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Don’t Get Caught, Agent

It’s Your Experience: If You Choose to Accept It

Congratulations, secret agent. You and 14 of your fellow operatives have been selected for a clandestine operation. By conducting video surveillance, cracking a safe and decrypting secret audio, your team will uncover the operations of nuclear weapons sales on the black market.

Or at least this is what you’ll feel like as part of “Operation Spy,” a mission “experience” slated to open June 1 at the International Spy Museum.

“Operation Spy” differs in a variety of ways from the museum’s traditional space. “We’re trying to stay away from using the word ‘exhibit.’ We’re calling it an experience. This is different from anything we’ve ever done,” said Amanda Abrell, media relations manager for the museum.

According to Abrell, “Operation Spy” is the first experience of its kind in the world.

Tickets for the experience will be available to those age 12 and older, sold either as separate passes or as double passes that allow patrons access to “Operation Spy” as well as the museum’s permanent exhibit.

“Operation Spy” takes place in a group atmosphere and, Abrell noted, “we really hope that a lot of corporate events might take advantage of this as sort of a team-building outing.”

At the disposal of the planning staff were a number of individuals who were, at one time, very much a part of the clandestine service. Spy Museum board members include Executive Director Peter Earnest, whose 36 years at the CIA included more than 20 years in clandestine service, as well as a number of others with backgrounds in intelligence operations such as the FBI and even the KGB.

Anna Slafer, director of exhibitions and programs for the museum, said that a lot went into creating the latest spy experience.

“Peter’s been our lead, making it as authentic to an intelligence officer’s experience as possible. … And then we’ve worked with our board members, people who are in the technical services side … we want you to do, think and feel like an intelligence officer,” Slafer said.

She said “Operation Spy” is “taking what are probably more active pieces of intelligence and putting them into an hour-long experience.” But those planning it “didn’t want people just sitting, listening to intelligence or reading. We had to pick the things that were physically doable in this experience.”

When developing the experience, Earnest said he tried to “create a narrative … that preserves the essentials of what would be interesting, fun and challenging and keeping as many of the essential elements of intelligence in it as you can.”

When it came to the subject matter for the experience, Earnest said the group tried to connect it to a current issue, loosely basing “Operation Spy” on the story of A.Q. Khan, a Pakistani scientist accused of selling nuclear material on the black market.

“A.Q. Khan is a person who presented a challenge to intelligence. The operation which we’re engaged in in ‘Operation Spy’ sort of uses that partially as a model,” Earnest said.

Slafer noted that with the experience being a “choose your own adventure” excursion of sorts, “there’s a choice that you make about what your team decides you want to do at the end, and then within that there’s kind of a good, average and bad ending, depending on how well you’ve done.”

By the time the experience debuts Friday, it will have been nearly a year-and-a-half process from conception to reality. Earnest and Slafer said the experience will be at the museum for five years. While the decision has not yet been made on whether “Operation Spy” eventually will travel, the main goal right now is to make sure it fits in with the Spy Museum’s overall purpose.

“One of the things the museum is known for and we do well is we do tell stories. We do tell spy stories. And this is an opportunity to put you in a story. There’s really nothing else out there like it … This is really a unique experience,” Slafer said.

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