It's believed that there are more spies in Washington than in any other city in the world, making it a fitting home for this museum, which displays the world's largest collection of spy artifacts. Museum advisers include top cryptologists; masters of disguise; and former CIA, FBI, and KGB operatives. Exhibits range from the coded letters of Revolutionary War überspy Benedict Arnold and the KGB's lipstick pistol, to high-tech 21st-century espionage toys, showcased with
theatrical panache in a five-building complex (one, the Warder-Atlas Building, housed Washington's Communist party in the '40s).
The Secret History of History takes you through the espionage behind the headlines, from Moses's use of spies in Canaan and Abraham Lincoln's employment of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency as a full-scale secret service in the Civil War, to the birth of Lenin's state-run espionage ring—later known as the KGB.
Check out the spy gadgets, weapons, vehicles, and disguises and then see if you have what it takes to be a spy in School for Spies.
Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains is a heavy mix of flash and fun as you come face-to-face with villains from dozens of Bond films. More than 100 movie artifacts are exhibited, from Blofeld's self-destruct lever in You Only Live Twice and the steel teeth worn by actor Richard Kiel as "Jaws" in 1979's Moonraker to Raoul Silva's laptop in Skyfall. Historical documents and videos of actual world events demonstrate the threat of nuclear weapons, terrorism and cyber attacks through the decades. And—of course—Bond's famous Aston Martin is on display.
Operation Spy, a one-hour "immersive experience," works like a live-action game, dropping you into the middle of a high-stakes foreign intelligence mission. Each step of the operation—which includes decrypting secret audio files, a car chase, and interrogating a suspect agent—is taken from actual intelligence operations.
Advance tickets (purchased at the museum or on its website) are highly recommended. All tickets are date and time specific. Tickets are most likely available (and your visit less crowded) on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday or daily after 2 pm. Allow about two hours for a visit.
This is a great museum for kids age 10 and up; younger ones might not get it. At the popular monthly KidSpy workshop for kids ages 10–14, participants can assume a cover identity and disguise, make a portable lie detector, crack a cipher, check out surveillance electronics, and more.
The museum regularly hosts films, events, and lectures by espionage experts. A GPS-guided walking tour, Spy in the City, takes "agents" 12 years and older on a mission outside the museum walls.