New spy museum, SPYSCAPE, opens in New York City
Snooping is big business.
Whether it be allegations of Russian meddling in the US election, communist spy claims in UK politics, or hackers targeting everything from ATMs to cryptocurrency, it’s a good time to get wise to intelligence.
New York’s new espionage museum, SPYSCAPE in Midtown Manhattan, certainly looks the part.
The dark concrete walls, polished concrete floors, LED lighting and kinetic, high-tech information displays load the 60,000 square foot space with sleek menace the way 007 fills a tuxedo.
Putting the class into classified, it was designed by UK architect David Adjaye’s firm Adjaye Associates.
Each of the seven galleries — dedicated to deception, encryption, surveillance, hacking, intelligence, cyber warfare and special ops — “are completely unique and bespoke,” Josh Ellman, Adjaye Associates’ head of communications, tells CNN Travel.
And the bespoke experience doesn’t end there.
Find your inner spy
SPYSCAPE is more of a swanky interactive fun house than a traditional museum.
Visitors are handed digital wristbands on entry so they can explore their own spy skills and attributes by completing challenges and, in the debriefing room, discover their spy role.
That means playing both suspect and sleuth in the lie-detection interrogation booth, where you learn your own tells — be careful not to blink too much — and then spot the falsehoods of others.
Then there’s the special ops laser tunnel, where “Mission Impossible” fantasies can be lived out as agility and reaction times are tested by hitting illuminated targets and avoiding ever-changing lasers.
“My personal favorite element is the surveillance gallery,” says Ellman. Inside this “really dramatic” round steel drum, visitors encounter a 360-degree projection of live and pre-recorded CCTV imagery, “which is completely unexpected.” A real-time exercise then tests powers of observation.
In the final gallery, it’s revealed whether visitors have the makings of an agent handler, cryptologist, hacker, intelligence analyst, intelligence operative, special ops officer, spycatcher, spymaster, surveillance officer or technical ops officer.
“We worked for a couple of years on our profiling system with [a] former head of training for British intelligence, as well as some top industrial psychologists,” Shelby Pritchard, SPYSCAPE’s chief of staff, tells CNN Travel.
“So it really is a very authentic look at how the spy world thinks about what it takes to be different types of spies.”
Smoke and mirrors
It’s a fun and impressive day out, but — as with espionage itself — there’s an element of smoke and mirrors.
On one side, we’re introduced to the incredible stories of some of the greatest, and most infamous, names in the history of spying — from World War II codebreaker Alan Turing to daring undercover operative Virginia Hall to Soviet FBI mole Robert Hanssen — and can get up close to artifacts including genuine Nazi Enigma encryption machines.
However, the informative side of this museum remains a little thin.
Pritchard confirmed to The Wall Street Journal in October that the cost of creating this most high-tech of attractions ran to “tens of millions of dollars,” and that huge bill is reflected in the ticket prices.
It costs $39 for adults and $32 dollars for children.
Best pack a fat wallet or — if you have the makings of a special ops officer — some suction cups for scaling the exterior walls.