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The CIA Museum: The People Behind the Magic

What is past is prologue.

—William Shakespeare

The halls of the Central Intelligence Agency Museum artfully display and remind CIA officers of their history. But not many people pause to think about the work that goes into putting together an exhibit. A lot of research is conducted in selecting artifacts and placing them in their historical context. The people that make these exhibits come to life are the staff of the CIA Museum.

The CIA Museum operates under the auspices if the Center for the Study of Intelligence and works in tandem with the Agency's History staff to develop the museum's historical programs. The Museum staff consists of three employees supplemented with contractors and volunteers.

Here’s your opportunity to meet the CIA Museum staff and find out how they bring the past alive.

This is the second article in a series about the CIA Museum. To learn more, read the first article, “The CIA Museum: Looking Back to See the Future,” in our series.



Title: Docent
Time with the museum: 2 years

Q: What are your responsibilities as docent?

Inform Instruct Inspire

A: I need to be familiar with the tour itself and the artifacts in the exhibits. I’m fortunate that I have a great deal of background from my time with the CIA and the FBI, so I can field most questions pretty easily. I spent 28 years with the FBI—15 of which were in New York—and 23 years with the CIA.

Q: Do you have a favorite exhibit?

A: My favorite is the Oleg Penkovsky exhibit because I can go into depth about it and draw from my FBI experience when I’m giving a tour.

Q: Do you have a favorite artifact?

A: In the Cold War gallery, there are two bottles of a solution that the East Germans developed. They synthesized the hormones of a female German shepherd. If you wanted to follow somebody or know where they’ve been, you would spray the solution on their clothing or shoes and use male German Shepherds to follow the scent. The spray was effective for three to five days.

Q: Why do you think it’s so important for the CIA to maintain a museum?

A: The best answer is on the front of the National Archives building. It says, “What’s past is prologue.” You can’t divorce yourself from the past. We have a lot of new employees and I think it’s good to have the continuity with the history of the Agency. It’s good for them to know what happened in the past.



Title: Archivist
Time with the museum: 2 years

OSS Museum
The entrance to the OSS Museum, which features the personal effects reflecting the career of Maj. Gen. William J. Donovan, the head of OSS.

Q: What are your responsibilities as the CIA Museum Archivist?

A: I perform a variety of tasks mostly involving research, writing and interacting with individuals from the public and private sectors. I address research inquiries concerning historical operations and photographs and often use the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) records housed at National Archives II in College Park, Maryland – a fantastic resource. I’m currently working on a photo repository to house our large collection of historical photographs. I consider myself fortunate because archivists often perform one role. I have the opportunity to work with artifacts and documents, conduct research and lead museum tours – all while working with great colleagues in an exciting and fast-paced environment. Even though my job deals with Agency history, I enjoy working with current information, as well, traveling to a number of cities around the world to interview members of our workforce and the intelligence community.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about working for the CIA Museum?

A: I enjoy working with a collection that few people have the opportunity to see. Transferring to the Museum has allowed me to return to a field I’ve always enjoyed and learn more about all aspects of the Agency, past and present. The Museum has a relationship with each directorate and we feel as though we serve both an educational and operational mission. The fact we receive a lot of positive feedback from the workforce is particularly satisfying.

Q: Do you have a favorite exhibit?

A: I like all of the exhibits, but as an archivist, I’d have to say that my favorite items are our historical documents and photographs. My favorite document is the original letter from President Harry S. Truman to Maj. Gen. William J. Donovan instructing him to disband OSS in 10 days.

Q: How did you first become interested in working in museums and archives?

A: As a child, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about US presidents and American history, in general. I benefited from museum programs as well as wonderful history teachers and professors who encouraged me to study what I loved. The CIA Museum and more traditional museums and archives offer an interesting work environment, public interaction and a valuable service to their patrons.



Title: CIA Museum Deputy Director/Collections Manager
Time with the museum: 8 years

Q: What are your responsibilities as the CIA Museum Deputy Director/Collections Manager?

A: As deputy director, I’m there to back up the director. I’m the museum technical person in terms of keeping up the Web sites—internal and external. As collections manager, I am responsible for the collection, which includes documenting the entire collection. In 2008, I started a volunteer program to help document the collection. We’ve had over 370 hours of volunteer work in the first six months of the program. I assist with the development of exhibits and coordinate and give tours, as well.

Pigeon Camera
CIA's Office of Research and Development designed the pigeon camera as a new method of collecting intelligence. The pigeon would be released, and on its return flight, the bird would fly over a target.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about working for the CIA Museum?

A: There’s never a dull day. There’s always something interesting to do. I am constantly learning, whether I’m researching an artifact or I’m giving a tour and somebody knows something about an artifact. I learn things from people on tours all the time and I integrate that into my tour. In the Afghan exhibit, we have two maps: a silk map and a Tyvek map. Silk was used to make maps because it doesn’t rustle. One man in my tour raised his hand and said that if you wash a Tyvek map, it won’t rustle.

Q: Do you have a favorite exhibit?

A: I love the Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T) exhibit because there are so many interesting gadgets and technologies. It showcases the Agency’s ability to innovate.

Q: Do you have a favorite artifact?

A: I love the pigeon camera. It’s an interesting solution. The technology that the DS&T developed to make the camera so small and light is fascinating. On top of the technology, the DS&T also had to delve into animal behavior and figure out how the pigeons were going to be trained to fly their path and come back with the camera.



Title: CIA Museum Director/Agency Curator
Time with the museum: 9 years

Q: What are your responsibilities as the CIA Museum Director/Agency Curator?

A: My job is collecting, documenting and preserving this Agency’s tangible history. And then we use that tangible history to create educational exhibits that inform, instruct and inspire current and future generations of intelligence officers.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about working for the CIA Museum?

A: Doing exactly as the museum’s mission statement says—informing, instructing and inspiring our visitors. I love sharing the Agency’s history with our visitors. It’s also fascinating to talk to Agency officers who are actually making history and collect the tangibles that they used in the field.

A-12 Oxcart
The CIA developed the A-12 Oxcart as the U-2's successor, intended to meet the nation's need for a very fast, very high-flying reconnaissance aircraft that could avoid Soviet air defenses.

Q: What is the most challenging part about working for the CIA Museum?

A: I think the most challenging part is debunking a lot of the preconceived notions that the public has about the CIA. People trust museums to tell them the truth. Our challenge is to tell the CIA’s story to the American people at the unclassified level. The challenge is in knowing all these great stories and telling them in a way that still protects the Agency’s equities, sources and methods.

Q: Do you have a favorite exhibit?

A: I don’t think I have a favorite one. Each one of the exhibits that we’ve done has taught me so much about our organization and has enabled me to share that with everyone I take on a tour.

Q: Do you have a favorite artifact?

A: It’s impossible for a curator to select one out of 6,000. There’s the A-12 Oxcart. That’s one of my big favorites. A girl has to accessorize and nothing becomes a curator like black titanium! I walk out to that aircraft knowing it’s one of only nine in the world. We’re privileged to have one here at CIA.


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Posted: Jan 22, 2009 11:40 AM
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2013 12:11 PM