Tuesday, May 17, 2011
My Threatcon Column: A History of Spies, Traitors & Saboteurs On Display At The National Constitution Center In Philadelphia
‘Spies, Traitors & Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America,” is an exhibition currently on display at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. The exhibit was created by the International Spy Museum in Washington D. C.
The exhibition has toured the country since 2006 and will remain on display in Philadelphia until August 21st. The exhibit may be appearing at a site near you in the future.
The National Constitution Center said that the exhibition dramatically illustrates the challenge of securing our nation without compromising the civil liberties upon which it was founded.
“Through artifacts, multimedia elements, and interactive exhibits, visitors will uncover stories of espionage, treason, and deception in the United States from 1776 to today,” the center announced. “Visitors will discover little-known accounts of foreign agents, militias, and radicals, and learn how responses to domestic attacks have driven counterintelligence measures that continue to affect our everyday lives.”
I attended the press preview of the Spies, Traitors & Saboteurs exhibit back in March.
One of the speakers at the press preview was James Doolin, the assistant special agent-in-charge for counterterrorism, counterintelligence and weapons of mass destruction programs for the FBI office in Philadelphia.
“I’ve served 25 years as an agent in the field, overseas and at headquarters,” Doolin said. “In those 25 years I’ve seen a lot of changes but none as dramatic as those in the almost ten years since 9/11.
Doolin went on to say that throughout American history and continuing today, we have dealt with threats against our national security.
“These threats come from outside the country, from groups like al-Qaeda and their affiliates, and they are also coming from inside our borders from our home-grown individual groups,” Doolin said.
Doolin noted that the Internet provides a vehicle for terrorists to spread propaganda, to recruit and to have people act on their behalf.
‘Since 2001 we have tripled our joint terrorism task force,” Doolin said. “These task forces are made up of not just FBI but our intelligence community members, our military, and our state and local law enforcement agencies. The tasks forces have the responsibility to stop the next terrorist attack.”
“You have civil liberties, but you should also have the right not to live in fear of people and organizations committing terrorist attacks,” Doolin said.
“In the FBI we don’t see this as a tension or a conflict; we see it as a balance. An important balance we see day-in-day-out balancing of civil liberties and individual rights with the need to protect this country.”
Another speaker was Peter Earnest, the International Spy Museum’s founding executive director. Earnest previously served 35 years in the CIA.
“Our purpose in doing the exhibit was primarily educational,” Earnest said. “We want to have people visit this exhibit, and for those who might be older, remind them of our past, remind them of what has gone on before us.”
“And for those who are younger, we wanted to say that these are the things that have happened and now it is your generation that will deal with today’s threats. History has a way of repeating,” Earnest said.
The exhibit offers a timeline that traces more than 80 acts of terror that have taken place in the United States from 1776 to today.
The events in the exhibit include the capture of the City of Washington and the burning of the White House during the War of 1812, the explosion of a munitions depot in New York Harbor in 1916 by German secret agents, aided by American collaborators, and the bombing of the Attorney General’s home in 1919 by an anarchist.
There are also displays concerning the Ku Klux Klan, the American Communist Party under Kremlin rule, the Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army from the 1960s, and the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
The final exhibit is called Beyond September 11th - Terrorism Today.
This exhibit offers fragments of the planes that hit the World Trade Center and the smashed front end of a New York City police car damaged in the terrorist attack.
I enjoyed the exhibit and I thought it was well-done, but I had a complaint.
The exhibit offered a photo gallery of the leaders of the white supremacy groups in America, but there was not a photo of Osama bin Laden (this was before the Navy SEAL raid that killed bin Laden), nor was there any mention of al-Qaeda, bin Laden’s group who planned and flew the planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11.
A casual observer might get the impression that the Ku Klux Klan attacked us on 9/11.
I wrote the International Spy Museum and asked if this was an oversight or simply political correctness.
Peter Earnest wrote back and stated that my point was a good one.
“When the exhibit was initially developed and displayed at the International Spy Museum in DC the conclusion contained a film titled Under Siege,” Earnest wrote. “This film, which is now six years old, did include far greater detail on the role of al-Qaeda in the 9/11 attacks. The National Constitution Center wanted to present an updated film of a less graphic nature and choose to create a locally produced piece in conjunction with their media partner, Fox 29.”
Earnest went on to state that due to the change in the film there was an inadvertent drop that can easily be corrected.
“Our exhibitions department is working together with the National Constitution Center to further update the panels and video,” Earnest wrote.
The International Spy Museum and the National Constitution Center are two fine organizations and they always offer fine exhibitions.
If you are in Philadelphia in the next two weeks, I suggest you visit the Spies, Traitors & Saboteurs exhibit. I also suggest that you visit the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C.
You can also read my piece on the International Spy Museum and the myth, the mystique and the history of espionage via the below link: