I walked into the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, and immediately had to assume a false identity. No longer was I ErFer, a 29-year-old trying to figure life out in NYC – now I was Angelena Falcone, a 21-year-old travel agent from Italy. It was in this first room where the recent film Argo was highlighted, based on the real-life Iranian hostage crisis in 1979. The six U.S. diplomats who had sought refuge with the Canadian embassy were required to assume false identities provided by the CIA. These hostages had to convince Iranian officials that they were in Iran scouting for a science-fiction film. There was, of course, a lot less pressure related to my false identity and I did remember all of the required details throughout my visit.
The first part of the museum, where I spent the majority of my time, teaches you all about how to be a spy with tons of interactive exhibits. “Observe and Analyze” – learn to look for suspicious activity in scenes, which could include two people walking by each other with briefcases, someone sitting on a bench reading a newspaper, and someone sitting in a car for too long without it running. “Disguise” – practice changing the way you appear by squinting your eyes or walking with a pebble in your shoe. You can practice finding caves and airports in Afghanistan using satellite images or even climb through an air vent into the ducts of the museum if that is what you fancy.
The museum also has over 200 spy gadgets, weapons, bugs, cameras, vehicles, and technology on display. Incredible to me were the spy gadgets from back in the day – including a jacket with a button that was really a tiny camera that could be operated through a remote in the pocket and umbrellas that could shoot bullets. I was also interested to see how the size of bugs had changed over the years as technology has moved forward. This also led me to believe that my apartment was bugged for a few days so I was very careful with what I yelled in reaction to the squawking parrot next store to me when I got back to New York.
All the while you are learning how to be a spy, there are video interviews playing with real-life spies talking about their personal experiences in the special agencies. You can’t help but become intrigued with these stories that seem like they are straight from the movies but all actually happened.
The next part of the museum, “The Secret History of History” is all about spies from as far back in the day as the Bible. It gets into secrecy in all forms – codes, the Trojan horse, the Underground Railroad, and the history of the Pigeon as a spy tool.
Another exhibit, “Exquisitely Evil” explores the villains in all of the Bond films over the years. Never have I ever…seen a Bond film, which I know seems a little impossible, but because of that, anyone else in the world would be more intrigued by this exhibit than I was. The exhibit includes 100 artifacts from the movies, so true fans will be sure to get a kick out of it.
In addition to the museum exhibits, there are two unique spy experiences you can have while at this museum. In “Operation Spy,” visitors are given a live-action mission to complete within an hour. In “Spy in the City,” visitors are on a GPS-guided mission to thwart the bad guys by heading outside to find clues, hide from the enemy, and break some codes. I didn’t have time for either unfortunately, but I would be interested in returning to experience these for myself.
After the museum and a (few) drink(s) with a friend, I took a long stroll back to Georgetown where I was staying so that I could go see the monuments. I couldn’t help but keep an eye out for people with briefcases and those leaving secret messages around the National Mall as I took some photos during sunset. Although I didn’t catch anyone that day, after my training, I think I’m just about ready for the bigtime.
The International Spy Museum is an excellent way to spend a few hours in Washington DC. It is educational, insightful, fun, and perfect for kids or child-like adults – which includes every adult I’ve ever been in contact with.
Many thanks to The International Spy Museum for hosting my visit. General Admission adult tickets are $20.95. Opinions are always my own.