A BULGARIAN killer umbrella is part of the recently opened International Spy Museum in Washington DC.
According to Jennifer Saxon, media relations manager of the museum, the umbrella is part of an exhibition on concealed weapons in a portion of the museum called "School for Spies" that explores the tools of the spy trade, the motivations and the skills that are employed by spies.
She explained that in 1978, the KGB used an umbrella like the one on display - modified to fire a tiny pellet filled with poison - to assassinate dissident Georgi Markov on the streets of London.
Bulgarian emigre writer and journalist Markov died in London at age 49. He was a victim of a political murder. But his killer has never been apprehended. Markov was an acclaimed novelist and playwright in Bulgaria prior to his defection to the West in 1969. He was known for his harsh criticism of the autocratic rule of the communist party and particularly of its leader, Todor Zhivkov.
The assassination was carried out in London on September 7, 1978, Zhivkov's birthday. Queuing for the bus, Markov experienced a sudden stinging pain from an umbrella. Later it was found that he died of "septicemia, a form of blood poisoning caused by bacterial toxins, possibly a result of kidney failure".
The mission of the International Spy Museum in Washington is to educate the public about espionage in an engaging manner and to provide a dynamic context that fosters understanding of its important role in and impact on current and historic events. The museum focuses on human intelligence and reveals the role spies have played in world events throughout history.
It opened on July 19, with a spectacular Grand Opening Ceremony, where five spies performed a show. This is the first public institution in the world dedicated to presenting the international history of espionage.
Washington DC is the spy capital of the world, the museum's authorities said. It has always been a hotbed of espionage activity. Presidents from George Washington on have excelled at or ignored the need to gather intelligence. The museum provides unprecedented insight into the history, craft, practice, and role of spying. But today, "there are more foreign spies in Washington, DC than in any other city in the world," said Ray Mislock the former chief of the FBI's Washington Field Office. Keep your eyes open...you never know what you might see if you know what you're looking for in the spy capital of the world.
This is the only museum in the world to provide a global perspective on an all-but-invisible profession that has shaped history and continues to have a significant impact on world events. The museum includes over 200 espionage devices to illustrate the various technical aspects of espionage.
Interactive exhibits present such aspects of spying as observation and analysis, threat analysis, overhead surveillance, disguise and identification, audio surveillance, and clandestine photography. Some of the displayed articles are enigma, the legendary World War 2 German cipher machine, and a shoe transmitter, a Soviet listening device hidden inside the heel of a target's footwear. There is a "Through the Wall" Camera, a Czech camera used by the East Germans to photograph through walls. Escape Boots, designed for British pilots in World War 2 are also part of the international displayed items at the museum.
"The public perception of espionage has been largely shaped by Hollywood, which filled the vacuum of real information that is unavoidably central to the profession," noted Dennis Barrie, president of the asdvisory board of the International Spy Museum. "The museum fills that vacuum with the truth of espionage, illustrating that the stories behind real-life spies are more interesting than fiction."
Barrie was the founding director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, and associate director of the Archives of American Art Smithsonian Institution.