International Spy Museum

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International Spy Museum
International Spy Museum Logo.svg
2019 International Spy Museum 03.jpg
International Spy Museum is located in Central Washington, D.C.
International Spy Museum
Location within Washington, D.C.
International Spy Museum is located in the United States
International Spy Museum
International Spy Museum (the United States)
EstablishedJuly 19, 2002 (2002-07-19)
Location700 L'Enfant Plaza, SW
Washington, D.C.
United States
Coordinates38°53′02″N 77°01′32″W / 38.884°N 77.02551°W / 38.884; -77.02551Coordinates: 38°53′02″N 77°01′32″W / 38.884°N 77.02551°W / 38.884; -77.02551
VisitorsApprox. 600,000 annually[1]
DirectorChristopher P. Costa
CEOTamara Christian
CuratorDr. Andrew Hammond
Public transit accessWMATA Metro Logo.svg                          L'Enfant Plaza

The International Spy Museum is an independent non-profit museum which documents the tradecraft, history, and contemporary role of espionage. It holds the largest collection[2] of international espionage artifacts on public display. The museum opened in 2002 in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and relocated to L'Enfant Plaza in 2019.[3][4]


Milton Maltz, a code-breaker during the Korean War and founder of the Malrite Communications Group in 1956 (later The Malrite Company), conceptualized the International Spy Museum in 1996 as a for-profit organization.[5] The original museum facility in the Penn Quarter neighborhood was built by Milton Maltz and The House on F Street, L.L.C. at a cost of approximately US$40 million.[6] It opened to the public in 2002.[7]

The foundation cost of the original museum was half funded by the Malrite Company; the other $20 million came from the District of Columbia through enterprise zone bonds and TIF bonds. The museum was part of the ongoing rejuvenation of Penn Quarter, kicked off in the 1980s by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation.[8]

In April 2015, plans were released for a new museum designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners.[3] In January 2019, the museum began the process of moving from its previous F Street location to the new $162 million dedicated building at 700 L'Enfant Plaza, and it reopened to the public on May 12, 2019.[9] The 32,000 square foot L'Enfant Plaza building has a 145-seat theater, rooftop terrace, and top-floor event space.[10] The new museum is a non-profit enterprise.

Educational and cultural programs are offered for students, adults, and families including scholarly lectures, films, book signings, hands-on workshops, and group tour packages. The museum charges admission fees.[11]

Permanent collection[edit]

International Spy Museum

The museum houses more than 7,000 artifacts with around 1,000 on public display, accompanied by historical photographs, interactive displays, film, and video. The permanent collection traces the complete history of espionage, from the Ancient Greeks and the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the British Empire, the American Revolutionary War, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War, both World Wars, the Cold War, and through present day espionage activity. Exhibits include:

Briefing Center[edit]

Visitors receive an Undercover Mission badge and cover identity in the "Briefing Center". Here, visitors preview the museum's spy artifacts and watch a five-minute film introducing the shadow world of spying.

Stealing Secrets[edit]

In the "Stealing Secrets" gallery, visitors learn about spies and spymasters, gadget makers, scientists, and engineers from past and present. Hundreds of imaginative inventions used to steal secrets are displayed in this gallery.

Making Sense of Secrets[edit]

In the "Making Sense of Secrets" gallery, visitors learn how secret information gets turned into useful intelligence. The gallery's interactive exhibits inform how codes are made, analyzed, and broken.

Covert Action[edit]

In the "Covert Action" gallery, visitors discover the age-old techniques leaders use to secretly influence events abroad. They learn about covert mission failures and successes from sabotage to lethal action.

Spying That Shaped History[edit]

The "Spying that Shaped History" gallery illustrates the impact of intelligence on history. Visitors explore stories from the American Revolution to 21st century cyberwarfare and hear what intelligence officers think about on-screen spies.

An Uncertain World[edit]

The "An Uncertain World" gallery explores how spy agencies protect against threats at home. Visitors learn what can happen when they go too far and delve into spy tales from Renaissance Venice to Cold War Berlin.

Debriefing Center[edit]

Visitors receive the conclusion to their Undercover Mission in the Debriefing Center including a performance debrief that summarizes their top spy skills.

Previous exhibits[edit]

The museum had an interactive exhibit called Operation Spy where visitors assumed the roles of covert agents and participated in a one-hour Hollywood-style spy simulation. Visitors moved from area to area, interacting with puzzles, tasks, motion simulators, sound effects, and video messages to work through a mission to intercept a secret arms deal involving a nuclear trigger.

In 2011, the museum had an interactive called Spy in the City where visitors were given a GPS-type device and had to find clues near various landmarks in the area surrounding the museum to obtain the password for a secret weapon.[12]

Notable Items in the Permanent Collection[edit]

In popular culture[edit]



  • SPY board members Robert Wallace and Keith Melton are co-executive producers of Netflix's 2021 Spycraft series. The museum's executive director, Chris Costa, is interviewed in the third episode of season 1 titled Sexspionage.
  • The museum has made many appearances on Mysteries at the Museum.
  • In season 14, episode 10 of Law and Order titled Acceptable Loss, Nick Amaro mentions taking his daughter to the Spy Museum.
  • The museum was referenced in season 4, episode 4 of Madam Secretary. Elizabeth McCord's son is doing a school report on the CIA, so Henry and Jason make plans to visit the Spy Museum.
  • The museum was used as a setting in the season 3 episode of Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman entitled Mission Improbable. It was where Ruff sent the FETCHers to learn about how to become spies.
  • Ozzy and Jack Osbourne in the eighth episode of season 1 of Ozzy and Jack's World Detour, visit the museum.


  • In collaboration with National Geographic, the museum published the International Spy Museum's Handbook of Practical Spying.
  • The children's books, Who's Hiding in the Spy Museum? and A Secret Message by Ellen Lewis are set in the museum.


  • BBC's Reel, The Secrets of the Culper Spy Ring features scenes filmed at the museum and an interview with Jacqueline Eyl, the Spy Museum's director of youth education.
  • In collaboration with WIRED, the International Spy Museum's video, Former CIA Chief of Disguise Breaks Down Cold War Spy Gadgets featuring board member Jonna Mendez, was nominated for a 2021 Webby Award.
  • Jennifer Lawrence while promoting her film Red Sparrow on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, mentions that former intel officers would tell their children they were spies by showing them Spy Kids, then taking them to the Spy Museum.


Then-President of the United States, Barack Obama, visited the museum on July 30, 2010.[31]


  • The Spy Museum has a weekly podcast, SpyCast, hosted by the museum's historian and curator Dr. Andrew Hammond.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kennicott, Philip (May 7, 2019). "The best part of the new Spy Museum? Its exterior". The Washington Post.
  2. ^ "Guinness World Record - Largest Espionage Museum!". International Spy Museum. Retrieved 2021-05-25.
  3. ^ a b Goldchain, Michelle (April 23, 2015). "What to Expect From the Brand New International Spy Museum". Curbed.
  4. ^ "You can buy advance tickets online to the bigger Spy Museum, which opens May 12"". The Washington Post.
  5. ^ Folkinshteyn, Benjamin (Fall 2007). "Washington as First Action Hero: Museums Redefined". DePaul Journal of Art.
  6. ^ Radosh, Ronald (2010). "Scoping Out The International Spy Museum". Academic Questions. 3. 23: 287–297. doi:10.1007/s12129-010-9171-1.
  7. ^ Ensor, David (June 19, 2002). "Poison umbrellas, lethal lipstick: Spy museum opens". CNN.
  8. ^ "36 C.F.R. Chapter IX – Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation".
  9. ^ McGlone, Peggy (May 8, 2019). "The new Spy Museum is bigger, bolder and more beautiful. Here are the 10 things you shouldn't miss". The Washington Post.
  10. ^ Cooper, Rebecca (December 31, 2018). "Spy Museum says goodbye to Penn Quarter". American City Business Journals.
  11. ^ "Plan a Visit". International Spy Museum. Retrieved June 4, 2021.
  12. ^ PREDAVEC, EVAN (October 21, 2011). "Spies in the City: The International Spy Museum". Wired.
  13. ^ "Four Rotor Enigma Machine". International Spy Museum. Retrieved 2023-02-21.
  14. ^ "Dr. Andrew Hammond Talks Cyber Espionage, Spy Museum and More". Forcepoint. 2021-12-06. Retrieved 2023-02-21.
  15. ^ "U-2 Wreckage Piece (Francis Gary Powers)". International Spy Museum. Retrieved 2023-02-21.
  16. ^ "SPY MUSEUM ACQUIRES SUICIDE SILVER DOLLAR". Retrieved 2023-02-21.
  17. ^ "Wealthy collector gives his hoard to spy museum: suicide needles, the ax used on Trotsky". The Seattle Times. 2017-09-13. Retrieved 2023-02-21.
  18. ^ "2506 Brigade Flag". International Spy Museum. Retrieved 2023-02-21.
  19. ^ "Heavy Water". International Spy Museum. Retrieved 2023-02-21.
  20. ^ "Operation Bernhard Printing Plate". International Spy Museum. Retrieved 2023-02-21.
  21. ^ "Nazi forgeries to take center stage at new Int'l Spy Museum". The Jerusalem Post | Retrieved 2023-02-21.
  22. ^ "International Spy Museum opens its doors". New Atlas. 2004-06-03. Retrieved 2023-02-21.
  23. ^ "Steineck ABC Wristwatch Camera". International Spy Museum. Retrieved 2023-02-21.
  24. ^ "Lipstick Pistol". International Spy Museum. Retrieved 2023-02-21.
  25. ^ "Umbrella Guns and Fake Poop? Cold War Spies Thought of Everything". HistoryNet. 2023-01-19. Retrieved 2023-02-21.
  26. ^ "Pigeon Camera". International Spy Museum. Retrieved 2023-02-21.
  27. ^ Cavanaugh, Patrick (March 15, 2021). "Mission: Impossible Getting Remastered Blu-ray for 25th Anniversary". Comicbook. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  28. ^ Swartz, Dan (May 8, 2019). "PHOTOS: The (New) International Spy Museum". Washingtonian. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  29. ^ Barber, James (December 11, 2018). "'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' & the Real Operatives of the International Spy Museum". Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  30. ^ Vitka, Will (September 26, 2018). "Special guest at Spy Museum for Global James Bond Day? Bond himself". wtop. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  31. ^ Sanner, Ann (July 30, 2010). "Obama visits the spy museum". The San Diego Union Tribute. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  32. ^ "SpyCast | The Spy Museum Podcast". International Spy Museum. Retrieved 2022-07-20.

External links[edit]