Go inside the CIA with the Smithsonian’s newest Resident Associates Program

Ever dreamed of being a spy? In today’s increasingly covert operations-governed world, agencies like the CIA are playing a key role in major international events.

The latest offering from the Smithsonian Resident Associates Program is showcasing a six-course series about how the Central Intelligence Agency carries out its principal missions of collecting, analyzing, and protecting secrets and helping inform and implement foreign policy.

Classes will explore the myths portrayed in novels, movies and academia, examine how CIA directors interact with the President, how different types of espionage operations are run, examine different spy technologies and discuss the complex world of moles and double agents.

Instructors include CIA experts, General Michael Hayden, the 18th director of the CIA and the official CIA historian. The class is $120 for general admission and $84 for Smithsonian members and begins October 5.

Can’t stay in town that long? We’d recommend visiting the International Spy Museum in Chinatown, where, for $20, you can learn about many of the same subjects in a fun, game-like environment. It’s perfect for families, too.

Outsiders not welcome at Chinese spy museum

Foreigners keep out!

Committed to preserving national secrets, the new Jiangsu National Security Education Museum in Nanjing is only open to Chinese citizens. So, if you want to see guns embedded in lipstick, maps hidden in decks of cards and other accoutrements of the spy trade (or, “tradecraft,” as spies over here call it), you have to have the right passport.

Most of the items on display are well past their “use by” dates. Guns disguised as fountain pens and pipes, a bugged calculator and instructions for wiretapping can be found … some of which date back to the communist fight against the nationalists in 1927.

Even though some of these tools and methods are dated, the government likes to keep a leash on its secrets, so the best you’ll get is a second-hand account from a loose-lipped local. A spokesman for the spy museum said to The Associated Press, “We don’t want such sensitive spy information to be exposed to foreigners, so they are not allowed to enter.” Most of the prospective guests turned away, though, understand the reasoning.

Desperate to get a look? You can usually get in if you have “Chinese features” and look “clean.”

I Spy a Museum

The NY Times had a fun piece by a former CIA case officer, in which she talks about visiting various spy museums. He went to NSA’s National Cryptologic Museum in Fort Meade, MD, and the International Spy Museum in DC.

Having visited the International Spy Museum myself, she describes the experience well, while adding in little tidbits about her experiences with the CIA in Eastern Europe in the 1990s. They showcase various disguises and old spy technology and allow you to do a little play-acting, by assuming an identity. And for Bond lovers, there’s even a fully-decked Bond Aston Martin DB5. And don’t pass up the chance to buy your own night-vision goggles in the gift shop. It’s fun kitsch.

Then, she was off to true geek-land: the Cryptologic Museum, rarely visited and free and open to the public. She said the best part was listening to stories told by the retiree volunteers who manned the place. There, you can even see the Enigma machine.

She’s also written a book: Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy (by Lindsay Moran), which I’ll be looking for in the store.