Spy Museum Triples Collection with Pledged Donation of more than 5,000 New Artifacts


WASHINGTON, DC – When the International Spy Museum (SPY) opens its new location at L’Enfant Plaza in 2018, it will showcase a permanent collection of more than 7,000 unique artifacts – tripling its size – and offering visitors the opportunity to come face-to-face with a whole new slate of espionage gadgets and items used throughout history. This major expansion is made possible thanks to the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. H. Keith Melton, who together with SPY announced today the pledged donation of their entire personal collection of espionage artifacts and archive – the largest private collection in the world. These 5,000 plus pieces, most of which have never been seen by the general public, will be donated over the course of several years.

“Today’s announcement brings us one step closer to realizing our vision for the future of SPY,” said Peter Earnest, International Spy Museum founding executive director. “Spying is so much more than the glamorous profession we see on television and in films. When the new facility opens in 2018, it will expand on the foundational narrative of the current Museum to more fully convey the ever-evolving nature of intelligence and espionage. The Meltons’ collection, painstakingly curated from around the globe, makes it possible for us to tell this multifaceted story in a whole new way.”   

Author, historian, and founding SPY board member H. Keith Melton amassed his unique assemblage over a span of 45 years traveling to more than 20 countries in search of spy objects that underscore the critical role of intelligence on the world stage, including some extremely rare items. Melton was in Berlin in 1989 soon after the Wall came down and traveled to Moscow in early 1992 just after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In both instances, he established contacts that made it possible to collect and preserve a wealth of items from the defunct Stasi (East German Ministry for State Security) and the Soviet KGB (Committee for State Security). Without his timely intervention, the artifacts would likely be lost to history. Former CIA Director George Tenet referred to Melton’s collection as a “national treasure.”

Major historic events like the CIA-supported invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs and the shoot-down of the CIA U2 spy plane over Russia in 1960 are reflected in this diverse inventory of one-of-a-kind items, which includes special weapons, escape and evasion devices, concealment devices, codes and cipher machines, disguises, secret writing, secret listening devices, clandestine radios, spy cameras, and uniforms and clothes of famous spies of the KGB, CIA, FBI, Stasi, and MI6. Today, Melton serves as an historical advisor and lecturer to the US intelligence community. He has also served as a technical consultant to television programs including the FX award-winning show “The Americans” and appeared in more than 50 documentaries. He is author of a number of books, including the new and best-selling Spy Sites of Washington, DC (with co-author Bob Wallace).

Highlights include:

  • Bay of Pigs Flag: After Communist Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, the CIA trained and equipped a group of Cuban exiles to infiltrate the island and start a revolution. The 2506 Assault Brigade was meant to fly this flag as a symbol of victory in Havana following the 1961 invasion attempt. When the attempt failed, the flag was later presented to President Kennedy by the survivors of the 2506 Brigade.
  • Vial of Deuterium Oxide: During WWII, deuterium oxide – then thought to be a key component for building an atomic bomb – was produced in only a handful of places around the world, including the Norsk Hydro power plant in Norway. As part of Operation Gunnerside, Norwegian members of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) successfully attacked the plant to slow production of deuterium oxide and keep it out of Nazi hands. The plant presented these vials to survivors following the war.
  • “Sleeping Beauty” Submersible: The Motorized Submersible Canoe (MSC), codenamed Sleeping Beauty, was an underwater vehicle designed by the British SOE during WWII. It could be used to infiltrate a spy or saboteur onto an enemy coastline, or attack enemy vessels underwater using magnetic limpet mines. The American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the CIA, obtained this Sleeping Beauty in 1944. After World War II it was used as a prototype for swimmer delivery vehicles (SDVs), still used today by US Navy SEALS. 

"When I acquired my first espionage artifact 40-some years ago, I was motivated by my desire to preserve intelligence history. It remains a passion that the Museum and I share,” Melton said. “Through this collection, visitors will not only learn about daring plots, intrigue, and history-changing events, they will learn about human nature itself. Only the International Spy Museum is capable of weaving such a complex and compelling narrative.”

The International Spy Museum is slated to open its doors at L’Enfant Plaza in Southwest Washington, DC, in 2018. The planned 140,000 square foot facility more than doubles the floor space of the current museum and boasts new exhibits offering a comprehensive, global perspective on intelligence; an increased focus on STEM; more interactive opportunities; rotating temporary exhibit space; larger space for educational programming; and special events space with sweeping views of the Capitol and Washington Monument. Until then, visitors can still enjoy the captivating experience that has drawn more than 8 million visitors to the 800 F Street location since its opening. 


About the International Spy Museum

The International Spy Museum, a 501(c)(3) private nonprofit organization, is the only public museum in the United States solely dedicated to the tradecraft, history, and contemporary role of espionage and intelligence. Open since July 2002, the Museum features the largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on public display. The mission of the International Spy Museum is to educate the public about espionage and intelligence in an engaging way and to provide a context that fosters understanding of their important role and impact on current and historic events. The Museum's collection chronicles the history of espionage, from its inception, to the modern day challenges facing intelligence professionals worldwide in the 21st Century.