The CIA Museum at agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia, which has five sections filling corridors in two buildings, is not open to the public. The museum’s exhibits trace the history of covert action and intelligence gathering from the exploits of the OSS, the World War II intelligence agency that spawned the CIA, through the Cold War and the War on Terror to the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound.
An al Qaeda training manual recovered in Afghanistan.
Members of the armed services wounded in the line of duty as a result of the attacks on September 11, 2001 received the Purple Heart. This Purple Heart belongs to a naval officer severely burned while on duty at the Pentagon on 9/11. He is now recovered and serving as an intelligence officer.
The museum contains a replica of a model of Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad, Pakistan compound that was used to plan the May 2011 Navy SEAL raid that killed the al Qaeda leader. It is an exact scale model of the compound down to the goats in the courtyard. The replica was built for the museum by the Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency, a support unit of the Defense Department that built the original model. A brick recovered from the real Abbottabad compound sits nearby.
Newly added to the War on Terror section of the museum is the AK-47 assault rifle recovered near Osama bin Laden’s body by SEAL Team 6 during the 2011 raid on Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Curator Toni Hiley said it was known to be his weapon because of its “proximity to him . . . on the third floor of the compound.” She would not say how the museum came into possession of the gun, but said that the director of the CIA at the time of the operation, Leon Panetta, “asked that it come into the museum’s collection.”
A serial number and a Chinese character can be seen in this close-up photo of the AK-47 assault rifle found near Osama bin Laden during the raid on his compound. Curator Hiley said the gun is of Russian origin.
Facilities engineers used the Abbottabad compound scale model to construct a full scale mock-up of the compound in early 2011 at a CIA training site. Navy SEALs trained on the mock-up for the assault on bin Laden’s compound in May 2011. The mock-up was destroyed after the raid. Seen here is a section of the wall and a photo of Johnny Micheal Spann, a CIA Officer killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2001.
The Lockheed A-12 OXCART aircraft was developed for the CIA as a reconnaissance aircraft and used to collect intelligence over North Korea and North Vietnam. A CIA A-12 was able to find the USS Pueblo, a Navy intelligence gathering ship that had been seized by the North Korea, in a North Korean port. After 29 missions the planes were replaced by the U.S. Air Force's similar SR-71 program. The plane seen here was recently installed on the CIA grounds. The two stars on the base represent two pilots who were killed during training missions.
When a surface-to-air missile exploded near a CIA A-12 OXCART reconnaissance aircraft during a mission over North Vietnam in 1967, the shrapnel shown here damaged a section of the plane's wing.
The Soviet-designed AT-3 Sagger anti-tank missile and launcher, a man-portable anti-tank guided missile, was used by Soviet, Warsaw Pact and related forces from the 1960s through the 1980s.
An "Insectothopter" created by the CIA's Office of Research and Development during the 1970s was intended to gather intelligence unobtrusively. Designed to look like a dragonfly, the insectothopter’s tiny gas-powered engine moved its wings up and down. While flight tests were impressive, it proved difficult to control when any wind was present.
The CIA's Office of Research and Development created a small camera light enough to be carried by a pigeon. With the camera strapped to its breast, the bird would fly over a targeted area, capturing aerial footage. Pigeon imagery was taken within hundreds of feet of the target so it was much more detailed than imagery from other collection methods. The camera took a series of still images at a set interval. A miniature, battery-powered motor advanced the film and cocked the shutter. Details of pigeon missions are still classified.
In the 1990s, the CIA's Office of Advanced Technologies created "Charlie," a robot catfish, to study the feasibility of unmanned underwater vehicles for intelligence collection. Charlie is controlled by a wireless radio handset.
"One Time" pads are used to send covert messages. They are issued in matching sets of two: one pad of sheets for the encoder and a matching pad for the decoder. Each sheet contains a random key in the form of five-digit groups. Once a sheet has been used to encode a message, it is torn off the pad and destroyed. The pads can be made of silk, paper or highly flammable film that can be destroyed quickly, and can be as small as a postage stamp.
During the Cold War, CIA agents relied on the microdot camera to photograph and reduce whole pages of information onto a single tiny piece of film. This “microdot” of film could be embedded into the text of a letter and take up as little space as the period at the end of this sentence.
This coin may appear to be an Eisenhower silver dollar, but it’s actually hollow and was used to hide messages or film. Because it looks like ordinary pocket change, it is almost undetectable.
A compass hidden inside of a coat button. According to CIA museum curator Toni Hiley, during World War II OSS agents “frequently took common everyday items and transformed them to serve an operational mission.”
Located in the CIA’s New Headquarters Building, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) section of the museum recognizes the work done by the intelligence service created during World War II to run spies and support resistance movements in Axis-controlled areas of Europe and Asia. The OSS was the predecessor of the CIA, which was formed a year after the war.
William J. Donovan, Major Gen. of the U.S. Army, and former Director of the Office of Strategic Services, at left, and in wartime disguise, at right. In 1941, just before the U.S. entered World War II, President Roosevelt named Donovan to the newly created position of Coordinator of Information. After the U.S. entered the war, Donovan became the head of the newly created Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The OSS – the forerunner to the CIA – had a mandate to collect and analyze strategic information.
The desk of OSS chief William J. Donovan.
Liberator pistols were designed for widespread distribution to partisan groups during World War II. Underground forces could use the .45 caliber Liberator as a close-range, antipersonnel weapon to attack an enemy soldier and relieve him of his more powerful rifle or handgun. The weapons were also cost-effective. Each gun cost only $1.72.
After the Allies formally accepted the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945, OSS agent and future CIA Director Richard Helms wrote a letter to his young son Dennis on a captured sheet of Adolf Hitler's personal stationery. Dated “V-E day,” meaning Victory in Europe day (May 8), the note begins: "Dear Dennis, The man who might have written on this card once controlled Europe -- three short years ago when you were born. Today he is dead, his memory despised, his country in ruins." Helms became director of the agency in 1966.
Operation Cornflakes was an OSS mission near the end of World War II that was meant to fool the German postal service into delivering anti-Nazi propaganda to Germans through the mail. The OSS created forged German stamps, as well as a subtle reworking of the 12 pfennig Hitler stamp that showed a skull emerging from Hitler’s face, with the legend “Deutsches Reich” replaced with "Futsches (Collapsed) Reich."
CIA Museum Toni Hiley shows NBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel the Enigma machine displayed in the Office of Strategic Services wing of the museum.During World War II, the Germans used the Enigma cipher machine to develop nearly unbreakable codes for sending secret messages. The Enigma's settings offered 150 sextillion possible solutions, yet the Allies were eventually able to crack its code. The Enigma cipher machine was initially used for commercial purposes, but the German Navy began using a version of the machine in 1926. Prior to World War II Polish intelligence was able to purchase an Enigma at a trade fair and procure a codebook from a French agent. When Poland was overrun in 1939, the Poles realized they wouldn't have capabilities to solve the code and gave the information and machine to the Allies. By end of the war, the British were reading 10 percent of all German Enigma communications at Bletchley Park, in England, on the world's first electromagnetic computers.
Virginia Hall was born in Baltimore in 1906 and attended Radcliffe and Barnard Colleges. As a young woman, she worked at the U.S. embassy in Poland and traveled extensively in Europe, losing part of a leg in a shooting accident and developing the language skills that she would use on the front lines of intelligence gathering during World War II. She first worked for the British Special Operations Executive developing a spy network in Vichy France, and then escaped to Spain in late 1942. In 1944, Hall joined the Office of Strategic Services in order to return to France. Disguised as an elderly farmhand, Hall organized sabotage operations, supported resistance groups as a radio operator and courier, mapped drop zones, and helped sabotage German military movements. Despite her wooden leg, which she called Cuthbert, she helped train three battalions of Resistance fighters to wage war on the Germans and kept up a stream of valuable reporting. The Gestapo knew her as the “limping lady,” and called her the most dangerous of all Allied spies. In 1945, she received the Distinguished Service Cross - the only one awarded to a civilian woman in World War II. Several years later, she made the transition to the CIA, where she was one of the first female operations officers.
An inlaid granite version of the CIA seal 16 feet in diameter greets visitors in the lobby of the Original Headquarters Building
The CIA's Memorial Wall is located in the lobby of the agency’s Original Headquarters building and honors more than 100 CIA personnel killed in the line of duty since the 1940s.