{This is the second post in my year-long D.C. Museums Tour during my Gap Year before I start law school at the age of 40. THIS.}

For my second museum, I chose the International Spy Museum on F Street in Downtown D.C. Now, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from it. I had in mind that it would appeal more to kids than to adults. But I was wrong. Actually, in my opinion, the Spy Museum caters more to adults than children. Why? Because it is heavily history-focused. Children under 12 would probably not understand or be interested in much of the exhibits, whereas adults—especially those who love spy movies—will find the real-life stories of spies and their tricks of the trade super fascinating. Also, this museum is not cheap ($21.95 +tax for adults; $14.95 for kids), so it’s only worth it if you are actually interested in learning about spies. I wouldn’t go just for the thrill of it.

In the beginning of the self-guided tour, you choose an identity—an alter ego—and memorize the details. After all, if you’re a real spy and get caught, you have to be able to quickly share information about your fake life. (Think: Jason Bourne.) Throughout the museum you answer questions on computers to test how much you remembered the details of your fake identity. So you better remember who you are. I’m Greta Schmidt. I’m 33 and an astronomer from Germany. And I aced this whole fake persona thing and could totally be an actual spy. OR MAYBE I ALREADY AM ONE. I’ll never tell.

My Post-Visit Recap & Response:


Other Rad Stuff in the Spy Museum:

  • James Bond exhibit (props, cars, costumes, etc). Cool trivia: Ian Fleming who wrote 14 James Bond novels was a British spy himself and modeled the title character after, well, himself. Apparently he also loved gorgeous women, fast cars, and gambling.
  • Dead Drops: You’ve seen this in movies. A spy walks by and drops an object to be picked up by another spy or passes it off discretely to another agent. This actual mailbox was used by Russian spies as a dead drop site just down the road from me here in D.C. RIGHT there in plain sight.
  • BUGS! A huge display of different ways rooms and people can be bugged. Did you know how often embassies and state departments get bugged by adversaries? Pretty often, apparently! And since I live right near Embassy Row and dozens of embassies, I am thinking that a lot secret intelligence is taking place all around me. YESSSSSSS.
  • Famous people who were famous for other things but who were actually spies on the side: Harriet Tubman, Julia Childs, and others
  • Spy gadgets, tools, weapons, technologies: This was SUPER cool. All the stuff you see in movies? Totally real. Lipstick pistol? Awesome. Umbrella rifle that shoots out poison? Yep.

    All of these gadgets are actually weapons that either shoot bullets or poison or eject a blade.

    The KGB killed a dissident back in the 1970s by shooting out a poison-filled pellet from a modified umbrella like this one. Say what???

    Um, yeah. This is a for real thing. You can read for yourself.


  • Artifacts from the actual Argo ordeal. Totally need to watch this movie again!
  • Valerie Plame Wilson and her blown cover. And now I need to read her book.
  • Pigeons! An entire room devoted to carrier pigeons. Who knew these flying rats (as my friend Emily calls them) were so über useful? Did you know that animals could win medals of honor? And that pigeons earned more medals of honor than any other animal? Yay, pigeons! You go, my feathered friends!
  • And THIS. We live just a mile up the road from the Russian Embassy. This house is on the street right behind it and apparently THERE’S A STORY THERE and no one is telling it. When the Russians were building their embassy on Wisconsin Avenue, the FBI bought this house right behind it and started building a tunnel so they could eavesdrop on Moscow. But Russian spy (and FBI agent…woops) Robert Hanssen let the Russians in on it and the tunnel-building was abandoned. Rumor now has it that this house is the location of the tunnel’s entrance. And I NEED TO KNOWWWWWW.
  • 21st Century threats. For example, what would happen if there were a cyber attack against our power grid, the mass chaos that would ensue, etc. Um, not encouraging. America has been given a D- for their readiness in infrastructure and cyber security.

So much to see and learn here.

I left this museum with a newfound appreciation of the complexities involved in protecting a nation both in times of peace and war, a realization that what we see in spy movies is pretty accurately reflective of reality (which, have I mentioned?, is WAY RAD), and a greater freaking suspicion of everyone I pass on the streets now. Here in D.C., it’s no exaggeration to say that there are countless SPIES AMONG US. In fact, my 2nd grader goes to school with diplomat kids and embassy workers’ children, which makes me think that he has classmates who are spy kids. BUT WE’D NEVER KNOW. Ooooooohhhh.

So there you have it. The International Spy Museum. Worth the visit. Quite intriguing. Allow yourself a couple hours. And then…Eat at Shake Shack right next door afterwards. Just be careful. WE’RE WATCHING YOU.

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