The International Spy Museum

Posted: May 8, 2010 in Covert Operations, Cultural Intelligence

Let me begin this entry by writing that I really, really wanted to like this museum because not only is it a fabulous idea, but I believe the history of intelligence to be extremely important to our understanding of the geopolitical, political, and cultural history of America.

That being said, the museum, sadly, is a bit of a mess, but of course, that may be entirely dependent upon level of interest in the topic…

The International Spy Museum is located in the Penn Quarter of Washington DC. The museum is privately owned (part of the problem perhaps?) and is conveniently located across the street from National Portrait Gallery. Which was a good thing because the day I went, it was cold, windy, and sleeting, and due to the horribly vague policies about tickets on their website, I didn’t realize you needed to buy tickets for an entrance time.  Nonetheless, I was not going to be deterred, waited for my entrance time at the gallery across the street (perfection as always, I love DC museums) and finally entered the museum.

First impression is that the owners are trying to make this a slick and flashy carnival ride. The interior is dark with an overly engineered lighting concept with a lot of dark, shiny surfaces. It really felt like someone had watched the opening credits of “ALIAS” one too many times. A museum attendant directs you to an elevator, you are crammed in a slew of people, and promptly lifted to the next floor.

The room you enter upon leaving the elevator is waiting space where you are encouraged to browse names, pick one, memorize the background info, and make it your cover.

The thread of a “cover” that you are supposed to carry through the museum doesn’t make much sense when there is no direction where to go, where to use it, and if you do know where to go, then it is three people deep at any given station. Actually, “three people deep” ends up being the overriding theme of the museum because the architecture of the building in which the museum is housed in a old and narrow building with a lot of weird angles and hallways.

The displays are crammed together, oddly organized, and of course, one room – one tiny room – is devoted to the dames and it’s a mess…and set-up like a bedroom…and a badly planned cliche…

Other exhibits are set up in hallways, one even is a stairwell, and really, what the hell are these people thinking?

Oh, yeah! Money! Because the gift shop is the most spacious and well organized space in the joint, all designed for you to purchase over-priced knick-knacks to your heart’s content.

It’s too bad really, the museum is a fabulous idea. It’s the just the blatant desire to make a buck here makes it all go so very wrong.


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