International Spy Museum

I keep forgetting to take good context photos. Thanks, Wikimedia!

Reading this week:

  • Before the Birth of the Moon by V.Y. Mudimbe

Recently my super amazing girlfriend and I, along with that mysterious other friend I mentioned last week, went to the International Spy Museum. My initial impression was that it was fine, but the more I think about it, man that is a weird place.

This was my first time going, but I remember when it first opened and all the hype. Lines around the block and all that. When we went there were not lines around the block, but that was mostly due to timed tickets what with this era of COVID and all. The museum is split into two major parts over two floors, and when you go in they put you in an elevator to take you to the top so you can work your way down. Out of the elevator you mill about in this waiting room area and get a badge that lets you log onto computers and take part in a mission. You’re supposed to memorize a code name and some facts about your cover identity and stuff. You are shown a short video outlining like, the world of spying and then you are ejected out into the museum.

The first floor is all about the tools of the trade and tradecraft. There is a bit of history of famous spies throughout history, and then a number of displays full of spy gadgets. Most of the museum is from a single collection, and it is indeed an impressive collection of spy stuff. A lot of the stuff on display is from the mid-20th century, but the museum stays pretty current. They cover things like the 2016 DNC hack and other cyberattacks, and they also have a fairly large chunk of information on female spies which I think is supposed to be #empowering.

But man look the weird part is, who is this museum for? My initial impression is that it was kinda geared towards kids. They have that spy mission thing I mentioned which I think I would have found astonishingly cool when I was 12 (it was still alright, we all tried to do all of it). The artifacts are all behind glass of course, but on some of the displays they have like, tactile versions you can touch, which includes this one:

So um, yeah kids, know you can really know how big the thing you put up your butt is. Very family-friendly. Maybe this is becoming too much of a theme on this blog, but one thing I don’t really recall the museum doing is trying to grapple at all with the moral aspects of this whole spy game. By definition pretty much everything the museum is detailing is extra-legal, and they don’t super try to ask questions about whether it is all worth it, or who the targets of this spying is and why. My super amazing girlfriend and I watched a group of kids huddled around a very neat display detailing how they assessed Osama bin Laden was in his compound. And people fret kids might learn about slavery.

As you descend from the tradecraft floor, you come to what I think was termed the “kinetic action” floor, aka all about killing people. The above photo is of a underwater canoe thingy so SCUBA-equipped assassins can get places. I was thoroughly impressed by the range of artifacts they had the museum, including even the actual ice axe used to kill Trotsky. Which… wow? These people are bidding on different ebay auctions than I am. I sort of tried to imagine bringing a kid around this place, you know, show them some cool history and murder weapons and really introduce them to the murky world of international extrajudicial assassination. Normal, good parent stuff.

Anyways after all that you descend another set of stairs and then you wind up in the gift shop. They have a really good selection of books, actually, but I was very disappointed to discover that they didn’t have any lapel pins. I really wanted a souvenir of my morally hazardous adventure.