Press Release

INTERNATIONAL SPY MUSEUM OPENS MAY 12, STEPS AWAY FROM NATIONAL MALL IN WASHINGTON, DC

Washington, DC
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New 140,000-Square-Foot Building Features Exhibits and Collections that Reveal Intelligence Secrets Past and Present; Explores Issues from Today’s Headlines: Cybersecurity, Disinformation, Surveillance, Terrorism, and More

Plus Thousands of Authentic, Never-Before-Seen Spy Gadgets and Tools: Dragonfly Drone, Full-Face Latex Mask, Ghillie Suit, Handcuffs Used in the Russian 10 Arrest

As revelations about espionage, cybersecurity, and surveillance make headlines every day, the International Spy Museum will draw back the curtain on this secret world when it opens in its new home on Sunday, May 12, in Washington, DC. In the Museum’s new 140,000-square-foot purpose-built facility, interactive exhibits and the world’s largest public display of authentic spy tools and gadgets are augmented by first-person accounts from real spies along with RFID technology that invites visitors to undertake their own spy missions. The non-profit Museum dives into the alluring pop culture world of spies that the public knows well, but digs much deeper, exploring and demystifying real intelligence work—often stranger than fiction. Its unparalleled collections and extraordinary stories are designed to engage, inform, and entertain visitors from around the country and across the globe, from school-age children to experienced intelligence professionals.

The new International Spy Museum at L’Enfant Plaza—just steps away from the National Mall and The Wharf—was designed by architect Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners to provide more than twice the overall floor space of the Museum’s original home. New exhibits showcase the varied ways technology is transforming the craft of intelligence and spying, as well as placing a spotlight on intelligence failures and successes throughout history that have shaped our world. The Museum introduces the public to the nuts and bolts of intelligence work and to spellbinding stories of individual courage, risk, and betrayal. It illuminates the many roles of intelligence professionals, from the gadget makers and intelligence collectors to the codebreakers and scientists.  A new gallery takes a close look at the analysts who make sense of incoming information, helping leaders make decisions that can sometimes mean life-or-death.

The International Spy Museum’s staff and Advisory Board include top-ranking members of the Intelligence Community and experts in the field who draw on their decades of experience and first-hand knowledge to inform the Museum’s exhibits and programs.

“The opening of the expanded International Spy Museum could not come at a more important time, as we are confronted by the outcomes of espionage not only for governments, nations, and non-state actors, but the daily lives of everyone across the globe,” said Colonel (Ret) Christopher P. Costa, Executive Director of the International Spy Museum—recipient of two Bronze Stars for intelligence work in Afghanistan, member of the Commando Hall of Honor, and former Senior Director for Counterterrorism at the White House National Security Council.  “It’s our privilege at the Museum to responsibly and impartially share the world of spying with the public and give everyone access to the facts behind the intelligence work that shapes our lives and world.”

Spy Museum Founder and Chairman of the Board Milton Maltz observed, “The world of espionage has been transformed since 2002 when we first opened the International Spy Museum and we felt it was vitally important to update and significantly expand the stories we tell and the insights we provide, addressing spying in the post 9/11 world, the growing threat of cyberwarfare, the passionate debate over enhanced interrogation, and operations we could not have even imagined 17 years ago.  I welcome everyone to the new International Spy Museum to see for themselves what is at stake.”

The new Spy Museum provides a comprehensive view of intelligence past and present. The expanded exhibits reveal the often overlooked accounts of women and African-American officers and their crucial and largely unknown contributions, from the Revolutionary War to the present. The new Museum explores both US intelligence work as well as the operations and history of espionage agencies around the world, including those in the Middle East, China, and Russia. It also casts its eye across the broad span of human history, from the Trojan Horse and Mongol empire to 21st-century cyberwarfare.

Espionage and intelligence work raises complex ethical and policy questions. The new Spy Museum examines these challenging issues as well, providing unbiased information so visitors can weigh for themselves the delicate balance between secrecy and security, moral questions related to enhanced interrogation, the impacts of propaganda and disinformation, the risks of revealing and keeping secrets, the fates of traitors, and what happens when a government turns the tools of spying against its own citizens.

“Our goal in creating the new museum was to expand the types of stories we tell and the methods we use to tell them in order to create a meaningful and personalized Museum experience,” shared Vice President of Exhibitions and Programs Anna Slafer.  “We hope our visitors will walk out of the Spy Museum’s doors empowered by their new knowledge of the intelligence world, understanding its role in our lives and world events—as well as how their oversight responsibilities as citizens can help shape that role.”

Selected Exhibition Highlights

The expanded exhibitions in the new Spy Museum tackle a range of new issues and employ new techniques to bring visitors deeper into the world of espionage and intelligence work than ever before.

  • RFID (radio frequency identification) technology and interactive stations enable visitors to take on a spy cover identity and test their espionage skills.
  • Red Teaming, a dramatic interactive experience in which visitors participate in an exercise that CIA analysts used in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell, who was in the room with the president during the raid that killed bin Laden, speaks directly to visitors, virtually taking them through the process in which analysts poke holes in theories, challenge conclusions, and weigh evidence to deliver to decision makers.
  • Mind Games, a series of interactive experiences that expose the mental traps and patterns that people fall into on a daily basis, revealing how these biases can prove disastrous in the world of intelligence.
  • Berlin: City of Spies, an immersive exhibit that invites visitors to step back in time to the surveillance state that was Communist East Berlin. The exhibition features original sections of the Berlin Wall, a Stasi office and East German hotel room furnished with all original artifacts, and an interrogation room where visitors can test their skills of deception by attempting to deceive their friends.
  • Cyber: The New Battlefield explores technology that gives governments, shadowy groups, and individuals powerful new collection tools or dangerous weapons.
  • Top Secret – Secrets Kept, Secrets Revealed examines the tension a democracy faces between openness and secrecy, as well as the profound consequences of a government keeping secrets…and the public uncovering them.
  • Spying Launched a Nation highlights the intelligence work that helped the outnumbered, outgunned American colonies win the Revolutionary War, showcasing a 240-year-old handwritten letter that launched the colonies’ spy network, penned by General George Washington. 

Selected Collection Highlights

The new Spy Museum’s permanent collection features more than 7,000 unique artifacts offering visitors the opportunity to come face-to-face with an astonishing new slate of never-before-seen intelligence tools and gadgets. The Museum’s already-impressive collection tripled in size in 2017 thanks to the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. H. Keith Melton, who pledged a donation of their entire personal collection of spy artifacts, the largest in the world. 

  • Berlin Tunnel – This actual section of a tunnel from West to East Berlin was used in a joint CIA/MI6 mission in the early 1950s to tap underground Soviet communication lines. The Soviets knew about the operation from a KGB mole in British intelligence, but because they did not want to compromise him, they did not immediately shut down the line.
  • Five Second Mask – Details of the full-face latex mask’s use and the secret operation it was created for are still classified. We do know it was worn on a covert mission targeting a top terrorist leader, and that it helped throw off surveillance so a US Navy SEAL could move freely in dangerous territory. It is called a “five second mask” because users should be able to put it on in less than five seconds.
  • Insectothopter – The KGB version of the CIA’s flying robo-bug, shaped like a dragonfly, was prototyped and tested as a way to plant listening devices.
  • Murder weapon used to assassinate Leon Trotsky – The assassination of Leon Trotsky was known as the crime of the century when it occurred in Mexico in 1940. The ice-climbing axe used in the assassination was missing for decades before it was resurfaced in 2005. The handle still sports a rust-mark from the bloody fingerprint of the assassin.
  • Amber Drone – The grandfather to the Predator drone.  This artifact, hanging from the ceiling of the Spy Museum’s lobby, is the sixth model of the device ever produced.
  • Suicide Needle hidden in a silver dollar – Made by the CIA for pilots in the U2 spy plane program, each coin had a spring-loaded pin laced with poison so a downed pilot could choose death over capture. This one belonged to Francis Gary Powers, who was downed over the Soviet Union in 1960.
  • Bay of Pigs - 2506 Brigade flag – After Communist Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, the CIA trained and equipped a group of Cuban exiles to infiltrate the island and start a counter-revolution. The 2506 Assault Brigade intended to fly this flag as a symbol of victory after the 1961 invasion. When the attempt failed, survivors of the Brigade presented the flag to President Kennedy. 
  • “Sleeping Beauty” submarine – During WWII, the British created this Motorized Submersible Canoe (MSC), codenamed “Sleeping Beauty.” It was designed to carry a spy to an enemy coastline, or to attack vessels underwater. After World War II, it became a prototype for swimmer delivery vehicles still used today by US Navy SEALS.
  • Printing plate to forge British 10-pound note – During WWII, Nazi Germany organized an operation to disrupt the British economy by producing counterfeit pound notes. Germany used Jewish concentration camp prisoners with art and related backgrounds as their forgers.  The bills and printing plate were later dumped in an Austrian lake.

Facilities and Amenities

The International Spy Museum’s new facility was designed by architect Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. The building more than doubles the Museum’s education and programming space, including 30 percent more permanent exhibition space; dedicated temporary exhibition space; a flexible learning center with workshop spaces for adults, educators, and students; a fully acoustic-controlled theater for lectures, films, and panel discussions; and many adaptable spaces for programs. The rooftop provides nearly 360-degree views of Washington, DC, from the US Capitol to the Washington Monument to The Wharf, with indoor event space encased in floor-to-ceiling windows for private events and public programs.

About the International Spy Museum

The International Spy Museum is the only museum in the United States dedicated to fostering public understanding of the important role intelligence and espionage have played in shaping our world, and the profound impact of espionage on our daily lives. The Spy Museum is a nonprofit organization completely independent of taxpayer money or government funding. Its mission is to offer an apolitical perspective on espionage and provide visitors with unbiased, accurate information through its educational programs, exhibitions, and resources. Located in Washington DC, the Museum is at the heart of the ever-changing world of international espionage. The original Spy Museum opened in 2002. Its new, expanded building and all-new exhibitions will open on May 12, 2019.

For more information please visit www.spymuseum.org

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Nic Lehoux, courtesy of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP)