Espionage is a field about which E. Peter Earnest knows a great deal. He is executive director of the International Spy Museum (ISM) scheduled to open in Washington on duly 19. For 36 years Earnest worked for the CIA, more than 20 years of that with the agency's clandestine service. He received the CIA's Intelligence Medal of Merit for "superior service" throughout his career.
The museum, Earnest tells INSIGHT, will "deal with espionage around the world and through time," meaning that it will look at the whole history of international spying.
This makes the ISM one of a kind, Earnest explains. The National Security Agency (NSA), for example, has a museum at Fort Meade in Maryland that deals with spy codes, ciphers "and that sort of thing," he notes. The British Imperial War Museum has its collection of items dealing with espionage, and the KGB, the infamous secret-police and spy agency of the former Soviet Union, also has a museum.
But what will make the ISM unique is the breadth of its approach and the displays and shows it offers.
There will be a permanent collection that covers such areas as "School for Spies" about how espionage agents have been trained through the years, and "Spies Among Us," which will deal with real-life spies and include exhibits on such celebrity spooks as singer and kootch Josephine Baker, renowned chef and cookbook author Julia Child, film director John Ford and movie star Marlene Dietrich.
The museum, which will be housed in renovated buildings in Penn Quarter, one of the oldest sections of downtown Washington, also will have temporary exhibits on events such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Earnest says. There will be a cafe and restaurant and all the other accessories museums offer these days.
The ISMS's founder is Milton Maltz, Earnest points out, who for 42 years was principal of Malrite Communications Group Inc., which operated radio and TV stations. Maltz has had major museum experience: He also was founder of the widely admired Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. During the Korean War, he worked at the NSA for the U.S. Navy and developed a lifelong interest in intelligence-gathering.
Insight: Intelligence and espionage have played a big part in American history from the beginning, but particularly in the 20th century. And they've played a big part in world history, too. Why hasn't there been such a museum before?
E. Peter Earnest: Intelligence people have made some effort in the past to have a museum or some other display of the part intelligence has played in America. It just never got off the ground. I think part of the explanation for the failure is that it was intelligence officers trying to advance the project and not museum fund-raisers.
Insight: What approach to espionage is the museum going to take?
EPE: We are concerned about the level of appreciation of history in this country both by adults and young folks. There's just been another study that shows the low level of knowledge of history among the young. That is distressing.
So we tell stories, and because the young often are attracted to espionage and intrigued by the smell and the glamour of it, I hope these stories awaken their interest to learn more about their own background.
We are a revolutionary country. We carried out a revolution. In the museum, we show that George Washington, one of our revolutionary leaders and the father of our country, was also the founder of U.S. intelligence-gathering. He was a very active intelligence officer, recruited and paid agents, used ciphers and dead drops. He employed many of the fundamental principles of the tradecraft of intelligence. That's an insight you don't often see described in the history books.
Insight: This museum comes at a time--after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks--when Americans have a new appreciation of our need for good intelligence. …