Armchair Field Trip: The International Spy Museum


I warned you: If you gave me good advice about where to go in Washington, I'd take it. Tucker Steele tipped me off to the spy museum, which turned out to be the best museum ever -- where else can you crawl around in a ventilation shaft, pretending to be a Bond girl (or Bruce Willis, I guess) and eavesdropping on the other visitors? I was so entertained that I practically had to be pried out of the museum by security guards -- apparently, I hadn't yet mastered the art of sneaking into places I didn't belong -- but I brought home the Handbook of Practical Spying to study before my next attempt to infiltrate the premises. Here's what I've learned so far:

1. Historical tidbit: Dutch-born Mata Hari had a sexy image that belied her bleak career spying for the French against the Germans -- and then possibly vice versa -- during World War I. She was executed by a French firing squad in 1917. Mata Hari's head was then removed, mummified, and eventually put on display at the Museum of Anatomy, in Paris. In July 2000, officials discovered that someone had stolen Mata's head.

2. Literary recommendations: England has had its share of famous authors who were also secret agents. This tradition dates back to Christopher Marlowe, working for Britain's first secret service under Queen Elizabeth I. Other notable names are Daniel Defoe, who served as a spy in Scotland, and W. Somerset Maugham, considered by some the inventor of the modern spy story. More modern writer-spies include Graham Greene and, of course, Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond.

3. Career advice: Britain's domestic intelligence service, MI-5, suggests that new male applicants should ideally be no taller than 5 feet, 11 inches, and females no taller than 5 feet, 8 inches. "You should be able to blend into the background. We are looking for average height, build, and appearance," the most recent application form states. Under these guidelines, most of the actors who have played James Bond would be rejected.

Sweet -- I'm 5-foot-2. Now, where did I put my trenchcoat?