The “Secret Wars” exhibition of guides to sabotage, hollow high-heeled shoes, fake moustaches and code-deciphering machines opened on Wednesday in Paris, offering a glimpse into the often fantasised world of secret agents and intelligence services.
Within an international context carrying whiffs of the Cold War, the exhibition, at the Musée de l’Armée (Army Museum), traces the recruitment methods, training and tools put at the disposal of the great figures of espionage, such as Lawrence of Arabia and Russian KGB official Vladimir Vetrov – from France’s Second Empire to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
“The exhibition ‘Secret Wars’ presents the means of action at the disposal of political and military men in times of war and in times of peace,” said the exhibition’s curator, Christophe Bertrand. “In times of peace, to defend interests where diplomacy is inefficient and where heavily armed military intervention is unthinkable. And in times of war, it’s also about wars (that) … destabilise and disorganise the enemy before a major commitment of force.”
With nearly 400 objects and archives on display, the exhibition boasts some of the greatest tools used for espionage, such as the Enigma machine employed by the Germans in World War Two, as well as devices that enabled the interception and detection of enemy communications.
More modest tools include disguises, make-up kits packed with fake hair and moustaches, and books teaching the art of disguise.
“It (the exhibition) comes at just the right moment, because it is a time where France is thinking about and is engaging in legislative action on intelligence.” Bertrand said. “And also at a time where France has suffered tragic attacks on its territory in the last few years,” he added.
Six months after the January 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine, the French parliament passed a law giving the state intelligence services more latitude to eavesdrop on the public. The law waives the need for judicial warrants to use phone taps, cameras, hidden microphones and other spying devices.
The exhibition, which runs until January 29, was visited on Tuesday by French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who said France’s intelligence services were currently in full swing.