Museum Exposes Sneaky History

APGeneral George Washington's 1777 offer of $50 a month to set up a spy network.
WASHINGTON -- Imagine a gun disguised as a silvery tube of lipstick, a camera hidden behind a coat button or a tree stump that's really an eavesdropping device.

Props for the next James Bond movie? Maybe.

They're also genuine tools of spycraft, used by real-life spooks around the world. These implements and hundreds of other items are going on display when the International Spy Museum opens Friday.

Organizers say it's the first public museum in the United States dedicated to espionage, and the only one to provide a global perspective on an art form dating back to biblical times, when Moses assigned 12 Israelites to "spy out the land" of Canaan, promised to them by God.

A particularly prized exhibit -- never before seen in public -- is a one-page letter General George Washington wrote in February 1777. In it, Washington offers Nathaniel Sackett, a New York political activist and merchant for the Continental Army, $50 a month to set up a network to obtain "the earliest and best Intelligence of the designs of the enemy."

Museum officials recently bought the letter from a private collector. It had remained with Sackett's family until a few years ago and was reprinted in a newspaper in 1931. "Espionage is as old as recorded time, and probably older," said E. Peter Earnest, a 36-year CIA veteran who spent two decades in the agency's clandestine service. He is now the museum's executive director.

Former spies who serve on the museum's advisory boards, including former FBI and CIA chief William Webster and retired KGB General Oleg Kalugin, helped gather more than 1,000 spy tools from the United States and other countries, including England, East Germany and the Soviet Union. About 600 pieces will be displayed initially.

Throughout the museum, visitors get quizzed on the details of a cover they're asked to adopt -- name, age and reason for travel.

They can also create and break secret codes and test their ability to find examples of common surveillance, ordinary-looking spies or dead drops -- prearranged locations where undercover operatives and their handlers exchange messages, money or the goods.

Exhibitions director Kathleen Coakley said patrons can see whether they measure up as spies or the people who catch them.

"We hope that visitors keep asking themselves that question: 'Could I ever use that? Could I ever do that?'"

It was at a dead drop in suburban Virginia where Robert Hanssen was arrested last year on charges of spying for Moscow for more than 15 years. The 25-year FBI agent had just dropped off documents for his Russian contacts. Hanssen recently was sentenced to life in prison for his role in what authorities say was one of the most damaging espionage cases in U.S. history.

His story, and that of CIA turncoat Aldrich Ames, who also fed secrets to Moscow, are among the more modern tales of rogue spying featured. The blue Postal Service mailbox that Aldrich marked with chalk to signal his handlers also is displayed.

"You won't go through the museum and become a spy, but you will be sensitized to a number of things that make up the world of espionage," Earnest said.

Hanging from the lobby's ceiling is an imposing sculpture of Felix Dzherzhinsky, a Polish Communist and founder of the KGB's predecessor. On video, former spies describe life under cover.

Of course, no spy museum would be complete without a nod to Agent 007. This gallery has a replica of Bond's silver Aston Martin DB5 sports car from the movie "Goldfinger."

In development since 1996, the $40 million complex encompasses five historic buildings and includes the museum, a restaurant, a cafe and a gift shop. One of the buildings was a district headquarters for the U.S. Communist Party in the 1940s. Admission is $8 to $11.

Other exhibits focus on women spies, World War II espionage and celebrity spies. Among the star spies: chef Julia Child, who processed classified documents for the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA's forerunner, and Oscar-winning director John Ford, who ran the OSS photography unit.

Gadgets on display

A sampling of artifacts at the International Spy Museum:
The lipstick pistol. This was issued in the mid-1960s and used during the Cold War by operatives for the KGB. The 4.5-mm one-shot tube was called "The Kiss of Death."
Buttonhole camera. The coat with buttonhole camera was issued in the 1970s and used by the KGB. When triggered by a device inside the pocket, the center of the false button opened to snap a photo.
The tree stump listening device. This solar-powered device was issued by the CIA in the early 1970s and stashed in the woods near a Soviet military base to capture secret military radio transmissions.
"Through the wall" camera. This Czech surveillance camera, issued in the 1980s, is the first of its kind shown publicly outside of Germany. The Stasi, the East German security service, used it to snap photographs of people through openings in the walls of special hotel suites around East Germany.
Steinbeck ABC wristwatch camera. Issued by the Germans in 1949, the cleverly disguised miniature camera enabled an operative to take photos while pretending to check the time.
Shoe with heel transmitter. Developed by the KGB during the Cold War to monitor secret conversations, a transmitter, microphone and batteries were hidden in the heel of a target's shoe. Someone close to that person, such as a maid or valet, could activate it by removing a pin from the heel before setting the shoes out for the target.
Whitworth G-Men and FBI toy collection. This collection of 500 antique toys and collectibles is one of the largest collections of G-Men and FBI toys assembled in the United States. They were made from the mid-1930s through the 1970s.
Francis Gary Powers album. These photographs taken by the KGB document the personal belongings and secret equipment found in the wreckage of Powers' U-2 spy plane when he was shot down over Soviet territory on May 1, 1960. The CIA had sent Powers to take aerial photographs of Soviet missile installations. After parachuting to safety, he was taken captive and later convicted as a spy. He was held for almost two years before being traded for a captured KGB officer. He died in the August 1977 crash of a television news helicopter he was piloting.
- The Associated Press