- The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2002

E. Peter Earnest is no longer undercover.
Mr. Earnest, who spent 36 years in the Central Intelligence Agency, has exchanged his dark glasses and trench coat for a Palm Pilot he is still learning to use and a highly public role as executive director of the International Spy Museum, which opened July 19.
Pieces of the secret world of his past now are on display. The International Spy Museum, a privately owned facility on F Street near the MCI Center that organizers say is the first public museum in the United States dedicated to espionage, is a bridge between his former life as a CIA agent and his current role.
He is an administrator surrounded by the artifacts of his former profession.
"These were the things of my world for a major part of my adult life," says Mr. Earnest, who retired from the agency in 1994.
Those artifacts include:
A lipstick pistol, issued in the mid-1960s and used by operatives of the KGB, the former Soviet secret police and intelligence agency. The 4.5-mm one-shot tube was called "The Kiss of Death."
The Enigma Cipher Machine, used to code and decipher messages. Invented in 1923, the Nazis used it to encrypt top-secret messages during World War II.
A listening device disguised as a tree stump, issued by the CIA in the early 1970s. The solar-powered device was stashed in the woods near a Soviet military base to capture secret military radio transmissions.
A shoe with a transmitter in the heel. The KGB developed the device during the Cold War to monitor secret conversations. A transmitter, microphone and batteries were hidden in the heel of a target's shoe. Someone with access to the target could activate the device by removing a pin from the heel.
A 1777 letter from Gen. George Washington to New York political activist Nathaniel Sackett directing him to create a network of spies in the region and offering him $50 a month for his services.
Former spies who serve on the museum's advisory board, including former FBI and CIA chief William Webster and retired Soviet KGB Gen. Oleg Kalugin, helped gather more than 1,000 spy gizmos from the United States, England, the former East Germany, the former Soviet Union and other countries.
Mr. Earnest, 68, with white hair and a white mustache, is a product of the Cold War. He is a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, the same town where Sean Connery, who played fictional British spy James Bond, was born. A replica of Agent 007's silver Aston Martin DB5 sports car from the movie "Goldfinger" is on display at the museum.
Mr. Earnest's family moved to the United States so his father could attend the University of Iowa Law School. The family later moved to the District, and Mr. Earnest attended Georgetown University. After serving in the Marines, he began working at the CIA on Sept. 17, 1957.
Mr. Earnest, who speaks four languages, spent 20 years in the CIA's clandestine service. First, he was a field case officer serving in Europe and the Middle East. During his final 10 years in the clandestine service, he worked as the head of intelligence operations in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as a spy recruiter.
He also worked as the CIA's chief of Senate relations and served as the agency's chief spokesman before retiring.
To a person who grew up during the Cold War, when fear of communism pervaded, espionage was a worthwhile vocation, he said.
"When you were in the agency during the Cold War, you assumed the world would be like that forever," Mr. Earnest says. "You had a sense of contributing."
In his new public role, Mr. Earnest says, he feels like he is contributing again. From outside the agency there is no formal connection between the CIA and the $40 million museum, which is the idea of Clevelander Milton Maltz, who helped start the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame he is trying to promote an understanding of the role of espionage.
"The more people understand about intelligence and the role of intelligence, the more public support you have," Mr. Earnest says. "I'm not trying to glorify espionage, but to facilitate the public's knowledge of it."
U.S. espionage certainly has its dark moments, and the museum doesn't attempt to cover them up. Robert P. Hanssen, recently sentenced to life in prison for selling U.S. secrets, and Aldrich Ames, who also sold secrets, are among the modern spies whose stories are told at the museum.
Mr. Earnest recalls Ames, whom he refers to as Rich. He spoke with Ames at CIA headquarters a week before his arrest.
"He was smoking a cigarette in the atrium. He told me he was getting divorced, that it was rough financially. He also said he met a woman in Mexico who came from a wealthy family," says Mr. Earnest, who understood later that the information about meeting a wealthy woman was a lie meant to explain the lavish spending that actually was supported by Moscow.
He stills runs into spies. Some come to the museum, Mr. Earnest says.
"When I do my walk-throughs, I run into officers," he says.
Many others have visited, too. In its first two weeks, the International Spy Museum has attracted nearly 3,500 people a day. It has kept Mr. Earnest and the museum's staff busy. Mr. Earnest raced on Wednesday to make his usual stroll through the museum, meet with the people who run the museum's retail store, do a live interview with a New Zealand radio station and then offer a personal greeting for friends of a U.S. senator who stopped by.
He says his days have a quick pace, like they did when he was an agent.
"The life of a field operative is very intense. You work many jobs at a time, work nights and weekends. They're not leisurely jobs. My pace here is not dissimilar from that," he says.
At least he doesn't have to worry about working undercover.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide