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Thursday, 18 July, 2002, 04:20 GMT 05:20 UK
Spy secrets on display
Museum entrance
Welcome to Washington's spookiest attraction

A lethal umbrella, a tree stump listening device, and a lipstick gun are among the exhibits on show at the world's first International Spy Museum.

The CIA and KGB's most vicious and bizarre artefacts are being put on show in a display in Washington that makes James Bond films look like a documentary.

Replica of James Bond's Aston Martin
James Bond was an inspiration to spies
CIA agents were even told to watch 007 movies in case "Q" had some ideas worth stealing, and former CIA director William Casey asked for a face recognition device to be developed after seeing it used by James Bond.

Among the objects on show is a newspaper used to kill two Ukrainian dissidents by gas propelled poison darts, a pellet firing umbrella similar to the one used to kill Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov and a whole series of guns and weapons disguised as torches, lighters, and cigarette packets.

The museum is privately run but has former CIA and FBI chief, Judge William Webster and former KGB General Oleg Kalugin on its board of directors.

Master of disguise

Many of the objects have come from the private collections of former agents; others were sold on the open market, often by former members of the KGB and East Germany's Stasi.

KGB F21 camera for clandestine photography
The 1970s KGB buttonhole camera is still in use
The CIA has been considering setting up its own museum for several years after it decided to open up to the public in the late 1990s.

It has, however, decided to support the Spy Museum as a way of displaying what it has been doing over the past 50 years.

Among the successes on display is the operation to rescue six US diplomats who managed to escape from the embassy in Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis.

The CIA's head of disguise, Tony Mendez, gave the six new identities as a Canadian film crew which allowed the group to escape.

The CIA's involvement was only revealed in recent years.

Kiss of death

There is also a solar powered tree stump listening device, which was left in woods near a Soviet military base to listen to military radio transmissions.

And at the end of the museum there is a reconstruction of the secret tunnel built by British and American secret services to spy on the Soviet military headquarters in East Berlin.

This catalogue of operations from the Second World War through the Cold War has been welcomed as a chance to display to the world how America's spies have spent the billions of dollars allocated to them.

In an era of "peace dividend" budget cuts and criticism of the security services, the museum presents a story of how the spy wars helped avoid the need for a "hot war" between superpowers.

The objects used by the former Communist states include a lipstick pistol issued in the mid-1960s and used by the KGB. The 4.5 mm device was called "the Kiss of Death".

Also featured is a KGB coat with buttonhole camera, and a camera used by East Germany's secret police, the Stasi, to photograph people through the wall of a hotel room.

The BBC's David Sillito
"If it all looks a bit James Bond, that's not a coincedence"
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20 Feb 02 | England
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