Sunday, July 28, 2019

Becoming Spies at the Spy Museum in Washington DC

The kids decided it was time to go to the Spy Museum, so we did! Since our last visit the Spy Museum moved from the North side of the Mall to the South side at L'Enfant Plaza. That was a double win for us because it meant we finally got to have lunch at Church's Fried Chicken, a popular eatery in Texas.

The first stop is the briefing center where we assume our spy identities, receive a special code that we wore on a lanyard so that we used in participation of some of the activities, and received our missions.

There is so much to see and do so I'm going to share a few of my favorites.

Our first stop was one of  my favorite spy stories of the American Revolution: James Armistead Lafayette. The slave, James Armistead, was assigned to Gen. Lafayette who didn't approve of slavery. Lafayette instead used him as a spy against the British. Posing as a runaway slave, he first gained the confidence of Gen. Benedict Arnold who asked James to spy on Lafayette. James' work as a double agent switched to spying on Gen. Cornwallis when Arnold left for New York.

3-Spy Museum-James Armistead Lafayette
Spy Museum

Meanwhile Gen. Lafayette (in Virginia) kept in correspondence with Washington (in New York) regarding the situation of the British in Virginia. These letters dated July 31, 1781, contain significant details on the British that led to their ultimate defeat at Yorktown, which effectively ended the American Revolution.

4-Spy Museum-Letters from Lafayette to Washington spymaster
Spy Museum

Map of Yorktown.

5-Spy Museum-Yorktown Map
Spy Museum

The letter that Gen. Lafayette wrote to confirm James' service to the Continental Army and requested his freedom. Once freed James Armistead took the name Lafayette as his new surname.

7-Spy Museum-Lafayettes letter to free James Armistead
Spy Museum

Movie in 3D of an actor interpreter protraying James Armistead Lafayette.

8-Spy Museum-James Armistead Lafayette
Spy Museum

Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr helped develop technology called "frequency hopping" which was used in WWII which allowed radio-controlled torpedoes to reach their targets without fear of being intercepted. Today we use this technology in the form of wifi and bluetooth.

14-Spy Museum-Hollywood star invents spy comms WWII wifi bluetooth
Spy Museum

One of my favorite movies is Midway about the Pacific theater domination by the Japanese in 1942.  And one of my favorite stories is about an intelligence officer who wears a bathrobe while crunching a code. The Japanese were going to attack AF. Lots of possibilities flew around as to the identification of AF. The predominating idea was that AF must be Midway, but was it? The Americans couldn't afford to be wrong. Mr. Bathrobe had a plan. He radioed a fake message about a broken utility on Midway. Soon Mr. Bathrobe intercepted a Japanese message about a broken utility on AF.

That's precisely the story told in this exhibit. The rest of the story is Mr. Bathrobe is actually Captain Joseph Rochefort. Capt. Rochefort's skill at crossword puzzles led to his naval intelligence job. He was stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and he carried guilt for not having predicted the Dec 7 attack. He was determined to turn the tide, which he did for Midway...which effectively led to Allied gains in the Pacific and ultimately VJ Day.

19-Spy Museum-Intelligence Officer decodes Midway
Spy Museum

This was one of the many interactive rooms. I sat at the desk at the right and someone else sat at the desk on the left to assume the job of intelligence officers. We were presented with a real scenario from the recent past with actual pieces of intelligence. Which ones were dead ends and which were significant enough to move us forward in the mission? We were given choices galore on our computerized tables, which we just touched and swiped to make our choices that were relayed to the screen in front. As we each chose what we thought best, the messaging on the front screen described if we had a hit or a miss. Points were tallied and we had a time limit so speed and precision was essential to the mission, as in real life. I did quite well. This was documented, with a lot of other information in my coded card on the lanyard I received in the briefing room as was all of the other missions I participated in. It was fun having a documentation of my spymaster work at the end of the day.

21-Spy Museum-Role play intelligence
Spy Museum

George Washington, Spymaster (that's a book I highly recommend)  is much of what this exhibit explores.

22-Spy Museum-Gen Washington outspied the British
Spy Museum

I grew up in the Cold War and lived in San Antonio, home to five military bases. Many of my friends were military brats, as was I. My parents met in the military, at a Strategic Air Command (SAC) base in Louisiana. I remember lots of movies on tv about the Cold War. I read lots of books about it. Many of my friends had lived in West Germany or West Berlin. They saw the Berlin Wall. I never did. Somehow my dad managed to serve 20 years and never went to Europe.

26-Spy Museum-West Germany East Germany
Spy Museum

One of the exhibits was to walk through the streets of Berlin where they had displayed portions of the now fallen wall. It was an interesting exhibit. At the end of the day at when I plugged in my code from my lanyard, I found a surveillance video of my cautiously walking through Berlin. ;)

27-Spy Museum-West Berlin East Berlin Berlin Wall
Spy Museum

This lion remineds me of Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, when he puts his hand into the lion's mouth and screams to psych her out.

My kids and I studied a lot about Venice when we studied the Southern Renaissance. Venice was very important economically (silk, glass, and ships) so it was important to protect trade secrets so they created the Venetian Secret Service. They encouraged the citizens to speak up, or to actually put accusations in the mouth of the lion. (And I should have had my son shoot video of me replaying that scene.)

33-Spy Museum-Venice into the lions mouth
Spy Museum

The first submarine, American Revolution, 1775.

34-Spy Museum-The Turtle first submarine 1775
Spy Museum


James Bond's car. So maybe for my next spy mission I'll wear 1960s attire and do lots of photo shoots, especially here. =)

35-Spy Museum-James Bonds car
Spy Museum
Stay tuned, because my son and I love this place!