Thanks to Hollywood, we all have a pretty specific idea of what a spy looks like. Most of us imagine a charming Brit in a suit, with a pistol in one hand, and a martini glass in another. But how does this compare to actual spies?
"James Bond wouldn't last four minutes in the real world," said spy historian Keith Melton. "If you think of everything James Bond does, just do the opposite, and you would have a real intelligence officer."
Melton has spent the last 45 years traveling to over 20 countries in his search for spy artifacts. Remarkably, he's now collected thousands of objects, many of which are on the way to The Spy Museum. All in all, he's donating more than 5,000 items to the museum.
"Gadgets are cool," he laughed.
The expanded museum, with the new objects, will not be on display until next year, when the museum is moved to a larger space in L'Enfant Plaza. However, the staff at the museum gave WUSA9 a tour of some of the best of the best.
"This is one of the three existing manuals for it," Melton said, pointing at a small blue manual with the words 'Sleeping Beauty' on it. "It's the world's smallest operational submarine from World War II. About 13 feet long. It would fit in the submarine."
Next on the table was a collection of English pound notes, as well as a small slab of metal.
"This is the only known surviving printing plate," he said. "That would produce a perfect forged copy of a British note."
Melton said that these printing plates were used during World War II in a German scheme called "Operation Bernard." He said that Germans went through the concentration camps, searching for Jewish master printers. These Jews would be guaranteed safety, in return for forging the money.
"Its purpose was to counterfeit British currency," he said. "As a way of potentially destabilizing their economy or to support their intelligence operations."
Melton then pointed toward a machine, that almost looked like a type-writer. If you've seen 'The Imitation Game,' this machine might look familiar.
"It's a very rare Japanese enigma," he said.
Melton said that this enigma was found in Japan, just as the war was ending.
"The enigma was one of the great secrets," he said. "That enabled the German military, land, sea, underwater to communicate secretly."
Next on the table was what appeared to be a normal silver dollar. Upon further review though, you'll see that it was actually far more sinister.
"The silver dollar," he said. "It actually has a bezel."
Inside the hole, there was a pin with an ominous purpose.
"In the little drillbit," he said. "There was a poison called Saxitoxin, which was a shellfish-based poison. And the user of the pin could simply prick himself with it and he would die within a minute."
But as we look over his massive collection from across the globe, there's one question that comes to mind. Why did this man dedicate his life to finding spy gadgets.
"The story of the gadgets has largely been untold," he said. "We hear stories of the agents and the spies. But seldom of the technology that they used. And one of the things that made James Bond so fascinating in the movie is that they gave a glimpse of the technology."
This article was written by Koslof. Evan Koslof. He likes his Martinis shaken. Not stirred.