I Spy at New York’s Museum of Deception


“I’m willing to be unethical if I believe it will help me succeed.” I squashed that with a 1. “I keep others at a distance.” Well, now that you mention it: 4.

“This is like dating,” I said to Aaron Moody, a visitor services associate.

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Visitors are scored on their surveillance skills in a game using closed-circuit televisions.

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Amy Lombard for The New York Times

In fact, espionage may be bigger than courtship on social media right now, with Facebook at the center of a growing controversy over the use of personal data during elections, and the park-bench poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter drawing international censure. Seismic private-information hacks reveal themselves with regularity, in government and business. We accept drone-patrolled, surveillance-prying public space. Cyber warfare has come of age, and the Cold War is back.

“Scary biscuits,” as the English say.

“I thought that spy stories were really a thing of the ’70s,” Mr. Adjaye said in an interview. “And here we are at this time, that actually spying is back.”

Asked how confident he was in the security of his own personal information, on a scale of 1 to 10 — with 10 being most secure — Mr. Adjaye said, “Three.”

What is it about the shadows of deception that excites our participation and not our fear? The International Spy Museum in Washington, with its impressive collection of spy artifacts, will be moving to a greatly expanded facility next year. A new National Museum of Intelligence and Special Operations, under development in Ashburn, Va., is expected to open in 2020.

Conceived as an entertainment attraction, Spyscape’s $39 experience ($32 for children ages 3 to 12 — bring them; you’ll need them) is a cultural chimera: part museum, part ride. It was created by Archimedia, a London-based private investment group that has been a developer in resorts, restaurants, and spy-themed film productions like the television adaptation of John le Carré’s “The Night Manager.”

Spyscape’s immersive experience begins in the outsize elevator, which makes a slow three-minute ascent. The Briefing Lift, as it’s called, delivers the visitor into Spyscape’s realm with a three-walled video created by Territory Studio in London, which worked on “Blade Runner 2049.”

The doors open; you have arrived at the 25-foot-high “city within a city,” as Mr. Adjaye calls the main floor: seven galleries presenting themes like encryption and special ops. In addition to a curated collection of objects, there are 141 live screens, 317 speakers, 113 live cameras and 32 projectors telling Spyscape’s stories. There are also games called “challenges” and the kiosks.

The stories are all real-life — no fictional spies like James Bond. The “Encryption” gallery tells the story of Alan Turing and Joan Clarke, the cryptanalysts of World War II, who cracked the German Enigma code; Virginia Hall in “Special Ops,” the woman with one leg who operated in occupied France and was called “the scourge of the Gestapo”; Edward Snowden in “Surveillance.” There is an actual Enigma machine, and a replica you can code on. “Encryption” closes with a present-day warning.

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“The Imitation Game,” the 2014 movie about Alan Turing and Joan Clarke, featured this replica of the machine the British cryptanalysts used to crack the Enigma code in World War II.

Credit
Amy Lombard for The New York Times

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Outfits worn by Benedict Cumberbatch (Turing) and Keira Knightley (Clarke) in “The Imitation Game.”

Credit
Amy Lombard for The New York Times

“The Enigma story shows no code is 100 percent foolproof.” And, “WikiLeaks revealed that the C.I.A. can’t break WhatsApp — yet. Every intelligence service is on the case trying to.”

Scary biscuits.

I am inside a black booth, facing a black-glass monitor. There is a heartbeat playing. Or are my ears pounding? Nick Ryan, a sound artist whose clients have included Tate Britain in London, designed Spyscape’s aural landscape, which is as originally and meticulously rendered as Mr. Adjaye’s architecture.

“Hello Bill Hamilton. Welcome to Deception.”

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