The Most Amazing Artifacts From the CIA's Museum

Closed-off collection includes secret cufflinks, dead rat
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 5, 2014 1:35 PM CDT
The Most Amazing Artifacts From the CIA's Museum
A Lockheed SR-71 "Blackbird" aircraft is on display in the parking lot at Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Headquarters, Tuesday, July 15, 2014.   (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

One of the country's most fascinating museums is just a few miles outside Washington, DC—but most of us will never get access to it. The CIA's museum is inside the agency's Langley headquarters, and it's got some 26,000 items related to the intelligence organization's history. The media faces tough barriers to getting inside, but Smithsonian magazine recently did, and Yahoo was inside earlier this year. Among their most interesting finds:

  • Cufflinks that spies used to identify each other. The CIA's first Soviet mole, Lt. Col. Pyotr Semyonovich Popov, wore them when picking up documents in East Germany from an elderly German wearing the same accessories.
  • A model of Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A full-size version was used to train Navy SEALs for their raid on the site; some called it so perfect that during the actual raid, they felt like they'd already been at the spot, the Smithsonian notes.
  • A rifle found next to bin Laden's body, believed to be his own, as well as a memo from then-CIA director Leon Panetta regarding the raid: "Received phone call from (national security adviser) Tom Donilon who stated that the President made a decision with regard to AC1 (Abbottabad Compound 1). The decision is to proceed with the assault."

  • An electronic bug which the KGB sought to use against the US. The Soviets made an apparent gesture of goodwill by offering to provide parts for the building of the US embassy in Moscow. US experts, however, discovered in 1982 that the Soviets were "turning the building into a huge antenna," the Smithsonian notes: Transmitting equipment could apparently reveal what keys Americans were pressing on their typewriters inside.
  • A dead rat. When agents communicate with others on their team, they may use "dead drops"—systems of passing messages to each other in secret. One example was the rat. The thing was hollow inside to accommodate such messages, Yahoo reports, noting that "dead drops" were often "disgusting" to keep people away from them.
  • The typed-up story and location information for Argo—not the Ben Affleck movie, but the one that intelligence officials pretended to be making in 1980 to get trapped diplomats out of Tehran.
Despite the mystery surrounding the agency, it started tweeting this spring; here's what it said. (More CIA stories.)

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