Haven’t heard of the museum before? The International Spy Museum in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington, D.C. is well known for its exhibits that document the history, tradecraft, and contemporary role of espionage. All told, the museum houses over 7,000 historical objects related to spycraft that stretch from the time of the Egyptian, Greek and Roman Empires, all the way up to present times and everything in between. Especially notable permanent exhibits include the “Stealing Secrets” gallery, where visitors learn about the many people involved in the collection of secret information, and the “Making Sense of Secrets” gallery, where visitors then learn how this secret information is turned into actionable intelligence.
If the history of spycraft and espionage is interesting to you or your family, you might be interested to learn that a recent exhibit in the museum, “Codes, Ciphers and Mysteries: NSA Treasures Tell Their Secrets,” has been extended through September 30th. The objects on display in the exhibit include such things as a Cypher Cylinder from the US made in the late 18th to early 19th century, which is used to create coded messages from scrambled letters generated by turning the cylinder’s wooden wheels.
Especially interesting to World War II history buffs is the last remaining Enigma Cipher Machine used by the Nazis during the war. Employed extensively by the German military forces during the war, the cipher device was used to protect all manner of commercial, military, and diplomatic communication, especially the coordination troop and supply movements. Believed to be secure from the Allies’ codebreakers, even the highest of top-secret messages were transmitted via the enigma machine. Luckily for the Allies, they were able to exploit the Enigma-generated communications as a source of intelligence in the fight against the Axis powers, which is believed to have shortened, or even altered, the outcome of the war itself.
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