“A spy must lead a life of lies.” That unapologetic statement comes from the International Spy Museum, a Washington D.C. attraction that seeks to bring in visitors with an atmosphere of intrigue and danger.
The truth as revealed by the International Spy Museum is that spying is mostly just boring. Spies sit around and wait, and go about everyday lives, having ordinary jobs, submitting tedious reports, until they’re given order to follow – orders that they often don’t understand the relevance of. Spying is anything but glamorous, but it certainly is dishonest, so yes, a spy must lead a life of lies.
The trouble is that a democracy cannot be based on lies. For a democratic government to be healthy, its citizens need to know what it’s doing, so that they can act responsibly through voting and activism to change what they don’t like about what their government is doing. Spies don’t just tell lies to the “enemy”. They also lie to the people that they are theoretically supposed to be serving. The more spies there are, the more lies the democratic government tells to its citizens, preventing them from meaningfully exercising their role of creating and shaping the government.
This summer, American citizens have found out about a huge bunch of lies that their government has been telling them. The National Security Agency, in cooperation with many federal government agencies, has been spying on us in ways that are astonishingly incompatible with our rights as guaranteed in the Constitution. Our private lives have been searched and seized on a daily basis, even as we were all told that nothing of the sort was going on.
The International Spy Museum purports to show the nation what spying is really all about. So, when the news of massive NSA electronic surveillance was released by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the museum had an opportunity to take part in an important educational mission, helping the American people understand what the revelations mean so that they can make informed choices as citizens.
Yet, since the NSA scandal broke in June, there hasn’t been one peep from the International Spy Museum about the revelations. Online and offline, the International Spy Museum keeps acting as if it’s still May 2013, and there’s nothing to say about the enormous amount of private information that U.S. military spies are grabbing from American citizens.
As a museum, the institution isn’t supposed to be like the NSA, or other spy agencies. Its mission is to share information, not to withhold it. A museum is a place for people to find images and information, and consider it. A museum that purposefully persists in giving its visitors a skewed version of the truth is betraying its mission, becoming a political tool.
What’s the justification the museum’s leaders use for refusing to help the American public deal with information about the unconstitutional spying by the National Security Agency? Who can say? They aren’t talking. It looks, however, as if the International Spy Museum has decided that it’s more important to protect its sponsors in the Washington D.C. community of spies than it is to provide an honest service to its visitors. The International Spy Museum has demonstrated that it’s not willing to provide an honest representation of the profession of spying. I suppose, given the museum’s enthusiasm for lies, that we should not have expected better.
If you’re traveling to Washington D.C., and want to find out about the spies that operate out of that city, don’t visit the International Spy Museum. You’re just as likely to learn something useful by staying in your hotel room and watching The Bourne Identity.