The World's Most Secret Museum Belongs to the CIA

The collection would drive James Bond wild with delight. He would feel at home in these long, winding, underground corridors, finding many of the inventions that have also inspired his MI5 colleagues: radar built in the shape of a bug; an aquatic drone camouflaged as a catfish meant for underwater exploration; a camera-pen created for stealing other people’s secrets.

Agent 007 would be happy to find himself in front of such a collection of gadgets from other eras. However, in order to discover them, he would have to go to the agency’s headquarters, to the most secret, hidden and perhaps, mysterious permanent exhibition in the world: the CIA Museum.

Osama bin Laden’s Rifle

Few people are aware of its existence. Even fewer are those who are fortunate enough to enter — American espionage agents or their guests. No one else. In cases and behind glass lie more than half a century of Central Intelligence Agency glory. The failures have not been catalogued.

Important artifacts. The most recent arrival is Osama bin Laden’s rifle, appropriated by Navy Seals during the assault that took down the al-Qaida leader. The CIA is positive: The kalashnikov with the forged Chinese markings, which can be admired in Langley’s museum, is definitely his. To prove it, next to the weapon is a photo that shows Osama sitting near a journalist during an interview; between the two sits the famous submachine gun. Close by, in another case, is a plastic model of the Abbotabad compound where the prince of terror was assassinated.


Other highlights of the CIA Museum’s collection include the phony screenplay, the film studio’s forged letters of accreditation, the fake newspapers articles about the movie, and the fake business cards from the Argo mission. Thanks to Ben Affleck’s movie, everyone now knows what they concern: Agent Tony Mendez’s solitary mission to Tehran to free six American citizens hiding in the Canadian Embassy, after Khomeini student followers took hostages from the American Embassy during the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

However, the “memory” of the “Museum No One has Ever Seen” — as agency operatives call it — goes much farther back in time, to the period before the birth of the CIA, to World War II, the era of the Office of Strategic Services, the legendary OSS. Behind a small, glass display is a letter written in an elegant hand, that of an American official whose name would become famous: Richard Helms, future director of the CIA.

The Fuhrer’s Stationery

The personal stationery on which he wrote to his young son belonged to someone decidedly more famous: Adolf Hitler. Helms acquired it in Berlin. Among the World War II artifacts can also be found the Enigma, the electro-mechanical machine used by the Nazis for their top secret communications. In May 1941, one of these machines was seized by the English, who were able to crack its code, before then handing it on to the Allies.

Spy Pigeon

Sophisticated methods for the time — unlike the pigeon with the camera tied to its chest, which was used a few years later, a sign of CIA technicians’ (lack of) imagination. Then, the Cold War arrived and along with it cigarette packs with hidden cameras, recorders disguised as lighters, transmitters inside pens. Romantic moments from the history of Stars ‘n’ Stripes espionage, all preserved in the three corridors deep under Langley that make up the most secret museum in the world. No one even knows the price of a ticket — if there is one.

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