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Inside the top secret CIA Museum that only spies can visit

by | Last updated on Sep 26, 2022 at 12:58PM | Published on Sep 26, 2022 | Gadgets

It’s unlikely you will ever step foot inside this top-secret CIA Museum, but today we’re giving you a glimpse.

Located at the George Bush Center for Intelligence in Langley, Virginia, this museum looks just like any other from the outside.

However, it’s off-limits to the general public; only CIA staff and very special guests are able to visit.

The CIA Museum was established in 1988 to give employees a sense of the unique history of their profession. This collection focuses on the CIA’s World War II predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services, to the present-day CIA.
CIA designed and manufactured this two-man semi-submersible in the 1950s. It carried no weapons, was cramped, had limited endurance, and required a "mother ship" for transport and recovery. However, the vessel could approach areas ships could not.
U-2 Aircraft “AQUATONE” (1/48 Scale Model)
In November 2002, the Directorate of Intelligence (DI) and the CIA Museum opened the only exhibit on intelligence analysis in the country to commemorate the DI’s 50th anniversary. Some of the unique items displayed include Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 model and an al-Qa’ida training manual.
Tessina Camera Concealed in Cigarette Pack
CIA’s Office of Research and Development developed a camera small and light enough to be carried by a pigeon. It would be released, and on its return home the bird would fly over a target. Being a common species, its role as an intelligence collection platform was concealed in the activities of thousands of other birds. Pigeon imagery was taken within hundreds of feet of the target so it was much more detailed than other collection platforms.
“The Directorate of Science & Technology — People & Technology In the Service of Freedom” commemorates the 40th Anniversary of the DS&T (established in 1963) and provides a glimpse into this secret world. The items displayed here were designed by some of America's most advanced thinkers, adapting existing technologies or inventing new ones — selflessly putting themselves in the service of freedom.
Joint CIA and US Military Special Forces teams inserted into Afghanistan found the local terrain challenging. The joint US teams and their Afghan military allies found local transportation networks offered opportunities American forces had not enjoyed in over a century: cavalry charges. But these were commonplace in the campaign. A CIA communications officer obtained this saddle for the CIA Museum with the assistance of an Afghan colleague who was killed a month later.
This painting commemorates air operations of Civil Air Transport (CAT, an Agency proprietary) and its CIA contract pilots in support of French forces at Dien Bien Phu during the final days of the conflict between the French and Viet Minh in 1954. In Fairchild C-119s with US Air Force markings hurriedly painted over with French Air Force roundels, 37 CAT pilots volunteered to fly supplies from the French airbase at Haiphong to the battlefield near Vietnam’s border with Laos.
Central Intelligence Agency New Headquarters Building
At its entrance, the CIA Museum looks just like any other.
Various vehicles are on display including this semi-submersible from the 1950s.
Scale models of others are on show, such as this 1/48-scale U-2 'Aquatone'.
Cold War gadgets like this tiny camera that fits in a cigarette packet were among early CIA innovations.
This spy camera that strapped to a pigeon was also from the same period.
Newer artefacts include those from Afghanistan, such as this saddle used by local horse riders.
Many paintings of old and new aircraft have been donated to the collection as well.
The CIA Museum is located at the George Bush Center for Intelligence in Virginia.
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At its entrance, the CIA Museum looks just like any other.
Various vehicles are on display including this semi-submersible from the 1950s.
Scale models of others are on show, such as this 1/48-scale U-2 'Aquatone'.
Cold War gadgets like this tiny camera that fits in a cigarette packet were among early CIA innovations.
This spy camera that strapped to a pigeon was also from the same period.
Newer artefacts include those from Afghanistan, such as this saddle used by local horse riders.
Many paintings of old and new aircraft have been donated to the collection as well.
The CIA Museum is located at the George Bush Center for Intelligence in Virginia.
previous arrow
next arrow

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Its collection consists of around 3500 items, including a vast array of clever tools and military artefacts.

Among the most fascinating are a host of Cold War spy gadgets.

They include a camera fitted to a pigeon and a tiny camera that fits inside a cigarette packet.

There are also unmanned robotic animals used for spying as well, ranging from a fish named ‘Charlie’ to a tiny insect that was made all the way back in the 1970s.

Scale models and artworks of important military aircraft also feature in the massive collection.

Of course, there are more recent CIA artefacts on display as well.

That includes a model of the compound in which Osama bin Laden was found in Pakistan.

This model was shown to President Barack Obama while planning and approving the successful raid of it in 2011.

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The newest addition to the museum – declassified in July 2022 – was a similar model shown to President Joe Biden ahead of a drone strike on another such compound.

From the entrance of the museum, the first half of it works chronologically from the Central Intelligence Agency’s founding in 1947 during the Cold War.

However, a clear pivot in the CIA’s duties from spy work to counter-terrorism is noticed following the September 11 attacks in New York in 2001.

The second half of the museum focuses on specific operations.

This includes an operation in the 1960s to recover a Soviet submarine and the technology from it.

The operation is still so heavily classified, it birthed the infamous phrase “we can neither confirm nor deny”.

With the CIA Museum having recently been renovated, there are plans to share more images of it and the declassified items in its collection on social media.

Part of that will include sharing images of the museum’s ceiling which has various codes painted on it for its limited guests to unscramble.

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