Ingenious gadgets, real-world quandaries at Washington’s all-new Spy Museum

Gadgets
International Spy Museum
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International Spy Museum

A lipstick pistol, a button-hole camera, a lethal umbrella and an authentic waterboarding table: the espionage world’s heroic, ingenious and sordid sides are all on show in Washington’s all-new, much-expanded International Spy Museum.

The hugely popular showplace that once conjured James Bond and Austin Powers as much as it did actual life-and-death Cold War intrigue has grown and, in the tailwind of 9/11 and the War on Terror, grown up.

In pic – An umbrella similar to the one the KGB used to kill dissident Georgi Markov is seen in an exhibit at the new International Spy Museum during a media preview ahead of its opening in Washington, DC

AFP
Could I be an intelligence agent?
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Could I be an intelligence agent?

Relocated in a gleaming new steel and glass building double the size of its former premises, the Spy Museum still amazes and charms with the tales and gadgets of the undercover world going back centuries.

But now it also depicts the complex and often unsettling challenges of the world of shadows, with visitors asked in clever interactive games and simulated situation rooms to decide: could I be an intelligence agent?

In pic – Visitors tour the new International Spy Museum during a media preview

AFP
Objectives of spies still unchanged
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Objectives of spies still unchanged

Among all manner of odd items throughout the museum are a saboteur’s exploding lump of coal, pills that CIA operatives entering Cuba could use to sedate barking dogs and the sketchbook of a KGB agent operating undercover in New York in the 1950s.

“The objectives of spies have not changed over the centuries,” said Craig Melton, whose massive collection of espionage gear is the core of the museum.

“The only thing that has changed is the technology, and how they accomplish the objectives.”

In pic – Examples of bugged devices are seen in an exhibit in the new International Spy Museum

AFP
Global coverage
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Global coverage

The museum’s coverage is global, and mostly without judgement.

China’s theft of US secrets and technology is on display; so is the theft, centuries ago, of China’s silkworm and tea cultivation know-how by Westerners.

Woven in between are engaging, well-designed interactive exhibits and challenges that press the question: what would the visitor do?

One tests a person’s lock-picking ability, while another takes visitors through a series of tests of memory, judgment and observation in a simulated spy operation.

AFP
Coming from the Founder
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Coming from the Founder

The museum has its roots in the 7,000-piece collection of Melton, a navy veteran and engineer who, beginning in the 1960s traveled the world to amass.

He advertised that he was a buyer of any spy technology, and he sought out and befriended agents and officials from all sides of the Cold War game.

Weeks after the Soviet Union crumbled in December 1991, he traveled to Moscow. “I went and knocked on the door of KGB headquarters and said I’m here to buy spy equipment,” Melton said.

While he raised some suspicions, many realized he was a genuine collector who didn’t talk about politics.

The pride of his collection is gruesome, but he spent four decades seeking it: the ice axe that Joseph Stalin’s assassins used to murder Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940, in the climax of an intense three-year intelligence operation.

Melton is hugely proud of the new museum, but somewhat wistful about the new digital age, in which computer technology has replaced many espionage tools.

[“source=economictimes.indiatimes”]