Have you ever wondered if those amazing spy gadgets that you’ve seen in James Bond movies are real? Do operatives working for the Brit’s MI-6, the CIA, and the Russian SVR (formerly known as the KGB) really have access to sleek sports cars with ejecting passenger seats and wristwatches with hidden laser beam torches?
My friend, H. Keith Melton, owns the largest collection of spy artifacts in the world – more than ten thousand items. Many of the 007 inspired spy gizmos on display at the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. are on loan from his personal collection.
Melton recently decided to show off some of his most prized items in a traveling exhibit called “Spy: The Secret World of Espionage” which opened in mid-May in Discovery Times Square in Manhattan.
Featured in his traveling show is the trick umbrella that Bulgarian intelligence operatives used to shoot a pellet that contained ricin into the leg of Georgi Ivanov Markov, a dissident writer, while he was waiting for a bus in London. The so-called “deadliest poison” known to man was sealed by wax in a tiny pellet and was released when Markov’s body temperature melted the seal.
The traveling collection also contains a CIA manufactured robotic dragonfly, the smallest operational submarine used in World War II, a robot catfish and pigeon made for spying and a pick axe that Soviet Ramon Mercader drove into the skull of Leon Trotsky in Coyoacan, a borough of Mexico City, in 1940.
When he was preparing the exhibit, which will tour 10 cities during the next several years, Keith asked me if I would share some of the artifacts that I collected while doing research for my books, Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Jr. Spy Ring; Confessions of a Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames; and Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia’s Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War.
I was happy to loan Keith several personal items, including a hand-written note that KGB General Boris Solomatin had given me. Considered one of the best KGB Generals during the Cold War, Solomatin granted me an exclusive interview when I visited him in Moscow in 1996 that was later published by The Washington Post. It was Solomatin who oversaw the John Walker Jr. spy ring.
Keith also asked me if I would created a special E-Book edition of Family of Spies and Confessions of a Spy for sale exclusively by the traveling exhibit. I turned Keith’s request over to my son, Evan Luzi, who found a way to put an E-Book on a CD so that it could be sold in the traveling exhibit’s gift shop and later downloaded through a computer connection onto E-Book readers.
The actual text in the E-books is no different from copies now on sale via Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but the special, traveling exhibit editions each contain additional items. Family of Spies has an hour of tape recorded interviews that I conducted with Walker shortly after his arrest. Confessions of a Spy contains an hour of tape recorded interviews with Ames that were done without the government’s knowledge and with no CIA censor present. These interviews have never been made public — until now.
You can currently buy E book versions of the original books for $4.99 via Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Evan tells me that you soon will be able to buy the special traveling exhibit editions for a slightly higher price on my webpage.
At an exclusive ”dressed to kill” preview of the exhibit last month, Melton told reporters that “James Bond wouldn’t last four minutes in the real world.” The best spies, he said, are the ones who no one ever hears about, not the ones who leave a trail of dead bodies in their wake.
The exhibition runs through March 2013 before leaving New York and traces the world of international intrigue from the start of World War Two, to the establishment of the first U.S. spying agency, Office of Strategic Services (OSS), after Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, the downing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988 and the September 11, 2001 attacks. Because of the publicity that Russian bombshell Anna Chapman caused in the media, there’s also a special section on “illegals.”
But when Melton was pressed by reporters to name our nation’s most important spy and our worst traitor, he quickly cited two names. Oleg Penkovsky, a Soviet military intelligence officer who spied for the U.S. and Britain in the early 1960s is one of the most valuable double agents to work with the U.S. because of the Soviet missile secrets he provided to the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
The most damaging to U.S. interests? Without a doublt it was U.S. Navy chief warrant officer John Walker Jr., who recruited his best friend, his brother and his son into his spy ring.
Having written what Publisher’s Weekly described as a “classic of the genre” and best book ever published about Walker and his ring, I would agree.