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Ever since there have been organised states, there have been agents working behind the curtains, as well as things that regimes have sought to protect from prying eyes and ears.

The revealed activities of both these agents and sites are fascinating to some travellers, even if the themes exposed, events and specific methods (aka tradecraft) involved can seem brutal, controversial or in some instances downright surreal.

Caution Note: Beware that spying is among the most closely guarded of government activities. There are museums, and sites like that in the photo above which can generally be safely viewed from outside, though even wandering about the area or taking photos might bring unwelcome attention from security people.

Intruding on a spy site without permission is highly illegal anywhere, almost certain to get you arrested and subjected to ungentle questioning. Beyond that, any penalty is possible, in some places including being shot. In many legal systems, protections that apply to suspects in criminal cases are not available to those accused of threatening national security.

Understand[edit]

While the history of espionage goes back to ancient times, it is usually the spy stories of the 20th century that have created the public impression of the business; especially World War I, World War II in Europe and Cold War Europe.

In the typical case, an intelligence agency is a government organ which collects information about foreign governments and other target organizations. Some of them are CIA of the United States, SIS (or MI6) of the United Kingdom, SVR of the Russian Federation, and Mossad of Israel. Their staff consists of intelligence officers, who should not be confused with spies, secret agents or assets, who are recruited (usually from within a target organization) to provide secret information. There are two main categories of spies: A mole is recruited by an intelligence agency, and then makes a career in the target organization to get secret information, whereas a defector is an official who decides to provide information for the enemy (in some cases fleeing their homeland). A double agent is an agent who pretends to work for the intelligence organization that recruited them, but is loyal to the target organization. In some cases, people who are "outed" as double agents then proceed to become "triple agents" and so on, although this is more common in fiction than in reality.

In a few cases, an intelligence agency can carry out assassinations and sabotage operations against enemies, either using their own officers or through an agent.

There are several operation methods. Signals intelligence (SIGINT) is a highly specialized intelligence process which intercepts radio and telecommunication signals, usually in a separate agency such as NSA in the United States, or GCHQ in the United Kingdom. Secret messages are usually encrypted (cryptography is the art of creating ciphers), intelligence agencies need cryptanalysis to decipher them. From World War II to the 21st century, cryptology and signals intelligence have been supported by government "big science" projects to develop electronics, computer technology, aviation and space flight.

A security agency fights crime and espionage (counterespionage), and protects strategic targets such as leaders or buildings; in the U.S.A., both the FBI and the Secret Service have this function, while the corresponding agency in the UK is the Security Service (or MI5), Russia's equivalent is the FSB, and Israel's equivalent is known as Shin Bet. A secret police is a government security agency directed against internal opposition or other individuals and groups a more or less authoritarian government has decided to harass, arrest or worse. Examples include the Gestapo of Nazi Germany and the Kenpeitai of Imperial Japan. Some government agencies have had multiple roles, such as the KGB of the Soviet Union, which was both an intelligence service and a secret police force.

Despite the glorious and mysterious image surrounding espionage, most intel is actually gathered in rather "boring" ways. One example is to measure the security preparedness of the US by the number of cars in the CIA parking lot. Another example is Tom Clancy who had to answer some uncomfortable questions about "revealing military secrets" for his description of submarine engines in Hunt for Red October - turns out he could point to books available in public libraries as the source of all his information, combined with a bit of educated guessing. The most famous spies are ironically those who failed their missions and got caught.

In the 21st century, cyberwarfare is increasingly becoming an important part of conflicts between nations, in many cases even more so than actual military action. The countries generally considered to have the best cyberwarfare capabilities are the United States, Russia, Israel, the United Kingdom and China.

See[edit]

Most facilities for intelligence and national security are very restricted to visitors. Intrusive photography is prohibited, in many cases. The most interesting places to visit are usually museums, and decommissioned buildings.

Map of Spies and secrets

Asia[edit]

Japan[edit]

  • 1 Japan Coast Guard Museum (Yokohama). The museum contains a North Korean spy vessel, which was sunk in the East China Sea in 2001. Japan Coast Guard Museum Yokohama (Q6156562) on Wikidata Japan Coast Guard Museum Yokohama on Wikipedia

Thailand[edit]

  • 2 Ramasun Station (Udon Thani, Thailand). Founded in 1964 by the U.S. Army, it was later used as a spy base for monitoring movements of enemy troops, including revelations of coups in nearby Laos and Cambodia. Nowadays it remains a dangerous tourist attraction which features a group of ex-soldiers and cross-dressed dancers.

Turkey[edit]

  • 3 MİT Museum of Espionage (Ankara, Turkey). A museum operated by the National Intelligence Organization. It was kept secret until 2011. Normally closed to the public, it has occasionally been opened for tours in the past. MİT Museum of Espionage (Q15260707) on Wikidata MİT Museum of Espionage on Wikipedia

Europe[edit]

Czech Republic[edit]

  • 4 KGB Museum (Музей КГБ) (Prague/Castle and Lesser Town), . Museum of World War II and Cold War era espionage and covert operations. Many unique historical artifacts on display. Includes a tour (30 - 40 minutes) in English or Russian. Tours start every 30 minutes, or whenever guests arrive. Entrance fee of 14 EUR or 380 CZK can be paid in either currency. Basic knowledge of Soviet history is recommended, not suitable for young children. Famous for its collection of weapons, which visitors can hold and make pictures with. KGB Museum (Q98575913) on Wikidata

Estonia[edit]

  • 5 KGB Museum (Tartu), +372 7461717. This nondescript building was known as the Gray House and was the headquarters of the Estonian KGB. It tells the story of how the prisoners were treated there, and some stories about the Estonian resistance heroes, the Forest Brothers. The museum is small and does not have a very big sign, so look carefully. KGB Cells Museum (Q16412962) on Wikidata

Finland[edit]

  • 6 Spy Museum (Vakoilumuseo) (Tampere). Claims to be the first spy museum in the world, exhibiting everything from world-famous spies to their equipment such as spy cameras and secret weapons - many of which you can try. You can also attempt to fool the classic lie detector. Spy Museum (Q4306511) on Wikidata Spy Museum (Tampere) on Wikipedia

Germany[edit]

The bridge of spies. Prisoner exchanges often were held at its midpoint.
  • 8 Berlin Friedrichstraße station (Berlin/Mitte). During the Cold War war, this railway station was a major crossing point between East and West Germany. The station is said to have been used by several spies to cross the border and is mentioned in several spy novels. It was also "tear palace" where tearful goodbyes between members of families separated by the wall took place after visits. Berlin-Friedrichstraße railway station (Q702402) on Wikidata Berlin Friedrichstraße station on Wikipedia
  • 9 Former KGB Prison Potsdam (Gedenk- und Begegnungsstätte Ehemaliges KGB-Gefängnis Potsdam) (Potsdam). Memorial and meeting place at the former KGB prison. From August 1945 it was occupied by soviet forces. It has been reconstructed as a prison for the counterintelligence. Today it's been left standing to remind people of the depressing reality of dictatorships. KGB Prison, Potsdam (Q1498157) on Wikidata KGB Prison, Potsdam on Wikipedia
  • 10 Glienicke Brücke (over the Havel River near Berlin). Once a border crossing during the Cold War, this bridge is best known as the Bridge of Spies, and was used as an exchange point for captured spies between the United States and the Soviet Union. Glienicke Bridge (Q694708) on Wikidata Glienicke Bridge on Wikipedia
  • 11 Stasi Museum (Berlin). This museum describes the procedures applied by the East German secret police. Stasi Museum (Q570472) on Wikidata Stasi Museum on Wikipedia
  • 12 Gedenkstätte Hohenschönhausen (Stasi Prison) (Berlin). This is the former prison used by East Germany's infamous "Stasi" secret police. While overt torture was only used in the early years of this prison, the Stasi developed ever more sophisticated means to get information or confessions out of inmates. Tours are compulsory. Some of the tours are done by former inmates. Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial (Q390508) on Wikidata Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial on Wikipedia

Latvia[edit]

  • 13 Former KGB Building (Riga/Centrs). The former KGB building is an attractive, ornate historic building at the corner of Brivibas and Stabu. It is now a branch of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, holding a general exhibition about the KGB activities, and guided tours of the cellar where interrogations took place. Corner House (Q4468975) on Wikidata Corner House (Riga) on Wikipedia

Russia[edit]

  • 14 Lubyanka, the KGB prison (Лубя́нка) (Moscow/Central-North). The Lubyanka is the popular name for the headquarters of the KGB and affiliated prison on Lubyanka Square. It is a large Neo-Baroque building with a facade of yellow brick designed by Alexander V. Ivanov in 1897 and augmented by Aleksey Shchusev from 1940 to 1947. Today headquarters of the Border Guard Service of Russia, and houses the Lubyanka prison and one directorate of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB). It is opennto the public, and there is a museum of the KGB (now called Историко-демонстрационный зал ФСБ России, Historical-demonstration hall of the Russian FSB). Lubyanka Building (Q646334) on Wikidata Lubyanka Building on Wikipedia

United Kingdom[edit]

A rebuilt Bombe machine at Bletchley park.
  • 15 Bletchley Park (near Milton Keynes). Milton Keynes has a claim to being the home of the modern computer, as the German Enigma codes were cracked by Alan Turing and others at Bletchley Park. The historic value of this site and its importance to the development of the computer has now been belatedly recognised in the form of a museum with a significant number of things to do for both adults and children. Bletchley Park (Q155921) on Wikidata Bletchley Park on Wikipedia
  • Military Intelligence Museum, Shefford. A small musuem related to the history of the Intelligence Corps. All visits must be pre-booked as the museum is located on an active military facility.

North America[edit]

Cuba[edit]

  • 16 Museum of the Ministry of the Interior (Memorial de la Denuncia), Havana. Museum about 40 years of Cuba's intelligence service, including some exhibits on failed attempts by US agencies.

United States of America[edit]

Part of an NSA supercomputer from 1993, housed at the National Cryptologic Museum

South America[edit]

Oceania[edit]

Australia[edit]

  • 21 Spy Camera Museum, Herberton, Queensland. A large collection of rare tiny cameras.

ECHELON sites[edit]

The Five Eyes, an alliance of the major English-speaking democracies — the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — have been co-operating on signals intelligence since World War II, when the British at Bletchley Park broke nearly all the German and Italian ciphers and the US broke many Japanese ciphers. They expanded their co-operation during the Cold War and continue it today. The best-known of their projects was codenamed ECHELON. This is widely considered the most powerful spying alliance in the world.

The governments involved still consider everything about these programs top secret, but quite a lot about them has become public. The main sources are an investigation by the European Parliament early in this century and leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013.

Visiting is discouraged

They have a worldwide network of intercept stations and can collect nearly all satellite communications plus much else. We list some here; see Wikipedia for a much longer list.

  • Sugar Grove Station (West Virginia). The main NSA monitoring facility in the eastern US. Sugar Grove Station on Wikipedia
  • Hawaii Cryptologic Center (Oahu). This is where Edward Snowden worked. Hawaii Cryptologic Center on Wikipedia
  • RAF Menwith Hill (Yorkshire). The largest ECHELON site, which did extensive monitoring of Eastern Europe during the Cold War. RAF Menwith Hill on Wikipedia
  • Canadian Forces Station Leitrim (a few miles south of Ottawa). Canada's main station CFS Leitrim on Wikipedia
  • Pine Gap (near Alice Springs). The Australian military and several US agencies are involved here. Pine Gap on Wikipedia
  • Tangimoana Station (North Island). New Zealand's main monitoring site Tangimoana Station on Wikipedia

There are also stations in several friendly countries, at least Germany, Japan, Brazil and India.

None of these sites are open to the public, there is not much to see from outside — just big antennas or domes which cover antennas — and photographing them may be actively discouraged.

Stay safe[edit]

Most people are at almost no risk of being seriously spied on, though if you visit a country whose government is hostile to yours and/or is highly authoritarian, the risk may be larger. You may also be at risk if you have valuable commercial or research data. If professionals — government, corporate or criminal — specifically target you and you do not have professionals on your side, then your chances of successful defense are somewhere between slim and nil.

However, there are also less specific threats such as advertisers tracking web activity or government programs that hoover up data en masse, such as ECHELON or the Great Firewall of China. It is possible to defend reasonably well against these.

One simple defense is to use a "burner" phone or laptop; set it up before travel with as little valuable data as possible and wipe all data when you return. See Internet_access#Security_concerns and the EFF page on Surveillance self-defense for other methods.

See also[edit]


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Category:Espionage museums
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Espionage
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