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START Interns Take On the Role of Spies

A foreign country overseas. A missing weapon’s trigger. A secret world of intrigue, espionage and covert operations.

On July 28, a group of START interns and supervisors were given the chance to participate in the International Spy Museum’s “Operation Spy”, an interactive exhibit that simulates an intelligence operation in the fictional country of Khandar.

Participants were tasked with recovering a missing nuclear trigger device and finding out who was responsible for its theft. From the beginning, the simulation was fraught with stress.

Having only a certain amount of time to find the key, operatives had to quickly contend with a number of challenges, including locating secret doors, sneaking through underground tunnels and jumping into the back of a van.

“I was overly dressed,” START intern Anjali Sawh said. “I didn’t expect quite as much running around.”

There were also more cerebral challenges, such as monitoring field agents through the use of various cameras, and unlocking a safe with locks that reset every 25 seconds.

The Nuclear Trigger Recovery Team that Sawh was a part of did not manage to find the trigger in time, and they had to accept defeat as they moved on to museum’s primary exhibits.

Upon entering the main exhibition, visitors chose a code name for themselves as they learned about a spy’s job, its dangers and the history of espionage. Also included was a section on real-life gadgets used by spies, as well as an exhibit on the history and accuracy of the James Bond movies.

The group finished the day by hearing from Spy Museum Historian and Curator Dr. Vince Houghton. Houghton, who previously taught as a history professor at the University of Maryland, spoke about the evolution and organization of U.S. intelligence.

“I thought learning about the whole history of the Cold War was cool,” Sawh said. “I had no idea that we had a 17 to one nuclear missile advantage over the Russians.”

START’s trip to the Museum came about as a result of a visit to START headquarters from Spy Museum’s staff members, START Internship Program Coordinator Eva Coll said.

“Their staff mentioned that they were very impressed with the work we were doing here at START, and thought that many of our interns would have overlapping interests with the work done at the Museum,” Coll said.

The International Spy Museum is located at 800 F Street, NW Washington, DC and is open every day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.