International Spy Museum

September 25, 2019 Emma Shipp

Technology uncovers the tradecraft, tools and impact of espionage through interactive experiences in a real spy role. 

Washington, DC


The International Spy Museum is the only public museum in the United States solely dedicated to espionage — and the only one in the world with a global perspective on a centuries-old profession that’s invisible to most people. The experience here is part museum and part game. Interactive and immersive exhibits let visitors experience what it takes to be an officer, agent or analyst working in the shadows, sometimes with life or death consequences.

Visitors take on an ‘Undercover Mission’ identifying themselves with a personalized interactive lanyard. During a brief ‘interrogation’ at reception visitors answer a number of questions that determine their mission, cover identity and level of expertise. In the exhibit rooms, they interact with displays that challenge them to complete a number of tasks — analyze clues, maintain cover, find and contact sources, collect intel at drop sites and complete other spy tasks.

Data from the interactive lanyard monitors visitors’ performance at every stage with results presented on a personal score sheet which they can access via the lanyard. Successful spies can go on to apply their new-found skills in other interactive games. ‘Mind Games’ explains the mental patterns and biases that can foil intelligence operations. ‘Red Teaming’ involves visitors in helping the CIA examine a compound where Osama Bin Laden might have been hiding — raid or stand down?

Video tells stories of daring espionage missions while audio gives a voice to professionals from the intelligence services who reveal episodes from the past in their own words. Many of the exhibits show how new technologies have transformed espionage and how cyberwarfare has become a potent weapon for intelligence agencies around the world. Welcome to the shadowy world of international espionage.

The iconic new International Spy Museum lets the light in on the shadowy world of international espionage. 


When the International Spy Museum relocated to a new site near the National Mall in Washington, the owners acquired an iconic space twice the size of the original venue. They wanted to use that space to give the museum a more international perspective and to involve visitors more deeply in the contribution of a profession that has helped shape world history. The aim was to create a successor to the original museum that was bigger and bolder and to give visitors an experiential introduction to spy craft that would complement the vast collection of historical artefacts. They wanted to tell the stories in new ways using new media and digital technologies.

Because so much of the spy business happens behind the scenes, they felt that interactive, immersive activities would add a WOW factor and help build greater understanding. It would also help to raise awareness of the increasing threat levels faced by countries around the world. To meet the needs of a diverse audience, the owners had to ensure that the interactive ‘Undercover Mission’ could be personalized to individual ability levels.

"I’m very proud that we are now expanding the Museum to meet the ever-growing need and desire to learn about the threats we face." - Milton Maltz, Founder, Spy Museum


Sixteen interactive displays engage visitors throughout the museum giving them insight into the challenges faced by spies and the techniques they use to overcome them. For visitors on the ‘Undercover Mission’ personalization techniques are used to assess individuals’ suitability for different roles. This ensures that visitors can succeed at different levels. RFID technology allows each visitor to interact in different ways with the various challenges. 


The International Spy Museum has successfully relaunched in its new home, attracting larger audiences and claiming the position of most successful paid museum in a market where many competing venues offer free admission. The interactive elements engage visitors of all ages and help meet the owners’ aim and personal passion of raising greater awareness of the contribution of espionage.

"The International Spy Museum has long been a destination for residents and visitors, finding innovative ways to keep us connected with our past." - Muriel Bowser, District  of Columbia Mayor

Download a full version of this project profile here

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