Ingenious gadgets, real-world quandaries at Washington's all-new Spy Museum - Kogonuso

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May 8, 2019

Ingenious gadgets, real-world quandaries at Washington's all-new Spy Museum

The museum has its roots in the 7,000-piece collection of Melton, a navy veteran and engineer who, beginning in the 1960s traveled the world to amass.

He advertised that he was a buyer of any spy technology, and he sought out and befriended agents and officials from all sides of the Cold War game.

"As the wall fell in Berlin, I was there," he said, and the collection's extensive spyware from East Germany's Stasi service is the result.

Weeks after the Soviet Union crumbled in December 1991, he traveled to Moscow.

"I went and knocked on the door of KGB headquarters and said I'm here to buy spy equipment," Melton said.

While he raised some suspicions, many realized he was a genuine collector who didn't talk about politics.

"I like gadgets, they like gadgets," he said.

"Cameras, microdots, coding machines, short range transmitters: that's the essence of espionage."

The pride of his collection is gruesome, but he spent four decades seeking it: the ice axe that Joseph Stalin's assassins used to murder Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940, in the climax of an intense three-year intelligence operation.

Melton is hugely proud of the new museum, but somewhat wistful about the new digital age, in which computer technology has replaced many espionage tools.

"I think we are past the golden era of spy devices. This is now the most powerful spy device in the world," he said, pointing to his smartphone.

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