Going Undercover at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

Written by

Jason Barnette

on

September 14, 2017

My name is not Bond, James Bond. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t learn how to be a spy at the International Spy Museum. From real world cameras hidden in brief cases and a German enigma machine to one of Bond’s famous cars and Jaws’ metal teeth, the museum was ready to educate and entertain. By the time I left the building a couple of hours later I felt like I could evade surveillance and plant bugs on my friends. The museum didn’t make me paranoid at all.

“The first thing you must do is give up your identity. You will be given a new one – your cover.” This was the first line of a sign that greeted me as the elevator door opened and I stepped into the top floor of the spy museum. For the next ten minutes I stood with a group of fellow visitors as we crafted a cover story for our lives. Before the doors opened to the next room I had a new name, occupation, and background. I was ready for the world of espionage.

(FYI: I was now John Campbell, a clothing salesman returning home after a 14-day business trip in Budapest)

A lot of the items on display were real spy tools and weapons.

The International Spy Museum is a labyrinth of rooms and corridors filled with real world espionage tools of the trade and information. I began in the School for Spies where I learned about cameras, audio devices, and weapons of the spy world. It took a few minutes to really hit me that these were real instruments and weapons that had been used throughout history for missions we will never know about.

At the end of the school I came across the Aston Martin DB5 driven by Bond in the movie Goldfinger. It was interactive as the tire spikes turned and extended from the hubcaps. When I was a kid I really wanted a car that could do that just so I could get revenge on the school bullies who always seemed to have Mustangs and Corvettes.

You didn’t think all spies were male, did you? Some of the most famous, and successful, were female.

Fiction blended with reality in display cases with exhibits like the pigeon camera and the Sisterhood of Spies. It was a walk through time from ninjas of Japan to D-Day during World War II. It was impossible to take it all in at once, and I think this is part of their crafty plan because I know I’ll have to go back again to fully assimilate everything on display.

A German enigma machine from 1944 is on display as a reminder the ingenious coding machine nearly helped the Nazis win World War II. A spy letter written by George Washington is on display. Did you know espionage is the second oldest profession in the world? You will after touring the museum. You can learn about Hannibal’s secret crossing during the Second Punic War and how President Lincoln hired Alan Pinkerton to create the “secret service” during the Civil War.

The Bond exhibit was fascinating and memorable for me.

As I wound through the museum I eventually descended a set of stairs and found myself in my favorite exhibit of the entire museum at Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains. If there is one thing Bond movies have gotten right it has been the villains (okay let’s be real here they’ve gotten a lot of things right, cheesy Bond girl names not included).

The Bond exhibit includes items like Zao’s Jaguar XKR from Die Another Day (with the machine gun on display on top) and the chair Blofeld used to torture 007 in Spectre. I marveled at the vast collection of items from 50 years of Bond films and recalled each and every scene in all the movies. It probably helps that I am a massive fan of the Bond films but even if you’ve somehow never seen one I think you could still appreciate this exhibit.

When you find this car on the top floor wait for a minute. It’s interactive. Watch out for the knock out gas.

The tour through the museum ends with an entertaining walk through their gift shop. This isn’t just any ordinary gift shop: it’s full of spy gear, books, clothing, and knick knacks. I almost felt like I was walking through Q’s lair as I found a credit card-sized multitool for my brother and picked up a “Deny Everything” t-shirt for myself. I wanted one of everything but part of life on a 29-day long road trip is that I just didn’t have room for anything else in my van.

As I walked out the door I wanted to turn and say, “I’ll be back,” but that’s the wrong quote from the wrong franchise. I guess if I were to stay true to my cover with a twist of that infamous Bond whit I would instead have to say, “I’ll bring the suits later. Then you can tie me up for a few hours.”

800 F Street NW, Washington, D.C. | 202-393-7798 | www.spymuseum.org | Admission is $21.95 for Adults, $15.95 for Seniors ages 65+, Military, Veterans, Fire & Law Enforcement, $14.95 for Children ages 7-11, and Free for Children 6 and under

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