How Do You Stay Sane When You’re Pretending To Be Someone Else? Find Out At Washington D.C.’s International Spy Museum

One of the markers for mental health is integrity—you are who you say you are, and you are that same person with everyone in your life.

By contrast, anyone who enters into the espionage game surrenders that level of personal integrity and lives a life of compartmentalization. That individual is one person to family and friends, and a completely different person altogether to the people with whom he or she lives a secret life.


Remarkably, one of the key lessons learned at the International Spy Museum is that people who spy for their country seem not to suffer the side effects of the surrender of that identity.

If you haven’t been to the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, it’s about as fascinating a place that you, and your children, could possibly visit.

International Spy Museum

The museum offers cutting edge technological exhibits, actual spycraft devices of all kinds, and, perhaps most fascinating, videos by individual spies who have penetrated some of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world and lived to tell the tale.

Watching those videos, you get a chance to assess their mental health and whatever scars they may have endured as result of their giving up of the normal identity that most of us live every day.

To the untrained eye, they seem none the worse for wear.

What’s it all about?

You start off watching a super-wide screen video featuring the faces and words of actual CIA employees, and it’s even narrated by Morgan Freeman.

Videos don’t get any better than that.

That’s what so intriguing and fascinating about the International Spy Museum—the ability to put faces and emotions to the types of individuals whom you could go your entire life without even thinking about.

Did you know that the CIA has a position called worldwide CEO for disguise?

They do, and you can get to know that individual in various places in the four stories of exhibits that depicts spycraft over four hundred years.

Your mission, should you choose to accept…

When you arrive, you get a mission and a secret identity of your own. At various places in the museum, you check-in and update your mission. My assigned cover story: that of a New York-based dancer sent to Accra, Ghana to locate a recruiter for a terrorist organization.

I’d tell you how it all turned out, but then I’d have to kill you.

That process makes one aware of the endless risks that spies face—who might be watching, where they might be, where the video cameras might be placed, and even which piece of trash might provide the clue necessary to make the next rendezvous.

Certainly, spies have been discovered, tortured, and killed; this is the risk these individuals take in order to protect the rest of us.

Lessons taught the fun way

But the real question the International Spy Museum makes one ask is whether one could surrender one’s normal identity and take on another one, with all the risks attendant to there too, in order to stop a tragic outcome or gain vital information for national security.

An example of the brilliantly conceived and designed exhibits: a large mockup of Osama bin Ladin’s home with an attendant interactive video program. How do the exterior walls, the lighting, and other design aspects provide clues as to whether the home is his, or instead belongs to a wealthy businessman, or simply a lower level terrorist? You get the facts and you have to decide as if you were a CIA analyst. So much rides on your decision. Amazing.

One comes away from the International Spy Museum with a sense of awe—not just for the practitioners of spycraft, but also for the individuals who designed and built this museum, which is about as fitting, and breathtaking, a way to honor them as any monument in DC could be.

If you’re coming to Washington alone or with your family, skip the White House tour and don’t even bother with the Jefferson Memorial. Go straight to the International Spy Museum and see how the other half lives.


Michael Levin is a News Columnist at Grit Daily.

Read more

Grit Daily's Podcasts

Listen to The Like a Boss Podcast


VeeCon Preview: Gary Vaynerchuk on Grit Daily News
Danni Peck
on May 14, 2021

VeeCon Preview: Everything Gary Vaynerchuk Ever Wanted in a Conference

An NFT convention? Is that even possible? It’s more likely than you think. Gary Vaynerchuk, wine critic and entrepreneur and co-founder of restaurant reservation software such as Resy and Empathy Wines, has announced VeeCon for any VeeFriends token holders. VeeFriends is an NFT project created by Vaynerchuk that showcases his NFT collection of art. With […]

Peter Page
on May 13, 2021

ScriptDrop CEO Amanda Epp Explains Why Prescription Home Delivery Will Outlast the Pandemic

Timing, as it has long been said, is everything but sometimes timing is dictated by what nobody could plan for – one example being a global pandemic. When ScriptDrop, a very fast growing startup prescription delivery company based in Columbus, Ohio, was launched in 2017 with Amanda Epp as CEO, demand for its service was […]

Sarah Marshall
on May 11, 2021

Adam Anderson of Hook Security Views Entrepreneurship—and Cybersecurity—in Unconventional Ways

Adam Anderson is not your typical entrepreneur. He has founded multiple companies, but now, he helps CEOs fire themselves. While CEO may sound like the dream job, Anderson believes that many CEOs can help their companies by putting effective leadership teams in place and then getting out of the way—transitioning from the role of CEO […]

Stewart Rogers
on May 11, 2021

Socialstack Lands Funding to Build Global and Diverse Social Token Economies

Socialstack, a social token protocol, has announced today that it has received $200k in funding to launch a new way for creators to interact with their community and fans. The protocol, which is on both Ethereum and Celo, was backed by the likes of Novum Insights, Aubrey Hruby, Decentranet, Adrianna Mendez, and Alan Laubsch. Solutions […]