Museum chronicles history of espionage

WASHINGTON – James Bond is the king of suave.

The mythical British secret agent dodges bullets gracefully. His sports cars double as submarines, watches print top-secret messages and snow-skiing poles fire bullets. Agent 007 is the ultimate renaissance man, bungee jumping off a 700-foot-high dam, fluent in multiple languages, a connoisseur of fine wines – and women.

Bond comes to life at the International Spy Museum.

So do his less dashing, but much more real, historical counterparts. Video screens, interactive exhibits and chilling tales of espionage pack the three-level spy shrine a few blocks from the White House, Smithsonian and other Washington institutions.

And visitors learn that not every Bond-like item was a figment of Hollywood’s imagination. There’s the CIA-issued doggie-doo transmitter, the KGB-issued lipstick pistol (branded the “kiss of death”) and the German-issued wristwatch camera.

There’s also the downside of spies, suspected spies and spy catching, such as the grainy, crackling footage of the McCarthy hearings during the Red Scare of the ’50s and the mailbox at 37th and R streets, where CIA double agent Aldrich Ames left secrets for the Soviets.

Kids can crawl through ducts at the “School for Spies” exhibit. You can break the code of the World War II German Enigma Cipher Machine, or punch in your home address to view an aerial photo of it – close enough to see the park or grocery store nearby.

The private museum, founded by Milton Maltz of Cleveland, features the largest collection of international espionage artifacts displayed publicly anywhere in the world.

A special exhibit to be featured throughout the summer, “The Enemy Within: Terror in America,” traces acts of terrorism and sabotage from 1776 to today. Every period is covered – the Revolutionary War, World War I, Pearl Harbor, Nazi Germany, the Ku Klux Klan, the Cold War, the militia movement and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Since it opened in July 2002, 2 million visitors have come to the museum, said Amanda Abrell, media relations manager.

“This is a world that has been disguised in the shadows and now we’re just learning some things about it,” she said. “And I think that’s just what really piques peoples’ interest.”

“Everyone’s perception … is crafted from Hollywood,” she said, “so they really don’t know the reality behind what these intelligence agencies do.”

About 5 percent of the museum is devoted to popular culture in the spy genre, including Bond memorabilia such as 007 cologne and the snorkel blaster gun.

“When programs like ‘Mission Impossible’ were on,” said museum director Peter Earnest, agents with the KGB, the Soviet Union’s version of the CIA, “would watch those shows and say, ‘Why don’t we have all those things, we want all these.'”

Earnest worked for the CIA for 36 years and spent 20 years in the agency’s clandestine service.

Board members of the museum include a former general of the KGB, a former senior officer with the CIA’s scientific and technical directorate, and the world’s leading expert in the history of code making and breaking.

Spy history is documented from Moses, who sent spies to Canaan, to Julius Caesar, who devised secret codes. George Washington, widely considered the father of American intelligence, wrote a letter in 1777 authorizing a New York spy network. The letter is the most valuable item on display, Earnest said.

“I think part of (the museum’s appeal) is man’s fascination with secrets and with things that are hidden,” he said, “and that’s why so many movies and so forth begin with, ‘The secret of and finally revealed.'”

Despite the fall of the Soviet Union and advancements in technology, human intelligence continues to be critical to national security, Earnest said. “You cannot pick up the paper, certainly in this town, without reading about intelligence, and what’s gone right, what’s gone wrong and the need for reform. So it’s very much a subject that’s on peoples’ minds.”


Where: 800 F St. NW, Washington, D.C. In the historic Penn Quarter, within four blocks of the National Mall, directly across the street from the National Portrait Gallery and within one block of FBI headquarters and Ford’s Theatre.

What: A 68,000-square-foot museum dedicated to the trade, craft, history and contemporary role of espionage. Open since July 2002.

Features: 20,000 square feet of permanent exhibit space, interactive exhibits, video screens and the largest collection of international espionage artifacts displayed publicly.

Admission: $14 for adults; $13 for age 65 and older; $11 for children ages 5-11; children under 5 are free. Advance tickets are recommended.

Founder: Milton Maltz, chairman of The Malrite Co. in Cleveland, founded and designed the museum. Maltz, chairman of the museum’s board of directors, worked for the National Security Agency and retired from the broadcasting industry.

Gift shop: More than 500 books, maps, spy-related toys, educational products, disguise kits and collectibles. Merchandise includes a voice-recorder pen, lipstick pen, compass watch, digital camera watch and a spy vest with more than 40 hidden pockets.

Restaurants: On-site eateries include Spy City Cafe and Zola.

For more information: or (202) 393-7798.

Spy gadgets

Copley News Service

Artifacts once used in the spy trade are displayed at the International Spy Museum.

– Lipstick pistol (KGB issued, 1965): Nicknamed the “kiss of death,” the 4.5 mm single-shot weapon was disguised as a tube of lipstick and used by KGB agents during the Cold War. Its existence was first detected at a border crossing into West Berlin.

– Tree stump listening device (CIA issue, early 1970s): A listening device disguised as a tree stump was placed in the woods near a Soviet military base to capture secret military radio transmissions. It was solar powered and the exterior resembled tree bark.

– Pigeon camera (U.S. issued, World War I): Distinguished by their speed and ability to return home in any weather, pigeons outfitted with tiny cameras were released over military sites.

– Shoe with heel transmitter (KGB, 1960s): The shoe transmitter was produced by the KGB to monitor secret conversations. A transmitter, microphone and batteries were imbedded in the heel.

– Escape boots: These boots were designed for British pilots during World War II by MI9, an organization that provided escape equipment to the Royal Air Force. The bootstrap concealed a small penknife used to cut off the tops of the boots, making them appear to be civilian walking shoes, so the soldier could blend in with the population.

Source: International Spy Museum

The world’s most famous spy

Copley News Service

“The name’s Bond. James Bond.”

Few phrases in movie history are as iconic.

Sean Connery uttered it. So did Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan.

“Dr. No,” the first Bond movie, was released in 1962. “Casino Royale,” the latest installment, is scheduled for release in 2006. Gross earnings top that of any other movie franchise – $3.96 billion, according to

British novelist Ian Fleming, who worked in British Naval intelligence, created the Bond character.

It’s a staple of spy culture, so much so that a section of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., is devoted to British secret agent 007. Museum visitors flock to a replica of the souped-up Aston Martin DB5 featured in the 1964 thriller “Goldfinger.” The license plate rotates. Fake machine guns poke out from behind lights. Tire shredders jet out from the wheels. A bullet-proof shield pops up in the back.

Even real spies were inspired by Bond.

“The Bond car … inspired intelligence agencies to incorporate similar features into high-security vehicles used in dangerous areas,” says the International Spy Museum.

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