Me­gan Singleton teams up with a for­mer CIA agent at a Wash­ing­ton mu­seum

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

WHEN visit­ing the city ad­min­is­ter­ing the global war on ter­ror, adding the In­ter­na­tional Spy Mu­seum (ad­ja­cent to the FBI build­ing) to your itin­er­ary makes for an in­ter­est­ing side­bar.

Vis­i­tors to Wash­ing­ton, DC, are there for the White House, mu­se­ums, mon­u­ments and memo­ri­als. But I want the low­down on re­al­life es­pi­onage and skul­dug­gery and so take a for­mer CIA agent with me to check out if a spe­cial­ist es­pi­onage mu­seum re­ally lives up to the hype.

The for­mer head of counter-ter­ror­ism was my sur­ro­gate dad for a year in the 1980s when I was a wide-eyed ex­change stu­dent who landed with his fam­ily and spent 12 months at high school with his daugh­ters. He was re­quired to get per­mis­sion from the agency (that’s what those on the inside call it) to host me, and we’ve all be­come in­cred­i­bly close over the past 20 years.

We start at the Spy City Cafe ad­join­ing the mu­seum en­trance. A Lan­g­ley Dog for him (all-beef hot dog, chilli, chopped onions and grated cheese), an MI-5 Dog (all-beef hot dog, crunchy onions, ba­con and grated English cheese) for my Amer­i­can mother and a Dis­guise Dog for me (ba­si­cally any­thing).

Af­ter lunch it’s time to start spy­ing. We buy our tick­ets and walk through the fu­tur­is­tic, blue-lit cor­ri­dor into a lift for the third floor. Fans of suave James Bond and lovers of se­cret sur­veil­lance would adore this place. Bond’s As­ton Martin DB5 is in the pop-cul­ture room, but first we must as­sume an iden­tity se­lected from pro­files on the walls and mem­o­rise as many de­tails as pos­si­ble.

The labyrinth of rooms over three floors cov­ers spy his­tory dat­ing from bib­li­cal times to the early 20th cen­tury, in­clud­ing an­cient de­coded doc­u­ments and in­for­ma­tion on celebrity spies such as Mar­lene Di­et­rich and chef Ju­lia Child.

I pore over the his­tory of Cold War spy tech­niques, with dou­ble-cross­ing agents and wartime star­lets-turned-in­for­mants and learn how to smug­gle seven peo­ple into a car to cross a border. A pis­tol dis­guised in a lip­stick case, used by the KGB, sits along­side other con­fis­cated weapons and phone-taps, which have be­come tinier over the years.

I watch video in­ter­views of real-life spy sto­ries and intelligence blun­ders and try my luck with a train­ing video to spot se­cret drop points and iden­tify dodgy men with thick mous­taches at a sub­way sta­tion. How­ever, I am ad­vised to stick to my day job, while the real spy with me does great. Shame he re­tired, I think, while also won­der­ing where in­for­ma­tion on to­day’s spy tech­niques could be. I don’t find any­thing, but I sup­pose it makes sense that peo­ple in the process of spy­ing keep their spy se­crets se­cret.

On the way out I take a quiz about my as­sumed iden­tity and for­get to keep all my clues se­cret. I am mock-ar­rested but for­tu­nately not tor­tured.


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