News & Politics

You Can Finally Check Out the CIA Museum

Online, that is. Here’s a look inside its vaults.

The CIA has had a museum since 1972, and its collection includes gadgets, specialized weaponry, and memorabilia. The catch: It’s open only to people who have access to Agency HQ. But recently, the CIA has started putting the collection online. A few intriguing items:

1960s Phone Battery

The CIA developed the lithium-ion battery to improve reliability and increase the lifespan of batteries for surveillance equipment. Now most smartphones use the technology.


Pigeon camera

While spy planes and satellites could take images from great distances, the CIA needed a way to get more detailed views. It created a camera to attach to a pigeon. One problem: The Agency couldn’t figure out how to make birds fly over the exact areas it needed, so the idea petered out.


Escape kit

This tiny bag is filled with escape-and-evasion tools, such as a can opener, a ceramic blade, a Leatherman multi-tool, fishing equipment, and lock picks.


Hidden directional device

The cuff links seen here conceal a little compass that could guide an agent through an emergency escape, should the need arise. The CIA developed other miniature compasses inside combs, razors, and buttons.

Photographs of Cats and Mook courtesy of Alan de Herrera; Museum items Courtesy of Central Intelligence Agency/Wikimedia Commons.
This article appears in the February 2023 issue of Washingtonian.

Katie Kenny
Editorial Fellow