First, you must choose a new identity. Perhaps you’re a clothing salesman traveling to Budapest on busi-ness. Memorize your cover carefully. Your life may depend upon it.
That’s how you’re welcomed to the International Spy Museum, Washington, D.C.’s five-year-old cele-bration of espionage. Built by Clevelander Milton Maltz, who also created Beachwood’s Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Spy Museum is radically unlike the countless government-owned museums in the nation’s capital. It’s not free — it costs $15, or $14 if you’re a soldier or a spy. And while the Smithsonian aims to awe you with the nation’s greatness, this museum has a more intimate goal: It invites you to imagine yourself as an undercover agent.
The maze of rooms hides a vast array of multimedia displays. A film playing in one area explains spy skills such as how to pick a lock. That banging from the ceiling? That’s your fellow tourists, climbing through an air duct above you to listen in on your conversations. Gadgets used by Western and Communist intelli-gence agencies fill a nearby room: A World War II-era map that British intelligence printed on Japanese rice paper so it wouldn’t rustle; a KGB single-shot pistol, disguised as lipstick.
The Secret History of History, an exhibit on spycraft through the centuries, leads from stately Euro-pean salons through an ominous Soviet spy office to a room on the D-Day invasion of Normandy. A speaker plays the coded BBC radio broadcasts that warned the French resistance the invasion was com-ing with two lines from Paul Verlaine’s poem “Chanson d’Automne” (“Song of Autumn”).
After a terrifying display on how the Soviets learned the United States’ atomic-bomb secrets, visitors descend into the bunkerlike basement for the Cold War exhibit. Don’t miss the replica of a tunnel the CIA built under East Berlin in 1955 to tap Soviet and East German communications.
800 F St. NW, Washington, D.C.; 1-866-SPY-MUSEUM or (202) EYE-SPY-U,