The Real 007
Tantalizing, provocative, and exciting affairs are no stranger to the inner circles found in Washington, D.C. Now visitors looking for intrigue in the United States capital can find more of it at the new International Spy Museum (SPY), opening this month. Located in a purpose-built structure in L’Enfant Plaza, just a short distance from the National Mall, this 140,000-square-foot facility is twice the size of the old museum, with additional space for immersive exhibits and programming.
SPY officials say the new museum features completely reimagined, state-of-the-art exhibits revealing how agents gather sensitive security information through a comprehensive collection of spy artifacts and first-person accounts from intelligence officers. The museum explores the participants and artifacts from missions carried out across the globe, while celebrating the innovators who created the high-tech gadgets used to gather intelligence.
The new facility will also have space to present a treasure trove of artifacts donated by author, historian, and founding SPY advisory board member H. Keith Melton and his wife.
“Our collection tripled in September 2017. We had a large donation from Mr. and Mrs. Melton, who pledged the largest private espionage collection in the world to the museum—a huge cache of incredible pieces,” says Aliza Bran, SPY’s media relations manager.
One of the museum’s groundbreaking exhibitions takes visitors to the Situation Room in the U.S. White House and reveals the crucial work of intelligence analysts during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. Another immersive exhibit, “Berlin, City of Spies,” explores communist Berlin, including a Stasi office—the secret police of the East German government—containing original artifacts, a border checkpoint, and original segments of the Berlin Wall. There is also an interactive exploration of “red teaming,” the process involving the introduction of new analysts to challenge the theories and conclusions developed in a particular intelligence situation.
International Spy Museum Founder Milton Maltz noted that spycraft has evolved dramatically since the opening of the original museum in 2002, and the new museum will reflect the changes.
“The goals of espionage haven’t changed, but the methods by which we get them done has changed. For instance, [spies] used to break into places to get information, and now it’s done by computer,” Bran says. Visitors will find the Insectothopter, a dragonfly-sized drone developed by the CIA in the 1970s, and the Amber drone, which was the grandfather of the Predator drone.
The integration of radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology throughout the museum will allow visitors to interact directly with the subject matter.
“Having the RFID technology throughout the entire space is really cool,” Bran says. “People can take on a spy persona and test their spy aptitude.”
For those inspired by the world of fictitious spying, the museum has some fanciful pieces on display, like James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5. Bran says the “James Bond” series and “Mission: Impossible” movies employ tactics that would be unrealistic in the real world of espionage. However, their characters generate interest that compels people to visit the museum.
The new $162 million museum, which is an objective and apolitical institution, anticipates hosting 700,000 visitors annually. Temporary space for rotating exhibits, workshop areas for students and adults, and event space for 500 guests are part of the new facility. There is also a fully acoustic-controlled theater seating up to 160 guests for the presentation of films, lectures, and panel discussions. A rooftop venue, which opened in September 2018, provides full views of Washington, D.C., from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument.