- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2014

To hide in plain sight, you need to keep clean. That’s why spies bring a washer and dryer with them everywhere — even underground.

A replica of a tunnel once used by U.S. spies to tap into Soviet communication lines in East Berlin — complete with laundry equipment so the dirt wouldn’t give away their operations — is just one of the many attractions inside the International Spy Museum.

Occupying 20,000 square feet in the Northwest D.C. Penn Quarter neighborhood, the museum delves into the history of the clandestine services. And while housing the world’s largest display of espionage artifacts, it also gives people a chance to live out their fantasies of going undercover.

Visitors enter to a feature called Covers & Legends in which they have three minutes to memorize a backstory before being whisked into a dark theater. Interactive kiosks throughout the museum test them on the information.

Inside the theater, an authoritative female voice belonging to Linda Hunt, and actress on television’s “NCIS: Los Angeles” fills the room. She poses the questions: Why do people spy? What are their motives? Is it because of their ego, their greed, their patriotism? And what would it take for you to embrace a life of deceit?

The theater opens into a room that resembles an aluminum vault and is dubbed the School for Spies. Filled with interactive games and TV screens playing spy-themed documentaries, the room displays more than 200 tools of the trade. A 1970s-era buttonhole camera, a shoe with a radio transmitter in its heel, a 1978 Bulgarian umbrella used by the KGB and a 1965 lipstick pistol line the walls.

A nondescript blue U.S. Postal Service mailbox looks out of place in the room — until visitors read a plaque underneath identifying it as having sat on the corner of 37th and R streets Northwest where it was used by CIA mole Aldrich Ames to pass communications to his Soviet handlers.

Amateur spies-in-training can venture up through air ducts to practice eavesdropping on the people below.

A pristine, silver Aston Martin DB5 with a license plate that reads JB007 sits in the back of the room. The car — a prop in the 1964 film “Goldfinger” that featured fictional British spy James Bond — supposedly has tire slashers, oil jets, a bulletproof shield and ejector seats. And for Bond fans, the Aston Martin is just a preview of what’s stored inside the museum’s lower level.

Titled “Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains,” the basement exhibit’s winding path leads patrons through displays on various Bond villains. It includes a virtual shark tank inspired by the underwater lair in the 1977 Bond film, “The Spy Who Loved Me,” and features movie props along with a short biography of many of Bond’s villains and outlines their evil plots over the decades.

“It’s really interesting to see how the plots and schemes in the 23 films play on the fears of what we were most worried about at the times they premiered,” said Jason Werden, the museum’s public relations manager.

Another exhibit, called the “War of the Spies,” uses a motif of brick and barbed wire to evoke 1950s Berlin and details the different ways spies tried to keep the Cold War cold. The exhibit, which houses the re-creation of the Berlin tunnel, displays along its dirt walls the ancient looking washer and dryer meant to show how operatives needed to clean their clothes before surfacing to avoid blowing their covers.

The museum’s oldest artifact is stored in its Secret History of History gallery: an invisible ink letter written by George Washington.

“This is an amazing artifact because it shows how Washington, as commander in chief of the Continental Army, started the first spy network in America, the Culper Spy Ring, which helped win the American Revolution,” Mr. Werden said.

An aviation spying room centers around the display of a stuffed pigeon outfitted with a camera. A blown-up image captured by a pigeon camera during World War I takes up the back wall, and feathered wings are clearly visible on the edges of the photo.

Entering into the museum’s last vaultlike exhibit, sounds of static fill the room and the lights flicker before darkening completely. After a few seconds, the lights return and a voice explains the threat of cyberspies in a technology-dependent 21st century.

The museum is open every day, tickets for adults are $21.95, and $14.95 for children. It also offers an interactive, hourlong game called Operation Spy and a GPS-led mission through the city called Spy in the City.

Tickets provide all-day access; from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. visitors are allowed to come and go as they please — that is, as long as they remember their cover and legend.

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