Kid Reporters

Destroy After Reading

A TFK reporter goes to Spy Fest 2012 in Washington, D.C., and learns some secrets of the spy trade

January 27, 2012

TFK Kid Reporter Claire Duncan wears a disguise as she talks with Peter Earnest.

Do you know a spy?  Maybe you do without being aware of it! 

Spies are almost always undercover and sometimes they can’t even tell their families what they do for a living.  Many people think spies only exist in movies or books, or are a thing of the past. Not so! The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is the nation’s spy agency. It gathers information, some of it secret, from around the world.

The CIA uses hi-tech systems to obtain information, but the agency also uses humans to gather intelligence. The CIA trains people to be spies in foreign countries. Their job: To gather information that the United States may need to keep us safe.

Do You Want to Know a Secret?

On January 22, at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., spies and FBI employees shared a few of their secrets at Spy Fest. The family-friendly event offered a rare look into the world of espionage. Visitors had a chance to go undercover, try on disguises, crack codes and ciphers, and much more.

A child readies his disguise at a previous SpyFest event at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.
A child readies his disguise at a previous SpyFest event at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

There are many techniques and gadgets that are used to gain intelligence, and both old and modern were on display at the museum. One item: Spy glasses that look like regular sunglasses, but enable users to see behind them, thanks to mirrors hidden inside. Other cool gadgets included small cameras placed in a variety of unexpected objects from stuffed toys to a coat button.

Spy Fest also gave people the opportunity to write secret notes, including with invisible ink pens, and visitors got to eat their own words with paper that was really edible (and quite tasty!). Another kind of paper dissolves instantly in water so no one will see what was written.

Kid Reporter
Claire Duncan

Spies and Lies

A larger gadget that visitors got to use was a polygraph machine—a lie detecting device. It may be used in cases where people are suspected of lying about crimes. The person is connected to the machine which measures physical and emotional responses to questions asked. The tester can only ask yes or no questions and the answers are recorded.

When the lines on the computer screen go up or down they each mean a different thing. Blue lines indicate breathing patterns, black lines are emotional reactions and red lines show blood pressure. The emotional reactions are the most accurate. A polygraph expert ran a test on a volunteer at Spy Fest and the machine did its job! 

Meet a Real Spy

One of the speakers at Spy Fest was Peter Earnest, the author of the kid’s book The Spy’s Guide to Becoming a Spy.  He knows what he’s talking about, having spent 36 years in the CIA, many as an undercover agent in foreign countries.

Now retired, he is the Founding Executive Director of the International Spy Museum.  Earnest told TFK that real-life spies are not like the ones in movies because “in the movies everything works out, and there’s action the whole time. That’s not like real life when things don’t work out all the time and there are long periods where you’re just observing or talking with people.”

If you like to solve mysteries, track down criminals and crack codes, then a career in spying might be in your future and a trip to the International Spy Museum would be a good place to start!  For more information check out their website:

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