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Could You Be A Spy?

Binyamin Rose, Washington DC

You approach a set of security doors with flashing ultraviolet lights on each side. An authoritative-sounding voice instructs you to proceed to the identity area. Proceed with caution, because you are now taking the first steps on a riveting tour of Washington DC’s International Spy Museum — the only public museum in the world offering visitors a hands-on experience where they get to feel, think, and act like real intelligence officers. Do you have what it takes?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

spyGathering intelligence on other nations is a profession as old as mankind. The only change over the millennia is the tools of the trade, and even that has just developed over the last 100 years. Nations were still using carrier pigeons during World War I, just as Noach dispatched both a raven and a dove from the ark to check if the world was habitable again. Moshe Rabbeinu and Yehoshua bin Nun both sent spies to the land of Canaan. Almost 1,000 years later, the prophet Daniel was summoned to the king’s palace to decipher the code mene mene tekel upharsin, written on the wall by an angel that predicted the impending doom of Belshazzar and his wicked monarchy.

“To the extent that you feel that intelligence gathering is a worthwhile activity engaged in by your nation, the museum gives visitors some insight as to what their government is doing, as well as what other governments might be doing to us,” says Peter Earnest, the museum’s executive director. “We realized we needed to portray that in both an accurate and entertaining way to get people to come.”

Mr. Earnest is a 35-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He spent 25 of those years in the clandestine service handling agents in Eastern Europe who were conducting covert activities against the former Soviet Union.

Even a seasoned agent like Mr. Earnest said he is often intrigued by the collection of intelligence tools and tradecraft on display at the museum. Cleveland media executive Milton Maltz founded the museum in 2002. Mr. Maltz, who also founded Cleveland’s Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, served in the US Navy during World War II and was assigned to the National Security Agency in Washington.

Anna Slafer, director of exhibitions and programs, says that even though the museum’s exhibits were mainly designed for older elementary school students and their parents, any child age 10 or older will find a variety of fun and fantasy.

Special programs for school groups include a program on code-breaking, which would be of special interest to math teachers; a briefing session with an intelligence officer; and Operation Spy, a one-hour simulated mission where students work together as a team on assessing intelligence information when you don’t have full possession of all of the facts. As part of Operation Spy, students assume the role of a US intelligence officer on an international mission to locate a missing nuclear device before it falls into the wrong hands.

“We also have a really good simulation where you are a CIA analyst and you are giving President Kennedy real-time information to help him with the Cuban missile crisis,” says Mrs. Slafer.

Youngsters who don’t suffer from claustrophobia might not have any issues with crawling through a makeshift air duct to travel surreptitiously from one part of the museum to another, just as a spy might do. Unlike some unlucky spies, the children are guaranteed to emerge on the other end.


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