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Poison umbrellas, lethal lipstick: Spy museum opens

Mission accomplished: The International Spy Museum opened Friday, exhibiting lipstick guns, button microphones and other tools of the trade.
Mission accomplished: The International Spy Museum opened Friday, exhibiting lipstick guns, button microphones and other tools of the trade.  

From David Ensor

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A bit more light is being shed on the shadowy world of the secret agent these days. The International Spy Museum opened Friday in Washington showcasing some of the tricks of the spy trade.

People who remember the old TV spy parody "Get Smart" might think of Maxwell Smart answering his ringing shoe when they see a real-life shoe with an implanted listening device on display. It was used by Czech intelligence agents to bug American diplomats.

Visitors can also see a gun disguised as a lipstick -- used by Stalin's secret police in the Soviet Union -- called the kiss of death. "At close range, right next to the person, behind the head it would be devastatingly accurate," says historian Keith Melton, who collected many of the items in the museum.

"People know two spies in history," says museum president Dennis Barrie. "One is James Bond, who wasn't a spy, who was fiction. The other is Mata Hari, who wasn't much of a spy but certainly had a great life."

CNN's David Ensor takes a tour of the new International Spy Museum in Washington and tries on a few disguises. (July 18)

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Check out some of the museum's spy tools. 

Barrie's museum helps separate fact from fiction through interactive exhibits and displays of actual espionage tools.

In one exhibit for instance, visitors have to search a photograph for four "spy signals" that alert agents to a message or dead drop, Barrie explains. A dead drop is a prearranged location used for secret exchanges of packages, messages and payments.

Another Soviet spy artifact: an umbrella that could deliver a fatal shot of poison. It was used in an infamous case, when Bulgarian defector and writer Georgi Markov was stabbed with a poisoned umbrella in London in 1978 and died four days later. Police believe the assassin was a KGB agent.

"The Soviets were the best at spying," says Barrie. "I mean, we could talk about the CIA and MI-6, but nobody did it better."

The tour also includes interactions with real-life spies and explore the ways agents use disguises -- to get out of hostile countries unnoticed, for example.

According to its organizers, the International Spy Museum is the first public institution in the world dedicated to the history of espionage, and holds the largest collection of spying artifacts anywhere. More than 600 pieces are on exhibit.

The museum, located at 800 F Street, between 8th and 9th streets, is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. through October.


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