Already overflowing with intelligence community members, the District’s spies will have a new (unclassified) place to call home come Sunday morning when the International Spy Museum throws open the doors to its shiny new building on L’Enfant Plaza.
The ‘house that Milt built’ (that’s philanthropist and museum founder Milton Maltz for those that need to know) boasts 140,000-square-feet of space–more than double that of its original location in Penn Quarter, which was shuttered at the beginning of the year–and purportedly the largest public collection of spy tools and gadgets in the world.
Highlights of the Spy Museum include a World War II-era ‘Enigma’ encryption machine, wreckage from Cold War pilot Francis Gary Powers’ downed U-2 spy plane, a KGB-issue lipstick pistol (the so-called ‘Kiss of Death’), the weapon used to assassinate Leon Trotsky, one of the Aston Martin cars used in the James Bond film series, one of very first “Amber” drones (the grandfather to today’s Predator), and even a 240-year-old handwritten letter from George Washington that launched the colonies’ first spy network during the Revolutionary War.
All of these artifacts are surrounded in the new building by exhibits that lend context to the history and objects on display, in order to help visitors explore and demystify the intelligence world.
Equally important for a building named the Spy Museum is the fact that many of those guiding it are actually former spies. The nonprofit’s board includes a former director of both the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency, a former Chief Information Officer for the National Reconnaissance Office, and the former Chief of Staff to two national security departments, among many others from the private and academic sectors.
More than ‘just’ a museum, the new location strives to offer a little something for everyone. For tourists, there’s exhibits that revolve around pop culture and the latest technologies (the Infinity Room will undoubtedly be one of the most Instagrammed backdrops on social media). For school children and educators, there’s a dedicated learning center. And for current intelligence professionals, there will be lectures, films, and panel discussions. There’s even an expansive rooftop deck that provides near 360-degree views of Washington for private corporate events, weddings (no ‘Kiss of Death’ jokes!), and parties.
The added space has also empowered the museum to provide a more comprehensive view of the intelligence community, including expanded exhibits focusing on the contributions of women and African American officers. And true to its name, the International Spy Museum explores the operations and history of foreign espionage agencies as well as that of the United States, including those in China and the Middle East.
Located half-way between the National Mall and The Wharf, the new museum is designed as a bridge between the two areas and a cultural tourism gateway to the Southwest quadrant of the city. Just ask your Uber driver to (dead) drop you off at L’Enfant Plaza…