It doesn’t seem right that the International Spy Museum publicizes its existence and is accessible to anyone. A spy museum should be hidden and difficult to find, right? Well, that’s not the case. The International Spy Museum is located in Washington, D.C., and is the only museum in the United States dedicated to the art of espionage.
The International Spy Museum was created by The Malrite Company of Cleveland, Ohio. The company manages museums and educational projects all over the country, which are created by their team of researchers, video and computer developers, exhibition designers, interior designers, and architects.
The museum displays the largest international collection of espionage-related artifacts. Films, interactive programs, and exhibits tell the stories of individual spies from several countries. The goal is to educate the public about espionage, and encourage an understanding of the effect it has on history, politics, and current events. Milton Maltz, the museum’s founder and chairman, said, “The International Spy Museum is more than history - more than information or entertainment - its mission is to reflect the significance of intelligence as a critical component of national security.”
While not the only museum of its kind in the world, it is the only one to give a global, non-political perspective to the profession. Other espionage museums exist, like the KGB Museum in Moscow, the National Security Agency’s National Cryptologic Museum, or the Imperial War Museum in London, but those museums focus on either a specific event or time period, or present the subject strictly from their nation’s point of view. The International Spy Museum’s presentation of espionage is not limited by time periods or geography.
In addition, because the museum is a privately owned, independent entity and is not funded by any government, foreign or domestic, it is free to present the information in the way it sees fit. Those who run the museum collaborate with intelligence communities in an effort to provide as broad and inclusive a perspective as possible. In fact, the museum’s board of directors is comprised of former members of the international intelligence communities. Drawing on their experience allows them to ensure the museum provides visitors with a realistic and unbiased experience.
Upon entering the museum, visitors are assigned a cover, an assumed identity. They are then asked to memorize basic details of the identity they’re given (name, age, place of birth, and so on) before proceeding into the exhibit areas. Museum visitors also go through an orientation of the tools and techniques associated with espionage. They may also watch a briefing film and tour the first museum exhibit, School for Spies, comprised of 200 artifacts.
Periodically, museum guides may act as police and question visitors about their assumed identities. Toward the end of the tour, honorary spies may take a quiz on an interactive display that tests their knowledge of their cover identity. No one is obligated to participate in this portion of the tour, but taking part only adds to the mystique of the museum and its exhibits. For many, it is the only chance they will ever have to be a spy