Wednesday, December 28, 2005


It would be a poor excuse for a hyperexpensive downtown Washington, DC, museum dedicated to international espionage that didn't feature a sneaky backdoor entry-point that allows a silent & shadowy yet audacious operator to slip unnoticed -- and, more importantly, gratis -- past the state-of-the-art security system and into the very bowels of the exhibit itself. To this rule of thumb the International Spy Museum at 800 F Street between 8th and 9th -- in a building that once housed the US Communist Party -- is no exception.

I'm not going to blow the gaff in plain text -- wow, what rotten tradecraft that would be! Whew! -- but just between you and me and that suspiciously attentive lamppost over there, here it is in special super-spy-approved cipher:

Ou-yay an-cay et-gay into-yay the useum-may or-fay ee-fray if oo-yay o-gay to the ack-bay of the iftshop-gay.

Right. That's it. Off you go. Moscow Rules. The gallant fox runs at midnight.

I honestly wouldn't commit such an overt act of civil disobedience but for a couple of things.

As we stood around shivering in the blustery December wind outside the museum, waiting for our alloted four-o'clock entry slot to come round, perky museum employees with clipboards flitted from one freezing knot of people to another offering museum membersips at $150 a pop. These memberships would permit all one's fellow freezing-knotniks to enter the warm confines immediately, ahead of the other suckers who'd bought tickets for a specific time. Having myself just dropped $94 for seven Jingoes to enjoy the privilege of a two-hour sidewalk vigil, this struck me as just a tad elitist: If you're rich, go to the head of the line might be putting it a mite class-warfarishly, but I'm damned if I can find a more polite way to put it.

Ah, but that's this town these days, isn't it.

Another moment that defined George Bush's Washington in late 2005 came during an introductory film shown on entry to the museum. On the need for espionage, the argument would have been quite unexceptionable in less parlous times: The President, the film avers, needs all the information he can get his hands on, that he may weigh the evidence objectively and make policy decisions with the best interests of the country in mind.

I understand that videos are expensive, and that museum directorships are by nature very conservative and don't just go off redesigning entire exhibits based on yesterday's headlines -- but that's a pretty goddamned major point to have dangling outside the Trousers of History, isn't it?

How is the International Spy Museum going to tell the story of the leadup to the Iraq Debacle, the cooked intel about WMD, "Curveball," Chalabi and broken Iranian codes, the fired dissenting generals, the wholesale and completely open war, still ongoing, between CIA and Pentagon, between Career CIA and Political CIA, and between Pentagon and State?

Will it be "The President received bad intelligence after 9/11, and thus he made bad decisions"? Or will it be, as we know to be true, "The President's men listened selectively to the intelligence they were given and rejected that which didn't support their case for war"?

When the point about policy decisions was made during the film, I barked one solitary "hah!" surprised that I heard no other sounds of dissent from the crowd of about fifty. Heads turned toward me, and I felt my mortified daughter's squeeze on my elbow. Stifled, I shut up.

Oh, and nothing about black prisons in Eastern Europe either, but I'm sure they just haven't finished building the exhibits and we'll see that this coming year.

Through the gift shop. Keep going to the back. Idly fondle a t-shirt, look around shiftily, and then zip on in, past Checkpoint Charlie.


Akatabi said...

The Trousers of History - Great Band Name. They could take a cue from Mme. Tussaud's and include a Chamber of Horrors.

H. Rumbold, Master Barber

Kevin Wolf said...

I'm sure someone has said it before re the CIA, NSA, etc etc, but here goes:

Intelligence? HA!

ovcqypi - You think I'm gonna tell you what that means? With the world hanging in the balance?

Anonymous said...

Ned--way to stick it to The Man! If it's still possible to do so when I visit, I'll put a few hobo signs up to mess with their heads further.

Akatabi--the "trousers of history" are from Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. Recommended reading.

rameau's nephew said...

"I felt my mortified daughter's squeeze on my elbow."

in the immortal words of Ernie the taxi driver, "Ah, a family man, eh?"

I have mortified my family in similar ways - it will be the biggest part of my legacy, I fear.

But I did refrain from bringing up any of the "intelligence" stuff this past week while visting my brother. First thing I saw at his place was Malkin's "Unhinged" on the hall table, freshly home from the library. It was hard, but I kept my yap shut... I almost felt sorry for him, in the current climate of Abramoff and NSA, but not quite.