Spy Sites Of Washington, DC

Title:                      Spy Sites Of Washington, DC

Author:                 Robert Wallace

Wallace, Robert (2017) and H. Keith Melton; with Henry R. Schlesinger. Spy Sites Of Washington, DC: A Guide to The Capital Region’s Secret History. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press

LCCN:            2016010529

UB271.U5 W35 2017


  • This is a guidebook to the most important and fascinating spy sites in Washington, DC and suburban Virginia and Maryland. Melton and Wallace bring to life over two hundred years of the secret side to the nation’s capital through history, images, and locations that readers can visit. The book contains 220 entries that give brief histories of key cases linked to a site where spies lived, worked, or were caught in the act. Melton and Wallace describe virtually every conceivable type of spy activity—all of which have played out here. The book is richly illustrated with well over 300 photos of sites, people, and spy gadgets. Also included are maps and lists of spy sites by neighborhood, city, or county so that readers can undertake their own spy-site tours. The untold or little-known stories of the secret operations and spy sites hidden throughout the DC region will fascinate spy enthusiasts and visitors and even surprise longtime residents of the area.


  • A new capital for espionage, 1790/1859 — Civil War spies, 1860/1865 — Worldwide intelligence and world war, 1866/1932 — Spies of World War II, 1933/1946 — The early Cold War : spies not guns, 1947/1961 — The Cold War heats up, 1962/1991 — New threats and old adversaries, 1992/2015 — Appendix A. Listing of spy sites by location and by maps — Appendix B. The U.S. intelligence community.


Date Posted:      March 1, 2017

Reviewed by Joseph C. Goulden[1]

Let us show a bit of civic pride, if you please. As a center for spies and espionage, Washington and environs are the equal—or better—of such renowned cloak-and-dagger meccas as Vienna or Istanbul.

Start at the beginning: The founding father of the American nation, George Washington, was also the founding father of American espionage, and a revered figure for following generations of spies.

Readers can trust the expertise of the authors. Robert Wallace ran CIA’s Office of Technical Services, which invents spycraft equipment for communications and other covert chores. H. Keith Melton, an Annapolis graduate, owns one of the largest collections of spy artifacts in existence. Henry Schlesinger collaborated on three earlier books.

Spy Sites could be considered two books in one. It is a capsule history of spying in and around DC, with crisply written profiles of the major players.

Even intelligence buffs will encounter a few unfamiliar names. Consider, for instance, Thomas Atwood Digges, a Marylander who worked in London to free American sailors imprisoned by the British. Yet he was so sloppy with his accounts that Benjamin Franklin (for whom he was a sometime courier) denounced him as a rogue and scoundrel. But there is a monument to him on the Digges family estate across the Potomac from Mount Vernon.[2]

Spy Sites is also a guide book that should be invaluable for weeks of Sunday afternoon spy walks or drives—from downtown to tranquil suburbs. With maps and photos, it enables the reader to view the obscure dead drops that such rogues as Aldrich Ames, John Walker and Robert Hanssen used to pass secrets to the Soviets—“you are there” experiences of the first order.

There are also some seldom-discussed secrets as to how FBI and other counterintelligence officers “spied on the spies.” For instance, an old grist mill built in the 1820s was converted into the Art Barn in Rock Creek Park in 1971. The “Barn” provided a show-case and free classes for artists. It was also an excellent site for eavesdropping on the nearby Hungarian and Czechoslovakian embassies. The FBI made such use of the building until a tattletale revealed the spying to the Washington Post in 1982. The disclosure, suggest the authors, was prompted by the occasional presence of clean-cut young men wearing sunglasses at the Barn—FBI agents, rather than those of CIA, whom cannot operate domestically.

In terms of volume, perhaps the most active periods of spying came during the Civil War and the Cold War. The authors take a justifiably critical look at the Union’s intelligence operations, which constantly made overblown “estimates” of the strength of Confederate forces. Unfortunately, many of the 19th century dwellings occupied by Confederate spies working in Washington have fallen victim to developers’ wrecking balls.

But one could easily put together a “spy romance tour” based on the book. For instance, Ronald Felton, of the National Security Agency, had money problems, so he quit his job, entered the private sector, and began selling secrets to the KGB. Part of his “pay” went to support a “former beauty queen” who lived at 1625 P Street NW, which is pictured in the book.

Georgetown is perhaps the most spy-saturated neighborhood in Washington. For weeks after my wife and I moved into our house on 29th Street NW, we received mail from Britain with royal-sounding addresses directed to a previous owner, Kay Halle, best known as a socialite-journalist in the 1940s and 1950s. Ms. Halle had a more discreet role as a wartime officer of the Office of Strategic Services.

My daily walks with our golden lab, Helen, touch a plethora of spy sites: the homes of Allen Dulles, former director of central intelligence, at 27th and Q Streets NW; Gen. William Donovan, head of OSS, in the former Kay Graham estate at 30th and R Streets NW; a block down the hill, former DCI Bill Colby, at 3028 Dent Place; a few buildings to the east, Duncan Lee, the OSS officer who spied for the Soviets at 3014 Dent Place. Several famed female spies from the Civil War now rest in Oak Hill Cemetery on R. Street NW.

And to round things out: On P Street NW a few doors west of29th Street, is one of several Georgetown residences of the notorious Soviet agent Alger Hiss.

Mr. Wallace and Mr. Melton did not reveal the address of intelligence operatives who have not been so identified publicly. Which is a blessing. My dog-walk route includes homes of at least a dozen such persons, several of whom are deceased. They deserve to rest in a desired peace.

A first-rate spy read: five cloaks, five daggers.

[1] Goulden, Joseph C. in The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (22, 3 Winter 2016-17, pp. 105-107). Joseph C. Goulden’s 1982 book, Korea: The Untold Story of the War, was published in a Chinese-language edition in 2014 by Beijing Xiron Books. He is author of 18 nonfiction books. Goulden is a long-time reviewer of espionage and spy books for The Washington Times, for AFIO’s Intelligencer, for law journals, and other publications. Some of the reviews appeared in prior editions of The Washington Times or The Washington Lawyer (DC Bar Association) and are reprinted in the Intelligencer by permission of the author. Goulden’s most recent book [as of 2016] is Goulden, Joseph C. (2012). The Dictionary of Espionage: Spyspeak into English. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.

[2] See Henry Schlesinger, “The Talented Mr. Digges; America’s Founding Scoundrel,” in The Intelligencer (22, 3 Winter 2016-17, pp. 15-24).

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