Hollywood loves a good spy and the feeling is mutual. Now
the studios and The Company, as the CIA is sometimes known,
are marking more than a half-century of mutual fascination
with the largest public display ever of spy gadgets, both
real and imagined, The New York Times has reported.
The exhibit, which opened at the Ronald Reagan Presidential
Library near Los Angeles on 16 February, ranges from the
whimsical to the deadly, everything from the shoe phone
made famous by Don Adams in the TV show Get Smart
to a KGB umbrella used to shoot poison-tipped darts of a
kind once used to assassinate a Bulgarian dissident in London.
The show, Secrets from the CIA, KGB and Hollywood, also
includes the tarantula that threatened James Bond in Dr
No, Emma Peals leather pants from The Avengers,
and a nineteenth century spy camera designed to be strapped
to a pigeon.
The blend of fact and fiction is fitting, given the way
that the Cold War clandestine productions sometimes followed
the lead of the celluloid spooks and sometimes anticipated
them in ways that their Hollywood creators never imagined.
The spy who came in from the movies
Many of the people who work for the CIA grew up on these
spy shows just like I did, says Danny Biederman, a screenwriter,
whose lifelong fascination with the genre prompted the collection
of more than 4,000 props and gizmos on partial display.
Biederman loaned his souvenirs to the CIA two years ago
for an eyes-only exhibit at the agencys headquarters in
Virginia. Now, the CIA museum (motto: The Best Museum You've
Never Seen) has taken that show to the public at the Reagan
Library, along with a sampling of spy artifacts from the
National Archives and the private collection of Keith Melton.
The real-world spy gear on display ranges from a hollowed-out
bullet used during the American Revolution to hide secret
messages to a replica of an elaborate carved seal presented
by the Soviet Union to the US ambassador shortly after World
War II, complete with hidden listening device.
Theres a progression here of the development of the technology
of espionage, says Lloyd Salveti, the director of the CIAs
Center for the Study of Intelligence, on hand for the exhibit
opening in Simi Valley, California.
The CIAs purpose in sponsoring the exhibit is to stress
the role the intelligence service has played in presidential
decision-making, says Salvetti. To that end, one of the
binders used for President Bushs daily CIA briefings is
on hand, emptied of course of its sensitive contents.
But the bigger question raised by the exhibit may be how
much the Hollywood spy genre borrowed from events and where
it anticipated or shaped the way the spy game has been played.
British author Ian Fleming, who created the archetypal spy
in James Bond, had also been a British naval intelligence
officer, an important precedent in blurring the lines between
modern spy fact and fiction, say Biederman.
Or consider that the CIAs real-life Office of Technical
Services, where covers are created and a new generation
of spy gadgets made, has a creative motto that would make
any movie studio proud: Imagine what is possible - then
prepare to be amazed.
Cloak and daggers
Spies have even played movie people, most famously in 1979
when Iranian militants stormed the US embassy in Tehran
and held some 50 hostages.
As the incident unfolded, six US diplomats managed to find
refuge in the nearby Canadian Embassy, prompting a successful
CIA-directed plan to smuggle them out by sending agents
into Iran disguised as a film crew. This would not have
been possible without the close cooperation of the patriotic
people of Hollywood, says Salvetti.
who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children
Ilya, Moriah Flint and Bond all named for fictional spies,
said some in the agency also shared his love for TV classics
like The Man from UNCLE.
Some CIA agents told him that in the 1960s: They would
be watching Mission Impossible and saying, Why cant
we come up with something like this?