerald also reveals the four-step training process for KGB agents: observe, analyze, avoid capture and master disguise.
“We use ways and means that are not acceptable in civilized society,” explains Major Gen. Oleg Kalugin, who was a KGB officer from 1952 to 1990.
Thanks to friendly relations with the former Soviet Union, Kalugin explains how the KGB developed a lipstick pistol in 1965 and used fake rocks for dead drops throughout the United States in the 1970s.
One of the exhibits examines the work of celebrity spies. Not characters in movies, but real performers who helped develop clandestine information on enemy nations. During World War II, entertainer Josephine Baker was quite adept at eavesdropping on German officers while she danced on stage, and even chef Julia Child worked for the Office of Strategic Services, an intelligence agency.
The museum looks at the industries’ successes, as well as failures. One of the exhibits replicates the tunnel that U.S. agents dug underneath Berlin streets so they could eavesdrop on Soviet officers on the other side of the Berlin Wall. Unfortunately the Soviets were aware of the tunnel throughout the 11/2 years of construction.
The final room in the museum is called the Wilderness of Mirrors. Here visitors discover the high price spies pay in their personal lives. This room dedicates space to heroes and villains, such as Aldrich Ames, an American whose work for the KGB heavily compromised the CIA’s roster of Russian double agents.
“Secrets of the International Spy Museum” provides a fun look at a tourist attraction many may overlook. After this quick show, viewers may be booking a trip to Washington, D.C. Additional Information:
‘Secrets of the International Spy Museum’
10 p.m. Monday, Travel Channel